Xbox’s latest development tools give the memory-deprived $299 Series S a surprising boost


Xbox's latest development tools give the memory-deprived $299 Series S a surprising boost

Enlarge / The cheesy visual multiply effect applied to this Series S isn’t meant to imply it’s getting the quadruple memory boost in this week’s Microsoft GDK update. The actual multiplication amount cannot be confirmed until Microsoft updates its publicly available documents on the subject.

Sam Machkovech

The latest update to the Microsoft Game Development Kit (GDK), an official API aimed at game development on Xbox consoles and Windows PCs, seemed set in stone when it was announced in June. Two months later, however, this update has gone live with a surprise bonus so new it hasn’t yet been listed in the company’s Github repository.

The news instead comes from an official, unlisted Microsoft video first spotted by XboxERA reporter Jesse Norris, which contained a tantalizing proclamation. The June GDK is currently live two months after its named month and now includes an increased storage allocation exclusively for the lower-priced $299 Xbox Series S console.

This video does not link to specific patch notes or announcements, and as of press time, searches of the publicly shared GDK do not clarify how this increase in memory allocation was achieved. Microsoft representatives did not immediately answer Ars’ questions about the technical glitch of this update.

Bring developers closer to the 10GB total storage capacity of the S Series

In the meantime, it’s reasonable to assume that this newly available pool of RAM, which the video’s narrator describes as “hundreds of megabytes”, was allocated elsewhere on Series S systems up until today’s update – possibly by OS-level processes (the previously gobbled up about 2GB of the entire 10GB Series S pool) that the company has since managed to reduce.

Ars sources have confirmed what was largely known to testers and researchers of current-gen consoles: the gap in available RAM between the $499 Xbox Series X (16GB total) and the cheaper Series S (10GB total). cross-platform development compromised between the two systems trickier than initially announced by Microsoft. In Microsoft’s best-case scenarios, a Series X game targeting 4K resolutions and incredibly high-resolution textures can downscale all textures in favor of a 1080p TV screen and otherwise get away with an identical rendering load, largely thanks to many different architectures, which is identical between the consoles (especially the CPU and memory specifications).

As more third-party developers have discovered since they got to grips with the two-year-old consoles, the implementation of the development environment doesn’t always work that way. Some developers still find that their virtual environments, effects budgets, and lighting scenarios are constrained not only by less GDDR-6 RAM overall, but also by a bandwidth reduction from the 320-bit Series X bus to the 128-bit bus become the series S.

Therefore, even a tiny jump of, say, 200MB of RAM, or 2.5 percent, could make a significant difference for a developer trying to transfer a specific shadow fidelity or ambient occlusion from Series X to Series S. The “hundreds of megabytes” number could be even higher, somewhere between 512MB and 768MB, although we’re still waiting to know exactly how much.

Few modern games are a tear apart from previous generation consoles

The move comes as both current-gen consoles continue to miss some of their biggest technical sales pitches, at least at the software level. Many of the biggest games of the past two years have failed to illustrate truly groundbreaking features, particularly the near-infinite virtual worlds that could be made possible through a combination of PCI-E 4.0 tiered memory and supercharged memory pipelines.

This has been exacerbated by some much-anticipated Sony games stripping back their previous “current-gen exclusive” status in favor of cross-gen launches on PS4 and PS5, seemingly to keep game sales going while current-gen systems largely sell out were and lagged behind production timing. So far we have largely stayed with the previous year Ratchet & Clank: Rift apart as a grand display of power, exclusive to current-gen consoles.

In the case of the Xbox ecosystem, at least, more storage parity between Series X and Series S could aid development efforts for games like 2023 as more current-gen exclusives prepare to launch Forza Motorsport and starfield. By the time those games hit the market, the Series S’ standard, meager 512GB of built-in storage count could grow, or the proprietary storage expansion cards could come down in price. Both moves would boost the weaker, cheaper system’s selling point if newer games do indeed deliver on the Series S’ promise of “as powerful as Series X, but for 1080p TVs”.

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