While the Xbox Series X is gunning for raw power, the PS5 seems to be prioritizing speed across the board - CPU, GPU and SSD.
Sony has finally revealed full specifications of the highly anticipated PlayStation 5, just two days after Microsoft dropped ‘nearly’ all the details of its competing console, aka Xbox Series X. Even though both the PS5 and Xbox Series X are based on roughly the same AMD core hardware, there are some ‘big’ differences between the two. This is especially true about how both consoles are approaching next-generation gaming.
While the Xbox Series X is gunning for raw power, the PS5 seems to be prioritizing speed across the board – CPU, GPU and SSD. This means, even though the Xbox Series X would appear to be more powerful on paper, it’s actually the PS5 that would theoretically be able to push the boundaries further, sort of blurring the gap between console and PC gaming. There would be other factors, of course, including how well developers would be able to take advantage of these consoles, but regardless, both Sony and Microsoft are going for the kill here – and that’s good news for gamers.
Let’s start with core specs. The PS5 packs a custom AMD Zen 2 CPU, like the Xbox Series X. Based on a 7nm manufacturing process, the AMD Zen 2 CPU inside the PS5 has 8 cores clocked at 3.5GHz each – that’s 3.8GHz on the Xbox Series X. With simultaneous multithreading (SMT) factoring in, the difference in clock speed here is relatively minor – at least on paper. So we can essentially say, both the PS5 and Xbox Series X have comparable CPU stats.
It’s the GPU side that’s really interesting. Like the Xbox Series X, the PS5 also uses a custom AMD RDNA 2 GPU, but it features 36 compute units running at up to 2.23GHz, effectively capable of delivering 10.28TF of peak performance. The Xbox X Series X can boast 12 teraflops and 52 compute units but clocked slower at 1.825GHz each.
While on paper, it would seem that the Xbox Series X has the edge, things aren’t that simple. As opposed to the Xbox Series X, the PS5 opts for ‘variable’ frequencies, for the CPU as well as the GPU. “Rather than running at constant frequency and letting the power vary based on the workload, we run at essentially constant power and let the frequency vary based on the workload,” PS5 lead system architect Mark Cerny said in an interview with Eurogamer.
Essentially, the PS5 has a ‘set’ power budget that’s linked to the console’s thermal management system, which means your performance may vary depending on how demanding the game is. “PlayStation 5 can hit GPU frequencies way, way higher than we expected. Those clocks are also significantly higher than anything seen from existing AMD parts in the PC space. It also means that, by extension, more can be extracted performance-wise from the 36 available RDNA 2 compute units.”
Sony is going old-school here. By offering less compute units (than the Xbox Series X) but each running at a variable frequency, Sony is hoping to squeeze better performance from the console – so developers would have greater flexibility to tell their story the way they had imagined, rather than being limited to a set ballpark figure.
Another area where the PS5 seems to be taking the lead is through its ‘custom’ solid-state drive storage or SSD solution. Sony is offering 825GB on-board storage and 5.5GB/s of peak performance even as the Xbox Series X’s 1TB NVME SSD can do only 2.4GB/s. But more importantly, the PS5 will support expandable storage with regular NVMe PC drives, and even though you’d want to get the latest and greatest PCIe 4.0-based drives for better performance (that would also be more expensive), at least Sony is giving you more flexibility. The Xbox Series X supports custom expansion cards. Only Seagate seems to be making them for now and we still don’t know how much they’ll cost, but we all know how proprietary storage can be expensive.
Backwards compatibility is where the PS5 seems to be lacking at this point of time. Sony very vaguely says that the PS5 will support nearly all of the 100 best-selling PS4 games. “Thousands of games across four console generations will look and play best” on the Xbox Series X, Microsoft has already confirmed, meaning the console will theoretically be compatible with existing backward compatible Xbox and Xbox 360 games, and Xbox One titles.