In this article we look at why the switch to PC-like x86 hardware in consoles is important to gamers and why you should care if both Microsoft and Sony go the same route.
Sony has recently announced that the PS4 is “a developer’s dream” – they’re bringing the console to the x86 platform and internally it’s made up of hardware designed and customised by AMD. But as a MyGaming reader, you’ve probably wondered why this is such a big thing and why it changes the game (pun!) entirely. Let’s have a closer look into the why and hopefully we’ll come out with an understanding of the impact this has on the gaming market.
During Sony’s PS4 conference, Mark Cerny, the man Sony tasked with the PS4’s design and hardware setup, detailed the core elements that the PS4’s hardware consisted of:
- A “super charged” PC architecture
- A x86 processor
- An “enhanced” PC GPU
- 8GB of Unified memory
- Large amounts of local storage
Of note were the first three points. Cerny, on behalf of Sony, admitted in between the lines that the Cell processor inside the PS3 was a mistake. He made mention about how the new hardware was much cheaper, more powerful and more accessible – qualities that the Cell processor lacks today in spades. In fact, Sony only started making money on the PS3 by the end of June 2010.
MyGaming readers may recall how high the local retail units were priced on launch – the 60GB PS3 could fetch as much as R7,000.
The move to hardware similar to modern computers is not a surprising one. Microsoft’s Xbox consoles have always stayed close to their PC brethren, using the same APIs like Direct X to keep programming more friendly. The reason why PS3 gamers haven’t yet received all the Elderscrolls V: Skyrim DLC is simple – the PC and the Xbox are better suited to platform porting because they employ similar software and use similar hardware, at least on the GPU front.
Sony’s switch to AMD and x86 hardware signifies their acceptance that Microsoft had the right idea all along beginning with the original Xbox – make a console out of PC parts to keep porting easy and reduce development costs. The PS4 has been confirmed to use an AMD eight-core processor based on their “Jaguar” architecture.
It shares no traits with the current Piledriver (AMD FX) or Trinity (AMD A-series) processors but is an evolution of something called “Bobcat”, a low-powered processor commonly found in cheap notebooks that was a completely new design by AMD’s engineers. Don’t be fooled – Bobcat can be faster than the PS3’s Cell processor in some metrics. Jaguar can extend that lead massively.
Graphics-wise, the PS4 uses an AMD Radeon GPU, but Sony hasn’t been forthcoming on what GPU it is. During his address to the audience, Cerny mentioned a few performance specifications such as throughput of 1.84 gigaflops and 176GB/s of graphics bandwidth.
That matches up somewhat to two GPUs we can currently buy or find in the retail channels: AMD’s mobile HD7970M, found in many notebooks including MSI’s GX60; and the Radeon HD7790, recently launched and easily available to PC gamers. In pure performance terms, the PS4 will probably be very similar to the MSI GX60 in today’s games.
But how does it benefit you, the MyGaming reader? There are two major benefits to this move from Sony:
- More multi-platform games become available and your hardware will get used properly.
- Lower development costs for studios who make games for multiple platforms, essentially combining them into one big unit.
The move is beneficial not just to developers, but to gamers as well. With 8GB of RAM on tap, you’ll see better visuals and increased performance over the previous console generation and performance that you simply won’t find in a PC for the same price because all this high-end hardware will be mass-produced. For PC ports, you’re also more likely to see your hardware get pushed to the limits. If its AMD hardware, all the better.
You might also see cheaper games. Developing a AAA mutli-platform blockbuster takes time and if you have to run development concurrently on three separate, very different systems. It becomes a very costly affair to keep all three teams going. If consoles and gaming PC’s have similar hardware and somewhat similar software environments, that lowers costs immensely because you can develop the game on either platform and scale performance up or down from there as needed.
Although, this won’t change anything for EA or Activision or Ubisoft. If you’re currently paying R500 for a day-one copy of a AAA title, you can bet your Nkandlas that they’ll keep that price for the next generation.
And guess what? Microsoft might be using a similar hardware specification. In fact, they might even be using the exact same internals, which brings us back to today’s platforms and why you’d have to choose carefully between them. “Its a war between ecosystems,” in the words of Nokia CEO Stephen Elop.
Today, we have all these mobile platforms like phones and tablets running on Android, iOS or Windows Phone competing for market share and the hardware is very similar. Consumers these days base their choice of gadgets and computers on the software and apps that are available as much as hardware requirements. For some, app selection is paramount.
If Microsoft and Sony use the same hardware, this means that choosing between the platform you wish to support is easy – pick the one that has the exclusives you want and the services you’re willing to subscribe to, and make your way from there.
And if you stick to the PC, you’re not losing out either. Its a win-win situation for everyone, especially AMD. Gamers have never had it so good.