Xbox switching to Arm: Thinking out loud or serious forecasting?

One of the more interesting things to come out of the Xbox leaks related to the Activision merger (and there was a ton of cool stuff) was Microsoft’s consideration of moving to Arm. It’s something that’s had my head spinning, especially with news cracking that Nvidia and AMD are serious about delivering ARM based processors. As someone who subscribes to Xbox Game Pass, the closure of the Activision Blizzard deal is nothing but good news for a consumer like me in the short to medium term. In fact, I’d call it good for most consumers on those terms. But I can’t help but feel like Microsoft played this case perfectly. They are disadvantaged globally, but the leaks from this case along with Xbox’s general investments make it clear that they, at the very least, have an idea as to how things could flip in the long term.

From my perspective, the talk about Arm has gone up exponentially over the last few years. Apple switched to their in house M line of chips. Nvidia attempted to buy ARM outright. And generally speaking, it’s given the impression that it’s the logical next step in computing based on media reporting (whether this is actually true). This increase in interest along with Microsoft’s leaks had me wondering – what exactly is it about Arm that makes it so appealing?

The mentioning of a Thin OS is fun to speculate as far as what kinds of devices Xbox could release (via Windows Central)

According to Arm themselves, one of the main benefits of the architecture is its power efficiency. This plays out in the real world when comparing Apple’s M1 Max with the Intel i9-11980HK. The M1 Max is roughly comparable to the i9’s performance while drawing significantly less power. Arm’s power efficiency is very interesting because, in some ways, it plays perfectly to the tune of where Xbox would like to end per their leaks. Apart from Xbox, the growing relevancy of Arm can only be a good thing for Microsoft at large in terms of vendor dependency.

There’s a quote that stuck out to me in the tom’sHardware article referenced in the beginning of this post: “Microsoft learned from the 90s that they do not want to be dependent on Intel again, they do not want to be dependent on a single vendor,” said Jay Goldberg, chief executive of D2D Advisory, in a conversation with Reuters. “If Arm really took off in PC (chips), they were never going to let Qualcomm be the sole supplier.”.

Specific to Xbox, there was a leaked slide noted as Key Strategic Decisions and Investments that calls out the comparison between ARM64 and x86 (Zen 6). Microsoft also calls attention to Xbox currently lacking a Thin OS for cheaper consumer devices. In my eyes, this would be the perfect use case for a hypothetical Arm chip. A device with a Thin OS (essentially a stripped down computer for establishing a remote connection) would most likely be reliant on Xbox Cloud Gaming or basic apps where most of the grunt work would be done server side.

What can we expect “Full Convergence” to mean? (via PC GAMER)

I do hope that Xbox eventually comes out with their own high-powered handheld, but I don’t think that competing with a device like the Steam Deck is something they’re interested in right now. Xbox Cloud Gaming is currently miserable in terms of quality and reliability, but in the very long term it’s probably worth pivoting towards.

Where things get really fun to speculate is the language used in the leaked From Zero Microsoft to One Microsoft slide. Pinned under Next Gen (slated for 2028) is the phrase Full Convergence. A similarly designed slide dials in further on the ominous phrase – Microsoft mentions Cloud Hybrid Games. It makes you wonder how Arm might play into Xbox’s deeper dive into the cloud.

The Power of the Cloud Part 2 (via Windows Central)

The phrase “Power of the Cloud” was made to be a joke by many when it was originally talked about in 2013. Xbox’s promises never materialized past surface level implementations. Eventually, it probably will pan out, though. And it makes a lot of sense in terms of revenue. Theoretically, Microsoft could scale performance increases or features alongside tiered subscriptions (on top of Game Pass). Cloud hybrid games could also allow players to make better use of the console they already own, and without having to immediately upgrade.

Xbox has really been leaning into giving people options, and a hybrid model seems like the perfect middle ground between conventional hardware and purely cloud based gaming. Between Microsoft’s interest in Arm, a Thin OS, and the hybrid model, it’s a lot of fun to speculate how their interests might materialize. I don’t think we’ll be there (fully) even into the next-gen Xbox, but there’s still tons of untapped potential.

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