We’ve spent a lot of time comparing the PS4 and Xbox One in terms of hardware specs, software, and games — but one thing we haven’t discussed is their engineering; their form and design. Physically, the Xbox One and PS4 are very different consoles: While the Xbox is huge and boxy, the PS4 is much slimmer and lighter. Furthermore, despite being thinner and lighter, the PS4 has an integrated PSU, while the Xbox One has a separate power brick. Is Sony simply superior to Microsoft when it comes to industrial design and engineering? Or is there another reason for the design disparity between the PS4 and Xbox One?
Defining the parameters
From the outset, we know that both the PS4 and Xbox One are essentially x86 PCs. As a PC builder, I can tell you that you can basically make a PC as big or as small as you like — it’s just a matter of defining how the system will be used, and how much you want to spend. In general, if you keep a certain performance target in mind, computers get more expensive as they get smaller. For example, if you want to build a system that’s capable of 10 teraflops, it’s much cheaper to build a large PC than a small PC.
Likewise, other stipulations also affect the size and cost of your computer — if you want your computer to play optical discs, have a removable hard drive, or be guaranteed to survive for a certain amount of time, there are hard limits on your choice of components, cooling solution, and chassis.
Once Sony and Microsoft had defined exactly how much performance they wanted from the PS4 and Xbox One, along with any other hardware features (Blu-ray playback, HDMI passthrough, etc.), it’s then a matter of designing a device that meets these requirements, while not going over-budget.
PS4 vs. Xbox One: Very similar specs with wildly different designs
What’s interesting is that, despite the PS4 and Xbox One having very similar hardware specs, their final designs turned out to be very different. If we boil it down, the only real hardware difference is that the PS4 has a 50% larger GPU, and thus higher peak power consumption. This means that Sony either had to include a beefier cooling solution (driving up cost and/or noise levels), or design the system to operate safely at higher temperatures. If we take a look inside the PS4 and Xbox One, though, the two consoles are designed very differently.
As you can see, the Xbox One is basically just a motherboard with a PC-style Blu-ray drive, 2.5-inch hard drive, and an APU with a huge heatsink and fan. There is a lot of empty space in the Xbox One — and don’t forget there’s a separate power brick, too. The PS4, on the other hand, is much denser — not only did Sony opt for a cut-down Blu-ray drive without the heavy steel enclosure, but it also decided to integrate the PSU. A single fan cools both the PSU and the APU. On the PS4, the hard drive can be removed with a single screw; on the Xbox One, there’s a huge steel that can’t be easily removed, preventing everyday consumers from upgrading the hard drive.
Despite the PS4 integrating the PSU and being designed to have an easily removed hard drive, the console still only weighs around six pounds (2.7kg), while the Xbox One is a hefty eight pounds (3.6kg) before you factor in the PSU. Despite being the more powerful console of the two, the PS4 is smaller and lighter than the Xbox One. It would seem the PS4 is much better engineered than the Xbox One — but is it that simple?
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