1. These Chips Ain't Chip
AMD. APU. Six letters which would normally spell out the word "cheap." But in the case of the PS4, we can be pretty sure of the opposite. In fact, from the data Sony has revealed, the PS4's APU actually sounds like a serious investment -- not only in terms of R&D for the semi-custom design, but also in terms of raw components.
It's true that AMD is known for undercutting Intel in the marketplace, usually with the sacrifice of some general computing power. And among AMD's offerings, the APUs -- which combine CPU and GPU on a single piece of silicon -- generally hit the lowest price points, maxing out at a retail price of around $130. Merging processors is a tried-and-tested way of reducing costs -- that's why Microsoft did it with the Xbox 360 slim in 2010.
But here's the thing: AMD's current top-end APU only delivers around 700 GFLOPs of compute power from its CPU and GPU combined. We're told the PS4's processor delivers nearly 2 TFLOPs from its GPU alone. In other words, we're looking at 3X compute performance before we even get to the eight-core CPU.
To get a similar level of graphical power to the PS4, you'd need to spend at least $200 on a Radeon HD 7850 graphics card and splash out extra on a processor. But even then you'd only have 2GB of GDDR5 memory. This type of memory tends to be slightly more expensive than regular DDR3 system memory, and Sony tells us the PS4 comes with 8GB of the stuff. There's no way on earth that could come cheap.
As to how much we loyal gamers will be asked to cough up for a PS4, we can only hope that it'll be less than the burdensome $499 starting price of the PS3. Sony has only hinted that it "hopes" to bring it in under $599. Perhaps Sony will take on a short-term hit to its margins in return for the long-term gains of building the PlayStation ecosystem. AMD may also shoulder some of this responsibility, since it also stands to gain strategically from this deal -- an idea we'll return to shortly.
2. NOTHING ELSE COMPARES
Now that we've mentioned parallels with some existing PC components, why don't we go whole hog and design a PC rig to match the PS4's basic specs? It'd be a fun way to spend a weekend, but alas it'd also be spurious. A total waste of time.
How come? Because the PS4 is a true next-gen device. It'll be built around AMD's Jaguar core, which is still a long way from being available on the PC market. We know that Jaguar is an evolution of the Bobcat core found in relatively low-powered netbooks, but that doesn't mean we can use any Bobcat device for comparison. Existing Bobcat netbooks generally have two cores, while the PS4 has eight.
And here's another good reason to be wary of parallels with existing PC components: Sony's use of GDDR5 "unified memory." We've already mentioned the fact that it comes in an expensive 8GB dollop, but we also need to bear in mind its speed and the way it's going to be used.
In PCs, the CPU generally uses lower-bandwidth DDR3 memory, while the graphics card (if there is one) uses faster GDDR5. The Xbox 360 went the "unified" route, using 512MB of GDDR3 for both the CPU and GPU. The PS4's memory will also be unified, but it'll be faster than anything that has been used for this purpose before, so it could potentially remove bottlenecks and improve performance in ways that are hard for us to anticipate. Equally, there may also be drawbacks that are hard to predict, for example with regards to memory latency.
3. It'll change the way games are made
AMD has staked its future on a certain philosophy that has sometimes left it looking isolated. Unlike Intel, which throws its billions into putting ever-greater numbers of transistors into its cores, AMD reckons that there are smarter ways to use and arrange these transistors.
Having many weak cores instead of a few strong ones is a classic example. It's a pattern found in AMD's FX range of PC chips and now in the PS4's spec sheet, but game developers just aren't used to it. They're accustomed to good single-threaded performance, so they'll have to adapt if they want to the push the PS4 to its limits. They'll also have to look into tricks like GPU compute, which can allow a strong GPU to help a weak CPU on certain non-graphical tasks.
All of this will be good for AMD, since games will run better on its hardware. But in the long-term it could be a good thing for anyone looking to play games on a low-cost, low-power device.
thl&shbo :lol: :lol: