An upgradable Xbox One? Think this one through, Microsoft – Ars Technica


While Microsoft might have hoped that its free-to-play PC version of Forza would grab headlines, its press showcase in San Francisco was far more notable for Xbox chief Phil Spencer’s strong hint that the Xbox One’s hardware will be upgraded.

After neglecting the PC gaming market for several years, it sounds like Microsoft may now go much further than merely throwing the likes of Quantum Break and Gears of War onto the platform. Microsoft may be trying to apply the whole concept of PC gaming—that is, extremely wide backwards compatibility along with various hardware configurations—onto the appliance-like console market.

“Consoles lock the hardware and the software platforms together at the beginning of the generation. Then you ride the generation out for seven or so years, while other ecosystems are getting better, faster, stronger,” Spencer said. “When you look at the console space, I believe we will see more hardware innovation in the console space than we’ve ever seen. You’ll actually see us come out with new hardware capability during a generation allowing the same games to run backward and forward compatible because we have a Universal Windows Application running on top of the Universal Windows Platform.”

What form these console upgrades might take isn’t clear, but beefier processing and graphics power may be in the works: “We can effectively feel a little bit more like we see on PC,” said Spencer, “where I can still go back and run my old Doom and Quake games that I used to play years ago but I can still see the best 4K games come out and my library is always with me.”

On the face of it, this is a radical departure from how consoles are sold. Typically, Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo release a console with fixed hardware. Initially, developers are terrible at making games for that hardware—the PlayStation 3 suffered greatly from this problem thanks to its quirky Cell processor—but as the years tick by, they get better, and so too do the games they produce. This only works because developers have a fixed hardware spec that they can reliably optimise for. If you move the goalposts this becomes a lot more difficult to do.

What’s changed is that both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are, essentially, just PCs (or more accurately, laptops without the screen). They both have a very similar AMD x86 processor—the origins of which stretch all the way back to the late 1970s—that’s typically seen in laptops, along with an on-die AMD GPU. The PlayStation’s large unified pool of fast GDDR5 memory differs from the Xbox One’s more traditional DDR3 setup—not to mention their respective operating systems and programming tools—but their underlying hardware is eerily similar.

Given the struggles that developers had making games for the PS3, as well as Microsoft’s grand plan to shove Windows onto everything, the move to more familiar x86 hardware was inevitable. It also comes with the added benefit of a strong supply of new hardware, thanks to Intel, Nvidia, and AMD churning out new chips every year. And now, with its Universal Windows Platform and apps stretching across Xbox One, PC, and mobile, Microsoft has finally given developers a way to somewhat easily throw a game out onto multiple platforms at once, even if there are a few teething problems on the PC side.

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