For the last four years, Microsoft has played second fiddle to Sony’s PlayStation 4. There are a number of reasons why, including poor initial communication, an abrupt reversal on system features, a $ 100 higher price point, and an initial focus on multimedia capabilities as opposed to gaming. The fact that the Xbox One was generally slower than the PS4 and ran at lower resolutions hasn’t helped either. With the Xbox One X launching next week, Microsoft intends to reclaim the performance crown and hopefully improve its own market share.
Microsoft has good reason to fret about its own position in the console market this cycle. A year ago, just prior to the PS4 Pro’s launch, that console had sold 39.8M units compared with 20.7M for the Xbox One, a gap of 1.92x. Today, the PS4 has shipped 63.4M units, compared with 31.1M for the Xbox One. That’s a gap of 2.04x (all data from VGChartz). To be clear, 31.1 million consoles sold is still a huge install base, but the gap between the two platforms is accelerating. After slugging it out with Sony with the Xbox and Xbox 360, Microsoft isn’t willing to see its formidable market presence weaken any further. That’s why the company is willing to forego a profit on the Xbox One, in the hopes of weakening Sony’s dominance. It also hopes to kick total sales back above the Xbox 360. While the Xbox One historically enjoyed a moderate shipment advantage above its predecessor, that gap had shrunk dramatically by 2017:
The good news is, Microsoft is forecasting high demand for its current console. “”I won’t talk about the exact numbers but the demand is super high, we are very, very excited about Xbox One X right now,” Panos Panay, corporate vice president of devices at Microsoft, told CNBC in a TV interview Tuesday.
“I won’t compare it to other consoles,” Panay said. “What I’ll say is the demand for Xbox One X right now is exactly where we anticipated, even more so when you see that excitement for the product… this is something that resonates with gamers.”
The Xbox One X is substantially more powerful than any console currently on the market. Its CPUs are still based on AMD’s Jaguar, but the clock has increased to 2.3GHz; 1.1x faster than the PS4 Pro. Meanwhile, the new system packs 40 graphics compute units (CUs) based on AMD’s Polaris architecture, and clocked at 1172MHz. That’s a huge leap on two fronts. First, the number of GCN cores has shot up, from 768 to 2,560, a gain of 3.33x. Second, the GPU clock has risen from 853MHz to 1172MHz, a gain of 1.37x.
The system’s RAM configuration has also grown, from 8GB to 12GB, and from a combined ESRAM cache + DDR3 system to a unified GDDR5 system with 326GB/s of bandwidth–1.49x more than the PS4 Pro. While you can’t discern everything about a system’s performance based on specs, the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X are similar enough that comparing the two is fairly straightforward. And while PC gamers may not be pleased to hear it, the $ 500 price point on the new rig is unbeatable if you’re building a new PC from scratch (upgrades are a different story; we covered the cost break downs earlier this year).
The only question now is, will gamers flock to the new, more powerful system, and close the gap between Sony and Microsoft, or has the PS4 Pro established too much headroom to be caught?