21 June 2020

Predictions for the Series S...

There are quite a few rumours beginning to circulate over Microsoft's July event. Some of them even apply to the fabled "Series S" console. I had tried to predict what the hardware makeup of SX and PS5 would be so I figured I may as well try my hat at predicting what will be the makeup of the SS. (Oh, and by the way, some of the things I had predicted for a "next gen console" may appear to be present in the PS5... if certain rumours are true.)

So, to summarise the rumours about the XSS:
  • Half the price of the SX
  • Should be small form factor - they want to push it, several generations down the line, to the size of an Amazon FireTV
I'll get to what I think of the price in a few paragraphs but let me first deal with size:

I previously had a go at predicting the size of the Series X. Confusingly, I had thought I was wrong given the reports of its volume... but going on other, supposed dimensions of the console, it seems I might be much closer than I thought. Either way, a slight change in dimensions results in a large error of volume. Personally, I'd normally go with Digital Foundry on their official specs given by Microsoft but I did that analysis myself and it seems like the console is a little bigger. What I will admit is that the ends of the SX are concave, meaning that it will have a smaller volume than a straight cuboid calculation. So, I trust their stated "volume" but am a bit skeptical about the dimensions, given I was 4 mm and 7 mm out in my estimates...

I'm pegging the Series X at between 6.86 L and 7.40 L.

At any rate, the Fire TV comment was probably speaking about the Original Fire TV, not the Fire TV Cube or the Fire TV Stick. While the Cube is the most similar in terms of proportional dimensions, it has a volume of 0.57 L whereas the original Fire TV has a volume of 2.31 L... and the less said about the volume of the Stick, the better!

Probably the shape of the Series X but not the size of the Series X...

Even a 5 or 3 nm production node in (5-7 years) of the Series S SoC would struggle to be cooled in only 0.57 L of space.. it's just too small. If the Series X requires that much volume and air moving through it in order to cool it effectively then there's no way something with 8% of the volume could cool something with the rumoured 20-30 compute units for the GPU portion of the APU. No, the original Fire TV has around 33% of the volume of the SX which seems more reasonable, even without a physical disc drive.

Personally, I'm still of the mind that Microsoft will utilise the lower binned SoCs of the Series X for the Series S. It only makes sense to me - even if your production doesn't have that many defects, you're still going to end up with a good percentage of wafers that just can't live up to the 52 CUs of the SX when you multiply by the thousands or millions. Added to that is the fact that most of your early adopters will likely pay full price, then *I* think that I wouldn't announce or release a lower tier console at the launch of the higher tier console.

Marketing is about getting the focus of your consumers on a single idea - whether that's a lifestyle change or a piece of hardware.

To split the attention of your next generation launch between two hardware choices when you already have two lower tier choices on the market is a waste of marketing money and consumer attention span.

However, going back to the design of the console I think that the Series S will combine a new, smaller SoC with cut down SX SoCs in order to maximise revenue. In the same manner that NVidia are using various dies in the RTX 2060 KO, for example.

I don't think that the SS will be so low-powered that it will only be a streaming console, though. The reason I think that is because I think that Microsoft are going to revist their past...

Some of you might remember this...

Microsoft previously attempted this with the Xbox 360, the console that was at the junction of old-school ideology and new-era technology. Yes, I'm sure that everyone who really understood gaming, where it was going and who had the disposable income purchased a 360 with an included HDD (or got a larger unsanctioned third party HDD like I did) but there was the option of just using the 360 without an HDD and only the memory units.

These little babies were akin to the GameCube, Dreamcast and PS2 memory cards. Primarily used for moving save data between systems, they could be used for storing profiles, saved games and, in the case of the 360, also storage of downloaded Xbox Live Marketplace titles. However, they never really had enough storage space and were, perhaps a little after and before their time. i.e. The PS2, Dreamcast and Gamecube used them effectively for what they were designed for. The 360 was late in the sense that HDDs were the clear winners in terms of storage capacity but it was early in the sense that condensation of storage (or storage density) was still in its early stages - in the days of 128 GB SD cards these pieces of equipment look quaint...

Aside from there being clear design parallels with the 360's memory unit, the intention of Microsoft for their usage appears to be identical...

Size Matters...

First off, the SX's disc drive takes up a lot of volume. Without that, the SX would, and could be much smaller. In contrast, it's clear that the PS5 design does not even take the disc drive into account, meaning that it doesn't materially contribute to the cooling solution and, thus, required volume of the console. So, although a Fire TV might be 33% the volume of the SX, I don't think that the specs need to be downgraded to 33% of those in the SX, more like 50%.

I've said before that I think the XSS will be at least the equivalent of an Xbox One X in terms of specs. I think it would be ridiculous from a marketing standpoint and from a game design standpoint to have a console that is less powerful than the previous generation of hardware. That's why I think that the SS will have 56/2 = 28 CUs. That number already includes 4 cut CUs due to defects in the design process. This should provide a theoretical 6.5 teraflops of compute throughput if clocked at the same clock speed as the SX's GPU. 

However, like the PS5, that's not the whole story.

A smaller number of CUs results in less thermal emission. Plus, in an SoC with the same surface area as the SX, that could mean more dissipated heat generation, meaning that clocks could be pushed higher. That reasoning only really works for the cut-down SoCs from the SX and not the potential new, more compact design from the XSS original SoC. So, let's give a little leeway and say that, accounting for defects on the new, smaller SoC, you're going to get 26 CUs @ 1825 - that's 6.07 TFLOPS, still higher than the One X and, when accounting for the architectural changes and optimisations, much stronger than that console.

Personally, I think Microsoft/AMD could push that clockspeed up a little higher to reach 2.00 GHz in such a system, resulting in around 6.66 TFLOPS.

I didn't speak about the CPU portion of the SoC yet but I don't think that will change - changing graphical ability is less challenging in terms of development scaling than changing the amount of CPU power available. Plus, the CPU is a relatively small part of the die area. Thus, I think the CPU will remain with 8C/16T at the same clock speeds as the SX. Added to this, we've seen the Renoir  laptop APUs running intensive workloads without a heatsink... so I'm not really concerned about overheating here.

The design of the PS5 makes clear that the disc drive has no impact on the cooling of the APU inside the console...

Finally, I think that the rumour of a "half price" SKU is totally doable. The two most expensive pieces of kit in both next generation consoles are the RAM and SSD. In 2019, 1 GB of 14 Gbps GDDR6 was around $12. This puts the 16 GB in each next gen console around $100 - 130 in terms of BOM when taking volume ordering and reduction in price into account (and the fact that 6 of the modules are 2 GB in size). In comparison, a 1 TB NVME Gen 3/4 SSD costs around $100 as well ($120-ish for the consumer). I have a prediction as to what each console will launch at, below, but let's just say that these two components are a significant portion of that price and, given the competition for the NAND and RAM chips from other sectors, those prices aren't liable to be facing much downward pressure any time soon.

In this context, to reduce system cost, you need to reduce the price of these two components, above all else. To do that, you need to go smaller. However, because you're still going to have the same system architecture supporting the APU and RAM, you aren't as constrained as Microsoft were for the One X. Meaning, SFS and other aspects of the velocity architecture mean that you don't need as much RAM as you would for a similarly spec'ed One X.

This is just a visualisation for the below paragraph's point...


AMD have a perfect overall system that is designed to scale. RNDA 2.0 is designed to scale from the top to the bottom of the stack. The Zen architectures are also designed in the same manner. Microsoft have also used other components that scale well - a standard SSD interface and controller. Looking at that expandable SSD slot on the SX, there really isn't much reason for Microsoft developing that if they could have just made the internal SSD user replaceable and given its general consumer-grade specs compared to the SSD in the PS5, the internal SSD has no reason not to be user-replaceable*... but then why would you need a proprietary slot for expansion?
*Though I had previously speculated that is probably is relatively easy to replace - the form factor notwithstanding...
Further to that, why would Seagate go all-in on a proprietary format for a console where the majority of users would never bother to purchase a single expansion SSD? 1 TB is good enough for the One X, why wouldn't it be good enough for the Series X when each player is only playing a few games, game install size is better optimised and likely smaller per file on next gen consoles and "downloading a game" can be essentially free if you have no internet caps?

The simple answer is that the Series S will ship with almost no storage.

My predictions...

Summing all of these thoughts into a few bullet points, I think I have an idea what the Series S may look like:
  • Similar volume to the original Fire TV (2.3 L)
  • 8C/16T 3.8 GHz, 3.6 GHz with SMT
  • 26 CUs @ 2.00 GHz, 6.66 TFLOPS
  • 10 GB 12 Gbps GDDR6 running through a 320-bit bus for a bandwidth of 480 GB/s
  • 128 GB SSD
This hardware design allows for a good deal of cost-cutting, along with a good deal of performance. It also allows the One X to become the baseline console specification, enhancing the Xbox ecosystem and fits into statements made by Microsoft before the One X launch stating that they wanted to have a rolling support structure for console hardware, going forward. I've covered this before and it seemed clear, then, that Microsoft wanted to embrace a phone-like model where games would support 2 hardware models at a time. During the launch of the Series X, we're seeing that stretched to three models (One, One X and Series X) but I expect that to switch to One X, Series S and Series X about a year after launch. If the One X and Series S have similar graphical capabilities then it's not too far of a possibility to provide support for both consoles, dropping support for One X two to four years down the line.

Let me be clear, dropping the bandwidth of the memory modules to 12 Gbps and their capacity to 1 GB will save a bit of money, overall. Dropping the 1 TB drive to a 128 GB drive will save a LOT more. Moving to slower and smaller capacity RAM might save around $30-40, moving to a 128 GB SSD might save $70. Take out the Blu Ray drive and you're saving another $30 and combine that with reductions in materials costs for building the unit and the thermal management system and you could easily shave off $180-200 from the cost of the console. 

Geting back to that SSD - it's enough space to install a game or two at a time. But it enables local play, game streaming and more importantly is an on-ramp to players purchasing an expensive proprietary expansion SSD down the line, something many people purchasing a console will do. Microsoft have history in this regard with the 360 Core system but I've been able to find how many customers purchased Core systems versus how many HDDs were officially sold but the estimated amount of non-HDD owning systems were around 20% back in 2007.

I'd expect the RAM configuration to remain the same, with an identically-wide controller interface...

I mentioned somewhere above that I'd take a crack at predicting the price points of all the consoles, well... let me do that here:

  • Xbox One X - €250
  • Xbox Series S - €300
  • Playstation 5 Digital - €450
  • Playstation 5 Disc - €500 - 550
  • Xbox Series X - €550 - 600
Given the continued expense of the Xbox One X*, I can't see a Series S being so cheap. However, I can see Microsoft announcing a price drop for the One X in the July event to €250-300. If the rumour that the SS will be half the price of the SX, then there's no way it's going to be less than €300, even with the potential for increased revenue via various subscription services and additional purchases. I also don't see MS going for a streaming-only console because they already have that capability on the PC, mobile phones, etc.. So that puts the SX at around €550-600, depending on how much Microsoft may want to lose money in order to gain sales ground.
*It's hovering around $/£/€400 in the US/UK and EU...
On the other hand, I think SONY is terrified of going above the $500 price point. They might do it with the disc-version for €550 with €450 for the discless version. Yes, I think the savings of the disc drive are much less than €100 but I think the reasoning would be that they would make up money over the long-term. At €550, SONY has the option to drop it €50 in order to get ahead of MS at €550-600. 

I think, given Microsoft's stance that it's a "premium" console that they will not drop prices in order to gain market share on the PS5. In the €500 - 600 price bracket, budget considerations are no longer the driving force that they are in the €200-400 price bracket.

Anyway, so that's my take on things. Nothing too outlandish, I think.

Tied into this strategy from Microsoft would be an expected hardware introduction with higher performance than the SX in 2025-2026 shortly after support for the One X is dropped.


DavidB said...

My predictions:
PS5 Disc launch 2020 $499
PS5 NoDisc launch 2020 $399
SeriesX Disc launch 2020 $499
SeriesX NoDisc launch 2021 $299 (at which point the 3 above will each drop $100).
Then in 2022 we will see both a PS5Pro and a SeriesXPro at $499, both launching mid-summer to capitalize on "a new console to take to college" purchase cycle.

That said, I can even envision the PS5 NoDisc 2020 launch as low as $349, under a Sony effort to completely crush SeriesX out of the gate and count on a higher digital game purchases attach rate and "generation dominance" to makeup for the initial BOM loss.

Duoae said...

Hi DavidB,

Yeah, I think that if MS match the PS5 in price with the SX, Sony is going to lose the generation. I do wonder though which console is actually more expensive to produce. I'd love to see the breakdown by a company like ifixit after release. It'd be very interesting!

I doubt we'd get new mid-gen consoles two years after release. I don't think tech will have moved forward enough to make it worth their while. I mean, it took them something like 3-4 years to plan the SX and PS5. That would mean they're already working on the next consoles. I think that isn't compatible with selling at a loss - especially when both consoles are more powerful than a good percentage of gaming PCs being used today.

At lot of people are predicting very low prices for the digital version of the PS5 but I can't see it. Like the One X, the PS4 Pro is still priced too high - especially bearing in mind the even larger difference in performance between the Pro and PS5 than the One X and the Series X. But anyway, it's exciting to wait and see. :)

DavidB said...

"That would mean they're already working on the next consoles."
Considering how long both have been in development, and looking at AMD's roadmaps, I don't think it's a stretch to think that at a high level they aren't already both working on their "Pro" refreshes. Granted PS4Pro launch almost exactly 3 years after PS4, so my guess of 2 years is based more on how fast AMD has been ramping up than historical precedent.

"Yeah, I think that if MS match the PS5 in price with the SX, Sony is going to lose the generation."
I don't think so. To be honest, I don't think there is really even a "war" this generation, even though their will be a "theoretical generational war" on blogs and the press and whatnot. Both are "fighting" a different battle IMO. It is clear (to me at least) from what is officially revealed so far that Sony and MS are taking divergent paths. While both will offer "next gen" (and quite similar) AMD capabilities, to me Sony is more focused on the details of the "game experience" while MS is more focused on the "play games experience". In >my< book, if my PC can play everything that comes to the SeriesX (which MS has promised, right?) I would rather spend that $499 or whatever SeriesX price on upgrading my PC, and still buy a PS5 for exclusives that'll likely NEVER come to PC.

I do very much believe MS's "Smart Delivery" is a great advance for us gamers though, one that Sony WILL have to address. Sony having been totally silent on that front, I can't see PS5 coming to market without SOMETHING similar. That would be a MASSIVE fail on Sony's part.

Duoae said...

Hi DavidB,

Fair enough. Though I am not sure how much improvement to a PC upgrade the cost of a next gen console would really be worth. I'm still working on my article around that but, depending on your current rig, you could be looking up to around €1500-2000 to match those experiences on a PC. I guess it all depends on a person's disposable income.

Certainly, I think we're looking at a huge jump in recommended specs.

I think the "Smart Delivery" is just Microsoft's version of timed exclusive marketing spend. It's entirely opt-in on the publisher's/developer's part. Bear in mind that even Cyberpunk will be free to upgrade on PS4 - PS5 as well. I don't believe that it's such a big failure on Sony's part for not focussing on it. All games around release (except for first party PS5 titles) will be cross-gen. And all will work on PS5 if bought on PS4. I don't think getting slightly nicer assets really classes as a failure.

DavidB said...

Yes, it is clear the "console haters" and "pc master race" crowd completely ignores the fact that SURE, a PC will do these things these "next gen" consoles will do, and for certain features even more, but not at anything CLOSE to the prices of these consoles.

As for me, my PC is already capable enough on the CPU/RAM/SSD side of things, it graphics that'll hold me back. If I take $500 for a XBX, plus another $100-200 for peripherals, and instead put that $6-700 into a graphics card, I suspect I'll be able to run anything the XBX can run.

"I don't think getting slightly nicer assets really classes as a failure."
I don't mean a "functional" fail if Sony doesn't do something comparable, I mean more a marketing/perception fail.

Side Note: I saw news that Sony announced any NEW game submitted for PSN certification on/after July 15 >MUST< run on PS5, and any existing game update submitted after then is >RECOMMENDED< it be able to run on PS5.

Duoae said...

Yeah, after my semi-upgrade, I'm looking at another €700-800, depending on next gen graphics cards, to where I'm able to get that performance. :D

I don't really fall to any side in the debate as I've always split my gaming between whichever platform i liked but PC was always part of my setup. I'm still waiting on ask the announcements and a at kissy a few months of hardware being in consumers' hands before i jump in on either console.

Duoae said...

Omg, bus journeys and auto correct do not mix. I meant to say:

I'm still waiting on all the announcements and at least a few minds of hardware being in consumers' hands before i jump in on either console.

Duoae said...

Okay, now I'm sure this phone is out to get me....

fybyfyby said...

Hi Duoae, I think more than 6TF for XSS doesnt make sense. But it makes sense if XSX is 4K console, then XSS is FHD console. In theory that means XSS can have 4times less CUs. But in reality that isnt true because of some computing (and RT) being made on GPU. Anyway I think 4TF on RDNA2 is more than 6TF on XOX several gens older gpu. And also that 4 or 5 TF will be more than enough for cheap FHD console. But only if that is the case. But I cant imagine they will build cheaper 4K machine. That doesnt make sense.

This can be really trumph on MS side. There are still many people with smaller TVs, where 4K is only as a selling point of tv but doesnt really show itself.

Duoae said...

Hey, fybyfyby!

Yes, i agree i think that if they release the XSS it'll put them in a very strong position against Sony.

I'm one of the people you mention - i don't have a 4k TV so that extra horsepower is redundant for me and i think a good portion of the population is in the same boat.

You're right in the sense that 4 TFLOP of RDNA 2.0 has more graphical performance than RDNA 1.0 but consider that 1080p graphics cards are all above 5.5 TFLOPS and none of them have ray tracing. That's GTX 1660 and above. An RTX 2060 is 6.4 TFLOPS and that's the lowest RT capable card available.

A 4 TFLOP GPU is not logical to me for even 1080p gaming. Less than 6 TFLOP is still unlikely due to the graphical effects that are needed for next gen games. It's not just 4x the resolution between 1080p to 4k, there's also the quality of each pixel. Remember, also, that a lot of games will be upscaling from 1440p and 1660p. Adding all this together and you don't get 4x fewer resources required to output a next gen game to a 1080p screen.

I also don't see RDNA 2.0 having fewer CUs per tier than current cards. Performance requirements are increasing, not decreasing - even at the same resolution.