Editorials, Featured, Platforms, Xbox One

Does the Xbox One’s Rumored GPU Clock Increase Represent a Durability Risk? is it Worth it?

by on July 11, 2013 12:49 PM 28

In the last few days a rumor surfaced bringing forth the possibility that Microsoft is working on increasing the GPU clock of the Xbox One to react to the PS4′s allegedly more powerful specs. The rumor seems to come from a source with a relatively credible track record.

The basic idea is pretty straightforward, and it’s based on the possibility to bump up the clock of the GPU in order to raise the horsepower of the console with it, but what does it mean, really?

First of all it’s pretty unlikely that, at this stage of development, Microsoft is actually changing the design of the console to house an entirely new GPU. It would simply be a logistical nightmare and possibly not even feasible, considering that production has probably been underway for a long while at AMD.

Most probably we’re talking about something akin to the factory overclocks done with many third party PC GPUs in order to offer customers more power for a small increase in price. This doesn’t require modifying the card itself, but simply pushing it to work at an higher frequency than what it was initially rated for. It’s a fairly easy process enthusiast PC gamers are very familiar with, but it’s not without risks.

Most factory overclocked PC GPUs come with a customized cooling solution more advanced and powerful than the stock one from AMD or Nvidia for the simple reason that a higher operating frequency generates more heat. To be precise by raising the clock frequency, the heat output is also raised in a linear fashion.

XboxOne1

It’s normally possible to overclock a card by a relatively small amount without performing any other operation, but that kind of overclock has really minimal results, and in order to push the card further without causing critical instabilities it’s necessary to raise its voltage. Voltage increase in turn generates even more heat in a quadratical proportion.

Whether Microsoft is going to bump up the GPU’s clock by a small amount without raising voltage or in a more radical fashion accompanied by a voltage increase, the inevitable physical consequence is that the chip is going to run hotter, possibly a lot hotter. Anyone that has ever done any overclocking knows this very well.

While this won’t cause (quite obviously) immediate failure of the components, increased heat does cause increased wear and tear. It’s a simple matter of physics: more wear and tear means a shorter life span for the components.

Of course there are a few things that Microsoft can do to fix the problem: redesigning the cooling solution and replacing it with a more efficient one would be the most effective course of action, but at this stage of development that’s unlikely. It’s also most probable that the adopted cooling solution already comes equipped with a variable RPM (revolutions per minute) fan, meaning that the fan will dynamically react to the increased temperature by spinning faster and generating a stronger airflow to balance the heat out.

XboxOne2

This, of course, comes with a risk of its own: in order to make the fan spin faster you need to raise its own voltage, and doing so for more extended periods of time increases the wear and tear of the fan itself. It may very well be able to keep the GPU from heating more than it would with its baseline clock, but it would do so at the price of a portion if its own lifespan.

While a burned fan is definitely not nearly as bad as a damaged GPU, consoles are pretty monolithic pieces of kit, and unless you’re extremely tech savvy, this kind of damage would still cause a trip to the repairman, without even mentioning that if the proper fail-safes aren’t in place a burned fan can very well cause fatal overheating of the components themselves.

Are we looking at a potential “Red Ring of Death” situation all over again? Most probably not quite that bad, as the infamous RROD was caused by severe engineering issues, but Microsoft better be very confident in its cooling solution if it wants to go down this route.

In any case a certain reduction of the lifespan of parts of the hardware is very possible. Whether the burden of the additional heat is shouldered by the GPU itself or by the cooling solution (or spread between both, which is the most likely scenario), more power means more heat, and more heat means more wear and tear. Physics cannot be tricked. Of course we can’t know the magnitude of the effect, and hopefully we never will.

XboxOne3

Maybe the real question we should ask ourselves is: is it worth it?

There’s a reason why overclocking on PC is normally done only by a smaller percentage of enthusiasts, and that’s because even pretty steep clock frequency bumps don’t really result in extreme increases in performance. Relatively safe GPU overclocks are between 5% and 10% of the original value, but that doesn’t bring a linear performance improvement.

Even if Microsoft managed to bump up the clock by 100 mhz (which is a quite extreme increase going by the most credible leaked specs for the machine, and would most definitely generate a considerable amount of additional heat), it’ll only bring the processing power of the console from 1.23 teraflops up to 1.38 teraflops.  That’s not really that much, and it would still be largely inferior to the PS4′s 1.84 teraflops.

Personally, I don’t really know if it’s worth it, and I tend to lean towards the “no” camp, especially if it means reducing the lifespan of the console’s components. Ultimately, if we have to believe the leaked specs, direct competition in processing horsepower with the PS4 doesn’t seem to be on the menu, so it doesn’t seem very wise to strain the system more without even getting near to processing parity.

Of course the increase in clock speed is just a rumor for now, and we’ll have to see if Microsoft will really go down this route. If they do, we’ll have to hope that their cooling solution will be up to the task. After all they’re supposed to have learned the lesson the hard way with the Xbox 360.

The pictures used in this article are courtesy of Wired.

Join the Discussion

  • foureyes oni

    wow thats amazing lol. i wouldn’t be surprised if microsoft did this considering all the blunders they have been making nowadays. but then again this close to releasing the console it just doesn’t seem likely.

    • Giuseppe Nelva

      Actually this kind of upclock can be done very fast and easy, provided that the cooling solution is up to snuff of course. On PC it can easily be done just by raising a slider via software. So it’s not unrealistic even if we’re near to the release.

      • foureyes oni

        do you think the 12 gigs of ram will be a reality as well ?

        • Giuseppe Nelva

          Unlikely, first of all because that would actually require a redesign of the motherboard. Secondly because with that kind of architecture the increase in performance brought by 12 gigs instead of 8 would be negligible.

          • foureyes oni

            understood . then i guess i just don’t see a reason for this upclock if its not gonna be anywhere near the ps4 except making the xb1 look better on paper.

          • dirkradke

            I agree about the redesign statement of the motherboard, but it is never negligible to be able to hold more data in memory as opposed to waiting to access it from the hard drive even if it is an SSD.

        • Kreator

          Yes

          • foureyes oni

            after having done bit more research i’m thinking no now.

        • David Bueso

          I don’t think so, but you never know. But its not like if is going to make a difference. Is because developers are producing games based on 1GB Ram-8GB Ram as there development. Maybe more in the future like 5-6 years woukd make a difference. But who says that Sony PlayStation would’nt do the same, or have done already? But rumours will be rumours and we will find out at launch day.

      • David Bueso

        Yes you said pc. Consoles are slightly different. It would not be 100% match with a console. It will always or maybe have a different design to it because it’s a console, however its still a pc components.

        • EnkiduV3

          Consoles nowadays are just custom PCs. It would simple for Microsoft to overclock their GPU by doing the same thing you would on a PC, installing software to do it. They would have to create the software first, of course… but I’m certain that creating software is something that Microsoft can handle in their sleep.

  • Sheldon

    I don’t personally think it’s necessary to bump of the GPU clock. The only reason why they’re considering this is because of all the whining and complain from people about the Xbox One specs compared to PS4 *sigh*. I think it’s true what a gamer said recently. “Gamers” will eventually destroy this industry.

  • keysy

    sounds like rrod 2

  • islan

    We have already established that the XB1 will be $100 more than the PS4, and be able to perform less physically. However, the turn around they were presenting to us was that the XB1′s Cloud processing capabilities would make such comparisons mute. But if they are seriously considering increasing their clock speed to compete with the PS4′s performance, would that not reveal all the talk about the Cloud processing to be falsehoods?

  • ivan

    If they increase the fan speed noting will happen, and they make gpu’s so they can handle more then what there set at. They dont max it out straight out the box. But they can be maxed out.

    • David Bueso

      I think you’re wrong. The author of this article is absolutely right higher clock of GPU equals more power, and there for more heat. Which the fan speed was not designed or not strong enough to cool the system. So it will need to take more work to design or make a different fan base for the Xbox1. Other worse maybe delaying the ststem’s release date, or maybe it’s just a bullshit rumor and MS is just jealous of Playstation. Lol

  • datdude

    I don’t believe any of these rumors. It’s a little late in the game to
    be adjusting system specifications. Development time is over, and has
    been for quite some time. In order to ship units this year, orders need
    to be placed many months in advance from suppliers. So unless
    Microsoft is planning to cede the Christmas holiday to Sony and not ship
    the Xbone until 2nd quarter 2014, any talk of increasing ram or even
    overclocking is not feasible and the company would be assuming
    tremendous risk from a reliability of hardware standpoint. If that
    happens again this gen as it did with the 360 (red rings), Microsoft’s
    product build quality would be under assault and their stock would
    suffer. I’m not impressed with the engineering of the Xbone, especially
    considering how the PS4 packs better tech into a smaller form factor,
    and does it without the need for an external power supply. Microsoft
    appears to be caught offguard by just about everything that Sony has
    brought to the table, and they are playing catch up and the game hasn’t
    even started yet. Not good.

    • foureyes oni

      all these spec wars won’t matter when the new halo comes out.

  • teufel

    Wow, considering how long the One is going to have to be around to turn profitable considering how much of a loss they will be selling it for and how low sales will likely be, another 8-10 year cycle, anyone settling on the first run of this product is guaranteeing that they will have to buy another console or two just to get through the life of this coming up gen.

    Yeah, couple that with Sony being left on a ledge with the most powerful console with almost no reason for third parties to make use of that extra power, Sony fans are just as screwed over.

    And if they think exclusives will matter much, who makes the engines they use? That’s right, third party devs supply the engines. Sony just gets to spend that much more money to find ways to stretch that software to make their games worth that extra hardware.

    Don’t worry Sony fans, Nintendo is bound to launch their next system early likely in 2016, so all that extra umph wont be a total loss, not counting the Vita of course. That couple years of feeling on top is going to be awesome for Sony fans, and maybe they can get back the billions they lost on the PS3, likely not though.

    Then Nintendo, after apologizing to the world for pulling the Gamecube2 aka the Wii U, will come to save the day for Sony giving third party devs a reason to utilize the full potential of the PS4. It just will be too bad that the PS4 will be using dated hardware by then while Nintendo can pick through the scrap heaps of old tech to pump out a cheaper version of what the PS4 has and still have enough time to make a profit before the next cycle starts being that the PS4/One will be tied to another 8-10 year life.

    As for the MS fans, as the MS execs pointed out, you always have your 360s, right? Oh wait, that was a response to having to be connected to the internet every 24 hours in order to play games.

    • BillyHoWCR

      Go off on tangents much?

  • orangpelupa

    Xbox One are much bigger than PS4. Maybe because originally, MS want to make it whisper quiete.

    if this rumor are true, they will still be able to cool it down using the same fan and heatsink but it maybe sound as loud as Xbox 360.

    BZZZZZZZZZ hairdryer.

    btw increasing fan speed usually did not result in immediate fan failure. Xbox 360 modded with 12v fan (same fan, voltage increased) runs cooler, sounds like jet, fans still OK after a few years.

    the oldest xbox i ever touched with 12v fan are about 3 years old. The fan still spinning beautifully and loudly normal. No weird sound.

  • Microsoft sux

    Why is the XBox One Cloud Power Not Powerful enough they have to try to increase the power on the console itself

  • True Gamer

    Who cares about specs, all that matters is the games are fun . PS3 was more powerful than the 360, but I do what I always do….I buy both systems, if it’s not possible then buy the one that has the best games for you. gaming is about fun, not specs.

  • dafuzz

    Great article. You broke it down really well for the layman(me) as to the possibilities and potential issues.

  • Shawn Pearson

    the diff in graphical quality will be less noticeable then the 360-ps3 generation, I will get the xb1 on launch day because i have alot invested into the xbox eco system then i will buy a ps4 whenever naughty dog makes me buy one then i will only use my ps4 with console exclusives.

  • dave mcnair

    Good article. & No, it’s not worth it! There’s a reason why it was the way it originally was. & it will be a good (safety first) reason..

  • Mattrimkevx

    If there’s such a worry for the X1 having heating issues and still being lesser than the PS4 in terms of Tflops, why aren’t people worrying about the PS4′s cooling?

  • Daniel Lawson

    the idea is that with yields already low and increase in clock speed with the same restrictions as the lower clock speed wouldn’t decrease yields by much which is one of the main reasons for the lower clock speeds

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