Xbox One X Thermal Management: The Hottest News in the Game Console World
Microsoft's Xbox One X: More Power!
The biggest hardware news out of E3 2017 this week has been the reveal for Microsoft's Project Scorpio. Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One X, which boasts some immense processing power. Just for fun, we wanted to take a look at the specs Microsoft put out for it's new console and consider the Xbox One X thermal management challenges it faces.
The Xbox One X Processing Specs
Xbox One X utilizes 12GB GDDR5 of graphic memory on it's 6 Teraflop graphics processing unit (GPU). Eight AMD cores round out the central processing unit (CPU) and clocks in at 2.3GHz. The full released specs can be seen at Xbox One X's page.
More Power! More Thermal Management!
So let's talk about Xbox One X thermal management, since all that processing power comes at the price of heat. Currently, we only have a sweet (digitally enhanced) image of their cooling system. We'll need to wait until we can get our hands on one and do a proper product tear down to really get into the details of the Xbox One X thermal management solution.
Isn't it awesome looking? What we see here is a single intake centrifugal blower that pulls air from the top of the system. It's mounted on what we can assume is the CPU, since that will be the biggest power hog in the console. All the air it pulls will be pushed through the fins of what looks like a closed top zipper fin heat sink. Microsoft captions the image with "All that power doesn’t mean more heat and noise. Xbox One X uses advanced liquid cooling and the supercharger-style centrifugal fan to ensure it stays cool." Let's go through it bit by bit.
"All that power doesn’t mean more heat and noise"
With great power comes great responsibility... to dissipate heat appropriately. While Microsoft's statement about noise can be true, it usually comes with a trade off of more volume or complex technologies. The blower in the picture looks like it's on the larger size, both in diameter and depth. The larger blower, "the supercharger-style centrifugal fan", means that it can run slower than a smaller one to keep noise down. It also has an added benefit of longer lifespan since the console won't be pushing the bearings to the max all the time. Thanks Microsoft! The fan noise cuts into the game experience.
We could argue with Microsoft on less heat. We would need more information on the exact specs of the CPU for a full argument, but with all that processing power and less than 100% efficiency, there's got to be some waste heat.
Newton's First Law, Conservation of Energy, says "No, you can't destroy energy, it just moves."
Now maybe, Microsoft has some cool new type of chip that is super efficient. If not, other CPUs that process at 2.3GHz dissipate at least 40 watts, but there are a few that get to 70W and higher. (Check this Wikipedia page for a list of different CPUs and their associated power dissipation). Those watts need to go somewhere. This is why we call it thermal management or dissipation and not destruction. While the Xbox One X may generate a similar amount of heat as other CPUs, the key is dissipating it appropriately and not letting it affect your silicon chips and make them lag. We don't have much more to go by on how well the hot air gets out of the console. But it probably will heat up your room a little bit.
"Xbox One X uses advanced liquid cooling"
If we check back to an Xbox One tear down, the last CPU cooler Microsoft used was also a zipper fin assembly with a fan instead of a blower to push air through the fins. We also see in this older Xbox model the telltale signs of heat pipes. In the older thermal management assembly, heat pipes pulled heat from directly above the CPU and helped spread the heat to each of the fins. Microsoft most likely visited this use of two-phase cooling, especially with their claim of using "advanced liquid cooling". Since we don't have a good look at the base, it's hard to tell if they've employed heat pipes or a vapor chamber.
Or it entirely possible that Microsoft has something more advanced like an active liquid thermal management solution. The fins that we see might only be the heat exchanger for the liquid system and that image is hiding a pump. Now, if that were the case, Xbox One X thermal management would be pushing the envelope of what has been done in console cooling.
Now the Not-So-Patient Wait Begins
We can only speculate on the rest of the details until the Xbox One X is released on November 7th. Again, we'll grab a console, do a tear down, and walk through how heat moves through the complete product. Until then, happy designing!