The Launch of a new generation of consoles is always an exciting time. Executives will give presentations at E3 showing off the feature set, hardware power and launch titles in an attempt to talk up their console as the undisputed victor of the new generation. The gaming industry has been around long enough with its eight generations for us to have seen everything. There was a point in time, years ago now, where consoles were individually unique and each had their own advantages and quirks which would not only make the purchasing decision a difficult one for consumers but would also seemingly endow the systems with their own personalities.
Today that’s not so true. Of the three one could only argue that the WiiU has it’s own personality and niche. While it’s sales haven’t been stellar there is something to be said for going your own way popular trends be damned. As for the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One the lines become more blurred. I’m not sure when exactly the homogenization of consoles became a thing but I think it had its roots in the Dreamcast, the first really modern console and especially the first Xbox with its use of modified off the shelf consumer hardware.
Sony’s 4th console release builds on a the same set of core design themes that have carried all PlayStations to commercial success. The biggest of which is a focus on multimedia functionality and making the PlayStation more than just a console.
Sony’s 4th console is less of a revolution like it’s ancestor and more of what we saw with the PS2 and PS3, a deliberate evolution and refinement over previous models with the goal of keeping what made the PlayStation great and just improving on that. To continue accomplish this goal we see the return of a lot of core features such as the familiar Dual Shock type controller and an emphasis on not just being a gaming console but being an all around entertainment device for the living room.
Sony began development of the PS4 only two years after the release of the PS3 in 2008 in order to prevent the delays that plagued the PS3 from afflicting the PS4. By 2012 early dev units were being sent out to developers and the console was officially announced at E3 2013 with the first markets releasing units that November.
During the development phase Sony worked closely with AMD to develop an x86 based APU to power the PS4 in order to improve the ease of game development. Something the PS3 suffered from early on due to its complicated cell architecture. Sony also worked with Bungie to work on updates to the dual shock controller family to make it better suited to FPS titles, another area that the PS3 had been weak in compared to the Xbox 360.
The end result gave Sony a much cheaper platform to manufacture with a straightforward architecture, much like the original PlayStation, that avoids many of the mistakes of the PS3.
Sony’s console design approach has always been a consistent effort to make the PlayStation resemble its intended use as a multimedia device. From the very beginning, the PlayStation has resembled contemporary home theater appliances while also having a distinct and modern look. The PlayStation 4 continues this theme with a hybrid gloss/matte black finish and sharp angled lines. I think it Looks nice.
It’s hard to deny the PS4 looks good
While the PS4’s industrial design is consistent with it’s lineage, under the hood is a different matter entirely. Gone is the expensive and complicated PowerPC Cell processor of the PS3. Now we have a much more conservative and conventional approach using an AMD sourced APU (Accelerated Processing Unit).
At the heart of the APU is an AMD Jaguar architecture CPU, or rather two of them. Jaguar is AMD’s current low-end/low-power architecture and has been on sale since mid-2013. Jaguar processors are at the most quad core devices and here Sony has taken the design a step further, instead of one quad core processor we have two arranged in a similar fashion to Intel’s early Core 2 Quad desktop CPUs with two separate cores on the same processor die.
APUs provide a distinct advantage to earlier solutions that involve discrete physical processors and chips. By taking these seperate components and placing them on the same die you can greatly reduce heat and power consumption but also connect the elements on their own internal bus that frees up the main system bus for other duties and reduces overall system latency.
A diagram of a single Jaguar compute unit (CU)
Each Quad core processor is broken into a “compute unit” (CU) which consists of the individual cores as well as the L2 cache and interface. The 4 cores share a 2MiB level 2 cache and each have 32KiB of instruction cache and 32KiB of data cache. Jaguar cores, like all modern processors are full superscalar, feature out-of-order and speculative execution in order to increase parallelization and improve overall performance.
Jaguar features many improvements over AMD’s previous Bulldozer architecture
Both CU’s run at a base 1.6Ghz and can throttle to an undisclosed higher clockspeed although there has been speculation it goes up as high as 2.5Ghz and as low as 1.9Ghz.
The GPU is as expected based on the Radeon GCN architecture that is found in consumer Jaguar APUs. Codenammed Liverpool, the GPU features 1152 Unified Shaders at a clock speed of 800Mhz. Being based on the GCN family Liverpool shares many features with AMD’s current 2xx line of consumer GPUs such as the HSA “zero-copy” Unified memory plan and support for AMD’s Mantle API.
- 1152 Unified Shaders
- 72 Texture Mapping Units
- 32 Render Output Units
- 800Mhz Core Clock Speed
- 1.84 TeraFLOPS peak theoretical power
- 25.6 GP/s maximum pixel fillrate
- 57.6 GT/s maximum texture fillrate
- 256bit wide GDDR5 bus with 176 GB/s bandwidth*
*note the PS4 uses a unified 8GiB of GDDR5 for both the CPU and GPU
In terms of overall performance Liverpool compares closest to the AMD 265 which is an updated Radeon 7850. The 265 also has a peak processing power of 1.84 TeraFLOPS and has similar texture and pixel fillrate as well as 179.s GB/s memory bandwidth.
The PS4 is form Sony’s perspective a great improvement over the PS3. It’s cheaper to manufacture, didn’t have hardware delays, is easy to develop for and naturally continues the theme of newer consoles being more powerful and having more features but that doesn’t tell the whole story. it actually took me awhile to finish this article. Not because information was hard to find or anything like that, but because it was hard to motivate myself to write about such a boring topic. The Ps4’s spec sheet reads more like a cheap pc build on PcPartPicker.com then a dedicated gaming machine. Both the PS4 and Xbox One suffer from this, they just aren’t interesting to talk about. Not to mention that relative to when they came out they aren’t nearly as impressive as the previous consoles were. The Ps3 and 360 were actually fairly powerful even by PC standards when they came out, I can not say the same for this generation. But the biggest problem by far, and this is outside the scope of this article and not just limited to the PS4, is there aren’t enough good games available for these consoles. 2014 was a parade of over hyped games that either didn’t deliver (Destiny) or games that didn’t work at all (Watchdogs, Assassin’s Creed Unity).