An in-depth walkthrough of how we built and benchmarked a PS4 Pro-inspired PC.
Now that Sony has officially unveiled the PlayStation 4 Pro and its specs, we have enough information to reasonably build an equivalent gaming PC. This will allow us to gauge approximately how fast the console might run, and we'll be doing it “for science”!
While we won’t be able to re-create the PS4 Pro exactly (we don't have the chassis, coupled with technical issues that prevent us from doing so--which we’ll delve into down below), it helps that the PS4 Pro runs on an x86 design. This is the same micro-architecture used in gaming PCs. Speaking of which, our PS4 Pro PC build happens to be nearly identical to the $700 budget VR rig we recently built. It just needed a few tweaks, which we've made for this experiment.
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Walking You Through Our PS4 Pro PC Build
The revealed PS4 Pro specs are as follows:
- Main processor: Custom-chip single Processor
- CPU: x86-64 AMD "Jaguar," 8 cores
- GPU: 4.2 TFLOPS, AMD Radeon based graphics engine
- Memory: GDDR5 8GB
- Storage size: 1TB
- External dimensions: Approx. 295×55×327 mm (width × height × length) (excludes largest projection)
- Mass: Approx. 3.3 kg
- BD/DVD Drive: BD × 6 CAV, DVD × 8 CAV
- Input/Output: Super-Speed USB (USB 3.1 Gen.1) port × 3, AUX port × 1
- Networking: Ethernet (10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-T)×1, IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth® 4.0 (LE)
- Power: AC 100V, 50/60Hz
- Power consumption: Max. 310W
- Operating temp: 5ºC – 35ºC
- AV Output: HDMI out port (supports 4K/HDR) DIGITAL OUT (OPTICAL) port
While we don’t have the super deep dive details on all the technical specifications of Sony’s upcoming console, we do know that the PS4 will use an 8-core AMD CPU, so our equivalent build also uses an 8-core AMD CPU. Specifically, our PS4 Pro rig uses an FX-8350 processor.
To clarify, the PS4 Pro will use a system-on-a-chip that integrates the CPU and graphics processing unit together on the same die. While AMD makes accelerated processing units that combine the two on one chip, these consumer APUs are designed more for laptops and workstations--they aren’t really meant for high-end gaming setups, which Sony’s pitching the PS4 Pro as. Thus, it makes more sense to go with two separate, more powerful components for our build.
For its GPU, the PS4 Pro is using AMD graphics based on the company’s Polaris architecture. With that in mind, we went with the Radeon RX 480 as our graphics card. This is AMD’s flagship Polaris GPU and features 5.8 teraflops of graphical performance.
One can make the argument that the PS4’s GPU more closely resembles the slightly weaker RX 470, since its 4.9 teraflop count is more in line with the PS4 Pro’s 4.2 equivalent. But we think there’s a stronger case for the RX 480--both it and the PS4 Pro use 8GB of GDDR5 VRAM. The 470, on the other hand, only uses 4GB. It’s worth stressing the importance of having the right amount of VRAM here, as it can be necessary to push high-resolution 4K (2160p resolution) textures. Since Sony’s advertising the PS4 Pro as a 4K-capable gaming console, we thought we’d err on the side of a little more power to avoid creating an unrealistic bottleneck that the PS4 Pro isn’t likely to encounter. Furthermore, while the RX 480 is likely to be a little more powerful than the PS4 Pro’s integrated Polaris solution, one advantage that consoles have is access to a low-level application programming interface (API) tuned specifically for their established specs. Gaming PCs generally use Microsoft DirectX, which is an API better suited for PCs that allows games to scale across a wide array of computer configurations.
The big advantage of having such low-level access to the metal is that it allows you to squeeze more performance out of the hardware. This is partially why exclusive PS4 games like Uncharted 4 look so amazing running on relatively outdated PC components. So, all things considered, we think having a little more brute-force processing power in lieu of access to low-level efficiency is a pretty fair, logical trade.
In terms of system RAM, the PS4 Pro shares its 8GB of GDDR5 memory across its GPU and CPU. The G before DDR here stands for graphics, and while consoles can use this type of memory since they are generally focused on gaming, because traditional PCs are inherently designed to be more multipurpose machines, they are relegated to the more traditional DDR RAM. Having said that, we went with 8GB of DDR3 to try to parallel the Pro’s 8GB GDDR5 allotment. Yes, this means we weren’t able to create an apples-to-apples setup here, considering the PS4’s CPU and GPU share a different type of memory, but we think a healthy 8GB of system memory is counterbalanced by the fact that the PS4 Pro doesn’t have to carry the extra performance burden of running a full-fledged operating system like Windows 10 in the background. In addition, more RAM isn't likely to make a computer run faster for gaming applications, but too little can create performance bottlenecks. Since this is something we wanted to avoid, we once again erred on the side of a little more as opposed to less.
For storage, the PS4 Pro is using a one-terabyte hard drive. Because Sony’s upcoming system uses a 5,400rpm HDD (as opposed to a faster-but-costlier 7,200rpm one), we’re going to assume the Pro uses a 5,400rpm 1TB hard drive as well--and we’ve replicated it in our build as such. Storage type isn’t likely to affect gaming performance that much, if at all, but we wanted to simulate the PS4 Pro’s environment as accurately as possible.
Sony says the overall system power draw for the PS4 Pro is rated at 310 watts, and according to power supply calculator OuterVision, our homebrew PS4 Pro’s overall system power draw is rated at 319w. This is shockingly close. The fact that the two systems’ power envelopes came within 3 percent of each was a pleasant surprise, especially given what we’re trying to do. The two setups are literally about equal in power.
Like any good PC builder, however, we did opt for a slightly beefier power supply unit rated at 450w just to protect our components in case of a random power spike.
|Specs||Sony PlayStation 4 Pro||Homebrew PlayStation 4 Pro|
|CPU||AMD x86-64 AMD 8-core||AMD x86-64 AMD 8-core (FX-8350)|
|GPU||AMD Radeon Polaris GPU||AMD Radeon Polaris GPU (RX 480)|
|RAM||8GB GDDR5 (Shared memory)||8GB DDR3 1600MHz|
Our rig’s components, excluding the price of Windows 10, costs us $630.91.
Now that we’ve got our build PS4 Pro established, let’s walk you through how it performs. At last week’s PlayStation press briefing, Sony made some performance claims regarding several games. Using those titles also available on the PC, we’re going to try our best to test Sony’s assertions with our build. It’s worth reiterating that this won’t be an exact apples-to-apples comparison. Again, one of the biggest factors is that we’re forced to use DirectX, whereas the PlayStation 4 Pro will use its own proprietary API. We also can’t control how well the PC ports are optimized. Taking into account these caveats, we think our rig is the most representative build comparable to the upcoming console at the moment.
Shadow of Mordor Test
The first performance benchmark we’ll test is with Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. While Sony didn’t make any assertions that it will run at 4K, the company did say the Pro will support the game running with supersampling anti-aliasing. SSAA renders a game at a higher-than-1080p resolution and then will downsample (shrink) the image to fit a 1080p display. This sharpens the image--the aesthetic is perhaps most closely analogous to viewing higher-than-1080p content on a 1080p monitor. If you’ve ever watched 4K footage on a regular HD monitor and noticed that it looks a little bit crisper than native 1080p video, you pretty much get the idea.
Unfortunately, we don’t know what resolution the PS4 Pro will be downsampling from with Shadow of Mordor, but we do know that it won’t be a 4K game and that it will also inherently have to downsample from a resolution higher than 1080p. This means that it’s reasonable to expect a performance hit to fall between 1080p and 2160p. With that in mind, we chose 1440p as a surrogate resolution to draw from, given the limited information we have. This is a resolution that many people refer to as 2K, so it’s perhaps a great fit for our parameter here.
Running Shadow of Mordor at its highest preset to help us achieve the best graphical fidelity possible, our rig got a 61.2 average frames per second using the game’s built-in benchmark. This is a great score, considering the vast majority of TVs can only display 60fps, since most of them are tied to a 60Hz refresh rate.
As an experiment, we also ran the benchmark at 4K native. Surprisingly, it managed to achieve a playable 33.5 average frames per second. We consider anything above 30fps to be playable. Still, performance did occasionally dip into the 20s, with our benchmark hitting a low of 26.1. Developer Monolith Productions could be opting for a smoother 60fps experience here, as opposed to a sharper, choppier one. It’s worth mentioning that Sony’s giving developers room to use the PS4 Pro’s extra processing power as they see fit.
At Sony’s press briefing, the company explicitly stated that the PS4 Pro will be able to handle 4K gaming. Whether or not that means it’ll run natively at 2160p or be upscaled from a lower resolution isn’t clear. We’ve reached out to Sony to clarify the claims, but we have yet to receive a response at the time this story was published. However, we do have enough information here to test the waters ourselves and form our own educated guesses.
Killing Floor 2
One game that Sony stated will have 4K support is developer Tripwire Interactive’s first-person shooter Killing Floor 2. Using the game’s highest graphical preset coupled with frame-counting tool FRAPS, our build achieved a 32.7 average frames per second at 2160p. Since it’s above 30 average frames per second, that’s a passing grade and frame rate in our book. The game did dip as low as 26 average frames per second, so there’s a chance that Tripwire might tone down the graphical fidelity a bit to achieve a smoother, more consistent experience, but for all intents and purposes, we can buy the idea that the PS4 Pro might run Killing Floor 2 natively at 4K.
The Elder Scrolls Online
Sony also revealed that The Elder Scrolls Online will receive the 4K treatment on the PS4 Pro (You can watch the 4K trailer announcement here), but let’s use our rig as a benchmark to see whether or not the upcoming console is likely to run it natively or upscaled.
From our test, we gathered that the massively multiplayer online role-playing game isn’t particularly graphically demanding on hardware. Our build was able to achieve a 49.1 average frames per second with the game running on its highest graphical preset at 2160p. Given this very playable frame rate, we can again buy the notion that the PS4 Pro will be able to run this game natively at 4K.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Rise of the Tomb Raider is a gorgeous-looking action-adventure game, and it’s also one that’s pretty taxing on hardware. Running the game on its highest preset on the PC includes enabling SSAA. Here, our build achieved a super choppy 10.4 average FPS. Yikes. To be fair, we’re confident that Sony isn’t asserting that the Pro will be able to do 2160p with SSAA enabled. We were able to get it above 30 average frames per second by disabling the feature and using the game’s medium graphical preset, where it achieved a 33.4 average frames per second. So, yes, we could conceivably see the game running on the PS4 Pro natively at 4K with the settings turned down a bit.
Alternatively, developer Crystal Dynamics could get the game running on its highest graphical preset by rendering natively at 1080p, but then using upscaling techniques. When we benchmarked the game at 1920x1080 with SSAAx4 enabled coupled with 100-percent resolution scaling (which effectively mimics 4K), we got a playable 33.9 average FPS.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
The last 4K game that we can test is the recently released sci-fi thriller Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. This one’s extremely graphically demanding, which is something that became abundantly clear to us when we used the game’s built-in benchmark to run Mankind Divided at its highest graphical preset. Here, we got a whopping 1.2 average frames per second.
Yes, you read that correctly. It looked like a slideshow. The game’s so demanding that when we ran the game at 2160p at its lowest preset with all the graphical bells and whistles disabled, it still couldn’t muster an above-30 average frames per second with a meager 27.3 offering. Unless the game takes crazy advantage of the PS4 Pro’s low-level API, expecting this one to run at a native 4K is currently a tough sell.
This means that Mankind Divided is likely to run in an upscaled mode. Because we know it’s probably going to incur a small performance hit for the upscaling, we’re once again going to use our designated 2K resolution as a surrogate to see what kind of performance and fidelity you might expect out of the Pro. At 1440p, we were able to get 31.3 average frames per second by running the game at its very high preset with anti-aliasing disabled. Anti-aliasing is a graphically demanding technique used to smoothen out the “jaggies”--aka the unwanted graphical stair-stepping effect you often see in games.
Coming out of the PlayStation press briefing, there was a lot of skepticism on whether or not the PS4 Pro would actually be able to handle 4K gaming. If our build is any indication of what the PS4 Pro might run like, then the answer’s yes, it can run games at 4K...kind of. While it will be able to handle lesser-taxing games at 2160p natively, we suspect the more graphically demanding titles will be upscaled.
While we tried to recreate the PS4 Pro environment as faithfully as we could, we want to reiterate that our experiment isn’t likely to be precisely indicative of the PS4 Pro’s true performance. We simply can’t account for a lot of factors, such as having access to the console’s low-level API that would give it a performance advantage relative to its power, but given what we know coupled with the available off-the-shelf components, we think our build offers the best representation of ballpark performance you’ll find today. As it’s looking so far, the PS4 Pro is about as powerful as a competent budget gaming PC. We'll know how right (or wrong) we were when the console comes out in November.