Microsoft Set to Change the Console Market With Yearly Hardware Upgrades for Xbox

Written by Jacques Waugh on Tue, Mar 1, 2016 5:30 PM
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The life cycle of a console used to be pretty much set in stone. You'd get new hardware every five to seven years and each of the biggest companies would have their flagship hardware come out around the same time. With the huge commercial success of the Wii, Sony and Microsoft decided to hop on the motion tracking bandwagon with the Move and Kinect respectively, which effectively elongated the life cycle so that they could all sell more copies of their hardware. With the launch Xbox One and PS4, many consumers were left wondering where the market was headed next.

It still seems like only yesterday that the Xbox One and PS4 launched and many were expecting this generation to be in place for quite a while but it looks as if Microsoft's Phil Spencer has other ideas when it comes to the future of console gaming. At the Xbox Spring Showcase event last week, Spencer delivered a keynote speech outlying Microsoft's vision for the future of the Xbox where optional hardware upgrades would be the norm, in a vein similar to how PC gaming operates.

The driving idea behind this shift in strategy stems from the need to offer a console system that doesn't feel “left behind” the computer gaming market. PC gamers are able to upgrade to maximise their hardware almost yearly and it seems that Microsoft feel this is the future for its consoles too: "Hardware innovation continues while the software innovation is able to take advantage and I don't have to jump a generation and lose everything that I played on before." It's an idea a lot of console gamers would relish; to be able to keep those games that really stick with you without having to keep around an old console could be a dream come true. In theory, they could release Gears of War 4 and then several years later it would look and run even better.

An optional hardware upgrade for a console is  not an entirely unheard of idea – the N64 had the expansion pak which was entirely optional for most games (although Perfect Dark, Donkey Kong 64 and Majora's Mask were 3 of the games that required it and were conveniently some of the biggest titles on the platform) and many people praised the immediate impact the option hardware had. Considering that Donkey Kong 64 was actually bundled with the Expansion Pak due to a game breaking bug, it definitely made it much more amenable to gamers. Many people weren't pushed into spending money on additional hardware and instead got the technological boost for what equated to completely free.

It's a model that smartphone consumers are all too familiar with. Rather than huge leaps between generations, instead the focus becomes on incrementally updated technology that allows users to keep up to the cutting edge of technology. This would be the parallel that would make the most sense as many games on mobiles are playable across a huge range of different hardware and software. The question then remains on how exclusive new game releases will be to the newer platforms or upgrades and whether older games will be supported for what gamers would feel is a reasonable timespan. According to Spencer, that's the exact motivation behind this move: "We can effectively feel a little bit more like we see on PC, where I can still go back and run my old Doom and Quake games that I used to play years ago but I can still see the best 4K games come out and my library is always with me."

The price point will be the main sticking point for whether Microsoft see success with this new business model. The current price point for new console releases is nowhere near a sustainable yearly figure for many consumers and considering the console has always been the champion for more affordable gaming hardware compared to PC gaming, it's obviously going to important to see how affordable and how optional these upgrades will be.

Would you be okay with optional hardware upgrades on a console or do you think that's a practice best left to PC users? It'll be really interesting to see what impact on the games industry this move from Microsoft as the way we play console games could be forever changed. Whether it'll end up being a cheeky way to part gamers from even more of their cash or whether it'll be a new era for console gaming is anyone's guess but Microsoft seem certain they've discovered a new future for consoles.

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08:13 Mar-03-2016

why dont they just stick to games being backward compatible? the motivation for this move is to milk us thats all, and i think buying a console is to avoid having to upgrade hardware frequently....... thats just my opinion

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15:27 Mar-05-2016

I want the option to upgrade my xbox so it can finally manufacture ecstasy like I was promised back in 2001. That's just my opinion…….

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09:16 Mar-06-2016

Mkw1912 and your opinion is the opinion of 99% of the poeople who buy consoles, because consoles are meant to be simple, plug and play, no thoughts about it gaming machines that run games and have exclusives, that's all, they are not about performance and hardware upgrades(which most people will be confused by), I personally won't buy an Xbox one, even if it was stronger than PC with these hardware upgrades(tumor life support), because it has almost no exclusives.

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00:43 Mar-03-2016

I'm probably not the first person to say this, but I totally saw this move coming. The current-gen consoles are powerful, but only compared to their predecessors. With PC hardware being leaps and bounds over what the PS4 and Xbone can deliver, this was only a matter of time. I bet they will release several models of the Xbone with scaled prices and performance.

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15:22 Mar-05-2016

I can see it now - class warfare but within the console segment.

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06:01 Mar-06-2016

The worst of it is the various models probably won't be that different in performance anyway, since nobody would buy an $800 console a few years after buying a $400 one. That would just cement my decision to stick with PC even more as well.

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15:00 Mar-02-2016

I really liked the memory expansion on the N64. It let them buff up the textures, lighting, and shadows on Rogue Squadron. I was so excited to see the improvement when I first bought the upgrade. Of course it only helped games that were developed to use it, but those games really did look quite a bit better.


However I doubt anything Microsoft tries with the Xbox One will be as successful.

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14:37 Mar-03-2016

It really was a great add-on. Conkers bad fur day &#603

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14:59 Mar-02-2016

Perhaps they will only release just one type of gpu or cpu per year for u to upgrade which doesnt really live upto the huge collection of different hardware u can get for PC. :(

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09:18 Mar-02-2016

PC gaming is the best. Everything just looks better. Upgrading it would do no good because of the weak CPUs. If you have to upgrade a console you may as well go and get a PC sorry just my opinion. I remember when you could get a AAA game for half the price of the console game. I remember when Resident Evil 2 Platinum came out which I still have by the way, you could preorder it for 30 bucks.

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08:27 Mar-02-2016

throughout its lifetime the xbox360 had MANY die shrinks and complete remakes of the motherboard,however the specs werent changed. the die shrinks and changes became so drastic that it actually used a entire 83W less at the end of its life,same specs,also alot less heat.
they might do something like that for the xboxone,and by the end of its life when it starts to go out,release a co-prossor for it (like Xeon phi for xbox) and a added external GPU for Xfire,83w is alot.

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08:35 Mar-02-2016

A very good theory.

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15:37 Mar-05-2016

This is not a good theory, for a machine to use more then one processor the application must be created with this in mind. Example- Games that only use one gpu even though you have two.LeadStarDude mentioned n64 did this but only some games

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19:11 Mar-05-2016

Well it wasn't exactly the same, but the outcome would probably be the same. Only newer games coded to take advantage of the new or extra hardware would benefit. imo

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19:18 Mar-05-2016

exactly. or what can simply be done is adding a co-processor that offloads the main cpu forced by firmware updates.
my machine uses 2 processors and any application that'll use over 4 cores will use both of them fully,and im QUITE sure that wmm which uses upto like 32cores,is NOT coded for dual processors (wmm is my lowest quality program)

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09:45 Mar-06-2016

or they can add a dedicated/external GPU and make the iGPU work as a co-processor, doing calculations instead of the CPU, while the CPU would do only X86 instructions and the external GPU will be used for graphics and will be much more powerful than the iGPU of the console.

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07:07 Mar-02-2016

Developers are only able to eak out the performance of consoles because they have the same hardware across the board. With this optional upgrade, you may as well get a PC.

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05:07 Mar-02-2016

I half like this idea, though, make a console that can handle one APU upgrade. Nintendo had it right on the N64, besides, I bought my laptop to stay ahead of the console market...the irony.

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03:05 Mar-02-2016

Oh God.....I dont know a single console gamer who i think will like this idea...i mean if upgrading becomes a part of consoles...then what the hell will be its advantage over PC's?


Console exclusives alone,..not good enough


I think Microsoft are slowly putting all xbox gamers to PC!

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02:06 Mar-02-2016

I had a conversation about something very similar to this with a friend who is now a computer engineer a couple years ago. Pretty much, this will be Hell for game developers, because new hardware will be put out every year that is higher performance, the game would have to detect what the hardware is and tweak the game

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02:12 Mar-02-2016

and this is ignoring drivers, you would have to have a dedicated team for each year's model to make drivers specific to that model, and those drivers would have to be included in game. Then there is this problem, a game comes out and only one model year can play, or new machines can't play older games

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01:21 Mar-02-2016

Do they think people are that stupid.....wait....yeah they probably are that stupid!

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03:20 Mar-02-2016

yup if they weren't they would have bought a PC

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01:04 Mar-02-2016

I dont think this will be like pc parts upgrade, i think they will release a complet xbox one with slightly higher stats but the game will stay the same, like psp fat compared to slim or ds compared to dsi, they just added more ram but the games stayed the same.

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00:20 Mar-02-2016

Well there is really no way to upgrade the Xbox hardware other than maybe adding an external GPU similar to what some of the newer laptop models have available. However the CPU side of the APU in the Xbox One is so weak that it already bottlenecks the on board integrated graphics. So I am not sure what the benefit of adding an external GPU would really have. Also I imagine that this will probably be an AMD upgrade option only. Maybe connect an external Polaris for 4K support?

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01:29 Mar-02-2016

Considering that most modern gpus have bandwidth of over 200 gbs and the usb ports on the xbox are barely 100 mbs. I would say no external gpus for the current model. If they release a model with a thunderbolt port it definitely be possible

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04:04 Mar-02-2016

Yes that is a very good point. It wouldn't surprise me to see them start releasing new models with a Thunderbolt port though.

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09:33 Mar-02-2016

USB 3 ports, which the Xbox has, have a maximum bandwidth of 5Gbits/s so would easily handle a mid to high range external graphics card.

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01:30 Mar-02-2016

As long as USB or whatever other port they use can handle the bandwidth, they could probably create a small box ( with cooling space ) that contains the board and an APU ( better with every newer model ). They can use better and better GPUs because of DX12 and the ALUs will help reduce the bottleneck a bit. Especially if they half the cores amp up the clock speed

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04:08 Mar-02-2016

I doubt that they will be able to increase the core speed on their APU very much because of heat issues, but perhaps they can if the heat generated by the GPU is outsourced to an external GPU. That would lower total ambient temperature in the machine which may give them some OC headroom on the CPU side. I am not sure though.


Great reply. Thanks! :D

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04:11 Mar-02-2016

Thumbs up for both of you that replied. Those are some great responses.

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23:24 Mar-01-2016

does that mean that there will be no upcoming console after Xbox One , if the philosophy of Microsoft is heading towards a PC/Console upgrade, isn't that gonna kill console gaming for Microsoft ?

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23:15 Mar-01-2016

One of the few attractive things about console is the certainty that the console will be able to play all the games for 5-10 years. This will end this advantage

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22:42 Mar-01-2016

If I could strap a GTX 980ti or Fury X to my Xbox like you can with a laptop that would be great.

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08:34 Mar-02-2016

You still wouldn't get the same performance due to the xbox's cpu being a bottleneck for that gpu.

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22:41 Mar-01-2016

So what is actually happening?


Console becoming Desktop Computers?
or
Desktop Computers becoming Consoles?


In the end we won't be able to differentiate between a console and a PC. :D

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23:18 Mar-01-2016

well a PC can be used for work as well and consoles can't.

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23:57 Mar-01-2016

And who says Microsoft won't release MS Office for Xbox? :D
You can already hook up mice and keyboard to it.

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18:46 Mar-02-2016

You can hook a mouse and keyboard to a PS3 and Xbox 360 as well.

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22:36 Mar-01-2016

To give a real performance boost an upgrade would have to contain upgraded versions of all the key components in a sealed unit that can just be plugged in as I doubt Microsoft would encourage you taking your xbone to pieces. Surely this would cost almost as much as a new console anyway.

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22:28 Mar-01-2016

TIL that by M$ logic PC = Personal Console... MIND BLOWN

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21:09 Mar-01-2016

meh

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