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Why the PS4 will be much more powerful than the Xbox One

Andrew Williams by

Sony PS4
Sony PS4

The question of whether to buy Microsoft or Sony for your home games console has never been as important. Not only are the Xbox One and PS4 launching at roughly the same time – a first in the history of these series – they are also to sell at a similar price.

There’s no easy way out this time.

However, looking at the core specs of these systems, it looks like the Sony PlayStation 4 will be a significantly more powerful gaming system.

Getting the Magnifying Lens Out

A cursory look at the specs of the Sony PS4 and Xbox One suggests they’ll offer similar performance. Both have eight-core processors. Both CPUs are made by AMD. A tech layman might even assume they have identical innards.

They do not.

Some of the inner workings of the consoles’ hardware isn’t yet known, but the most important difference we do know is not in CPU cores, but RAM – the couriers of the computer world.

The Sony PS4 uses 5.5GHz GDDR5 RAM, and we believe the Xbox One uses 2.1GHz DDR3 RAM.

They sound similar, but the different ways they operate has significant knock-on effects for the gaming potential of the two consoles.

The ‘G’ of the PS4's GGDR5 RAM stands for ‘graphics’, and this is a type of memory commonly used in dedicated PC graphics cards – although some do use DDR3 instead, usually cheaper models. In a shamelessly generalising sense, DDR3 is used for main system memory and GDDR5 for graphics-based tasks.

Like, y’know, gaming.

The key is bandwidth. GDDR5 sacrifices latency – the speed with which memory tasks can be initiated – for bandwidth, which defines the speed at which tasks can be performed once started.

Estimates put the PS4’s memory bandwidth at 176GB/second, compared to 68GB/second for the Xbox One. The PS4 is the tech outlier here. GDDR5 is only currently available in 512MB chips, so the console will need a whopping 16 of them.

It’s no wonder Sony hasn’t unveiled the PS4’s case yet – maybe it’s even bigger than the Xbox’s.

Memory bandwidth is imperative when shifting great big chunks of data, such as rendering high-quality textures. So is the Xbox One stuffed?

It’s not quite that simple. Microsoft has also implemented an eSRAM buffer that mitigates the relatively low-bandwidth of DDR3. There’s just a tiny amount of this memory in the Xbox One, 32MB, but it can operate in parallel with the main DDR3 memory and is extremely fast.

This will act as a frame buffer. However, whether this memory configuration will be able to offer the same performance as the PS4's remains to be seem. If it doesn't, greater texture pop-in or lower texture quality within games are two obvious sacrifices. And the figures suggest the PS4 will maintain the upper hand.

Using the eSRAM and DDR3 combo is Microsoft’s sensible and rational approach, against Sony’s all-guns-blazing tactic. GDDR5 memory is significantly more expensive than DDR3.

Find out what the TrustedReviews team think of the Xbox One

Xbox One

The Xbox One is 10% larger than the Xbox 360. Could the more powerful PS4 be even larger?

That’s Not All, Either…

The Xbox One’s problems don’t end with memory. Although both consoles feature AMD-made GPUs, the PS4’s is significantly more powerful.

A tear-down from Wired magazine reveals that the Sony PS4’s GPU has 50 per cent more shader cores than the Xbox One – 1,152 against 768. And, further descending into the details, their TFLOP ratings, which measure how many operations a second they can perform, are far removed from each other.

The PS4 is rated at 1.8TFLOPs, the Xbox One just 1.23TFLOPs. However, this rating in particular has tended to bear little relation to actual results – the PS3 was widely reported as being a 1.8TFLOP system at its launch. And the PS3 is nowhere near as powerful as the PS4.

That said, the PS3 is spec-for-spec significantly more powerful than the Xbox 360 - and yet its games are not notably better-looking across the board. Is this just history repeating itself?

The game is completely different this time around, because Sony has sensibly abandoned the Cell system architecture used in the PS3. The Cell architecture of the PS3 was notoriously difficult to code for, compared to the more familiar PowerPC-based Xbox, thereby piddling away much of the console’s technological superiority.

This time, the new systems from Microsoft and Sony share the x86 architecture, as seen in Windows-powered laptops and desktops across the world.

There’s no getting around it – the Sony PS4 is more powerful than the Xbox One. And as much as we may try to look for technical ways Microsoft may have slyly bridged the gap, they just aren’t there – yet.

Is Microsoft relying on the notion that developers simply won’t be willing to pile that much money into improving visuals for the technically superior PS4 in cross-platform games?

Or is Sony’s obsession with winning the tech war of gaming going to mean it won’t be able to turn a profit on its new console for years, if ever?

There are many questions like this left hanging, and perhaps they’ll be answered at this year’s E3 conference, where we’ll learn more about both the Xbox One and PS4. But would better graphics in the PS4 be enough to sway you into buying a PlayStation?

Next, read our blow-by-blow Xbox One vs PS4 comparison

Go to comments

Kulti Vator

May 24, 2013, 11:23 am

A lot of speculation here - Microsoft claim to have heavily customised the stock AMD silicon - so there's every chance that the specs are meaningless, as other optimisations might mitigate potential performance bottlenecks.

Putting this into context, the PS3 has a slightly more powerful graphics chipset than the 360 - but the PS3's memory architecture has compromised developers ability to even match the 360's performance, let alone exceed it (ID software were very vocal about these issues, in case you want to research it further). The result is that many titles that run at 60 frames per second have had to be throttled back on the PS3 throughout it's lifetime, whilst texture, shadow and other lighting effects are often also turned down a notch or two below the 360 version in dual-format titles. The point here is that raw specs would have predicted the opposite effect!

The truth is, we'll all have to wait and see.

My biggest concern is whether the three OS approach of the new Xbox One will introduce compromises. MS are talking a good game around virtualisation and multi-tasking - but such activities usually consume large amounts of RAM to implement seamlessly - yet it will supposedly ship with the same 8GB RAM as the less ambitious PS4 (in terms of it's non-gaming capabilities).

andyvan

May 24, 2013, 11:35 am

You're right about the 360 and PS3, but the comparison doesn't apply to the Xbox One and PS4. Since they're using the same basic architecture as each other, developers won't have the same problems with the PS4 as they did the PS3. You're right to say we don't know the full picture yet, but what we know thus far paints a fairly straightforward picture.

The better question to ask is if developers will use the PS4's extra power properly, or just develop for the lowest common denominator - i.e. the Xbox One. There's a chance of this, but given their similarities it ought to be simple to 'turn up the volume' on the PS4 in the same way one would when playing a PC game on a higher spec machine. Whether that happens...

Chris Beach

May 24, 2013, 11:53 am

I think we can see that gaming was not the number one priority for Xbox One, unlike the 360, where I thought the PS3 was more 'general entertainment' orientated. The One will replace my PS3 as my main blu-ray player, and I'll keep my 360 for my reasonable game catalogue.

How much extra power does the PS4 have though, is it enough to go from 4xAA to 8xAA or 16xAA,...the PC has way more power and the ability to scale to higher resolutions. Neither of the PS4 or the One could do 4k gaming for example.

So I think the difference will be like changing a few PC games sliders from high to very high...nothing dramatic and certainly not enough to not game on the One. The achievements and multiplayer alone make up for any lack in potential graphics shortfall.

Pg

May 24, 2013, 12:43 pm

It'll be interesting to see how much of the RAM will be avilable to game developers on each machine. Considering their architectures are so similar, it shouldn't be long after devs get hold of the consoles to be able to compare their abilities.

andyvan

May 24, 2013, 1:04 pm

I predict PS4 shortages, too. GDDR5 is expensive for a reason.

Actionable Steps

May 24, 2013, 2:48 pm

The Xbox One is clearly an entertainment machine, whereas Sony focussed on gaming. Whether this will make them more money remains to be seen, cos unfortunately the American market is choc-full of people who see a shiny shiny in Wall-mart and just drop their cash on it cos its got 50% off when you get a year of Xbox Live... PS4 is going to be the better machine for sure, in all regards, but Microsoft will find a way to get one into people's homes.

Chris Beach

May 24, 2013, 3:03 pm

mmm depends on its price too, if the PS4 is more expensive...
plus its not going to be better, its technically better if comparing its equivalent stats but that means squat until we see the UIX and see the games, if their only marginally better then who the feck cares!

BitcoinMarketNews

May 24, 2013, 5:42 pm

I don't know, Playstation 4 uses an APU. So it uses one chip to process the CPU power and GPU power and uses 8gb of RAM to share it between the system and graphics unit. GDDR5 RAM actually isn't that hard to find or expensive, you must be thinking about DDR5 RAM. There is a difference, GDDR5 RAM is used in most up-to-date graphics cards and DDR5 Ram is only used commercially and isn't even available to the public yet. Saying that, no one really knows yet how much actual RAM the system has. Even though it's going to use some of the GDDR5 RAM for main RAM instead of graphical RAM.

Sebastian Stroud

May 24, 2013, 5:59 pm

They can do 4K as stated already.
What's PC gaming anyway?

BitcoinMarketNews

May 24, 2013, 5:59 pm

Take this in, The PS4 uses 8GB of unified GDDR5 RAM. Some of that RAM is going to be shared with the system, but more than half will most likely be used for the GPU. A GTX 780 and TITAN both use 6GB of GDDR5 RAM and both cost anywhere from $600-1000+. Sure, a Titan is still going to out perform a PS4's graphical power, but the PS4 actually may rival PC gaming for a short-time. I, and all other PC gamers, know that the console gaming affects PC gaming in almost all ways. The whole PC gaming market is kept back by console gaming. Then you will see a jump in PC technology whenever the next consoles come out. Why? Because the bulk of the market makes games for consoles, PC hardware companies realize this and make cards based on the benchmarking of ported games from the consoles. It's just a normal routine and it keeps the whole gaming market in check. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo don't want PC gaming to gain a bulk of the market. Even when current graphics cards are HIGHLY overpriced to keep the cost of having top end PC gaming high. All of the top-end technology out for PC right now could be far cheaper, PS4 will be able to rival a $1,500 computer in graphical power and only cost anywhere from $300-$600. Just watch, soon you'll be seeing PC graphics cards breaking the 4-6GB GDDR5 mark and very soon move up to GDDR6 or have 7-9 GB of GDDR5. Breaking a pretty long hiatus.

Andrew Boult

May 25, 2013, 1:23 am

Nope, they can display pictures and play vids at 4k - not play games. not that i'm too bothered as i dont plan on getting a 4k tv yet. I'll be building a htpc shortly around the gtx 680 i bought last year and a new gen i5 intel will release next month, it'll be leagues ahead of either of these for power. Steam has made the PC easier to use than consoles as there is no fiddling around with disks. although i'll be waiting a while before gta 5 comes to the pc

RG

May 25, 2013, 7:48 am

I read somewhere that the xbox one will use 3GB of RAM for the OS vs the PS4 only using 1GB

itsallgonepearshaped

May 25, 2013, 9:09 pm

Does it matter?
Game studios create game for common platforms, they'll design for the lowest system to run. All that extra power will be wasted. A few extra smoke effects? Ooooh...

Wienclaw

May 26, 2013, 1:25 am

Yeah most multiplatform games are made the same across. It's not like 3rd parties will go out of their way to make the PS4 have better effects because of a slight edge. What will ultimately be interesting is the price point of these 2 consoles.

joe

May 26, 2013, 7:32 am

cant wait for the PS4

Prince William

May 26, 2013, 8:21 am

Why did you mention only RAM and CPUs/GPUs when the true difference is their APIs?

Programs that use PlayStation Shading Language can be optimized much more than DirectX11.1.
Also, PS4 allows that kind of CPU code optimization that Xbox usually hides from developers. And now it will be much easier for PS4 developers to use such optimizations as they are more familiar with x86 than with Cell.

And PS4 allows using OpenGL which means games can be easily ported to Mac OS X and Linux, which is a new trend started by Valve.

In fact PS4 could be more powerful than Xbox One by relying only on its software. Again: if they both had identical hardware, PS4 would be still more powerful, because Sony's software allows you to use more computing power from the hardware.

Axe99

May 26, 2013, 8:38 am

PS4's edge in power (and accessible power this time around) doesn't hurt - I'd say we'll see significant differences in frame rates between multi-plats because in many cases they'll just run the same engine through a better GPU - but it's Sony's overall approach to gaming that's got me going for the PS4 this gen - with self-publishing and broad support, they'll have a better range of games on the system (as they've ended up with in the three generations prior, although they started wobbly with PS3). The big pubs will be on both, but if you want more than the same old blockbusters (which are fun, but I like a bit of variety with my dudebro) then the PS4 or Wii U are the way to go. If you want something that's got variety and is step up from PS3/360, then it's PS4 (on console - the difference with PC is one of useability, consistency and compatibility, not power, where PC will always win).

extermin8or2

May 26, 2013, 9:18 am

um how comes PC's have often got better graphics etc than consoles- this is the same architecture as PC's are made on, it won't cost ANYTHING to have the ps4 version slightly better than the XBOX's if you are already making the different graphic settings for the PC version.

extermin8or2

May 26, 2013, 9:20 am

I was pretty sure the PS4 also had an ARM processor to handle the video capture uploading and background downloads, and the standby functions of the console-and that had separate RAM that also handled the OS.

extermin8or2

May 26, 2013, 9:24 am

yeah but the Americans also have a real thing about their privacy and being pied on (rightly so)- wait till the general public gets wind that if you disconnect kinect the xbox one stops working, then when they find out that when in standby mode the xbox one is always listening just incase someone says "xbox on" -kinects voice stuff i processed on a cloud server....

extermin8or2

May 26, 2013, 9:28 am

THe three OS approach, they are all apparently running off the same hypervisor which means they will always be running.... so it will take a hit in terms of what rescources devs have to work with, plus kinect will need RAM etc- I think half will be taken for kinect and OS. And having less non gaming features really means nothing to me as my Laptop can do most of what the xbox one is advertising-hell my phone can,....

kevin_mcclintok

May 26, 2013, 10:11 am

I see Sony going 3rd party after this gen. Sure Sony fans talk a lot of BS but they did the same thing last gen and none of it stopped Sony from coming in 3rd. Hell they dominated 2 gens and have still managed to make less money in the console market than Sega did and Sega was in shambles and never lead a console gen. Notice how Sony hasnt set a price at all, hasnt been open on its used game policy and only has developers that are in its pockets saying good things about the console and we all know according to Sony fans that if a developer is making a game on a console and says its powerful, then they only want you to buy their game.

Ana Helušić

May 26, 2013, 10:14 am

PS4 is killing

Edonus

May 26, 2013, 12:14 pm

Doesnt the games engines play a big part into these equations too. Its totally possible that the only way to exploit all the extra power would be through custom game engines.

Vulcanproject

May 26, 2013, 12:32 pm

PS4's GPU performance is about equal to a $170 card right now. It'll cost less by the time PS4 actually arrives. PS4 won't match a top end PC, dunno why people claim that all the time. Something like a 7970ghz is twice as fast as the GPU inside PS4 and that card has been out virtually a year already as well. Understand that PS4 has about 7gb memory for developers, most of them will only use 3gb or so for video memory. Any more is mostly pointless or moot considering PS4's GPU just isn't fast enough to actually utilise it all @ 1080p. GPU performance will matter more in this instance.

Even Killzone Shadow fall uses just 3GB of video memory, an amount common on high end cards ALREADY. Thing is, thats probably padded. PS4 has a lot more memory than the system performance can practically take full advantage of. The total memory used by shadow fall was still just 4.7GB, after all. Several PC games have used 2Gb video + 2Gb+ system memory for some time now.

By next year, I would say most decent video cards will have at least 4gb of graphics memory, and they will also have the performance to use it. I can illustrate this by pointing out that many 256mb PC video cards when Xbox 360 launched (with 512mb memory) still easily outperformed Xbox 360 on many early multiplatform titles...........................................by the time it didn't and 512mb+ was very common for everything, PC hardware had moved on so far it didn't matter.

The last generation of consoles were much closer to top end PC performance when they first launched, but the gap is bigger to PC hardware than it has ever been, and its in PC's favour.

Xbox 360's GPU would have been the fastest single GPU in the world only 6 months before it launched. PS4's GPU wouldn't have been the fastest after November 2010, 3 years before the machine will launch it seems..................

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