Tech dive is a new column focused on the deepening and discussion of video and non-gaming technology. At the head of the bathyscaphe find me, Riccardo / Cap, your trusted electrician.
Sony has begun to reveal the cards on how the next PlayStation will be, which for convenience I will call PlayStation 5 from now on. This is the first time certain details have been revealed so far in advance, and this provides me with an opportunity to elaborate a little on what we know so far.
Let's start with the PlayStation 5 CPU. Sony says it will be a 2 based 7 nanometer architecture chipset and that there will be 8 processors. This is perhaps the highest performance jump that the new generation of consoles will have. This is because both XBox One and PlayStation 4 were based on Jaguar architecture, or on the mobile derivation of the previous AMD architecture that I can define, in no uncertain terms, literally sucking. Why, will you say? What is this dry sentence against AMD?
Well, avoiding going too far: AMD in the 2011, when it launched the Bulldozer architecture, committed numerous errors of evaluation, which led to having processors with memories of immense latency and with badly distributed computing units. A single AMD unit was seen as an 2 core by the operating system, but it only integrated two calculation units for integers and one for floating-point calculations, among other things limited to 64-bit calculations at a time. A particularly unbalanced design.
Despite the many improvements over the years, when an architecture is wrong you have to carry the burden on your shoulders for a long time. To create a new product, two electronic experts are not enough, three days of uninterrupted work at 5 € apiece.
So when Microsoft and Sony were looking for a compact, integrated solution made by the same parent company, to optimize costs, AMD was the only one able to offer it.
We have therefore found ourselves necessarily having to deal with this architecture. The typical optimization of the consoles and the improvements of jaguar compared to the forefather have helped, but the fixed 60fps are often a myth about consoles because of the limit on their CPU.
Ryzen compared to the past has significantly better performance, we are talking about IPC, that is, instructions per clock, 50% better. Translated what does it mean? If a game today on PS4 pro ran at 40fps due to the limited CPU, on a PS5 that has the same number of processors at the same clock rate, it would hit 60fps.
So in my opinion this will be the most important parameter to judge the performance leap with the old generation. How often will these 8 cores work? For energy efficiency issues, I consider the 3Ghz neighborhood as probable as a work frequency. Were it so, we would have about twice the power of the Xbox One X CPU.
The second point touched is the GPU, where information is scarcer but at the same time more interesting. For PlayStation 5 we talk about a custom card of the Navi family, which supports raytracing. This means that we are talking about the last architecture that will be presented this summer, in conjunction with E3.
This generation will have a fairly important burden to manage: much of its extra computational power will be dedicated to managing the resolution of the 4k, so to give a graphic jump effect, you will have to focus elsewhere. Ray tracing in real time is the holy grail of graphics, always sought and never reached ... until today.
For those who do not know what we are talking about, I try to summarize quickly. The lighting in video games, that is all the plays of light and shadows, is made using all kinds of tricks, shortcuts and artifices, which consume a lot of time and are unrealistic. In films instead, algorithms are used that trace and follow rays of light on the scenes, hence the name ray tracing.
To do this you need a lot of computing power: imagine that every frame of a Pixar movie spends hours being generated on a computer. To have similar effects in real time, special hardware has been developed dedicated to doing just that. For now Nvidia, with its series of GPU RTX, entered the game, and you can admire the results on Metro Exodus or Battlefield V o various benchmarks. AMD had not yet expressed itself, but this statement by Cerny leaves no room for doubt.
Ray Tracing will be the future of gaming. And if the consoles will support it, then it will spread even more widely in the PC world.
The unknowns to be solved at the moment are two: computing power and memory. For the second part, we know that Navi will support GDDR6 memories, subsequent generation memories compared to those that today mount PS4 and Xbox one X. Some rumors want the chips also enabled for HBM2, even more performing memories, but I personally believe the their cost is still high for mass console use. How many GB though? Xbox One X starts with 12GB. I would try to venture a 16GB of memory. Many, but usual, not all open to games.
For the power, we can shoot all the numbers we want: it will be a lottery. I honestly expect a value similar to that of Google Stadia, ie on 10TeraFlops of power, about 5 and a half times the base Playstation 4. Perhaps we could push ourselves a little higher, but without knowing the actual improvements of Navi it is difficult. For the time being, I wouldn't give too much away, and I would wait for the presentation in June.
The most curious information probably concerns the sound of PlayStation 5. That will be 3D. And that is? AMD has always integrated its audio cards with graphics cards, for example it currently implements a unit dedicated to sound calculation, called TrueAudio. It manages to release some of the processor load, and is also used on PS4.
From the 400 series onwards, AMD presented Trueaudio Next, a development package that uses the power of the GPU to calculate the physics of sound. The waveform propagation in short, more accurately. I imagine that this Audio 3D is the evolution of this technology and that it will be very useful in a VR environment, to best calculate the directionality of the sounds. Something to have if you want to release a new Playstation VR in the future. I don't think it will do miracles on normal 2.1 installations, perhaps on dobly atmos and 5.1.
Alleluia! Long last. Sony finally formalizes the use of solid state memory on the 5 PlayStation. One of the biggest limitations to system performance has always been the speed of data exchange. The memories exist in a hierarchy, the smaller they are and closer to the calculation unit, the faster they are. The more they are capacious, far from the calculation unit and non-volatile, that is, they keep the data even without energy and are slower. And the data is constantly moved between the memories.
When a game loads, it is reading from the hard disk or CD and moving the data to RAM. The open words of these times constantly read from the hard disk, taking game assets continuously. And the faster the protagonist runs, the more he needs speed. Thus the introduction of solid state memories is a very useful novelty in the videogame field. Loading and streaming times reduced to the minimum possible.
Sony also reveals that its disk will be the fastest of any other component currently on the market: possible? Technically yes. Since SSDs exist, the limit has suddenly become the data cable. The SATA protocol is limited to 750MB / s. A solid state memory can exceed GB / s in reading and writing. To do this, connect via a faster SATA connection. The PCi Express, renamed as Nvme when it comes to its implementation for mass storage use.
Having the ability to make a custom motherboard, Sony may have designed a special version with AMD, more optimized for the workload of video games and able to go even further than a normal PC. Usually such strong memories are very expensive, but there are ways to optimize things. To not finish tomorrow morning, cut it here.
Among the other information released there are two, on which there is not much in my opinion to say. The first is the backward compatibility of the PlayStation 5. We often talk about commercial plots when this function is forgotten: the truth is that in order to evolve, sometimes you have to leave the past behind, especially if the past is still expensive. This time, as the architecture is similar, it is relative, it is "free". Good there is. Both want it and few actually use it.
The second feature is the 8k. Sony sells TV. 8k is the next resolution. Today's graphics cards already support it without problems. This is also free. Then, supporting it doesn't mean using it for games. The Xbox One S supports 4k, but for movies, games remain at native resolution. Don't move too many dust on this issue!