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PlayStation 5 vs. Xbox Series X: Next-Gen Console Face Off
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Sony and Microsoft have now revealed key details of their upcoming consoles. Here's how they compare.

Let the specs war begin! We now have key information about both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, including details on the GPU, CPU, and storage. There's a lot that goes into making a console beyond just the hardware, and plenty of opportunity for custom features that haven't been disclosed yet, but with the latest Microsoft and Sony announcements, we're ready to compare the Sony PlayStation 5 to the Xbox Series X and crown a preliminary winner.

Yes, we know that sounds a bit premature. This is not intended to be a definitive verdict of unreleased hardware. But if you've been thinking about which future console you might want to buy, we can at least analyze what information there is. Plenty of additional details are yet to be revealed, including things like pricing. And make no mistake, we expect these next-gen consoles to be expensive. The larger and more powerful CPUs and GPUs combined with SSD storage the two companies are talking about here ends up sounding a lot like a mid-range to high-end PC, and the final prices aren't likely to be too far behind. So you might want to start saving now.

Features

AMD is providing the core CPU and GPU hardware for both the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5. Fundamentally, that means a lot of basic functionality will be the same. Both consoles will support ray tracing in hardware, and both will have Zen 2 CPUs and Navi 2x GPUs. But there are some differences in features right now.

First, the Xbox Series X will include a 4K Blu-ray drive. That's good for anyone without a fast internet connection, though don't expect to use the drive to run games directly. We expect many games to be distributed via digital download, and the Xbox Series X has a large SSD for storage. You can expand the storage with external USB 3.2 drives as well, and considering the performance disparity between SSDs and Blu-ray, trying to load all that data from a spinning plastic disc isn't a good idea, unless you like waiting. There's talk of using multiple external drives to store the various games you might be playing as well, so that you don't need to re-download large 100GB+ games multiple times.

The PlayStation 5 will also have a 4K Blu-ray drive, which is necessary for backward compatibility. That's a secondary concern, because Sony is making a lot of noise about its SSD storage in the PS5. Sony’s machine is said to pack some of the fastest SSD storage around, and the company says loading and saving games will be near-instantaneous (especially when compared with PS4 load times). The PS5 will also have an M.2 slot for storage expansion, though don't plan on just sticking any old M.2 drive into that slot—it will need to be fast enough and thin enough to fit. Sony is testing various drives to find out which ones meet its requirements. It will also support external storage.

Sony also talked up 3D audio, and the PS5 is putting a lot of effort into making audio better than ever. Cerny talked about audio quite a bit (check the video, and skip to 38:23) and noted that the most significant audio gains recently were with the PSVR, which could do "about 50 pretty decent sound sources." In fact, Cerny admitted the PS4 is in many ways a step back in audio compared to the PS3. PS5 will correct that, and according to Cerny it can do "hundreds" of higher quality sources. It will also feature multiple custom HRTFs (head related transfer functions) to let users select the one that provides the best 3D audio experience for their ears. This is an area of ongoing research, however, so we don't know how exactly things will turn out.

Winner: Tie. While there are clearly differences, it's impossible to say which features and functionality will be most important once these consoles arrive. We also don't have a full list of every feature. The base hardware should support similar features, and without the final hardware in hand we'll leave this part of the discussion for a future day.

GPU

Graphics cards and GPUs are the heart of any gaming console or PC, and the Navi 2x AMD chips going into the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are going to be a major upgrade over the current-generation consoles. The Xbox will have 52 RDNA 2 Compute Units (CUs), each with 64 GPU cores, running at up to 1.825 GHz. Sony is taking a different route and using 36 RDNA 2 CUs, again with 64 cores apiece, running at up to 2.23 GHz. Doing the math gives you 10.3 TFLOPS of computational power on the PlayStation 5 vs. the Xbox Series X's 12.1 TFLOPS. And since we're dealing with the same GPU architecture, those numbers should be directly comparable.

We don’t know yet whether the GPUs in the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 will be available to buy separately or good enough to make our list of best graphics cards. However, you can see in our GPU hierarchy that AMD's fastest current chip is the RX 5700 XT, which uses Navi 10 and delivers 10.1 TFLOPS of compute performance. At a minimum, then, the PlayStation 5 and especially the Xbox Series X should outperform an RX 5700 XT card. Pretty impressive for a console, though of course without a price tag it's not particularly meaningful.

Raw compute, core counts, and clock speeds aren't the only factors. One thing neither company has discussed in detail is the ray tracing performance or RT core counts of their GPUs. That's probably because AMD doesn't want to reveal such details right now. If AMD takes the same approach as Nvidia, it would put one RT core (or whatever AMD wants to call it) into each CU, but there's nothing stopping AMD from putting two, three, four or even more RT cores into a CU. It will probably be one or two, but potentially Sony could do two per CU and Microsoft could do one per CU, and Sony would have more ray tracing performance. We don't know.

Sony's lead architect for the PlayStation 5, Mark Cerny, is also correct in pointing out that if you have two chips with different configurations and the same theoretical compute, it's often 'better' overall to have fewer cores running at higher clocks. So 20 CUs at 2 GHz offers the same compute as 40 CUs at 1 GHz, but the 2 GHz version would usually have higher performance because other chip elements are also running twice as fast. The caveat is that modern chips can have multiple clock domains, and more CUs often means more ROPs and other elements as well. Conversely, higher clocks usually means higher power draw, so it's important to balance both aspects.

Sony and Microsoft haven't revealed all aspects of the PS5 and XSX hardware, however. For example, 16GB of memory was mentioned with the PS5, but is that the same 10GB + 6GB split that Microsoft is using for the Xbox Series X, or is that 16GB of system memory and separate GPU memory, or 8GB + 8GB or some other split? We don't know. Microsoft is using 10GB for the GPU, with 560 GBps of bandwidth, and 6GB for the system, with 336 GBps of bandwidth.

Winner: Xbox Series X. As it stands, barring additional disclosures, the Xbox Series X has the more potent GPU. It's potentially 20% faster, and that could extend to other areas like ray tracing as well. It's not an insurmountable lead, but it's the difference between something like an RTX 2080 and an RTX 2080 Ti in the PC space. The PS5 might have a slight advantage in some specific areas, thanks to its 22% higher GPU clock speed, but overall higher computational power will generally win out.

CPU

Both the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 are using 8-core/16-thread Zen 2 CPUs, which is similar to the Ryzen 7 3700X in our list of the best gaming CPUs, with the only difference being clock speed. The Xbox Series X CPU will be clocked at up to 3.8GHz, compared to the PlayStation 5's 3.5GHz. It's worth noting that the reported clocks are 'turbo' or 'boost' clocks, meaning the chips may not always run at the advertised speed, but given the static design constraints, they should run close to the maximum speed in most games.

Nominally, the Xbox has an 8.6% higher clock speed, but again those turbo clocks might make it closer in real-world use—or they might be further apart. Sony explicitly talked about using AMD's SmartShift technology, which was originally designed for laptops to better balance power distribution between the CPU and GPU. Generally speaking, it allows either the CPU or GPU to run at maximum boost clocks, but not both at the same time. Microsoft hasn't mentioned SmartShift, so potentially the PS5 will dip even further below its maximum boost clock. Neither company has revealed any details about power requirements or TDP at this time.

It's worth noting that both consoles are getting an absolutely massive jump in CPU performance compared to the current generation consoles. The eight Jaguar cores in current consoles … well, let's just dispense with the niceties: Jaguar cores suck when it comes to performance. They're reasonably power efficient, but they can't hold a candle to Zen 2. At an estimate, real-world performance of a Zen 2 core vs. a Jaguar core, at the same clock speed, the Zen 2 core is probably 3-4 times as fast (maybe more). And the new consoles will be clocked over 50% higher.

So, compared to the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, the CPUs in the PS5 and Xbox Series X should be about 400-600% faster. That puts the 8.6% clock advantage of the Xbox CPU into perspective.

Winner: Xbox Series X. The Xbox is technically a bit faster, though it's a relatively small lead. There may also be other features (eg, coprocessors) that will offload some of the CPU work that we don't know about yet. Regardless, the next-gen consoles are going to pole vault ahead of the current consoles and open the door to far more complex and interesting games. Also, the days of 30 fps 'cinematic' framerate caps on consoles should be well and truly put in the past. Those were mostly because the old Jaguar cores simply couldn't keep up with the demands of modern games.
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