The revamped new model of the Xbox One, the , is now available. It's smaller, sleeker, and supports 4K and HDR, but one thing you won't see advertised on the box or in Microsoft's marketing materials is a boost to game performance. Despite this, the Xbox One S does provide improved performance, albeit not in all games.
Microsoft's senior director of product marketing and planning, Albert Penello, spoke with Digital Foundry about the changes made to the system's hardware, including its additional speed -- the GPU sees the biggest bump, with a clock speed increase to 914 MHz from 853 MHz. (ESRAM bandwidth enjoys the same increase, going from 204 GB/s to 219 GB/s. CPU clock speed is unchanged.)
Panello made it clear Microsoft didn't want to mislead the public by talking about performance improvements, stating, "The key is that we did not want customers to expect any change in game performance for existing titles." He also explained the GPU change was meant to allow developers to offer HDR content without "incur[ring] any performance hit."
And although it's not using it to sell the system, Microsoft decided to offer the extra GPU speed to all games. "So some games (ones that utilize dynamic resolution and/or unlocked frame rates) may see a very minor performance improvement," he explained. "Our testing internally has shown this to be pretty minor, and is only measurable on certain games, so we didn't want to make it a 'selling point' for the new console."
However, Digital Foundry's own testing found the improvement is noteworthy in some games. For instance, running the same Project Cars replay on an Xbox One and an Xbox One S nets a 7-percent average improvement in frame rate, which translates to an increase of as much as five frames per second (FPS).
Switching to a third-person chase angle (which DF notes is more like the camera you'd have while playing) sees this improvement go up to 11 percent, or as much as 9 FPS. The site notes that while it's not a perfect comparison due to the storm effects being somewhat random, "the improvement is considerable, and repeatable."
The gains are entirely dependent on the game and can even vary within the same game depending on what the bottleneck is. Hitman sees an 8.1 percent frame rate increase during gameplay, but its issues stem from being CPU-constrained. That results in performance across the two systems leveling out at times during the Paris mission.
Fallout 4 benefits little from the better hardware, while Rise of the Tomb Raider sees a locked 30 FPS frame rate on Xbox One S, whereas the previous hardware would see dips to 28 FPS. Batman: Arkham Knight enjoys an improved frame rate, less screen tearing, and less stutter. Backward-compatible games are affected, but with the system's GPU typically not being the problem, the improvements are not dramatic.
You can read the full results from Digital Foundry's testing here, and see some of the differences for yourself in the video above. As the site sums up its findings: "The increased performance in the new console is fascinating to highlight in benchmarks, but in the 'real world,' Xbox One S simply adds an additional layer of consistency -- some will notice it and appreciate it, others may want it just because it's there, but equally, it's fair to say that many more may not notice it at all."
Whether all of this justifies the purchase of a new console will vary from person to person. Further complicating the matter is the impending launch of Project Scorpio next year, which promises to provide significantly more horsepower than what's offered with the Xbox One S.