The latest generation of Microsoft’s gaming console, the Xbox One X or Project Scorpio, finally released on November 7th, 2017. When the console was officially announced a few months ago, we did a speculative post on the potential Xbox One X cooling solution Microsoft would need in order to cool the powerhouse of processing they were planning to launch.
As discussed previously, proper thermal management is essential to providing the best experience possible for console users. Poor cooling solutions can lead to excessive noise that can distract from the game, lag time that can disrupt game play, or even critical hardware failure. Given the advanced computing power and graphics promised with the Xbox One X, the cooling solution must be equally powerful, while still fitting within the slim enclosure.
True to form, there have already been several engineers and techies filming tear downs of the Xbox One X. The team at TronicsFix posted a tear down video peeling away every layer of this high powered gaming machine. As we take a look inside Microsoft’s latest console, we’ll discuss the Xbox One X thermal solution and some of the engineering choices that went into the design.
Room to Breathe: Access to Fresh Air
The casing follows the same aesthetic as its most recent predecessors, the Xbox One and Xbox One S: boxy and minimalist. As part of this design, ventilation through the casing enables cooler ambient air to enter the console, while also letting hot air escape the confines of the casing. Microsoft is sticking to a fairly open grating design in the back along with a grid pattern of pin holes along both sides. Providing enough ventilation for the Xbox One X thermal solution is key to keeping the blower fed with enough cool air.
Cooling the Southbridge Chipset:
The southbridge chipset can expend a decent amount of heat while communicating between different components on the board. While not a huge power hog like the main processor in the Xbox One X, the southbridge chipset still gets a little love from Microsoft’s thermal management team. They used a thermal gap pad to join the southbridge chipset to the protective sheet metal structure of the internal enclosure. Microsoft got creative and, by adding the gap pad, dual purposed the metal enclosure to provide both structural integrity and thermal management. By perforating the sheet, air can better circulate within the Xbox One X and more easily dissipate heat from the southbridge chipset with the increased surface area.
The Main Event: The APU and RAM
The core of the Xbox One X is the Accelerated Processing Unit (APU), which is supported by Random Access Memory (RAM). As expected, this is where most of the power is being consumed and dissipated within the console. That’s why we see the Xbox One X thermal solution utilizing a strong blower and a high tech heat sink to keep the APU cool and in top operating condition.
Blown Away by a High Powered Blower
The Xbox One X thermal solution relies on the ability of a high powered blower to physically force air through the entire system. Microsoft implemented a custom, single intake blower to cool this latest console. The blower’s impeller has forward curving blades, which provides a significant static pressure in a small package. This minimizes the space used by the blower while still providing a strong enough force to push air through a heat sink and system with a larger flow resistance. Forward facing blades also have the advantage of quieter operation. This is a significant benefit as we have seen before how users view noisy consumer electronics and how good thermal solutions don’t take you out of your game. The Xbox One X, like any other gaming console, is about providing a memorable user experience. Microsoft took the effort to make sure noisy fans aren’t a part of your favorite gaming memories.
Dissipating Heat into Fin Air
Microsoft put the high static pressure to good use, designing in a heat sink with a high fin density. Heat sinks like the one in the Xbox One X thermal solution create substantial flow resistance. In order to get enough flow through those fins, you need a blower that has the power to generate enough static pressure. Otherwise there’s not enough flow that can get through the fins. Without enough air flow, heat starts to build up to the point where essential components, like an APU, get too hot to perform on the speed and reliability that consumers expect.
Advanced Vapor Chamber Base Solution
While we all love some really nice nickel-plated aluminum zipper fins, it’s the heat sink base that really steals the show on the Xbox One X thermal solution. Microsoft implemented something we typically don’t see in high volume consumer products, and that is a vapor chamber base. Not to be confused with a base that has an embedded vapor chamber, the entire base of this heat sink is a vapor chamber. You can tell by both the way the edges step up to form the chamber and the welded fill port as seen in the bottom left of this image:
As mentioned in a previous blog post, one of the issues with vapor chambers in comparison to heat pipes is the structural integrity and strength of the two phase heat transfer component. The biggest concern with vapor chambers is the strength of the chamber; too much applied pressure can compress the vapor space and impair vapor movement and therefore heat transfer. Strong mounting forces are required to get solid thermal contact, especially when using a grease or phase change material, to reduce the thermal interface resistance from the component to the vapor chamber surface. Microsoft addressed this by including some strategic bends in the vapor chamber base to make the bottom sheet of the chamber more rigid. The bends in the base and some strategic hardware give the base the stiffness the heat sink needs to generate good thermal contact with the APU. This enables Microsoft to use its iconic X clamp, the namesake of their console products.
They call me…TIM?
The product design engineers clearly thought ahead about their thermal management as both the board and the cooling solution are strategically designed to save space and optimize the use of the heat sink. The heat sink is not just cooling the APU, but critical devices surrounding it, 18 in total.
You can see the light green thermal interface pads for each of the individual RAM components. An interesting thing to note is that the pads are round, despite the devices themselves being rectangular. This is likely a design choice to simplify assembly by making the gap pads insensitive to placement orientation and less sensitive to absolute placement as well. Time lost carefully orienting and placing each of those 12 pads adds up, which shows up in the bottom line. By making assembly more streamlined, Microsoft can keep costs down and not need to pass that onto the user.
Just a Side Note: Voltage Regulator Module Cooling
Not only does the Xbox One X have a more complex cooling solution than previous generations, it also cools more devices.The Xbox One X thermal solution not only cools the APU and RAM devices, but cools 5 voltage regulator modules (VRM) on the side. This group of devices is often found on graphics cards and perform DC-DC conversion to power up the processor, which in this case is the APU. It’s a testament to the power of the latest Xbox iteration that Microsoft provided a thermal joint to the heat sink for the power MOSFETs in the VRM. In previous generations, these were not powerful enough to require a heat sink, but those in the Xbox One X need to be cooled. A single pad of thermal interface material connects the 5 MOSFETs to the fin stack. You can see the bottom of the fin stack of zipper fins are supported by a single sheet of metal, which aids in spreading heat from VRMs to each of those fins.
To Wrap Up:
We speculated prior to launch that the Xbox One X thermal solution was going to be a powerhouse of cooling. Microsoft did not disappoint in implementing a high end cooling solution in their most powerful console to date. It’s exciting to see a complete vapor chamber heat sink base make its way into mass produced consumer electronics.
What other products would you like to see a thermal tear down? We love getting our hands into some of your favorite products. Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
How can two phase cooling improve the performance of your heat sink? Will switching to zipper fins better optimize your cooling? Try using the free estimation features in Aavid Genie and find out.
In case you recognized the Aavid sticker on the blower, all information on this blog post is based off general industry knowledge and readily available information on the internet. The author of this blog post was in no way involved with the thermal solution of the Xbox One X, as cool as it is.