The Cornerplay: Xbox One's struggles are traceable to one bad decision

Jeffrey Yuwono

Posts: 30   +2

cornerplay xbox gaming ps4 ram opinion xbox one consoles

Microsoft made two important announcements recently. The first was about Office 365 becoming a game changer. Today, I'll touch on the $50 price drop for the Xbox One. From November 2nd to January 2nd, you can get any Xbox One SKU for $50 off, which makes the entry level version $350. That's cheaper than the Playstation 4 at $400.

Microsoft is marketing this as a temporary promotion for the holidays, but that's just marketing. I have a hard time believing the Xbox One will go back up to $400.

The price drop is long overdue. The Playstation 4 is outselling the Xbox One by a significant margin -- Ars Technica estimates by at least 40% -- and the entire gap can be traced to one crucial decision. That's how thin the line is between success and failure in the console market. You can have a fantastic brand, recruit third party support, obtain exclusives, introduce innovations, ensure wide distribution, spend a lot of money on marketing... and still fail because of one bad decision.

That's not to say Microsoft hasn't made their fair few, but can you guess which bad decision I'm referring to? It wasn't bundling the Kinect, though that was rough because of the $100 price premium. It wasn't the DRM policies, or the always online requirement either. I think Microsoft was able to reverse those out early enough.

It was Microsoft's decision to go with 8GB of 2133MHz DDR3 RAM and 32MB of eSRAM memory for the Xbox One, while Sony opted to go with 8GB of 5500MHz GDDR5 RAM for the Playstation 4. This was terrible judgment on Microsoft's part, and if they lose the console war they can point to that decision as the cause.

cornerplay xbox gaming ps4 ram opinion xbox one consoles

What's the difference between these two memory systems? The bottom line is that the Playstation 4 is effectively more powerful than the Xbox One because of it. Microsoft will argue that the gap can be lessened with smart use of the embedded SRAM, marginally faster CPU and built-in cloud capabilities, but the truth is few if any third party developers will go to those lengths to optimize for the Xbox One.

It's easier to simply lower the game's resolution on the Xbox One and call it a day.

You can see why this is a huge problem for early adopters and game enthusiasts.

Two choices: One costs $400 and has better graphics, the other costs $500 with extra hardware you may want but don't need. Exclusives are a wash. Which would you choose?

Two choices: Both cost $400 except one has better graphics. Exclusives are still mostly a wash. Which would you choose?

Most will choose the machine with better graphics.

Xbox fans will argue the visual differences are imperceptible. That may be true but beside the point -- perception is reality and the perception is that the Playstation 4 is more powerful than the Xbox One.

The problem goes deeper for Microsoft.

Let's say you purchased both consoles. A big third party game like Assassin's Creed comes out and the Playstation 4 version runs at a higher resolution. Do you get it for the Playstation 4 or the Xbox One? Most will choose the former.

The game's publisher sees that the Playstation 4 version sold better and concludes they should put more resources behind the winning platform. Those resources translate to better games which gives consumers even more reason to choose Sony. Microsoft itself earns less revenue to make up for its loss leader, the console itself.

It's a death cycle that Microsoft is in danger of falling into.

Those who follow the console market will point out that weaker machines haven't always lost. Indeed, the Sega Genesis held up admirably against the Super Nintendo, as did the Xbox 360 against the Playstation 3. There's one key difference however. Those weaker machines also cost less to make and thus were sold at cheaper prices. Gamers don't mind weaker machines as long as they are cheaper as well.

Unfortunately, the Xbox One costs just as much to manufacture as the Playstation 4. Research firm IHS estimated that the core of the console, what's responsible for the graphics (CPU, GPU, RAM and other electronics), costs the same for both the Xbox One and the Playstation 4: $263.

How is that possible? Again, it comes down to memory architecture. The eSRAM on the Xbox One means a larger die is required (a huge driver of silicon cost) -- and that negates the Xbox One's cheaper and less powerful DDR3 memory. As Anandtech pointed out:

It turns out that Microsoft’s silicon budget was actually a little more than Sony’s, at least for the main APU. The Xbox One APU is a 363mm^2 die, compared to 348mm^2 for the PS4’s APU. Both use a similar 8-core Jaguar CPU (2 x quad-core islands), but they feature different implementations of AMD’s Graphics Core Next GPUs. Microsoft elected to implement 12 compute units, two geometry engines and 16 ROPs, while Sony went for 18 CUs, two geometry engines and 32 ROPs. How did Sony manage to fit in more compute and ROP partitions into a smaller die area? By not including any eSRAM on-die.

So why would Microsoft opt for a system that costs the same but is less powerful? At the time, there were concerns about the availability of GDDR5, the kind used in the Playstation 4. DDR3 memory, by comparison, was readily available. Microsoft worried it wouldn't be able to secure enough GDDR5 supply and thus opted for DDR3, with eSRAM to make up the difference.

Fortunately for Sony, GDDR5 supply didn't turn out to be a bottleneck. In fact, Sony was able to launch in many more countries with more consoles ready for sale than Microsoft. Unfortunately for Microsoft, it also meant it had a console that appeared weaker graphically -- a sin for hardcore gamers who are the first to buy new, expensive consoles.

Without losing a lot of money anyway, a scenario Microsoft wants to avoid. Shareholders and financial analysts rightly view the Xbox as adjacent to Microsoft's mobile first, cloud first strategy; why then invest so much in a potentially unprofitable business?

And that, dear readers, is why the Playstation 4 is ahead of the Xbox One. It reminds me of Al Pacino's speech in the movie Any Given Sunday. In the console wars, it truly is a game of inches.

Can you imagine if Microsoft had just opted for GDDR5 memory? The Xbox One and the Playstation 4 would have the same exact hardware. There would be no resolutiongate and it wouldn't have been so easy for hardcore gamers to choose which to support. It would be a race to secure the better exclusives, provide a better network environment, and so on. Sure, Microsoft would have still made their earlier snafus, but those were all reversible. A bad hardware decision is not.

For Microsoft to make a comeback, they must sell the Xbox One at a lower price than the Playstation 4. It means Microsoft will make dramatically less money even if they do win out, but that's the price you pay for bad decisions.

Permalink to story.

 

GhostRyder

Posts: 2,151   +588
I agree with this analysis of the hardware though to point out as well there is a difference in shaders on the PS4 and Xbox ONE (Albeit the core clocks close the gap a bit). Microsoft should have opted for DDR5 on their console and that would have made things a lot easier for programmers and lessened the impact.

I honestly do think given a bit of time, things will even back out because the eSRAM is nothing that new in the end to those already familiar with the Xbox 360 programming style (Though it used eDRAM which is different) but I can see it making more of an impact as time moves forward and lessening the gap (Especially with exclusives). Right now many companies are in a "Rush" so to speak to get next generation games out as fast as possible to fill up on the new console hype on top of the companies (Sony and Microsoft) wanting more and more games out as fast as can be made. This causes time constraints and sometimes you cannot expect programmers to have enough time to get acquainted with new things and even with these consoles being very close to PC's its still going to take time to get used to programming on these devices especially with curve balls like eSRAM.

Great article, I enjoyed the different viewpoint.
 

Burty117

Posts: 4,459   +2,637
I agree except for this, Even if they did change the Memory System to use DDR5, the GPU itself is considerably weaker:

"Microsoft elected to implement 12 compute units, two geometry engines and 16 ROPs, while Sony went for 18 CUs, two geometry engines and 32 ROPs"

If you look at the PS3 and Xbox360, Developers use every inch of power near the end of their life cycle (GTA5 for example) and that considerable boost for the PS4 would still play to Sony's advantage.

Microsoft also made the mistake of putting in a weak GPU and a "needs considerable optimization" memory system then forced the Kinect in that ate an extra 10% of the GPU!

That right there, has spelt trouble for Microsoft.

Also I'd like to add, "Xbox fans will argue the visual differences are imperceptible" not true, screenshot differences you can only see slight differences, when you see them running side by side when one is running at 792p (Xbox) and the other at 900p (PS4) it's actually very noticeable.
 

money

Posts: 72   +18
Apparently the author of this article doesn't know the difference between console and PC gamers. 99.99% of people who buy consoles don't know and don't care what DDR3/5 is and at how MHz they run, all they care about is games.
 

Pinkie Pie

Posts: 83   +44
I don't think this is the only reason. The forced bundling of Kinect, the always on scheme and all the other bad decisions they made gave the console a very bad name right from the start. A bad first impression can ruin your product.
 
D

davislane1

Excellent article. As I suspected from the Xbox One's Year 1 struggles thus far, they have boxed themselves into a corner. The difference in hardware capabilities is trivial right now. It will also be trivial for the next two years. Once the PS4 and XBO move into their prime years, however, the gap will be fairly noticeable (provided everything hasn't gone multi-platform by then).

Apparently the author of this article doesn't know the difference between console and PC gamers. 99.99% of people who buy consoles don't know and don't care what DDR3/5 is and at how MHz they run, all they care about is games.

99.99% of people who buy consoles not knowing the difference between DDR3 and GDDR5 will nonetheless opt for the latter because it sounds more powerful. When people find themselves ignorant, they often fill in the blanks with what they feel is correct. "GDDR5" feels better.
 

JohnCB

Posts: 118   +62
I don't think the RAM is the single point of failure for the console's success.

Quite frankly, both the X1 and the PS4 are significantly underpowered for a 2014 release. Hype can only push your product so far and it seems like a common sentiment that these "next gen" consoles are underwhelming at best.

The fact that nearly all developers are unable to hit the most basic 1080p @ 60fps is a pretty good indicator.
 
Apparently the author of this article doesn't know the difference between console and PC gamers. 99.99% of people who buy consoles don't know and don't care what DDR3/5 is and at how MHz they run, all they care about is games.

You'd think so, but my friend (who is an avid pc gamer and a firm believer in the PC Master Race), strategized his purchase of a PS4 for 6 weeks after launch just so he could make doubly sure that he was purchasing the next best thing after his PC.
 

cliffordcooley

Posts: 13,141   +6,439
You'd think so, but my friend (who is an avid pc gamer and a firm believer in the PC Master Race), strategized his purchase of a PS4 for 6 weeks after launch just so he could make doubly sure that he was purchasing the next best thing after his PC.
Your friend is nutz! lol
 

Burty117

Posts: 4,459   +2,637
Your friend is nutz! lol
Well me and my friends are all avid PC gamers, custom builds and what not and we usually get at least one console each, we liked playing Halo and Gears of War together. This time round we've all gone for the PS4 for Destiny, Last of Us and whatever else comes out.

As much as we enjoy having our games on PC (most of our games are on PC) some games are exclusive and some just are more enjoyable on console (for some reason we all enjoy playing GTA on console more than PC and none of us can figure out why?!).

Edit: When I say me and my friends that's about 9 of us that custom build our PC's but overall 12 of us.
 

cmbjive

Posts: 777   +139
While the author makes a convincing argument, most gamers don't care about the power of the machine. What killed Microsoft is easily traceable to the boneheaded decision to pack a useless peripheral with the system, lie about it being necessary to operate the system, and charge a $100 premium right when Sony decided otherwise and charged $100 less for the system. The PS4 having slightly more power than Xbone is just gravy.

MS has to lower the price because it is not moving as many systems as it thought it could. If it dropped the price any lower it would sign the death warrant for Xbox One. And I don't want it to because I still need to get to Generation 10 in Titanfall.
 

cliffordcooley

Posts: 13,141   +6,439
As much as we enjoy having our games on PC (most of our games are on PC) some games are exclusive and some just are more enjoyable on console (for some reason we all enjoy playing GTA on console more than PC and none of us can figure out why?!).
I get that, but to study the console as if you are part of the engineering department is crazy. Might be different if you could change the specs after the console came out. But that's not the case, so why bother checking the specs? Sure take a look at the surface specs and the performance comparison. But overall I'd bet anyone would have just as much fun regardless of which console was actually chosen, aside from exclusives that is.
 

Puiu

Posts: 5,463   +4,391
TechSpot Elite
For all of you who keep arguing about why the article states that the memory is the key difference, here's a short summary:
1. using ESRAM means they had significantly less space on the die for the GPU thus resulting in a 50% smaller GPU on the xbox one. it also makes makes PS4's die less complicated to produce and will be easier to make a die shrink for it in the future.
"Microsoft elected to implement 12 compute units, two geometry engines and 16 ROPs, while Sony went for 18 CUs, two geometry engines and 32 ROPs"
-on PCs 32 ROPs are considered standard for HD gaming
2. The amount of ESRAM they managed to put in too small to make a significant difference between the memory speeds/bandwidth. Very few will be able to optimize the games so that it use the 32MB of ESRAM efficiently.
3. The lower memory timings of DDR3 are negated by the higher speeds of the GDDR5 resulting in similar latency, but the lower bandwidth of DDR3 will result in a performance loss in memory intensive applications/games.
4. PS3 vs Xbox360 showed that having a less complicated platform is a big plus for developers
5. Having a smaller die should, in theory, mean that the PS4 can put a smaller heatsink on it and still have really good heat dissipation. This might be why the PS4 is smaller (besides the obvious fear that ms has of creating another ring of death).
 
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Burty117

Posts: 4,459   +2,637
I get that, but to study the console as if you are part of the engineering department is crazy. Might be different if you could change the specs after the console came out. But that's not the case, so why bother checking the specs? Sure take a look at the surface specs and the performance comparison. But overall I'd bet anyone would have just as much fun regardless of which console was actually chosen, aside from exclusives that is.
Meh, we all changed the hard drives to something a bit more potent, But it's more, going from PC gaming where we all game at 1080p-2k G-Sync then go to a console that outputs at 792p is quite an eye sore, most PS4 games run considerably higher than that. We also don't like investing much in the console, we all wanted to choose the most powerful one knowing it would be less of a step down from the PC and would always have the better experience when it's a multi-platform game that excludes the PC. Plus we find it quite fascinating how much developers can pull out of these machines, the GPU in the PS4 is the most powerful a console has ever had. If you compare the Desktop equivalents of the two GPU's, the one in the PS4 is considerably better.
 
G

Guest

You're wrong, but I appreciate your candor. The perception of GDDR5 RAM is unwaining. Most don't understand that its glorified DDR3 RAM making it equivalent to the DDR3 RAM in the XBox One. Most don't understand that the G stands for Graphics, but it is used for all CPU processes as well. Most do not understand that THERE IS NO dedicated graphics RAM in the PS4 and that is why it is not capable of 4K gaming while the XBox One is. If I had to say anything, I would say that Microsoft is taking it easy on Sony because Sony is going belly up. Like they did with Apple when it went belly up. Microsoft enjoys competition. It makes it a better company. But as for thier choices, it was to create a new XBox 360 at the same time they released the XBox One. Thats the only reason XBox One sales are not at pace with PS4. The bottom line is that the division for XBox profit is $475 million, and Sony's profit for the Playstation Division is $47 million. Microsoft has reigned supreme once again. And Sony is barely staying in business because Microsoft isn't exposing the weak hardware that Sony is portraying as superior.
 
G

Guest

Some interesting stuff, but I feel that many people are missing the point that the X1 is successful in it's own right. Of course in comparison to PS4 it's not as successful, but around 6 million people have one and quite a few will be added this holiday season with some key games launches + the price drop in US. This is a respectable user base and if you ask people if they are happy with their X1, the response is usually positive.

As for the point about people buying the PS4 version of the game when they have both consoles, I think this is a tiny demographic and not material to the success of either franchise.
 

Puiu

Posts: 5,463   +4,391
TechSpot Elite
You're wrong, but I appreciate your candor. The perception of GDDR5 RAM is unwaining. Most don't understand that its glorified DDR3 RAM making it equivalent to the DDR3 RAM in the XBox One. Most don't understand that the G stands for Graphics, but it is used for all CPU processes as well. Most do not understand that THERE IS NO dedicated graphics RAM in the PS4 and that is why it is not capable of 4K gaming while the XBox One is. If I had to say anything, I would say that Microsoft is taking it easy on Sony because Sony is going belly up. Like they did with Apple when it went belly up. Microsoft enjoys competition. It makes it a better company. But as for thier choices, it was to create a new XBox 360 at the same time they released the XBox One. Thats the only reason XBox One sales are not at pace with PS4. The bottom line is that the division for XBox profit is $475 million, and Sony's profit for the Playstation Division is $47 million. Microsoft has reigned supreme once again. And Sony is barely staying in business because Microsoft isn't exposing the weak hardware that Sony is portraying as superior.
We barely have 4K gaming on PCs that cost thousands, GDDR5 has nothing to do with 4k gaming besides the quantity(which should be enough for 4k ~ 4-6GBs). It's about the extremely high amount of pixels the GPU has to push. you need 3-4 times TFlops than what these consoles have.
And both consoles have the memory "dedicated" to the GPU. You need to research how they work before you make such statements. We aren't talking about laptops here.
 

Burty117

Posts: 4,459   +2,637
We barely have 4K gaming on PCs that cost thousands, GDDR5 has nothing to do with 4k gaming besides the quantity(which should be enough for 4k ~ 4-6GBs). It's about the extremely high amount of pixels the GPU has to push. you need 3-4 times TFlops than what these consoles have.
And both consoles have the memory "dedicated" to the GPU. You need to research how they work before you make such statements. We aren't talking about laptops here.
I was going to reply to "guest" but such a comment was too ridiculous I assumed he was just trolling xD
 
D

davislane1

You're wrong, but I appreciate your candor. The perception of GDDR5 RAM is unwaining. Most don't understand that its glorified DDR3 RAM making it equivalent to the DDR3 RAM in the XBox One. Most don't understand that the G stands for Graphics, but it is used for all CPU processes as well. Most do not understand that THERE IS NO dedicated graphics RAM in the PS4 and that is why it is not capable of 4K gaming while the XBox One is. If I had to say anything, I would say that Microsoft is taking it easy on Sony because Sony is going belly up. Like they did with Apple when it went belly up. Microsoft enjoys competition. It makes it a better company. But as for thier choices, it was to create a new XBox 360 at the same time they released the XBox One. Thats the only reason XBox One sales are not at pace with PS4. The bottom line is that the division for XBox profit is $475 million, and Sony's profit for the Playstation Division is $47 million. Microsoft has reigned supreme once again. And Sony is barely staying in business because Microsoft isn't exposing the weak hardware that Sony is portraying as superior.
We barely have 4K gaming on PCs that cost thousands, GDDR5 has nothing to do with 4k gaming besides the quantity(which should be enough for 4k ~ 4-6GBs). It's about the extremely high amount of pixels the GPU has to push. you need 3-4 times TFlops than what these consoles have.
And both consoles have the memory "dedicated" to the GPU. You need to research how they work before you make such statements. We aren't talking about laptops here.

At least give the Guest props for waiting 15 comments before posting a fanboyism. That took willpower.
 

cmbjive

Posts: 777   +139
You're wrong, but I appreciate your candor. The perception of GDDR5 RAM is unwaining. Most don't understand that its glorified DDR3 RAM making it equivalent to the DDR3 RAM in the XBox One. Most don't understand that the G stands for Graphics, but it is used for all CPU processes as well. Most do not understand that THERE IS NO dedicated graphics RAM in the PS4 and that is why it is not capable of 4K gaming while the XBox One is. If I had to say anything, I would say that Microsoft is taking it easy on Sony because Sony is going belly up. Like they did with Apple when it went belly up. Microsoft enjoys competition. It makes it a better company. But as for thier choices, it was to create a new XBox 360 at the same time they released the XBox One. Thats the only reason XBox One sales are not at pace with PS4. The bottom line is that the division for XBox profit is $475 million, and Sony's profit for the Playstation Division is $47 million. Microsoft has reigned supreme once again. And Sony is barely staying in business because Microsoft isn't exposing the weak hardware that Sony is portraying as superior.
We barely have 4K gaming on PCs that cost thousands, GDDR5 has nothing to do with 4k gaming besides the quantity(which should be enough for 4k ~ 4-6GBs). It's about the extremely high amount of pixels the GPU has to push. you need 3-4 times TFlops than what these consoles have.
And both consoles have the memory "dedicated" to the GPU. You need to research how they work before you make such statements. We aren't talking about laptops here.

At least give the Guest props for waiting 15 comments before posting a fanboyism. That took willpower.

I think Ghost Ryder signed out and posted as Guest. I kid, I kid.
 

m4a4

Posts: 2,837   +3,599
TechSpot Elite
It sounds like the author is saying that because the xb1 is and sounds less powerful, it has already failed.......
Did he pay attention to last gen with the 360 and ps3?
 
G

Guest

I am really amused at all the people saying "Console gamers don't care about graphics." Based on what? All data suggests that console gamers (Like all other hardware buyers) do care about graphics.

P.S. The PS4 has the rough equivalent of a 7870, so unless you people think that or similar cards like a 580/660 Ti are weak; then you need to admit the PS4 is perfectly capable for $400. Hell most gaming PC's are little weaker than the Xbox One (7770), so get over yourselves.