In a surprise move, Sony revealed first details about its next-generation console today. The interview to Wired was led by none other than PS4’s system architect Mark Cerny. As it stands, Mark Cerny is once again leading the charge to architect PS4’s successor.
Given how positively PS4’s easy-to-develop-for architecture was received by developers, it’s no surprise Sony let Mark Cerny take the helm for another generation. Much was discussed during the interview, we’ll break down the specs for you before proceeding to the intent of this article.
- AMD Ryzen 8-Core CPU (Zen 2)
- Custom AMD Navi GPU on 7nm
- 3D audio
- Backwards compatibility (PS4)
- 8K support
The revelation took the internet by storm. As gamers continue to discuss, few unrealistic expectations are seeding in due to limited details shared today. It’s important for gamers to know what they should expect from PS5, we’ll just address each aspect one by one.
Sony’s upcoming console is looking like a monster. As explained in the interview, Sony wants people to know that PS5 is no mere upgrade. Among the specs shared is support for 8K resolution.
It has prompted speculation that the console will be capable of delivering 8K gaming. The short answer is: no, it’s not possible.
The reason why PS5 will be able to handle 8K resolution has little to do with its GPU grunt. 8K at 120Hz is part of the HDMI 2.1 spec, so naturally the PS5 will be able to output 8K resolution if you were to connect an 8K display. As a console which has to target a modest price bracket of $399 – $499, 8K gaming is simply out of the window. What you’ll get instead is the dashboard rendered in 8K and upscaling for games.
Consoles are small form-factor devices that use low-powered CPU and GPU to keep thermals in check. Anything Sony puts in PS5 is likely to be a mid-range GPU in Navi’s stack. What you can expect instead is native 4K gaming with next-generation visuals. And with the substantial increase in CPU power thanks to the jump to Zen architecture, you’re likely to see improved AI and physics and overall better performance.
Being termed as a “true game changer” by Mark Cerny, the PS5 will adopt SSD to tackle loading times in games.
Spider-Man was demoed running on PS4 with HDD and PS5 with SSD. Fast-travel in the game took 15 seconds on the PS4, whereas the PS5 finished the race much faster in just 0.8 seconds. This is a huge upgrade over the current-generation where storage space hasn’t kept up with ever-growing game sizes. It brings us to our next point that you shouldn’t expect Sony to ship PS5 with an SSD but an SSHD instead.
This specialized SSD is said to have “raw bandwidth higher than any SSD available for PCs”. It’s a tall claim considering a Samsung 970 Evo M.2 NvME SSD can reach up to 3400 MB/s read and 2500 MB/s write speeds. It’s hailed as one of the best NVME SSDs in the market right now and costs around $250 for 1TB.
It’s safe to say that Sony is aiming for 1TB storage space – at least. Even with the recent drop in SSD prices, the math doesn’t add up to include such a fast-performing drive that beats the best in PC market today in a console expected to cost $399 – $499.
Hence, it’s more practical to expect an SSHD. The OS could be built around using SSD as cache for faster load times. It also means that an SSD swap would deliver better results than it does in PS4. Using an SSHD could allow Sony to push for a 2TB hard-drive which isn’t unrealistic to expect in 2020.
And finally, ray tracing – the holy grail of computer graphics today. When NVIDIA announced its RTX GPU lineup last year, it was powered by a brand new architecture “Turing” made specifically to deliver real-time ray tracing in games.
Ray tracing has been in movies for years but pushing for ray tracing in real-time is very demanding. It crushes even the most-expensive GPUs available today and they have dedicated hardware to accelerate ray tracing workloads.
AMD has not revealed what approach they are going to take beyond teasing their plan to bring ray tracing to Radeon. But there should be some level of hardware present on silicon to accelerate workloads. It brings us to the cusp of the problem which is feasibility.
PS5 being a console will have a very modest GPU in comparison to what is required today to pull off a visually-impressive ray tracing experience. Factor in the die-size which will unavoidably increase with the inclusion of hardware accelerators on silicon – consequently, more heat and power draw as well – and you can see why ray tracing on consoles will be conservative in approach.
To give you an example, the GP106 chip which powers the RTX 2070, an upper-midrange graphics card, has a die-size almost comparable to last generation’s enthusiast-class GTX 1080 Ti. It’s because the inclusion of Tensor Cores and RT Cores in Turing take space on the silicon. AMD is yet to reveal any details about Navi, so we’ll have to wait and see. Although a logical bet is on an APU design, we don’t know if Sony (or MS) will shift to dedicated CPU and GPU dies for this generation.
It was also revealed that Sony is not planning for a 2019 release. Sony’s ambitions for PS5 are worthy of praise, especially their effort to tackle the challenge of loading times in games. We’ll see how the final picture of PS5’s hardware unfolds.