OK, so everyone’s talking about PS4 announcement. Here’s my thoughts – take them with a grain of salt though since I’m not a game developer. I’ve had playstations since the first one, and I’ve generally liked them. That said, the PS3 had several weaknesses:
- Price: no one wants to pay $600 for a game console
- Incessant updates that take forever to download and run
- Bad ports: the Xbox had the better version of most cross platform games this generation, just because it was easy to develop for
Now, if rumors are correct, the next Xbox should be pretty similar to the PS4 (x86, large memory, AMD GPU). The main difference is that the rumored memory for the Xbox will be 16GB of DDR3 with a small amount of fast memory. The PS4 will have 8GB of GDDR5, so less, but faster memory. Let’s try and compare speeds here: according to Wikipedia, DDR3 maxes out at about 1.7 GB/sec, whereas GDDR5 supports a range of speeds, but 5 GB/sec seems to be on the low end, with crazy high speeds existing for some configurations. So the PS4 will have about 3 times faster memory at least.
What does all of this faster memory mean? Faster frame rates and better graphics? Maybe a little, but probably not much. Right now for PC what’s done is all the data for a fairly large chunk of the game (like say the current level) will be loaded into main memory, and the data needed for rendering is moved onto the graphics card (which uses GDDR5) as needed. More graphics memory allows you to draw a more complex scene at full speed , but it doesn’t otherwise speed things up. An architecture like this will work fine for the Xbox as far as graphics go: developers are used to it, and the PC can have the best graphics of any platform, so graphics wise this will work fine. However graphics isn’t all we use GPUs for anymore.
GPUs can be used for general computation as well as graphics. A pretty common use of GPU compute in games is to do the physics calculations for lots of small particles (Does that sound like something from the PS4 debut event?). One of the main difficulties with GPU compute is to transfer data back and forth between the GPU and CPU with good performance, something that should be super fast and easy on the PS4. The PS4 will be a GPU compute monster, this will enable a lot of cool effects that are hard to do even on a high end PC. In terms of pure polygon count a PC definitely will and the Xbox might (depending on it’s final specs) beat the PS4, but if the PS4 has flashier effects and enables art styles that are unfeasible on other platforms that could be a big strength. Hopefully Sony did the hard work of making an easy API for using this compute capacity, which seems possible since I hear that the PS4 tooling is quite good.
So when Ars claims that the PS4 won’t best a high-end PC on anything, they’re wrong; overall memory speed will be much greater. This will mean that GPU compute will be fast and relatively easy to use, but it also takes out one of the biggest overall bottlenecks in system performance. 8GB of memory will allow most of a games’s assets to be loaded in memory at once, and there will be no need to transfer data to the GPU. In later years of the PS4 lifetime, people may have to resort to crazy tricks to get maximum performance, but right now it should be very easy to make a game with good performance (assuming there’s no odd bottlenecks I’ve missed). This should make the PS4 the preferred system for developers and solve one of the big problems that the PS3 faced (and is still facing).
Now Sony has a good history of shooting itself in the foot, so there’s tons of ways the PS4 could screw up. For now I’m pretty optimistic: it looks a lot more appealing to me than the WiiU. We’ll find out about the new Xbox soon, but if the rumors are as accurate as they were for the PS4 then I think the PS4 will be the better gaming machine.