Sony Releases First Details of PS5
Mark Cerny has been busy since 2015, once again charged with designing the architecture of Sony’s flagship console, and this week he has released the first official details of the PS5. The major features of the PS5 appear to be massively superior CPU performance, ray tracing, and vast memory bandwidth. Lesser selling points appear to be improved surround audio and 8k resolution support, though these features do not make this author quite so wet on account of never having any issues with the quality of PS4 audio, and only having recently upgraded to a 4k television. 8k screens have only just begun being manufactured, and so 8k support will only really come into its own during the latter years of the PS5’s lifecycle, by which time a PS5 Pro will likely already be on the market, and better able to support an 8k resolution. It seems unlikely that devs will want to dedicate GPU bandwidth to pushing an 8k resolution on the base console. If one had to guess, the 8k support probably has more to do with 8k media support rather than 8k video game graphics. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are being broadcast in 8k, so perhaps Sony wish to use the event to advertise the media capabilities of their new console. That being said, the 2020 Games are set to begin in July of 2020, which is earlier than many people are anticipating the PS5 to launch.
CPU / GPU
Once again Sony’s console will utilise an AMD APU, which combines the CPU and GPU into the same silicone. The PS5 will use a desktop-tier CPU based on Zen 2 architecture, featuring eight third generation Ryzen cores. Due to the feature set of Zen 2, it is presumed that the chip will support hyper-threading, meaning that it will be capable of running 16 concurrent threads of executable CPU code. Zen 2 processors are not expected to be available to the PC market until later this year, meaning that the architecture will still be relatively new by the time that the PS5 is launched. This is expected to provide a generational leap over the PS4, which uses a mobile CPU with eight single-threaded Jaguar cores circa 2013. The PS5’s GPU will use a customised variant of AMD’s upcoming Navi architecture, though Sony has released no further specifications at present.
Ray Tracing + Audio
One aspect of the GPU that Mark Cerny was keen to emphasize is that it will facilitate ray tracing. Ray tracing is most commonly used as a feature in a game’s lighting engine, as it allows light shafts to realistically bounce from surface to surface, creating more realistic global illumination, and it is also able to be used to facilitate some extremely impressive reflective surfaces. What Cerny failed to mention is whether the GPU was being designed with hardware support for ray tracing, or whether the feature would have to be brute forced through software. This is potentially very important as ray tracing is a very computationally expensive process, so if the PS5 lacks dedicated hardware acceleration to facilitate it, then many devs might prefer to spend that GPU horsepower elsewhere. When discussing ray tracing, Cerny also mentioned that it could be utilised by a game’s audio, allowing environmental noises to reach the player in a more convincing way, as well as the noise a player makes alerting enemies in a more realistic fashion. On the topic of audio, the PS5 will feature a dedicated audio unit to facilitate 3D audio. This feature is not mind blowing, but hopefully it will help eliminate (or at least mitigate) sudden volume fluctuations when the player moves the camera away from a noise source.
Solid State Drive (SSD) / Loadtimes
The biggest surprise with the PS5 reveal has undoubtedly been that the unit will include a solid state drive (SSD) for storage, on account of the cost of doing so. Cerny has claimed the the PS5’s SSD will be faster than any SSD available to the PC market, a boast that many gamers have pressed ‘x’ to doubt. In all honesty Cerny’s claim is likely true and false all at the same time. The PS5’s SSD will probably be no faster in itself than the drives available to PC gamers (especially by the time the console launches), yet through the use of high bandwidth data buses and CPUs that have been customised and fine tuned to optimise texture decompression, it is quite possible that the PS5’s SSD could facilitate a higher memory bandwidth than is achievable with PCs with all their bottlenecks.
Mark Cerny demonstrated the speed of the PS5’s SSD using the PS4 exclusive Spider-Man. On PS4 hardware it takes the player roughly 15 seconds to fast travel to a location, whereas using a PS5 devkit Cerny was able to fast travel to a location in 0.8 seconds, meaning that loadtimes for PS4 games are roughly 19 times faster on PS5 hardware. Of course load times will presumably not be quite so snappy when running dedicated PS5 software, as the presumed jump in graphics processing and RAM will oblige greater quantities of information to be loaded from the SSD, as devs move to using larger higher quality textures. That being said, loadtimes will see a marked improvement over the PS4 regardless, along with a higher streaming bandwidth that will allow players to move through open worlds at a much faster rate than is possible on current hardware.
PS4 Backwards Compatibility
As alluded to above, the PS5 will be backwards compatible with PS4 software, but Cerny mentioned nothing about backwards compatibility with games from prior Playstation consoles. This will either come as good news or bad news depending on one’s expectations. It is possible that backwards compatibility for Playstations 1-3 are just not finalised yet, or that Sony is saving this reveal for later to increase its impact, but it certainly does not do much to instill hope that we will be popping our PS1, PS2, and PS3 discs into our PS5s to enjoy our existing collections. Of course there will probably be some sort of Playstation Classics program to allow us to buy digital versions of old games, but as the PS4 has shown us such programs tend to be very poorly supported.
Miscellaneous Details and Features
Briefly, the PS5 will not launch in 2019. It will support physical media, which is always a relief to hear. When asked about pricing Cerny was coy, stating that he feels that the PS5 retail price will be appealing to gamers in light of its advanced feature set, which tells us nothing given the presumed cost of including an SSD. It must be remembered that Sony no doubt thought the $600 price tag of the PS3 would be appealing to consumers given that console’s advanced feature set, but that certainly was not the case. That being said, Sony is (hopefully) still aware that the sole reason they were able to fuck Microsoft into the dirt so relentlessly with the PS4 was because they were able to undercut them on price.
Launch Strategy + Development Ecosystem
Sony is expediting the development of dev kits in order to get them out to studios ASAP, in order to ensure a smooth rollout with plenty of third party support at launch. PS4 versions of games will continue to launch alongside PS5 versions of games, as the development ecosystem is such that developing a PS5 version of a game will be a lot like developing a PS4 Pro version of a game. That being said, it is not known whether both PS5 and PS4 versions of the game will be available on the same disc, and this may depend on whether the PS5 uses the tried and tested Blu-ray medium, or whether Sony opts to use the higher capacity Ultra Blu-rays:
The specification allows for three disc capacities, each with its own data rate: 50 GB with 82 Mbit/s (dual-layer), 66 GB with 108 Mbit/s (dual-layer), and 100 GB with 128 Mbit/s (tripple-layer).
Given that PS4 games are already exceeding 100 GB, it is not difficult to imagine that Sony might opt to go with Ultra Blu-rays. If the PS5 does not go this route, then expect many games to come incomplete on disc.
In summary, the unknown quantities of the PS5 currently are: which storage medium it will use, the speed at which the CPU will be clocked, the GPU particulars (including its number of compute units, and the speed it will be clocked at), and the RAM particulars (including type, speed, and amount). It is also unknown whether the system will offer backwards compatibility support for any Playstation console prior to the PS4.
The Performance Profile of the PS5 APU Has Potentially Been Discovered
While Sony has remained quiet on the technical specs underlying the PS5’s APU, the chip has very probably been found, and its specifications revealed. During the development and refinement process of an AMD chip, the company will periodically test it using 3DMark, and the results of this can be found online. People can track the progress of various chips by taking note of their serial number. This number also reveals various details about the chip in development, such as CPU speed, GPU speed, the number of CPU cores, and whether the chip is intended for desktop computers, mobile devices, or specifically gaming devices. Back in the day the PS4 APU was identified using this exact method. It is quite easy to do this since there are not often too many gaming devices in development at the same time. A chip with a code name of Gonzalo has been identified as quite possibly being the PS5 APU. It may also serve as the basis for the more powerful SKU of Microsoft’s two next generation consoles.
The Gonzalo chip features 8 cores which have a base clock speed of 1.6GHz, and a boost clock speed of 3.2GHz – the latter frequency is the only one that needs to be kept in mind when assessing the chip’s suitability for gaming applications. The chip’s GPU is clocked at 1.8GHz, but it is unclear how many compute units it contains. Because AMD’s Navi GPUs are based on their GCN architecture, there are a finite number of known compute unit configurations that the Gonzalo’s GPU might utilise; and from that we can infer how many teraflops the GPU is able to push. The GPU could potentially feature 36, 40, 44, 56, 60, or 64 compute units, which equates to 8.3, 9.2, 10.1, 12.9, 13.8, or 14.7 teraflops respectively.
By comparison the PS4 Pro GPU is capable of pushing 4.2 teraflops and the Xbox One X is capable of pushing 6 teraflops, so at absolute worst the Gonzalo GPU will be twice as powerful as the one that powers the PS4 Pro – but it might be a lot more powerful than that. Digital Foundry has an inside source within Microsoft which claims that they are working on two next generation consoles; one with a 4 teraflop GPU, and one with a 12 teraflop GPU. It is kind of crazy that one of Microsoft’s next generation consoles will only have a 4 teraflop GPU, given that it merely matches the power of the PS4 Pro, and is two teraflops less powerful than than the Xbox One X. That said, the base next generation Xbox console will come with a newer GPU feature set and a much better CPU, so it should punch above its weight in relation to the last generation consoles.
More interesting is Microsoft’s 12 teraflop console, seeing as it kind of informs us about what to expect from the PS5 GPU. This more powerful Microsoft console is expected to sell at the same premium price point as the Xbox One X, and the performance profile suggests that if it is using the Gonzalo chip (or one like it) then it presumably features a GPU with 56 compute units, capable of pushing around 12 teraflops. Because of this it probably stands to reason that the PS5 GPU will contain fewer than the 56 compute units of Microsoft’s console, since Sony will not want the PS5 to be much more expensive than the base Xbox console. Given all the slightly odd hardware configurations potentially on offer, it will be interesting to see how the next generation shakes out. One has not really been feeling the console war until now, but with Sony and Microsoft’s vastly different strategies taking center stage it is really starting to become intriguing.