Microsoft Seeks Backup From AMD To Deal With Crippling Xbox Series X/S Shortages

Xbox Series X
Count yourself lucky if you managed to snag an Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, or PlayStation 5 console over the recent holiday stretch. Technically, both Microsoft and Sony released their newest generation systems to retail in November, but actually buying one was often an exercise in futility. There just was not enough supply to meet demand. Seems like an easy problem to fix, right? In theory, sure—just make more consoles. But the reality is a bit more complicated. At one point, Microsoft even approached AMD for help with the situation.

The Xbox Series X/S and PS5 both run on custom AMD hardware. At the heart of each system is a system-on-chip (SoC) that combines eight Zen 2 CPU cores with RDNA 2 GPU cores, built on a 7-nanometer manufacturing process. The hardware specifications are not identical across the board, but all four consoles (Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, PlayStation 5, and PlayStation 5 Digital Edition) sport the same general foundation.

In the wake of a challenging launch, Xbox boss Phil Spencer provided some insight into the situation during an end-of-the-year Xbox podcast with Larry Hyrb, director of programming for Xbox Live (also known as Major Nelson).

"I get some people [asking], 'Why didn't you build more, why didn't you start earlier, why didn't you ship them earlier?' and all of those things. It's really just down to physics and engineering. We're not holding them back, we're building them as fast as we can, and we have all of the assembly lines going," Spencer said.

Spencer also noted that he called AMD CEO Dr. Lisa Su last week asking, "How do we get more, how do we get more?" He is talking about the custom SoCs that power the Xbox Series X/S. It is an interesting comment, because it suggests that not only is Microsoft having trouble keeping up with demand, but so is AMD. That would explain why Sony is having trouble as well.

"It's not just us. I think gaming has really come into its own in 2020. Obviously PlayStation 5 is in very tight supply, when you look at the graphics cards from AMD and NVIDIA. I mean, there's just a lot of interesting gaming right now, and console sales are just a sign of that, game sales are sign of that, and hardware is in short supply," Spencer added.

He is absolutely correct in that the shortage of gaming hardware extends beyond the Xbox Series X, to the PS5 and certain PC hardware. AMD's fancy new Ryzen 5000 series CPUs for the desktop are hard to find in stock from a first-party seller, and the same goes the Radeon RX 6000 and GeForce RTX 30 series of graphics cards.

The good news is, the shortage will not last forever. However, it could extend a few more weeks or months, prompting Spencer to ask for patience.