An in-depth analysis of Sony's Playstation 4 (PS4)

Posted by Trent Nouveau

Sony has thus far confirmed a number of specs for its upcoming Playstation 4 (PS4) console, including 8 GB GDDR5 of system RAM, a single-chip accelerated processing unit (APU), 8 AMD x86-64 bit Jaguar (CPU) cores and 18 next-generation AMD (GPU) Radeon-based compute units.

Additional specs? 4x USB 3.0, 2x Ethernet, Bluetooth 2.1, AV output: HDMI, analog-AV out, and digital output (optical) 2.0, 5.1, 7.1 channels, Blu-ray 6xCAV and a 160GB HDD.

According to prominent industry analyst Jon Peddie, it’s probably safe to assume that the chip’s eight x86 Jaguar cores boast 4 MB of L2 cache (512 KB per core) and run at 1.60 GHz (or higher).

"It has dedicated custom hardware blocks (e.g., HEVC video decoders for 4K video support) and AMD graphics core next (GCN) architecture. The GPU packs 18 compute units (CUs) and looks very much like the Radeon HD7850 (with 64 cores, built in 28 nm, it produces 1.76 TFLOPS at 860 MHz)," Peddie explained in a recent industry report sent to TG Daily.

"The 18 CUs in the Orbis chip, with its 1152 shader cores, generate 1.8 TFLOPS.
The AMD Jaguar based CPU will likely include a 128-bit floating-point unit (FPU) with enhancements and double pumping to support 256-bit AVX instructions as well as an innovative integer unit with new hardware divider, larger schedulers, and more out-of-order resources."

Peddie also noted that the PS4 was likely to run a custom version of Linux, while supporting Open GL 4.3 with some special extensions (e.g., for gesture), which Sony will probably continue to call PSGL.

"Sony has definitely raised the bar for console suppliers. The eight X86 CPUs (which
likely contain a 512K l2 cache), plus four shared 128 FPUs and 8 GB of DDR5, will give the PS4 astonishingly long legs. We are not going to see massive scaling of shader cores (for a variety of reasons) in GPUs on the PC. I think they will reach asymptote at about 3,000," wrote Peddie.

"The Orbis CPUs will have plenty of headroom for physics and AI, so this machine is not going to get trounced by PCs in three to five years like past consoles. It may not be able to do what $3,000 worth of Titans in a $2,000 PC can do, but then it won’t cost $5,000 either. So on a FLOPS/$ basis, or a FPS/$ basis, this machine is going to look mighty good."

Indeed, says Peddie, we will probably top out at maybe 3,000 shaders by 2015–2016.

"That only gives the PC, the very expensive high-end PCs, a 3:1 advantage in processor count over a consumer device. Add to that the challenge of actually using all those processors and getting speed-up out of them, and you’ll see a game console like the PS4 show very well for a long time to come.

"[In short] AMD has not built an APU like Orbis for anyone else in the market, and it is by far the most powerful APU AMD has built to date. AMD is now in the customization business (they always were, when it came to consoles). This is part of AMD’s "flexible system on chip strategy," he added.

Meanwhile, Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter says he believes Sony's upcoming PlayStation 4 video game console will carry a price tag of $400-$449.

"We remain confident that the new console will have a lower initial MSRP than the PS3, which had a lofty starting price of $599 that we believe negatively impacted its long-term popularity," Pachter opined in a recent industry note.

The analyst also noted that unlike graphic jump from standard to HD (PS2 to PS3), the transition from the PS3 and PS4 would not a have significant impact on development budgets.

"The smaller jump in graphics this cycle, coupled with a PC-based architecture, should result in a smaller incremental increase in game development spending by the publishers than in prior console cycles," Pachter explained.

"Although the PS4 will likely be able to play games at higher frame rates than its predecessors, we believe publishers will be reluctant to significantly increase their development budgets to maximize game frame rates, as the improvement will be largely unnoticed by many gamers."