Xbox Scorpio Tech Details

I’m Hank Scorpio

Eurogamer’s Richard Leadbetter has technical details of Microsoft’s goofy Project Scorpio. Unless Microsoft adds or changes something significant about the functionality of the console before it is launched, it just means a more expensive and more technically powerful Xbox console:

Combining smart design with sheer horsepower, Project Scorpio hits the six-teraflop target set for it as E3 last year, thanks to a custom GPU that has been designed from the ground up for optimal performance on today’s game engines – and that runs at an unprecedentedly high clock speed for a console. The GPU is paired with 12GB of fast GDDR5 memory and a custom eight-core CPU, and the whole thing is housed in a compact body with integrated power supply and, for a console, state-of-the-art cooling.

Performance is remarkable. We saw a Forza Motorsport demo running on the machine at native 4K and Xbox One equivalent settings, and it hit 60 frames per second with a substantial performance overhead – suggesting Scorpio will hit its native 4K target across a range of content, with power to spare to spend on other visual improvements. And while 4K is the target, Microsoft is paying attention to 1080p users, promising that all modes will be available to them.

It’s interesting to me that the upgraded hardware is so similar to the Playstation 4 Pro, although the Scorpio has bigger numbers and will perform well, this re-emphasizes a theme that Microsoft has gone with since the original Xbox of promoting the technical specifications of their hardware over the games that take advantage of that hardware.

Just like with the Playstation 4 Pro, nobody should buy an Xbox until more details of the Scorpio are available like a price, a launch date, and if a game they actually want is upgraded by this hardware revision. I bet there will be a lot of used Xbox One S’, and disappointed people who bought them last year, right before this thing launches.

What a bizarre time we are in where Microsoft pre-announced the Scorpio last year before launching their Xbox One S in order to remain competitive with Sony’s Playstation 4 Pro.

Eventually, if these upgraded consoles sell well enough, it could be that new games don’t support the original revisions of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

One other point in the article I wanted to quote, talking about the upclocked CPUs of the Scorpio:

On the CPU side, there’s been much conjecture that Scorpio would feature AMD’s new Ryzen technology – something we thought unlikely, owing to manufacturing timelines, not to mention Microsoft telling us last year that the new console would feature eight CPU cores. All signs point to the upclocked Jaguar cores we find in Xbox One, and Scorpio’s CPU set-up is indeed an evolution of that tech, but subject to extensive customisation and the offloading of key tasks to dedicated hardware.

“So, eight cores, organised as two clusters with a total of 4MB of L2 cache. These are unique customised CPUs for Scorpio running at 2.3GHz. Alluding back to the goals, we wanted to maintain 100 per cent backwards compatibility with Xbox One and Xbox One S while also pushing the performance envelope,” says Nick Baker.

I don’t for a second believe that Microsoft couldn’t upgrade the architecture of the Xbox and retain backwards compatibility. Even if AMD’s new Ryzen platform introduced new CPU instruction, it would still have the old ones. This isn’t like going from a Power PC to x86 processor, or even as big as the 32bit to 64bit, change.

It reminds me of the time when I was still listening to Larry Hryb’s podcast where he and his guests were talking about HDMI and saying that it wasn’t an upgrade over component cables before the 360 had HDMI connections.

In this case it isn’t clear if the idea is a miscommunication of Leadbetter’s or that Baker actually was responding to a question about Ryzen and Leadbetter should have called it out, either way it is total bullshit and stymies an otherwise fine article.

Speaking of things that should have been called out, there is also this choice quote:

During his presentation, Del Castillo literally constructed a pre-production Project Scorpio unit in front of us. Bearing in mind the advanced manufacturing techniques on show here, there’s a very simple, elegant, modular design that makes the most of the space. We saw the hard drive fit into place on dampeners designed to absorb vibration, reducing error rates in and ensuring optimal data throughput.

You know what’s really elegant? Not using a spinning-disk hard drive with fragile platters in 2017. Nobody buys a computer with those anymore. They only continue to persist in consoles. Nothing is advanced or elegant about dampening the vibrations of an old hard drive. It will be a real upgrade when we can get to solid-state drives everywhere.

Xbox Game Pass Announced

Microsoft recently announced their Xbox Game Pass subscription service.

Most people are comparing it to a Netflix for games, it’s not a bad comparison excepting that while Netflix streams, the games with Microsoft’s service will download to an Xbox One.

The selection of games available will be pretty small, “over 100” when the service becomes available later this spring for $10 a month. The games will change every month, and once the game is cycled out you lose access to it. You do get a discount for purchases of games in the Game Pass library. The Xbox Game Pass games are mostly older from the Xbox One and 360, no real newer options though there isn’t a final list of what will be available.

There’s nothing exactly comparable to this from Sony, their Playstation Now service on the PS4 and Windows is $15 a month at its cheapest (3 month subscription), only streams older Playstation 3 games. The PlayStation 4 has no backwards compatibility with the PS3 otherwise.

Both Microsoft and Sony include “free” games every month with the subscription they charge for online play. I dropped my Xbox Gold subscription because I wasn’t playing online regularly, and the games they were offering weren’t as good as the Playstation Plus games.

Nintendo is going to include free games with their online service for the Switch, but final pricing is unknown, and they’ll all be swapped out every month.

There’s nothing at all like it from Valve on Steam or Windows, though the third-party Humble Bundle has a monthly subscription for $12 that acts like a blind box. Subscribing to that only gives you access to the next month’s games.

There are a lot of questions left to be answered. Games are different from movies, you might take more than a month to play through something and even some games could stick around for multiple months you might be coming up on the end of the month wondering if the one you’re playing is going to cycle out.

Windows 10 Game Mode Doesn’t Sound Very Effective

Rock Paper Shotgun’s Alec Meer interviewed Microsoft’s Kevin Gammill about the upcoming Game Mode in Windows 10:

Kevin Gammill: With the Creator’s Update and Game Mode right now, we’re primarily focused on biasing the game versus the rest of the operating system, from a GPU and CPU perspective. So for some of the other system resources, we can get into a roadmap discussion on the next call, but really right now Game Mode is about biasing the game from a GPU perspective so it gets more of the cycles if it’s in the foreground, and from a CPU perspective both biasing to get more CPU cycles as well as avoiding what I’ll call thread contention for the game.

At any time a user can call up the Game Bar and enable Game Mode for any title or game they would like. That’s kind of option one. And then at the same time we will have what we call kind of an approved list or whitelist of games that we feel super-comfortable about and we want to enable out of the gate.

Kind of the way I look at it is that any increase is a benefit, without question. Even it’s as low as, say, a 2% increase in framerate, if you’re running a hundred frames per second, I will take those extra two frames per second without question.

This is a strategy for getting gamers to switch to Windows 10 and use the built-in game bar overlay for a possible 2% increase in framerate, or a slightly more stable framerate overall. A framerate increase at all is very unlikely, because driver developers at Nvidia and AMD are already very focused on that. I wish the interview addressed the system rebooting in the middle of a game for updates, because that is a real problem for people playing games on Windows today.

Xbox One S: The Upgrade Nobody Should Buy

Daniel Perez hasn’t given a final verdict yet, but has a review in-progress of the new Xbox One S that is out today:

When the original Xbox One was revealed, there was quite the uproar as to its size and design. Microsoft didn’t change the overall shape of the Xbox One S, but what it did change makes it look less like my grandmother’s VCR. It’s smaller, white, and offers an interesting use of textures to various parts of its body. While the holes located at the front of the console appear to be for aesthetics, the holes surrounding its perimeter are obviously for venting purposes as I can spot smaller vents that aim directly into them.

It also finally did away with the infamous Xbox power brick as its power supply has been squeezed into the new console’s body. Without a power brick to weigh it down, the Xbox One S feels more portable than ever when combined with its reduction in size and weight. It also has done away with a dedicated Kinect port, which we’re sure won’t surprise many considering how Microsoft has been slowly steering away from motion-based gaming.

It also displays 4K UHD Blu-ray discs as well as upscaling games and other videos to 4K if you have the appropriate display. It sounds like a good upgrade, until you realize that the other new Xbox, codenamed Scorpio, will be out next year with a healthier tech upgrade that actually has more powerful guts than this Xbox One S.

Windows 10 Anniversary Update Out With Bash

Bash on Ubuntu on Windows

Windows 10 has been out for a year as a free upgrade from Windows 7, 8, and 8.1. Excepting some hacky workarounds the upgrade is no-longer available for free to users. Brett Howse has an article with the major changes that are available today in the Windows 10 anniversary update.

The biggest feature for me is the awkwardly named Bash on Ubuntu on Windows. Microsoft has a long history of picking poor names for their UNIX subsystems including the awkwardly named Services for Unix. Services for Unix was Microsoft’s hedge of interoperability to please third-party businesses, but it was always hindered by Microsoft’s desire to compete with Linux. The options to install and update applications were limited to what you could compile because SFU didn’t include any kind of package management system. The only choices left were either shelling out to a Linux machine, cygwin (which is a huge pain in the ass), dual-booting, or installing Linux in a virtual machine.

Bash on Ubuntu on Windows been available in a preview form to beta testers (Windows Insiders) for a while, it’s a more complete version of command-line utilities and an environment you would commonly get on a Linux desktop or server developed with Ubuntu‘s owner, Canonical. Though you still have to jump through some hoops to install it, it’s very promising that BoUoW includes Ubuntu’s package management system and  native Linux command-line utilities that haven’t been recompiled for Windows.

I hope this extends to GUI applications some day, but the focus for Microsoft this time is on attracting developers.

Even Thurrott Is Frustrated With The Windows 10 Upgrade Scheme

Paul Thurrott:

Last week, Microsoft silently changed Get Windows 10 yet again. And this time, it has gone beyond the social engineering scheme that has been fooling people into inadvertently upgrading to Windows 10 for months. This time, it actually changed the behavior of the window that appears so that if you click the “Close” window box, you are actually agreeing to the upgrade. Without you knowing what just happened.

Previously, closing this window would correctly signal that you do not want the upgrade. So Microsoft didn’t change the wording in the window. It didn’t make an “Upgrade now” button bigger, or a non-existent “don’t ever upgrade” button smaller. It pulled a switcheroonie. It’s like going out to your car in the morning and discovering that the gas pedal now applies the brakes, while the brake pedal washes the windshield. Have a fun commute!

The violation of trust here is almost indescribable. It’s bad enough that Microsoft has been training Windows 7 and 8.1 users–i.e. most Windows users–to not trust Windows 10 because of this horrible, unstoppable advertisement. But now they will not trust their own sanity because all they’ll remember is that they dismissed the advertisement by clicking the Close windows box. Why on earth did Windows 10 just install on my PC?!?

Microsoft Lays Off 1,850

Microsoft’s press release:

Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday announced plans to streamline the company’s smartphone hardware business, which will impact up to 1,850 jobs. As a result, the company will record an impairment and restructuring charge of approximately $950 million, of which approximately $200 million will relate to severance payments.

That’s a lot of weasel words to say they’re firing almost two thousand people. 

“We are focusing our phone efforts where we have differentiation – with enterprises that value security, manageability and our Continuum capability, and consumers who value the same,” said Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft. “We will continue to innovate across devices and on our cloud services across all mobile platforms.”

The weasel wording continues on to say that Microsoft won’t be developing features for actual people with Windows phone devices and will instead focus on what businesses want, which is a shame since Windows phones were better and more secure than Android in many ways.

Here Microsoft, I streamlined your press press release:

Our phone business hasn’t been successful with people because we focused on what businesses want. We will continue to focus on businesses by firing almost two thousand people who worked on or supported features that people might want. Regrettably, we will have to pay them money so that they don’t cause a scene.

Halo 3 on Windows

Ian Birnbaum:

Halo 3 is coming to PC. Eight years after Master Chief’s last great multiplayer playground hit the Xbox 360, it’s coming alive, for free, on the PC–but not at the hands of Microsoft. Or Bungie. In one of the strangest things to happen on PC this year, Halo 3’s protracted PC birth is coming from a group of modders transforming the free-to-play, Russia-only beta Halo Onlineinto their favorite Halo game.

For years, Halo was a crucial console-exclusive system-seller for Microsoft. When it finally came to the PC again earlier this spring but was region-locked, fans moved fast. They created Eldorito, a mod that cracked the Russia-only restriction within a week of Halo Online’s reveal. Named as a portmanteau of El Dorado, the name of the Halo Online executable, and Dorito, Microsoft’s favorite corporate sponsor, Eldorito has been programmed over the past few months by a group of between ten and twenty modders. Because Halo Online is built over the top of a more-or-less complete version of Halo 3’s engine, the Eldorito modders have been working to pull what they really want from the shell of Halo Online: Halo 3 on PC. I spent a week chatting with one of the modders to learn more about a project that, for better or worse, is the only version of Halo we’re likely to get on PC any time soon.

[…]

When asked if releasing a mainline Halo game on PC would hurt Xbox One sales, the same source issued a non-answer. “It’s about delivering on the right Halo experience to meet expectations for PC gamers. We’re excited to be bringing Halo Wars 2 [a sequel to Halo Wars, the 2009 RTS] to both Windows 10 and consoles in fall of 2016. Additionally, PC gamers will also be able to stream gameplay from Halo 5: Guardians on Xbox One to their PC using Windows 10.”

Basically: PC gamers are welcome to play Halo on PC, as long as they purchase an Xbox first. That seems to suggest that, at least in Microsoft’s eyes, Halo on PC really would have an impact on Xbox sales.

Microsoft’s largest gaming platform, Windows, is still a second-class citizen to Xbox. Every new feature of Windows 10 for gaming is Xbox-branded or related. I understand that Xbox-as-a-braaaaaand is a big thing they’re putting lots of money into, and the Xbox hardware and software has worked better together than any other Microsoft product, but it doesn’t make it any less absurd to shovel console and computer playing together into this one brand. Keep gamertags and achievements in your programs, Xbox streaming is interesting, but no other developers or publishers are going to use your gamertags and achievements on Windows after the Games for Windows Live fiasco.

I almost wish that Microsoft would at least more actively try to destroy Windows for gaming to force Valve’s hand to move to Linux & SteamOS instead of this death-by-a-thousand Xbox-huge blunders like this Russian-only Free-to-Play Halo. It feels like Microsoft thinks that Windows gamers can’t be trusted with the full experience if it isn’t streamed from an Xbox.

Disabling Windows 10’s Built-in Spyware and P2P Update Sharing

Alec Meer:

Windows 10‘s privacy settings very much need to be frowned at. Essentially: unless you pay close attention to the fluffy options offered when you first install Microsoft’s new operating system, it’s going to quietly track your behaviour and use it to fire targeted ads at you, as well as keeping tabs on your location history, data from messages, calendars, contacts and God knows what else. It is a bit scary, despite coming off the back of Microsoft’s own pledge to offer ‘real transparency’. You may or may not be OK with this yourself, but in any event at least some of this stuff can be turned off after the fact. I’ll explain how to do that below.

There’s a whole list of things you may want to do in Alec’s article. I disagree with his suggestion to stop using a Microsoft account for login, it’s a great feature that certain settings are shared between my laptop and desktop Windows installations, Cortana is similarly useful, but everything else is sound.

Additionally, the peer-to-peer sharing of Windows updates is gross just like the Blizzard updater and should be disabled.

To disable p2p sharing of Windows updates, do this:

  1. Go to the Settings program from the start menu:Start
  2. Click Update & security on this screen:Settings
  3. Click Advanced Options:Windows update
  4. Click Choose how updates are delivered:Advanced options
  5. Click the first toggle option and set it to off:ChoosegooseOff

Now your computer won’t share updates with others.