For the first time in the history of video game consoles, it’s actually possible to do an almost direct comparison of the hardware inside the PS4 and Xbox One. In almost every one of the seven preceding generations, game consoles were outfitted with highly customized chips and CPUs featuring niche, specialized architectures that could only really be compared very generally (bits, flops) or in the very specific (number of on-screen sprites, MIDI instruments, etc.) The PS4 and Xbox One, however, are very similar consoles. With an x86 AMD APU at the heart of each, the Sony and Microsoft consoles are essentially PCs — and their hardware specs, and thus relative performance, can be compared in the same way that you would compare two x86 laptops or ARM Android tablets.
PS4 vs. Xbox One: CPUs compared
For the PS4 and Xbox One, Microsoft and Sony both opted for a semi-custom AMD APU — a 28nm part fabricated by TSMC that features an 8-core Jaguar CPU, paired with a Radeon 7000-series GPU. We’ll discuss the GPU in the next section. As far as we know, the PS4 and Xbox One CPU is virtually identical, except the Xbox One is clocked at 1.75GHz, while the PS4 is at 1.6GHz.
The Jaguar CPU core itself isn’t very exciting. In the PC world, Jaguar is used in AMD’s Kabini and Temash parts, which are aimed at laptops and tablets respectively. If you’re looking for a tangible comparison, CPUs based on the Jaguar core are roughly comparable to Intel’s Bay Trail Atom. With eight cores (as opposed to two or four in a normal Kabini/Temash setup), both the PS4 and Xbox One will have quite a lot of CPU power on tap. The large core count will allow both consoles to excel at multitasking — important for modern living room/media center use cases, and doubly so for the Xbox One, which runs two different operating systems side-by-side.
Ultimately, despite the Xbox One having a slightly faster CPU, it is very unlikely that the CPU will make a big difference to either console’s relative games performance. There is perhaps one key difference between the two consoles, though: Earlier in the year, Microsoft told developers that games will only have access to six of the CPU cores, presumably because two cores are reserved for other tasks. We don’t know if this is still the case, and we also don’t know if the PS4 has a similar restriction in place. Either way, it probably won’t be significant: Relative GPU performance will probably be the big differentiator between the two consoles.
PS4 vs. Xbox One: GPUs compared
Again, by virtue of being an AMD APU, the Xbox One and PS4 GPUs are technologically very similar — with the simple difference that the PS4 GPU is larger. In PC terms, the Xbox One has a GPU that’s similar to the (entry-level) Bonaire GPU in the Radeon HD 7790, while the PS4 is outfitted with the (mid-range) Pitcairn that can be found in the HD 7870. In numerical terms, the Xbox One GPU has 12 compute units (768 shader processors), while the PS4 has 18 CUs (1152 shaders). The Xbox One is slightly ahead on GPU clock speed (853MHz vs. 800MHz for the PS4).
In short, the PS4′s GPU is — on paper — 50% more powerful than the Xbox One. The Xbox One’s slightly higher GPU clock speed might ameliorate some of the difference, but really, the PS4′s 50% higher CU count is a serious advantage for the Sony camp. Furthermore, Microsoft says that 10% of the Xbox One’s GPU is reserved for Kinect. Games on the PS4 will have a lot more available graphics power on tap.
Beyond clock speeds and core counts, both GPUs are identical — they’re both based on the Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture, and thus support OpenGL 4.3, OpenCL 1.2, and Direct3D 11.2. Another big difference between the two consoles is the available memory bandwidth — but we’ll discuss that in the next section. Details are fairly tenuous at this point, but we believe that the Xbox One — via Direct3D and GCN — will support AMD’s Mantle API. This gives developers lower-level access to the bare metal of the GPU, potentially improving performance. We don’t think the PS4 has access to the same resources.
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