Sony have taken the wraps off the PlayStation 5, with Mark Cerny giving a “deep dive” into the systems’ creation. This was a presentation planned for GDC, but with the current climate considering Covid-19, Sony have created an… unusual virtual presentation, with a green screened Mark Cerny in front of a shadowy audience. Still, he did eventually reveal the specs of the PlayStation 5.
Here’s the breakdown that he eventually got to:
|CPU||8 core Zen 2 CPU at up to 3.5Ghz|
|GPU||36CU RNDA 2 GPU at up to 2.23Ghz (10.3 TFLOPS|
|Memory||16 GB GDDR6 (448GB/s)|
|Internal Storage||825 GB Custom NVME SSD|
|I/O Throughput||5.5 GB/s (Raw)|
|Expandable Storage||Approved M.2 third party SSDs in dedicated expansion bay|
|External Storage||USB External HDD Support for PS4 games|
|Optical Dirve||Ultra HD Blu-ray, up to 100GB/disc|
|Video Output||Support of 4K 120Hz TVs, 8K TVs, VRR (specified by HDMI ver.2.1)|
|Audio||Tempest Engine 3D audio tech|
How does that compare with the Xbox Series X?
Now this definitely wasn’t part of Cerny’s presentation, but there’s some interesting philosophical differences. On paper the Xbox Series X is more powerful, it has more GPU Compute Units, the CPU clocks higher, the SSD is bigger, but Cerny laid out details that we’ll get to below that could give the PS5 a slight edge. In particular, how the GPU is clocked higher and the higher throughput of the SSD.
Additionally, with a slightly smaller SSD – 825GB vs. 1TB – and a smaller GPU in terms of CU count – 36 CUs vs. 52CUs – the PS5 components should be cheaper, while not being that much less powerful, especially when factoring advanced upscaling techniques.
The SSD was the number one requested new technology from developers, eliminating seek times and the variability of the traditional kinetic drives found in the PlayStation 4. The SSD’s 5.5GB/s transfer speed means that the console can load 2GB in just 0.27 seconds, down from the effective 2GB in 40 seconds that a traditional drive is capable of. That speed also helped determine the SSD’s 825GB size.
It also means that the various strategies required to ensure consistent data speed can be done away with. Duplicating data is no longer necessary in voluminous batch files – so no more repeating postboxes 400 times across Spider-Man’s install size – and when updating a game, there will no longer be the need to re-write those large files to add in the new or altered content.
Sony have created custom flash controller to achieve this. It’s bespoke design allows for six levels of priority when reading from the SSD, letting background loads occur alongside more immediate loads for in-game events. The CPU also has two I/O co-processors dedicated to advanced Kraken decompression, to help shrink game files even further, invisibly to developers.
The CPU has to pick up the slack when expanding the console’s internal storage. The PS5 will have an M.2 SSD bay, allowing for use of third party drives, but Cerny cautions not to go our and buy an SSD right now. Those SSDs will have to be at least as fast as the built in storage, and will have to meet the physical dimensions of the bay, with many SSDs coming with large heatsinks. It’s up to the CPU to make up for the fact that they don’t have the nuance of the Sony designed flash controller.
The PlayStation 5 also lets you plug in a traditional external drive via USB, but you can’t play PS5 games from this. Instead, you could use this to play PS4 games with slower loading, or to store data that you then copy to the main drives for faster loads.
The CPU and GPU
Turning to the processors, and the GPU in particular, they are using AMD’s latest technologies. The Zen 2 CPU has already been confirmed, and this will be paired with their RDNA 2 GPU architecture. This features 36 Compute Units (CUs) running at high frequency to reach 10.3 Teraflops.
However, Cerny cautioned that direct comparisons are difficult. RDNA 2 is more efficient that the PS4 GPU, so those Teraflops are more powerful, and running fewer CUs at a higher frequency can provide better results when deploying an otherwise equivalent amount of power from more CUs at a lower frequency. In other words, it’s not clear how this will compare to the 56 CUs and 12TF power in the Xbox Series X.
One innovative new solution is that the console will run at a constant power level, and the CPU and GPU run at frequencies to meet that power level, and conversely a constant cooling requirement. They both run in “boost mode”, with their frequencies fluctuating dynamically to meet the demands of the game within the power limit, so a scene where the CPU is less important will afford developers more GPU resources.
The 8 core Zen 2 CPU is capped at 3.5Ghz, while the GPU is capped at 2.23Ghz.
There’s also plenty of new technologies within them. A new Geometry Engine can use things like Primitive Shaders to enhance the visuals, the GPU generating new detail on objects if you get up close, and then smoothing things out as they get further away. Ray tracing also has varying implementations, adding on top of existing lighting techniques, or being used to provide all of the lighting and reflections in the game.
Alongside ray tracing, another big next-gen development from Sony comes with 3D audio and their own Tempest engine. This is a homegrown alternative to Dolby Atmos, and designed to be more universal, to include not just headsets, but also soundbars, PSVR, surround sound and just regular TV speakers.
The Tempest engine is based off AMD’s technology, but inspired by the SPUs from the PlayStation 3’s Cell processor to allow for even more rapid processing of hundreds of sound sources.
This will, however, be a developing technology. Headphone audio implementation is already completed, but Sony are working to create virtual surround sound for TVs and soundbars for players sat in centralised sweet spot for your TV. Following this, they’ll start to work on multi-speaker surround sound systems.
It’s also dependent on your specific ears and their HRTF profile – basically, how sound bounces around the shape of your ear on the way in – and this is simulated to give more realistic positional audio. At launch the PlayStation 5 will have support for five HRTF profiles to cater to a wide range of ears relatively well, but given that everyone’s ears are completely unique, this could advance to sending photos of your ear to Sony to process or playing an audio-based game.
This was a GDC presentation, intended more for developers than for end users. So no, we didn’t get to see the final form of the console, though Cerny said that we’d be happy with the cooling solution they’ve come up with.
Again, this was a GDC presentation, and Sony are holding off on showing games on their upcoming console for some time.