This is a guest post by William Judd
Last week Microsoft unveiled the next generation Xbox console: The Xbox One. Like the PlayStation 4, which was announced earlier this year but hasn’t yet been shown in the flesh, the new console will be released in time for Christmas this year. That will bring an end to almost eight years without a new console generation, a much longer period than generations past.
As you’d expect, both of these next-generation systems are much more powerful than their predecessors. What you might not expect is how similar the two systems are to one another! In this article, we’ll have a look at how these two next-generation consoles compare.
Both systems move from a custom PowerPC architecture to a 64-bit semi-custom system-on-chip, like a gaming PC. Both the PS4 and X1 use an AMD Jaguar APU, which should be clocked in the region of 1.6 GHz (as estimated by Anandtech). Both systems feature two four-core processors, making for eight cores (and eight threads) in total. So far, so similar.
Where things begin to diverge is in system memory. Both have 8 GB of RAM, but the PlayStation 4 has an edge here, as it’s using much faster GDDR5 RAM versus the DDR3 of the Xbox One. Datarates and peak memory bandwidth are considerably in Sony’s favour here as a result. Expect 5.5 GHz datarate delivery peak memory bandwidth of 176 GB/s for the PS4, and only 2.133 GHz good for 68.3 GB/s for the X1. The Microsoft console partially makes up for this with 32 MB of embedded memory on die, which should reduce the amount of peak memory bandwidth required. Overall, it looks pretty close – Sony have gone with a higher cost but simpler option, but Microsoft’s approach is by no means foolish.
In graphics land, things are more simply in Sony’s favour. Both consoles use an AMD GCN-based GPU, but Sony included an 18 Compute Unit configuration (good for 1152 ALUs) where Microsoft went for 12 CUs (delivering 768 ALUs). Both GPUs are clocked at the same speed (800 MHz), so here the PS4 has a clear advantage over the X1 in terms of horsepower – about 50%.
Power / Heat
The downside of having more powerful hardware is that you’d expect to also see more power used and more heat created. By that measure, the PS4 should be hotter and use more power than the X1, but both should also be hotter and use more power than the previous generation of consoles.
In truth, only the first comparison is likely to be true. While the new components used in the PS4 and X1 are more powerful, they’re also much more power efficient. Even when running at full tilt, we should expect to see only marginally higher power consumption than the previous generation.
Both of the new consoles also support power gating, allowing unused CPU and GPU cores to be kept in a low-power state until they’re needed. The new systems can also vary their frequencies and voltages as needed, allowing for a much wider range of heat and power usage than the previous generation. This should make them more economical and cooler to run outside of games.
In terms of PlayStation 4 versus Xbox One, we’d expect the PS4 will run a bit hotter and use a bit more power, thanks to the PS4’s additional GPU performance. Both systems look like they’ll use larger grilles, so heat shouldn’t be an issue.
All in all, it looks like the PlayStation 4 holds the performance crown, but the Xbox 360 may be a bit cheaper than the Sony console. That strategy hasn’t worked well for Microsoft with its Surface tablets or Windows Phones, but may be a good initial strategy for the company.
Of course, Microsoft are also investing a lot of time and money into the Kinect and the X1’s media capbilities, so perhaps we’ll see the same price point. Either way, it’s shaping up into an interesting battle!
I hope you found this comparison useful. For more in-depth information on the hardware differences between the PS4 and the X1, be sure to check out the Anandtech article linked above, which goes into much more detail for enthusiasts.