In an interview with Digital Foundry, Microsoft demystified why it chose a blocky, fridge-like design for the Xbox Series X.

In essence, the new console needed to balance power and performance (and let’s be honest, aesthetics) to deliver the most efficient and exciting gaming experience for Xbox players. “When we started thinking about how we would design this, everything was theoretical,”  said principal designer Chris Kujawski. “We didn't have stuff we could test, we didn't have measurements we could take, we knew it was going to be powerful and we knew it was going to require a totally different way of thinking about how to design a console.” 

The Xbox Series X doubles the overall graphics performance of the Xbox One X, and increases the CPU processing power of the previous generation four times over. Good stuff, but it needed to be quiet, in spite of the souped-up specs. To rise to the challenge, the team chose to throw their design principles for the consoles out of the window, explained director of mechanical engineering Jim Wahl.

“I like to think about our past generations as having a bit of an exoskeleton, so you have a mechanical structure with electrical shielding all on the outside then you have all the guts in the inside,” he said. “And so what we did in this generation is that we turned that completely inside out... and so this centre chassis essentially forms the spine, the foundation of this system and then we build things out from there.”

In consequence, the console now uses a novel method for cooling. “It creates what we call a parallel cooling architecture, so you get cool air in—and cool air streams through separate zones of the console," elaborated Wahl. “You have exhaust out the top and we have large venting holes, but the the net effect of putting all of this together, having parallel paths, having this really powerful quiet fan at the top, is that we get 70 per cent more airflow through this console than the past generation and we get 20 per cent more airflow through our heatsink alone than in the past generation.”

So, why a big block? It’s the result of how everything inside the hardware fits together for the most efficient use of power. “The ODD [optical disc drive] sets one dimension, the volume of the heat sink sets the other dimension, the height is set by airflow and throughout this kind of complex negotiation of figuring out how this stuff comes together, we landed on a square form factor which we love,” added Kujawski.

The Xbox Series X launches in late 2020. 
 

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