Why the Xbox Series X teraflops aren’t too important

We learned a lot more about the Xbox Series X specs recently. Microsoft threw out a whole bunch of technical info like the Xbox Series X teraflops and 120 FPS support, but it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture. The raw power of this next-gen console is far from the only important thing about it.

What is a teraflop?

Xbox Series X Halo Infinite trailer deer

Let’s start with an explanation of terms. “FLOPS” stands for “FLOating-Point operations per Second” because computer nerds are better at programming things than coming with up acronyms. A teraflop is one trillion floating-point operations per second. More teraflops mean that more math calculations can be done.

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There will be 6 Xbox Series X teraflops for overall processing and 12 teraflops for the GPU according to Phil Spencer. The GPU power is roughly double that of the 6 GPU teraflops in the Xbox One. Even if you didn’t know these specific numbers, it would be safe to assume that the new Xbox console can do more than its predecessor.

Why do the Xbox Series X teraflops mean for games?

Xbox Series X teraflops beach

As we’ve explained above, teraflops are a measure of how many floating-point calculations can be done in a second. More teraflops mean more calculations, and all of that math is used for everything you see on your screen.

Every hair on your character, every bullet flying through the air, every ray of sunshine eats up a tiny portion of that processing power, and more processing power lets developers make games look better. As an example, developers might use this power to put more enemies on the screen or increase the overall detail of a smaller number of characters.

Ultimately, though, the number of teraflops in the processor or graphics processor isn’t the most important thing in the big picture. Not by a long shot.

The big, important numbers

Xbox Series X teraflops car

How does one even measure a game? I’m not talking in technical terms here — I mean in practical terms. Typically, we go by what we see. Gamers may be concerned with the following:

  • Maximum FPS
  • Average FPS / Stable FPS
  • Resolution
  • General graphical fidelity (that is, how nice things look)
  • The number of “things” on screen

The number of FLOPS a computer can crank out is an important part of this, but it’s far from the only part.

Measuring the value of a computer by its FLOPS is like measuring the value of a car by how much horsepower it can put out. Imagine, if you will, an engine from a Formula 1 car bolted onto a riding lawnmower. How fast do you think that lawnmower is going to go? How well do you think it will truly utilize the full power of that engine?

Consoles are computers too, and their ability to perform a task is based on all of the component parts. The SSD, RAM, and dozens of other precision parts are just as important for making the whole thing work. Hyping up the number of Xbox Series X teraflops is good marketing, but only a small part of the big picture.

Developers, developers, developers

Xbox Series X teraflops logo

Going back to the car analogy, an F1 car is capable of going pretty darn fast. It has a lot of moving parts working together and it takes a lot of skill to drive it. Put an F1 driver in that car and you can hit speeds close to 200 miles per hour. Put a pizza delivery boy in that car, and you’re not going to get the same results.

Developers are a lot like drivers in this analogy. I could play the first Halo game on a supercomputer, but it’s not going to run or look any better than its programming allows. More Xbox Series X teraflops give developers more room to make things look and perform better, but it’s up to them to actually take advantage of all of that power.

The end result is what matters

Xbox Series X teraflops Chief

Ultimately, what matters is how developers are going to use this power to create games that look good and perform well.

The Xbox Series X 120 fps support won’t count for squat if the level of graphical fidelity doesn’t make it practical. A game hitting 120 fps in an apartment scene won’t be as impressive as being able to do the same in a city full of NPCs.

The 6 Xbox Series X teraflops and the 12 teraflops on the GPU are going to give developers more tools to work with. If they do their jobs well, we’ll have better-looking games that perform more smoothly. But for you, the consumer, the easiest way to tell how good the Xbox Series X will be is by looking at the games themselves when we get to see them.