Microsoft's Xbox One console is due to get a much-needed performance boost to help it compete with rival Sony's PlayStation 4, thanks to a new application programming interface (API) for exploiting the console's ESRAM.
When Microsoft and Sony unveiled their plans for their respective next-generation games consoles, the differences between the two were slim. Both chose 64-bit x86 accelerated processing units (APUs) from AMD to power their devices, becoming joint-first customers for the company's freshly-launched semi-custom processor division, and packed in 8GB of memory. As details emerged, however, the two diverged: Microsoft opted for cheaper DDR3 memory to the PS4's GDDR5 and included 768 shader units in the APU's graphics processing section to the PS4's 1,152. To make up for this disparity, the company added something unique to its console: 32MB of high-bandwidth embedded static RAM (ESRAM) directly on-chip.
So far, Sony has been leading in the console wars. Its lower launch price - brought about by Microsoft's decision, reversed shortly after release, to bundle the Kinect depth-sensing camera system with its console - combined with more powerful graphics hardware saw an early lead, and while price cuts have helped Microsoft catch up it is still lagging behind its biggest competitor. This has not been helped by developers finding that they are having to run cross-platform titles at a lower resolution or framerate on the Xbox One compared to the PS4.
That may be changing, however. Speaking to GamingBolt
, Maciej Binkowski - lead designer on upcoming survive-'em-up Dying Light - has indicated that a new API from Microsoft is helping developers make better use of the ESRAM module to improve performance. 'In terms of advantages, the main thing is just how much the ESRAM control has improved,
' Binkowski explained of the mid-December software update. 'The new API allows you to do a lot more with the ESRAM, things devs have always wanted to do but were not easily accessible.
While the new API won't help existing games, it would appear to be allowing developers to narrow the performance gap between the Xbox One and the PS4 for future releases - although whether it's too little too late for Microsoft's hopes of console-market leadership remains to be seen.