The news that the Microsoft Xbox Series S might have just 20 CUs (compute units) of power left some people feeling a touch disappointed. It’s not that 20CUs isn’t much, but given the current-gen Xbox One X has 40, it felt like a strange step backwards.
Now the Xbox Series S has a spirited defense — and from an unlikely source. Matt Hargett, a former PlayStation principal engineer, popped up on Twitter to say that, in his professional opinion, “20 5nm RDNA2 CUs seems perfect for a modern portable gaming hardware profile at 720p/1080p that’s compatible with 900 games.”
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The word “portable” is a touch misleading here, so before we go any further, let’s just flag up that he means more portable than the unwieldy Xbox Series X. He doesn't seem to be referring to a Nintendo Switch-style handheld, as great as that would be.
Tom is often fast and loose with technical facts, but I’m with him on checking people who think that having “only” 20 CUs will hold back next-gen games. Twenty 5nm RDNA2 CUs seems perfect for a modern portable gaming hardware profile at 720p/1080p that’s compatible with 900 games https://t.co/Lu4nIeQoE3July 2, 2020
The key thing to remember is that Microsoft sold the Xbox One X as a 4K machine, and while the Xbox Series S is yet to be officially acknowledged let alone marketed, all signs point to a budget console that will be advertised as hitting HD resolutions — 720p or 1080p. To that end, it having half the CUs of current-generation hardware might not matter too much, especially as the architecture of the new machine will likely be more efficient, allowing it to do more with less.
For comparison’s sake, while the Xbox Series S will apparently have 20 CUs of power, the PlayStation 5 will have 36 and the Xbox Series X 52, delivering 10.28 and 12 teraflops of performance respectively.
But if the Series S is only targeting 1080p gameplay, then gamers with smaller TVs might be drawn to the cheaper console — even if all signs point itlaunching without a disk drive, leaving gamers reliant on Microsoft’s download pricing.
Elsewhere in the discussion, Hargett addressed the elephant in the room. If the Xbox Series S does indeed end up using 5nm CUs, wouldn’t that lead to hardware shortages? Well, yes:
It totally would, but if you need the efficiencies of 5nm for the initial product introduction, and you’re looking at a global recession that limits purchase ability, maybe limited stock for the initial holiday sales is an okay pill to swallow.July 2, 2020
Hargett says that’s likely something Microsoft would be okay to swallow given the likely global recession. We’d go a step further and say that hardware shortages of the cheaper next-gen Xbox might do the company a favor: not only does scarcity build up hype and panic buying, but it might push super-eager buyers towards the more expensive Series X as an alternative. Seems like a win-win to us.