Sony’s PlayStation 5 Is Even More PC
IT’S THE MIDDLE OF 2019, and Sony just dropped a bombshell and revealed many of the specs for its next-gen console, which we’ll assume will be called the PlayStation 5. Even more surprising is the revelation that it’s not coming in 2019, which means late 2020 instead. That’s a long time to wait, but what will the next-gen consoles provide compared to PCs?
The current PS4 and Xbox One consoles (and their updated variant) already largely consist of hardware with its roots in the PC space, but the next iteration will further blur the lines. Sony is partnering with AMD again, moving from 2013- era hardware to the modern age. The heart of the PS5 will consist of an eight-core/16-thread Zen 2 (Ryzen 3000) CPU, with a Navi GPU that supports ray tracing, and an SSD for storage.
Both the CPU and GPU will use TSMC’s 7nm lithography, and instead of a single custom chip, the PS5 will likely have separate CPU and GPU chips in a single package. Sony hasn’t given details on the memory, but 16GB of GDDR6 seems likely— or possibly HBM2, but that would be more costly and isn’t really necessary. Even with modern processors, however, Sony and AMD can only push performance within a console form factor.
Consoles are primarily designed for the living room, which means big boxes and massive power requirements are out of the question. Current consoles use 140–160W, about half of what a highend graphics card requires. No one wants loud fans and tons of heat venting into an entertainment center, so I expect power use to fall below 250W, and even that’s a bit high. What sort of performance could Sony wring from a 150–250W console?
Given the CPU and GPU are from AMD using its upcoming architectures, it’s not difficult to guess at what we can expect. The Zen 2 CPU will be a substantial upgrade from the PS4’s eight-core Jaguar design, and should be at least two times faster, probably more. The GPU will also be a significant upgrade, likely double the performance of the PS4 Pro— Sony claims 8K resolution support, but I assume that’s for output (via HDMI 2.1), not that the console will manage 8K at 60fps. The Navi 20 architecture also adds support for hardware ray tracing, and as that feature will be present on all PS5s, it should see more uptake than Nvidia’s first RTX cards.
I’m also excited to see Sony adding an SSD. It will be some form of NVMe storage, based on early storage performance claims, but capacity hasn’t been disclosed. Perhaps Sony will use an SSD caching solution, however, as games are becoming quite large. Sony could just stuff in a 1TB SSD, but that will increase the cost.
All this sounds good, but it’s basically just a specialized PC running Sony’s OS. At least it will be backward compatible with PS4 games. I don’t expect it to be a massive upgrade compared to a modern PC. In fact, given the likely TDP, it will probably end up with performance similar to a Ryzen CPU with an RTX 2060 graphics card. That’s what happened with the PS4 as well: Rather than matching a high-end PC, it was more like the previous year’s midrange PC, with a reasonable price.
The early announcement of the PS5 hardware again emphasizes how the PC is the leader in pushing hardware and software. PCs have led the transition from physical media to digital downloads, and storage is moving away from spinning platters to SSDs. Specialpurpose processors like the PS3’s Cell have been supplanted by generic x86 CPUs. And as for graphics, PCs have had ray-tracing GPUs from Nvidia for nine months already, and it will be two years by the time the PS5 arrives.
None of this is surprising. Researching and creating new, higher performance processors takes time and money. It’s possible to create new architectures that might be a bit faster than PCs already have, but is it worth doing? Sony apparently doesn’t think so, and Microsoft will probably take a similar approach. We’re all just one big PC family now—except the consoles are locked down, so you can’t easily install your own OS.It will probably end up withperformance similar to a Ryzen CPU with an RTX 2060.