When hardware details of Microsoft’s Xbox Series X were first published, the headlines were mostly about the CPU, GPU and the 16GB of GDDR6 memory. Far fewer were dedicated to what some will consider the true revelation; Microsoft’s Velocity Storage.
In a nutshell, it’s a new DirectX extension (DirectStorage), coupled with a dedicated on-CPU silicon that deals with decompression and a new proprietary memory card that delivers 2.4GBps (or 19.2Gbps) of what Eurogamer calls “guaranteed throughput”.
In comparison, Thunderbolt 3 (TB3) has a maximum theoretical throughput of 40Gbps, but we have very rarely reached anything higher than 24Gbps (or 3GBps) in our numerous reviews of external SSDs that use TB3.
What makes Velocity Storage so special is that Microsoft has worked with AMD to customize an area of the die to take care of the issue of decompression, with the help of an extension to the DirectX API. This, Microsoft believes, is revolutionary.
The ability to pair the software, hardware and a third player may well be a game-changer for businesses and allow Microsoft to extend its grip on the enterprise computing market, beyond the reach of Apple or Google.
This isn’t out of the ordinary in the cloud computing market, where semi-customised processors are common. Intel, for example, acquired a company called Altera to offer programmable Xeon chips back in 2014.
However, it would be groundbreaking if Microsoft was able to call the shots in the business end-user computing market by including custom silicon in market-ready products.
For example, a workstation compatible with the Velocity Storage technology could offer faster throughput for video editing purposes – similar to Intel’s proprietary AVX-512 extensions, but more universal.
What about Microsoft’s cloud business Azure? It is likely compression/decompression blocks exist on CPUs to dramatically reduce the demand for storage (especially cold storage or glacier type), similar to tape.
It is inevitable that Microsoft will port its learnings from the Xbox Series X to Windows 10, to the benefit of consumer and business end users alike.