A quick Google search reveals there are many, many, many articles already out in the wild that compare the hardware in the upcoming systems from Sony and Microsoft. With previous console generations, the hardware architecture was so different, it was difficult to really compare the two, spec for spec, as it clearly wasn't apples to apples. The upcoming Playstation 4 and Xbox One however, are surprisingly similar in their hardware architecture, allowing us to get a better picture of how the two systems stack up.
We’re going to outline the key components and offer some insight into how much of an impact these differences will have. As these consoles age and developers squeeze every last bit and byte of juice from them, will these seemingly small differences matter - or will we reach the point where the graphics are "good enough” ?
Both Sony and Microsoft are using an 8-core AMD “Jaguar” APU. An APU is simply a combination of the CPU and GPU combined onto a single chip, Word on the street is that these are both almost identical between the two systems. The Xbox One is reportedly clocked at 1.75 GHz, while the PS4 is alleged to be running at 1.6GHz. The small jump in frequency for the Xbox One is negligible, but it’s obvious that both systems are designed for multitasking, which will be critical for them to perform as entertainment hubs.
The GPUs are similar in architecture, just like the CPUs, however the PS4 GPU is bigger. It boasts 18 Compute Units while the Xbox One has 12. The other differentiating factor is the GPU Frequency - Xbox One’s GPU is running at 853MHz, while the Playstation 4 is running at a tidy 800MHz.
The GPU Compute Unit count is the real story here. Sony has a GPU that is 50% more powerful than the Microsoft counterpart. Does the 6% frequency bump alleviate this difference? It’s unlikely. On top of the Compute Unit deficiency, it’s been reported that the Xbox One reserves around 10% of it’s GPU time to operating system tasks, including the Kinect. Early reviews of launch titles show the Xbox One versions running at lower resolutions than their Playstation 4 counterparts, but will this performance difference remain throughout this console’s lifespan? Can the average gamer, in the average setting, distinguish the difference between 720p and 900p?
Finally, a difference in hardware (sorta). Both systems are running 8GB of RAM, however the Xbox One is using DDR3 standard, while the Playstation 4 is running the faster GDDR5. Currently, GDDR5 is found only in PC GPUs, and runs at 5500MHz. DDR3, which runs at 2133MHz is typically found as the main system RAM in most modern PCs. This difference in frequencies leads to a huge difference in memory bandwidth - 176GB per second in the PS4, and a lowly 68.3GB per second in the Xbox One.
One saving grace for the Xbox One is the inclusion of what’s known as ESRAM (Embedded SRAM). ESRAM is much more expensive than the previously mentioned DRAM, but offers performance advantages due to it also being on the chip with the CPU and GPU. Microsoft tossed in 32MB of ESRAM, which provides 102GB per second bandwidth in each direction, for a total of 204GB per second of bandwidth. This could potentially eliminate the memory bandwidth deficit in the Xbox One, but only if developers use it wisely.
Does any of this matter?
So, it appears that each system is pretty similar in overall performance. Sure, the PS4 has the apparent GPU and RAM advantages, but the Xbox One could pull a move with their use of the ESRAM. The CPUs are essentially neck and neck, so that’s not much of a concern in this race.
The real difference in these systems, to me, is the tertiary services they offer and their ecosystems. The Microsoft “Kinect” camera has been somewhat of a joke this past generation, but recent reviews make it sound promising as an added feature (tinfoil hat privacy concerns aside). Sony is also offering a camera system, the PS4 “Eye”, which could potentially provide all of the benefits of the Kinect, but so far, I’m not sold.
What it all comes down to with me personally, is the ecosystem. The Xbox has really compelling exclusives that I want to play. A lot of my gaming friends are on Xbox, and I still have an Xbox Live subscription that isn’t set to expire until sometime mid-2014. Each user is going to have to compile their own pros and cons of these systems, and base their purchase off of that. I know people who want the best possible performance, regardless of other offerings the competing system may bring to the table. They have PS4 preorders. While I don’t have either console preordered, I know I’m picking up the Xbox as soon as possible. The hardware deficit can’t overshadow the good things I envision on that system. Besides, I still have a gaming PC if I need some serious muscle.
Have you decided one way or another (or both!) which camp you fall into? Let us know in the comments below!