The greatest battle of our time is about to kick off.
Now that we’re all stuck at home and no longer have an excuse not to play video games all day, there’s no better time to discuss the tech reveals of the next gen consoles – and of course compare them (however misleadingly) to state of art PC hardware.
Xbox Series X (dumbest name ever) and PS5 (most obvious name ever) have just had, in what must be a first for games consoles, detailed official teardowns of their internal hardware many months before launch.
Before we discuss the key points and draw exaggerated conclusions, here’s a useful table outlining the key specs of each console, along with a typical high-end PC set up as comparison:
|Hardware||PS5||XSX||Top Spec PC|
|CPU||8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.5GHz (variable frequency, with SMT)||8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.8GHz|
(3.6GHz with SMT)
|Intel i5 9600K:|
3.7 GHz w/ Turbo Boost frequency of up to 4.6 GHz
|GPU|| 10.28 TFLOPs,|
36 CUs at 2.23GHz (variable frequency)
| 12.16 TFLOPs,|
52 CUs at 1.825GHz
| RTX 2080 Ti:|
46 RT cores and 368 tensor cores
1.3 – 1.5 (Boost) GHz
|GPU Architecture|| Custom RDNA 2|
w/ hardware RT support
| Custom RDNA 2|
w/ hardware RT support
|Memory||16GB GDDR6||16GB GDDR6|| RTX 2080 Ti:|
6GB at 336GB/s
|11GB at 616 GB/s|
|Internal Storage||Custom 825GB NVMe SSD||1TB Custom NVMe SSD||Sabrent Rocket 1TB NVMe SSD|
|IO Throughput|| 5.5GB/s (Raw),|
|2.4GB/s (Raw), 4.8GB/s (Compressed)|| 2GB/s (write)|
|Expandable Storage||NVMe SSD Slot||1TB Expansion Card||N/A|
|External Storage||USB HDD Support||USB HDD Support||N/A|
|Optical Drive||4K UHD Blu-ray Drive||4K UHD Blu-ray Drive||N/A|
|HDMI||2.1 (4K/120Hz, 8K, VRR)||2.1 (4K/120Hz, 8K, VRR)|| 2.0b|
(4K/60Hz, 1440/120Hz, VRR)
|Backwards compatibility||PlayStation 4(*)||Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One||N/A|
|Price||TBA||TBA||Build approx. cost: £1500|
First off and as expected, both next gen consoles use AMD’s Zen architecture. An unexpected bonus is that both systems will get full utilisation of the Zen 2 refresh that is yet to be released in the PC space.
The old Jaguar cores in Xbox One and PS4 date back to 2011 and were at best mediocre mobile chips so the bump to AMD’s latest and better engineered architecture will prove a huge boost to CPU performance, before we even compare clock speeds.
Base PS4 had 8 cores running at a measly 1.6 GHz. As you can see from the graph, both PS5 and XSX (I’m gonna refer to the new Xbox this way for the rest of the article) get up to 3.5 GHz and 3.6 GHz respectively (if both using SMT – a special hyper threading tech – otherwise XSX can achieve 3.8 GHz). So the numbers are very similar between the two – they’ll be no discernable difference.
It’s an enormous increase in speed alone over last gen, but numbers-wise it doesn’t get close to what a PC chip can achieve for certain periods. Intel’s i5 9600k (a favourite among PC gamers) has a base clock of 3.6 GHz and boosts to 4.6 GHz (nearly 5 GHz on a single core) without any user overclocking (see table).
But as ever, comparing PC and console is not as simple as that.
A PC CPU has to wade through the bloat that comes from running on Windows, along with a variety of background tasks that wouldn’t be present on a consoles slick OS. It’s also just one of a variety of chips and components made by different manufacturer’s slapped together by the reseller or the user, so optimisation is poor.
For example, you could take what you thought were the best individual parts from different F1 cars and bolt them together, but you wouldn’t get the fastest car as a result – in fact it would probably be slower than many of the cars built by the best individual teams – as none of the components would be optimised to work together.
As you read on, please keep this analogy in mind my fellow nerds.
Back to the new consoles – even though the clock numbers are very similar between PS5 and XSX the major difference is that XSX’s frequencies are fixed, whereas PS5 makes use of ‘boost’ to maintain 3.5 GHz “most” of the time, throttling down when needed.
By how much exactly? Under what conditions? And for how long? Mark Cerny isn’t really saying, maybe he doesn’t know exactly. It does worry us a bit. And now we know about it we’re all going to be looking for it in game.
Still, this isn’t like a PC CPU struggling to maintain its boost and dropping all the way back to its much slower base clock. The PS5’s solution is fully dynamic, utilising a totally different approach to its predecessor – rather than winding down power output when thermals get high, it maintains constant power and alters clock speeds in a dynamic way to manage thermals and load. This should help the system stay much quieter, which is a bonus as far as we’re concerned, as well as always close to optimal performance. Whether it creates any noticeable bottlenecks we’ll have to wait and see. We suspect the effect won’t be noticeable in most cases.
Teraflops! No they’re not a type of dinosaur – although like our long dead friends, the term is becoming extinct as it doesn’t adequately explain a systems real powers and capabilities – but it is still one of the headline numbers nerds drool over whenever conversations about computing power occur. So let’s get that out of the way first.
The basic stats: PS5 has 10.28 TFLOPs, XSX 12.16 TFLOPs and for our PC comparison, an RTX 2080 Ti card has about 14 TFLOPs of GPU power. So, PC is the easy winner yeah? Well yes and no. We’re comparing apples and oranges.
XSX and PS5 will be the winners over current top of the range PC GPU tech for the near future.
PS5 and XSX both use AMD’s latest RDNA 2 architecture, which hasn’t entered the PC space yet. So we can’t stack it up against Nvidia’s RTX cards in a fairer test. So let’s forget about the PC comparison for now – the F1 analogy from earlier still applies!
XSX has 52 CUs (compute units) running at 1.825 GHz (a decent speed for a GPU). However, PS5 has fewer CUs (38) running at a significantly higher 2.23 GHz (about 25% faster).
To visualise the difference easily, imagine the CUs as lanes on a highway and the GHz frequency the speed of the cars (or in reality, data) travelling along the highway. The XSX has a much wider highway, allowing for a greater volume of traffic whereas the PS5 has fewer lanes but the cars are traveling at a higher speed.
Which is the better approach? Bugger if we know. It’ll likely depend on the demands of the game. What’s cool is Sony and Microsoft have gone for different philosophies here. It’s also worth noting the PS5’s approach will likely be cheaper which may effect the price of the console come launch day.
Finally we’re getting what will be the biggest technological leap for consoles – solid state storage.
The order of magnitude improvement over traditional HDDs will be staggering. We’re talking over 100x faster than current gen.
That doesn’t just mean games will load quicker, it means assets within games will be streamed to RAM so much faster that game design can change radically, eliminating the need to force the player into creatively confined spaces to load in the next set of textures for the new map area you’re about to explore. Fast paced action both in loading and playing games will feel much more like early console generations, where the action was immediate. This is a very welcome change.
Comparing the speeds is again only part of the story. A typical and affordable NVMe SSD in a PC can get up to 2.5 GB/s of data throughput (in real world sceanrios). Newer PCIe 4.0 drives coming out now will look to at least double that.
The new gen consoles on the other hand will comfortably handle anywhere between 2.4-4.8 GB/s for the XSX, and an incredible 5.5-9 GB/s for the PS5. Old gen HDDs can only handle about 150 MB/s.
I love this kind of innovation. Its imaginative and bespoke…
So, Microsoft is very much in line with current NVMe SSDs with the XSX implementation (which should feel very slick indeed) but Sony’s PS5 solution is off the scale. Custom flash controllers and code make the approach in PS5 far more bepoke and will undoubtedly lead to some advantages in the years ahead. Conversely, it’ll also make expanding storage far more expensive as the system will need a 3rd party product that can match the throughput Sony has engineered.
Unfortunately, PS5 will ship ship with a miserly 825GB of storage space (compared to XSX’s slightly more generous 1TB). This will prove a headache when it comes to manging your game installs. Thankfully both systems will feature straight forward expandability.
How big are next gen games going to be? Well the elimination of the need to seek assets close by on the physical platter of a traditional HDD should reduce a lot of file duplications. Big improvements in compression technology should decrease file sizes also. However, with all the extra raw power each system has to offer games will undoubtedly continue to get bigger, it’s just inevitable. Let’s hope our internet speeds continue to improve to cope with the extra demands.
In other tech worth noting, both systems will utilise 16GB of GDDR6 memory – the latest mainstream GPU aimed variant and this should, along with the sheer throughput of the SSDs provide tons of memory space and speed for the foreseeable future. Last gen consoles had 8GB of RAM – GDDR5 for PS4 and almost-ancient DDR3 for Xbox One (along with its weird 32MB of esRAM).
Standard PC RAM still uses DDR, in most cases DDR4. Standard DDR memory is used for a variety of computing tasks, not just gaming. GDDR is optimised for gaming applications so typically features much higher read and write speeds, wider buses and lower latency. When comparing to our high-end gaming rig we therefore should compare to the GPUs own dedicated memory – in this case 11GB of GDDR6 on an RTX 2080 Ti.
As the new consoles will allocate some RAM to running background tasks (a few GBs) we’re looking at a fairly even match numerically between top spec PC and next gen console here. However, using that F1 analogy yet again, that console memory will be better optimised and have faster access to all aspects of the system architecture. So undoubtedly, XSX and PS5 will be the winners over current top of the range PC GPU tech for the near future.
One last tech that really grabbed my attention was what Sony are calling their fully custom Tempest Audio chip, along with the Tempest Engine – to create highly immersive and high-quality 3D audio spaces.
We focus so much on graphics audio doesn’t get much mention – and it wasn’t until Mark Cerny pointed it out in his PS5 tech presentation that it became obvious to me that this is an area that was neglected with current gen consoles. The Jaguar CPU cores, as old and crappy as they are by today’s standards, didn’t offer any opportunity to integrate high quality sound stages for games, as resources were in high demand for all of a game’s other priorities – unlike the SPUs on PS3’s Cell which apparently worked superbly with audio effects and didn’t compromise the graphics side if utilised.
To fix this Sony has designed a custom chip and engine to take the load off of the CPU and enable a system capable of rendering dozens of localised high quality sounds. Sony have even gone as far to map the workings of individuals ears and attempt to create presets that a user can choose to best match their unique anatomy when configuring the audio settings in PS5.
I love this kind of innovation. Its imaginative and bespoke hardware like this that has traditionally been what consoles are all about, standing them apart from ‘the off the shelf’ PC space.
It’s worth noting XSX will also feature a 3D audio chip, but it doesn’t seem as ambitious or as bespoke as Sony’s efforts. Time will tell if they’ll be any great difference here.
Everyone’s cards are now on the table (PS5 form factor and cooling solution withstanding) and as expected both systems are very similar, but with a few intriguing differences.
XSX has the raw CPU clock edge and GPU heft, PS5 the faster yet slighter graphics pipeline. XSX has a mighty cooling solution made possible by its mini PC tower form factor, enabling high fixed clock speeds. The PS5 has a slower yet more dynamically engineered solution.
PS5 has an insane throughput on it’s SSD I/O but with only 825GB of storage available. XSX offers a more reasonable 1TB while utilising a more familiar (and affordable) high-end PC style solution.
Both use highly impressive custom SoCs making them very hard to compare to a PC directly – but the PS5 does feel closer to what we would consider a traditional console. From its exotic custom audio chip to highly bespoke storage solution, its definitely more unique than the XSX – even though Microsoft’s system will absolutely have the raw power edge over Sony’s next-gen machine.
Price wise we still have no idea where each system will land, but expect both new consoles to retail between £350-£500 at launch. That’s a massive saving over our £1500 PC gaming beast.
But of course, PC tech will catch up and surpass the raw power of Sony and Microsoft’s latest efforts in the near future. As you can see however, it’s not all about the numbers. And we haven’t even talked about the games yet!