Sony Files Patent For Context Switching Between GPUs, Hints At PS4

Next-gen discussion has descended into hearsay and rumours of late, with little hard facts emerging despite the general consensus being that both Sony and Microsoft will unveil new hardware next year.

However, a patent filing for “DYNAMIC CONTEXT SWITCHING BETWEEN ARCHITECTURALLY DISTINCT GRAPHICS PROCESSORS” has been picked up, and it at least hints at what the PlayStation 4 might be capable of and points to a possible chip set distribution.


Yes, it’s just a patent application and in no way guarantees what the PS3’s successor might be doing under the hood, but it’s better than the usual fluff.

“Graphics processing in a computer graphics apparatus having architecturally dissimilar first and second graphics processing units (GPU) is disclosed,” says the filing.

“Graphics input is produced in a format having an architecture-neutral display list. One or more instructions in the architecture neutral display list are translated into GPU instructions in an architecture specific format for an active GPU of the first and second GPU.”

If Context Switching isn’t something you normally discuss over the dinner table, help is at hand. It basically means that one program currently running can be swapped out with another, with internal memory used as a holding pen for the inactive application. However, in this particular patent it looks like the ‘inactive’ application can be run on the other processor – in theory they’d be running at the same time.

Real world applications? Window-in-window gaming, or – more likely – the ability to run one application on a tablet (or – yes, streamed to a PS Vita) whilst the other processor handles the lion’s share of the work pushing content to the TV.

Regardless, it does look like Sony are aiming at a APU + GPU combination, with presumably one high powered GPU and one lower powered (Mobile?) one.

There’s a little more here. The plot thickens.



  1. When I saw the phrase ” architecturally dissimilar” I assumed that to mean PS4/PS3 architecture for backwards compatibility. I guess not but hey, there’s hope.

  2. All together now, in true Panto spirit…



  3. Isn’t it a little late to be filing patents though if it’s being released in less than a year? Surely tge hardware would be nailed down long ago, otherwise how are developers supposed to be working on software if they don’t know the hardware it’ll run on?

    • Patent was filed in July.

    • Companys that want to keep things secret will file for a patent as late as they dare, hoping no one files the same in the mean time.

  4. If they are using an APU then this would seem logical. APU and GPU combinations can (and I emphasise can) suffer from a multitude of different issues such as lag/latency/leaks.

    Although if we are talking about switching, then the standalone GPU would have to be a powerful one. I’d take a guess maybe the APU’s GPC would serve the operating system and streaming. After all I would expect multi-tasking with PS4 just like I can do half a dozen things on the Vita atm.

  5. I don’t think the phrase “the plot thickens” is used enough nowadays

    • Neither is “the thick plottens” ;p

      I’ll get me coat…

  6. I still don’t understand.

    Think I’m better off sticking to my paper and crayons. Now if I can just find my helmet…

    • haha, i think you’ll find its called a bash hat!

  7. if there is no backwards compat then there goes 33 games up the shitter

  8. 33 good games …..

  9. Yeah, this does fit perfectly with the APU & GPU combo. I’m super excited to learn more about the next gen specs.

    • The lower powered GPU is built into the APU, BTW. For those who can’t be bothered Googling.

  10. Not to poop on your parade, but this might have nothing to do with playstation.

    (some/most ?) Laptops already come with two GPUs, one low power one for low battery drain, and one power hungry one for games. Better tech for a better way of switching between could be something they work on for their laptops.

    I have a hard time seeing the benefit of something like this on a console, where the developers would control what runs on which processor anyway.

    • I have this in my laptop, but if it was for a PC then the patent would most likely be held by AMD, why would Sony have it? Nvidia already has Optimus, although that’s a bit different.

      • So do I. But that doesn’t switch on the fly, when a program starts it’s set to use one or the other, and afaik it has to be restarted to switch.

        The patent itself mentions apple has a similar system but without switching automatically based on load. It also mentions mobile units as the type of device that would benefit most.

      • I think I’m missing the point here…
        As far as I know Apple already have dynamic graphics switching in place – my MacBook Pro switches between the inbuilt i7 and Geforce 630 while the program is running.
        Usually because I’ve tripped over the mains lead! :)

        I would have thought that qualifies as “architecturally different” GPUS?

      • I know it’s not the same, hence “a bit different”. And of course Apple has a similar one, they claim to have a patent for everything these days…. :-P

      • Patent was filed by SCEA. So it’s PlayStation, not a laptop.

    • Yeah. Like NVIDIA Optimus, which is a nightmare for Linux users (ok there’s that nasty work-around called bumblebee but…).

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