NEW YORK – Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. Wednesday (Feb. 20) dropped a bombshell at the press launch of its PlayStation 4 gaming console, revealing that the new platform will use an X86 CPU.
The Japanese consumer electronics giant, which developed its own CELL processor to power the high-performance PlayStation 2 gaming console in 2000, is now dropping CELL--and an Nvidia Corp. graphics chip used in PlayStation 3-- altogether, and switching in PS4 to a new AMD accelerated processing unit (APU) that integrates an X86 CPU and GPU on the same die, according to Mark Cerny, lead system architect of PS4 at Sony.
While Sony did not disclose the SoC supplier during the press event, the company’s press release later revealed that PS4 will use a single-chip custom processor that includes an 8-core 64-bit x86 "Jaguar" CPU built by AMD, with a Radeon GPU capable of 1.84 TFLOPS operation to process graphics.
Mark Cerny, lead system architect of PS4 at Sony's PS4 press event.
By choosing the X86 CPU for its next generation gaming platform, Sony will gain two things, said Rick Doherty, research director at Envisioneering Group. “One is time to market, which is critical, and another is supercharged PC game developers excited to use their code and graphics rendering experience on PS4,” Doherty said.
Although Sony’s move is not an endorsement of the PC as a gaming platform, the switch to the X86 CPU should also attract a large installed-base of “extreme PC gamers” to PS4, he added.
In a way, Sony might have been announcing “an ultimate PC gaming machine called PS4,” quipped Doherty. Referring to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console based on the PowerPC architecture, Doherty said, “Bill Gates must be banging his head on the wall now, saying ‘why didn’t we do this?’” Microsoft’s original Xbox was based on Intel’s X86 CPU.
According to Cerny, Sony’s PS4 development started five years ago, during the early days of the PS3 rollout.
Cerny said three principles that drove the development of the PS4 system architecture were: superior core performance whereby “nothing should come between the platform and the game play”; enhanced connectivity by building “a much more fluid, easy access among console, mobile devices and PlayStation Network”; and “what do developers want?”
Calling PS4 a gaming platform “by developers and for developers,” Cerny described its hardware system as consisting of “X86 CPU, enhanced PC GPU, 8 Gigabytes of unified memory using GDDR5 and hard disk drive.”
Brian Dipert, the founder and principal of Sierra Media, noted that the use of GDDR5 is “probably the most proprietary aspect of this otherwise very PC-reminiscent hardware design.” Although GDDR5 is already used on standalone graphics cards, he added that it probably won't be in PCs as main memory for a while yet.
Two big lessons that Sony has learned from launching PS3.
1) Time to market: Game console has become a congested market. The delay launching PS3 was a big deal for Sony to timely making the development cost of PS3.
2) Game availability and time to market: Cell processor was superior in many way. The graphic quality and performance were incomparable in the early time of PS3. With the same game available in both PS3 and XBox 360, the one on PS3 was so much better. However, gamers are willing to live with 720p with an early availability of the game. The development cost (time and developers) of PS3 game was known to be really pricy.
With all these experience, it is not difficult to understand the direction that Sony has taken. However, I think it is very important for Sony to understand why Microsoft has chosen PowerPC on XBox360 instead of continuing the direction of using X86 as in XBox.
The game console folks have no loyalty to any specific architecture. Sony itself used MIPs, then moved to Cell and now x86. Xbox uses custom powerPC cores from IBM and may also move to x86 or ARM. Whoever gives them the lowest cost chip wins. In this instance AMD gave them the APU with both the CPU and more importantly the graphics processing.
While I understand that switching to a different architecture could happen on the game console, I am not sure if the cost of the CPU/GPU is the only reasons that motivate game console guys to do so.
Considering the headache of dealing with backward compatibilty issues of their game titles, I don't think this is a decision that they take it lightly.
Agree. IBM had designed the processors for all the 3 big game console providers and I suspect it was not able to provide a roadmap for them.
Reminds me of the decision by Apple to move away from IBM/Motorola to x86 for the same reason.
How much should they actually care about backwards compatibility?
Yes, they could encourage developers to port older PS3 games, or try to do a software emulation layer.
But the people who would want to play the old games already have a PS3. They might get a PS4, but will the PS3 simply be thrown out/sold/passed along, or will it be kept around for older games while the PS4 gets used for new content?
Backwards compatibility may not be that critical, if the PS4's performance on new stuff is compelling enough.
Move away from IBM should be easily explained by IBM not installing enough wafer making capacity at 32nm and beyond. GF is IBM mfg partner. But they must have gotten a good deal from AMD , which also make chips at GF, using same tech as IBM.
It's the software stupid - something all companies big and small forget. They should have stayed with X86 from the beginning.
The PPC and CELL choices are made by hardware engineers that fall in love with speedy hardware specs, sell it to management and then throw it over the wall for the software community in the "other building"
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