This morning, Microsoft dumped a huge cache of details about the Xbox Series X’s internal specs and features. But perhaps the most surprising revelation buried in that info dump is the fact that the system uses its own solution for expanding the game’s internal storage from 1TB.
Digital Foundry’s in-depth report on the Series X, made in close collaboration with Microsoft, shows off a 1TB SSD expansion card, which the site says is “very short, quite heavy for its size, and actually looks a bit like a memory card. The NVMe memory on that card (which looks about half the size of a standard NVMe stick) connects through the back of the system using the same PCI Express 4.0 connection as the system’s internal memory (which is the rectangular “mystery slot” next to the Ethernet port when images of the Series X ports leaked in January).
The Series X still supports standardized USB 3.2 hard drives, according to the Digital Foundry report, but those can only be used to run backward-compatible games designed for previous Xbox systems (the Xbox One, 360, and original Xbox). ). For Series X games, a USB hard drive can only be used as a backup solution, where you can “park” games that must then be shuffled to the internal storage to be played.
Gotta go fast
Using the proprietary memory format is apparently intended to enable what Microsoft now calls the “Xbox Velocity Architecture,” the long-plagued feature that allows content to load much faster than even fast solid-state drives. Digital Foundry says this custom NVMe drive system in the Series X can access data at a steady 2.4 GB/s, compared to just 0.6 GB/s for a USB 3.0 hard drive or 0.75 GB/s for high-end SATA SSD drives. That allows “100GB of game assets stored to be directly accessible to the developer,” as Microsoft puts it (although the company’s use of “immediate” is a bit squishy for our tastes, especially compared to the system’s much faster RAM access speeds).
Despite the exclusive format, Microsoft doesn’t seem to want to be the exclusive manufacturer and seller of these storage expansion cards, as it was for the overpriced proprietary hard drive format on the Xbox 360. Seagate has already announced its own 1TB storage expansion card for Xbox Series X that it says that it is “built in collaboration with Xbox” and “replicates seamlessly”[es] the full speed and performance of the Series X’s internal storage.”
Neither Microsoft nor Seagate are talking about pricing for these storage expansions so far, but we can’t imagine they’ll be cheap. A 1TB Seagate NVMe drive for PCs currently sells for a retail price of $200, compared to $130 for a standard SSD or about $50 for a similarly sized USB external hard drive. Microsoft’s proprietary size and format for the Series X expansion may also increase production costs and pricing.
Proprietary storage formats in game consoles have fallen out of favor since Microsoft charged a hefty premium for the exclusive hard drive design on the Xbox 360. Since then, Sony’s PSP and Vita portables have distinguished themselves by using expensive and cumbersome proprietary memory card formats.
The Nintendo Switch uses standard MicroSD cards to store games. On the PlayStation 4, you can replace the built-in internal hard drive with a standard 2.5-inch drive, although the process is a bit cumbersome.
Listing image by Seagate