PS5 vs. Xbox Series X – Which is more powerful? – TheSixthAxis

PS5 vs. Xbox Series X – Which is more powerful?

The cats are out of the bag, as both Microsoft and Sony have revealed the detailed specs of their upcoming next-gen consoles. There’s a lot of common ground between the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, with AMD’s latest tech, ray tracing, SSDs and more, but with the cold, hard numbers in hand, which is more powerful? And how will this affect the price?

The Specs

First up, let’s just compare the specs in a lovely table, before diving into each area and discussing it.

PlayStation 4 Xbox Series X
CPU 8 Zen 2 Cores @ 3.5Ghz w/ SMT (variable) 8 Zen 2 Cores @ 3.8Ghz / 3.6Ghz w/ SMT
GPU 10.28 TFLOPS – 36 CUs @ 2.26Ghz (variable) 12 TFLOPS – 52 CUs @ 1.825 GHz
GPU Architecture Custom RDNA 2 with hardware ray tracing Custom RDNA 2 with hardware ray tracing
Memory 16 GB GDDR6 16 GB GDDR6
Memory Bandwidth 16GB @ 448 GB/s 10GB @ 560 GB/s, 6GB @ 336 GB/s
Internal Storage 825 GB NVME SSD 1 TB Custom NVME SSD
I/O Throughput 5.5 GB/s (Raw), 8-9 GB/s (Compressed) 2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s (Compressed)
Expandable Storage Pre-approved M.2 NVME SSDs Custom 1 TB NVME Expansion Card
External Storage USB External HDD USB 3.2 External HDD
Optical Drive 4K UHD Blu-Ray Drive 4K UHD Blu-Ray Drive
Video Output HDMI 2.1 – Up to 4K at 120Hz, 8K, VRR HDMI 2.1 – Up to 4K at 120Hz, 8K, VRR
Audio Tempest Engine 3D audio Dolby Atmos, Windows Sonic 3D audio
Backward Compatibility PlayStation 4 Xbox One, Xbox 360, Xbox
Availability Holiday 2020 Holiday 2020
Price TBC TBC

The CPUs

The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are pretty evenly matched in terms of CPU. Both have 8 cores of AMD’s Zen 2 CPU architecture, and both are similarly clocked. Microsoft quote a maximum clock speed of 3.8Ghz, but with Synchronous Multi-threading (SMT) to run multiple threads per core, that drops to 3.6Ghz. Meanwhile, Sony’s CPU speed tops out at 3.5Ghz with SMT, with the CPU speed fluctuating as the game demands a shift between it and the GPU.

The reason for Microsoft’s distinction is that games are currently developed with 7 cores is mind on PS4 and Xbox One. That can easily translate to Xbox Series X with minimal fuss, and having a higher clock speed can help boost frame rates – this is one way that Intel have managed to maintain a diminishing gaming advantage over AMD in the last few years.

As we see SMT more widely adopted, the Xbox Series X advantage here should diminish a little.

The GPUs

Here’s where it gets interesting. Both are using AMD’s RDNA 2 architecture with ray tracing built in, but Microsoft have gone big on their GPU design, packing it with 52 Compute Units (CUs) compared to the PlayStation 5’s 36 CUs, a 30% advantage.

That gives Microsoft 12 Teraflops of power at 1.875Ghz, but Sony have decided to clock their GPU higher, boosting up to a potential 2.23Ghz if the CPU allows it to. That gives them 10.75 Teraflops, a 10% drop, and Mark Cerny contends that this gives them lots of advantages through the whole GPU, the only downside being larger latency to the memory.

This could actually be fairly close, though Microsoft still hold a certain advantage. On PC, it’s often the case that overclocking a lower spec GPU can close the gap to a higher end GPU, however, this will push the envelope and has historically seen the efficiency of AMD’s designs plummet. How well this works will depend on the RDNA 2 architecture.

The RAM

Both consoles have 16GB of GDDR6 RAM, but Microsoft and Sony again have slightly different philosophies. Sony have straight up got 16GB all at the same speed, delivering 448GB/s, but Microsoft have two pools, one of 10GB of ‘optimal’ memory at 560GB/s, while another 6GB “standard” memory at 336GB/s. Games can access 13.5GB, while the final 2.5GB is for the system running in the background, so 3.5GB of slower (but still fast) memory can be used for more general elements for the CPU, audio, the game executable, with the GPU having the advantage of higher bandwidth in its optimal pool where it matters.

The SSD

Feeding the RAM with data at lightning speeds are two ultra-fast SSDs. Sony’s is ultra-faster, though. More than twice as fast.

The Xbox Series X 1TB SSD is equivalent to a high-end PCIe 3.0 drive, with a throughput of 2.4GB/s which is doubled to 4.8GB/s by compression. Meanwhile the PlayStation 5’s 825GB SSD fully embraces PCIe 4.0 speeds, has a throughput of 5.5GB/s, which could be improved to 8 or 9GB/s with compression. This is faster than anything available on the market today, with PCIe 4.0 SSDs currently topping out at 5GB/s.

A great deal has been done by Sony to let that data be used as rapidly as possible, with a six-channel flash controller allowing for data prioritisation and Mark Cerny describing the possibility of letting the SSD behave almost like RAM to dynamically load in data as quickly as you can turn around the camera. By contrast, Microsoft’s approach feels more like a PC, but make no mistake, this is still a potentially revolutionary jump that offers developers many new possibilities for creating their game worlds.

The SSD expansions

Neither console will let you replace their SSD, but you have some expansion options. Microsoft have partnered with Seagate to create a diminutive 1TB expansion card that plugs into a custom slot on the rear of the Xbox Series X. This will match the speed and specifications of the internal SSD.

Sony, by contrast, have stuck with the philosophy of the PS3 and PS4. An M.2 port will be accessible, supporting certain off-the-shelf NVMe drives. However, the SSDs will have to better the base throughput of the PlayStation 5’s internal SSD – and make no mistake, these are ultra high-end specs – and even then, they’ll have to pick up the slack of not having the six channel design using the CPU to manage the data priority. It will also have to fit the slot with whatever heatsinks the SSD makers have attached. As such, Sony will work to create an approved list of drives that are compatible.

In both cases, expansions will likely be very expensive.

HDD support

Both consoles have USB HDD support, but you won’t be playing Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 games from an external drive. Both consoles will allow you to play backward compatible games from external drives, but you’ll be sacrificing the improved loading times of having those games installed to the internal SSD.

3D Audio

As on Xbox One, Microsoft will support Dolby Atmos and Windows Sonic for spatial audio, and will be able to leverage the GPU’s ray tracing to process the positional sounds and how they reverberate through the environments.

The PlayStation 5 features a custom Tempest Engine chip, based off the RDNA 2 Compute Units, but modified to act more like the SPUs of the Cell CPU in the PlayStation 3. This allows for fast, dedicated audio processing of sounds in the hundreds or thousands, far in excess of Dolby Atmos’ tens of sounds.

Additionally, they’re hoping to make those sounds seem real. Not just from the perspective of “that sounds like a car”, but like “Bloody hell, there’s a car right next to me!” To achieve that, they’re using Head-related Transfer Function (HRTF) to customise the audio to your ears. Initially there will be five generic HRTF profiles, but this is an evolving field of development, and could eventually have you sending photos of your ear to Sony or playing an audio mini-game to find the closest HRTF profile that fits.

Beyond that, they’re getting this positional audio to be universal to all audio devices. Initial work is being done for headphones, but it will extend to TVs and soundbars, before they work on 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound systems.

So which is more powerful?

Looking at the numbers, the Xbox Series X is clearly the more powerful of the two, but that’s not the whole story. The PlayStation 5 might be able to use what it has a little more effectively, while offering its own advantages

Microsoft have set out hard limits for the CPU and GPU, while Sony’s approach is more fluid and dynamic with a smaller GPU clocked significantly higher, sharing a set power limit with the CPU. Overall, there’s more power in the Xbox Series X, but tapping into the power of the PS5 might be easier for developers thanks to its ultra-fast SSD that’s twice as fast as that of the Series X. The Series X might also have to dedicate some resources to processing audio that the PS5 has a dedicated chip for.

But simplistically, the Xbox Series X looks to be the winner on the spec sheet.

The Cost

These are not going to be cheap games consoles, that much is for sure. Where the last generation played it safe in order to be more affordable, these consoles are full of cutting edge and therefore expensive technology. Wherever the price ends up being, it’s not certain that either Microsoft or Sony could really undercut their rival by that much, even if the world wasn’t about to suffer the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Microsoft are spending more on the central chipset, with a larger GPU that will drive up their costs and faster GDDR6 RAM to feed it. Sony’s approach has a smaller GPU in their design, but then they’re spending that money on their SSD – a typical 1TB 2.4GB/s SSD is around £110, while a 1TB 5GB/s SSD is £240-280, and Sony’s design goes much beyond those, even – and the bespoke Tempest Engine for audio.

Obviously nothing has been confirmed, and both companies are likely having to wait until closer to their planned launch dates before they settle on their price.

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15 Comments

  1. Digital Foundry are suggesting that only first party devs might make use of the variable cpu/gpu frequency of PS5, third parties might not as they won’t be required to do the same on xbox.

    • That depends on how much control devs have over those sorts of things in whatever engine they’re using, and how much control Sony give them over it.

      Third party, multiplatform titles seem more likely to be using some engine they’ve licensed from someone else and do as little work possible optimising for 1 system. Just throw stuff at the engine and say “give me all the powers!”. They’re not going to build all their own stuff for each system.

      If they want it to run on both, they have to get it running on the PS5. How easy is it to then adapt that to use 52 CUs instead of 36? Could we have multiplatform titles using the same number of CUs on the PS5 and Series X? Then giving Sony the advantage due to the clock speed.

      • It’s no different to current gen, where Xbox One, Xbox One X, PS4 and PS4 Pro all have different numbers of CUs. There will be optimisation, and maybe it’ll be a bit less effort to get peak performance from PS5, but Series X is just a bigger GPU and they won’t have any problems getting great performance from it. They definitely will not run the Series X with fewer CUs.

        This is equivalent to PC gamers overclocking a smaller, cheaper GPU and getting close to the performance of a more powerful model.

    • This is the first time that a console really has boost frequencies like this, but they’ve been around on PC for ages as a simple system function. It’s likely to be a system function on PS5 as well, as opposed to something directly addressed by developers, but is something that they can factor in while designing their game. They’ll have the analytics on how the dev consoles behave and can work with that in mind.

      • That doesn’t sound too unlikely Stefan, i guess DF can only go on what is known atm.

  2. As with dedicated graphic cards for PC it used to be the size and speed of the internals that determined how fast/good a game would run but now it seems it’ll be how efficient the code is written. A driver update for a PC GPU can improve the performance of a game a fair amount.

    From the paragraph ‘So which is more powerful?’ the text “smaller CPU clocked much higher, sharing a set power limit with the CPU.” shouldn’t the first CPU be GPU?

  3. The spec’s are just the crunching game, has been for years even back in the Spectrum, Cbm64 days (if some of you remember that far back). It’s the games that make or break a system, after all that’s is what it’s for.

  4. Overall, yes the Series X looks more powerful. About 35% in total (for the CPU, GPU and memory).

    But Sony have made some interesting choices that complicate it a lot more than people seem to realise yet. He had 90 minutes to talk about everything, when I suspect he could have talked for that long about just 1 bit of it. Probably longer.

    The Series X GPU is, in theory, about 20% more powerful. But only if you’re using all the CUs at their full speed. Yes, you can had more, and it’ll help, but the more you add, the less it helps. Same with the CPU. Why only 8 cores like the PS4? I think the benefits of adding CPU cores have been fairly well studied, GPUs less so. But I suspect the PS5 will be using all or most of the CUs at full speed a lot, while the Series X won’t be taking full advantage of all that power, so that 20% advantage will be a lot less, particularly in multiplatform games.

    The best analogy I can come up with is a man digging a hole. If it takes him 8 hours, he can probably get a friend to help and do it in 4. Two other men might be really good at digging holes and only take 3 hours. (They get hired by Sony). Someone else (MS) might decide to hire 32 men, thinking they can get the hole dug in 15 minutes. But they spend half their time queuing up for the ladder to get in and out of the hole with a bucket of dirt and only 4 of them are digging at any one time, so it ends up still taking 2 hours. Eventually the original man and his friend have a lot of hole digging experience and can do it almost as quickly as the 32 men.

    We don’t know how the SSD thing is going to work out. How are games going to take advantage of it? All we know is it should make games a lot smaller (before they grow again due to 4K textures). So Sony have an advantage there with the speed, but I’ve no idea how much that will help them.

    The Tempest audio engine thing is interesting. Anyone with a Fancy Hat knows how well the audio works in VR. Cerny claimed it’s like having an entire PS4 CPU just doing the audio. And the PS5 CPU is how much more powerful? Twice as much from the clock speed, and how much more from the other advances? Could the Series X be spending 20% of it’s CPU power on audio while the PS5 has a whole separate processor for that?

    It all looks like MS have just decided “we want this much power, and if it costs too much, we can take a bit of a hit on the price” while Sony have thought about things a lot more to make something that’s a big leap over the PS4 but at a reasonable price. I’m not sure the faster SSD will add quite as much to the price as you seem to suggest. That extra £130-170 is based on just going and buying one you might want to stick in a PC. Are Sony even using that? They can’t be if they’ve got their own controller that makes things even faster. Could it just be the main bits stuck on board with their own controller? How much cheaper would that be?

    And maybe they were taking a big gamble like they did with the PS4 memory. Hope the prices come down before it’s released. Unfortunately, that might have backfired with prices not falling as quickly as they hoped, or possibly about to shoot up.

    It’s not going to be cheap, and how much cheaper than the Series X depends on a lot of things. Are MS going to do a cheaper version? A Series S sound like the most likely name. If they are, they won’t be quite as worried about matching the PS5 price, so it could be £100 more. But possibly less.

    And both machines will be stupidly powerful. I can’t see there being any real difference in multiplatform titles on either machine though. And I can’t wait to see what the exclusives end up like. Sony have a huge advantage there.

    • Slightly off topic but there was one thing in the PS5 presentation i expected you were pleased to see – they finally told us why a partial update takes so long to install on PS4. :)

      • The problem there isn’t that they take so long. Updates tend to happen overnight when you don’t care. Or sometimes just as you decide on an evening of playing something, only to find a big update. At which point you can go and play something else and it’ll be ready the next day.

        The real problem is how much free space you need. 100+ GB space needed for an update that’s only a couple of GB?? Which I guess is because of the reasons he mentioned. It could require less space, but it’d take even longer. Wish we had the option to choose though. (I guess we do have some choice currently. You can either make space, or delete and download again. Obviously not with a disc though)

        But then with the PS5 and that SSD, updates should be hundreds of times quicker and not need all that free space. So yes, this pleases me.

  5. The raw power of the series X together with the variable shading, low latency and other software magic looks to be an absolute beast of a console. I didn’t think the 1.8 Tflops difference between my Pro and XBX would make that much of a difference but it really does. Looking at these two it is going to be a repeat of the latter half of this gen for me – PS5 for the sublime exclusives, Series X for everything else.
    Had Sony announced a PS5 Pro option and full PS3 backwards compatibility it would have been my first choice, but I’m looking at Series X and thinking that’s where I want to play CyberPunk 😀

  6. I am pretty disappointed after the ps5 reveal. It seems to me like Sony are doing the bare minimum. The xbox series x has so many features, the power and above all it seems like it was made for the hardcore xbox fans. Its an xbox you can play all your old games on. Its looking like Sony are only going for ps4 backwards compatibilty. Some features are nice though but in true Sony fashion it seems to me like no one will use it other than their first party developers. I can only really afford to get one next gen console, playstation is where the exclusives I want are going to be but I feel sad that Sony seem to be sitting on their laurels again like when the ps3 got released.

    • Which features will only be used by first party devs?

      The big thing the PS5 has is the separate processor for the Tempest audio engine. The Series X can do the same thing, but using the main CPU. But the Series X (and even the One/OneX) can do Dolby Atmos as well, for those 3 people with something to handle it. The only difference between the 3 is what happens to the audio that you presumably already have ready to be sent out to whatever’s playing it.

      With Atmos, you just need to pump out 128 channels of audio and let the external hardware do the rest. (Well, 118 channels with positional data, plus your normal 7.1 channels and the extra 2 height channels)

      Without Atmos, the Series X will need to use up some of that CPU power (which is pretty much the same as the PS5 power) to do the clever stuff to get the 3d audio. (Lots of maths and that head function thing, so Fourier transforms all over the place). With the PS5, there’s a dedicated processor that does all that at no extra cost to the CPU.

      Seems more likely the PS5 games will all take advantage of that, and Series X games might, or it might only work with proper Atmos hardware. First party games from MS might do it with headphones/speakers, but multiplatform titles might only have that advantage on the PS5.

      Then the huge advantage in SSD speed might be trickier. Games from both 1st and 3rd party devs on both should make good use of it, but it might make things smoother on the PS5. That might be one for later on though, with early games (at least multiplatform ones) not taking full advantage of it.

      I still don’t think there’s a huge difference in the 2 from what we’ve seen. MS seem to have picked some numbers (the 12TFLOPS thing) and worked backwards from there, with a good helping of desperately trying not to lose any customers they already have (with all the BC stuff). Sony seem to have put more thought into it.

      Whatever happens, they’ll both be great machines, and MS might do better this time. But nobody’s done something so amazing (or incredibly stupid) so far to suggest anything other than Sony selling more than MS for the 4th time.

      • Dolby Atmos and Windows Sonic on PC and Xbox One works with any headphones. Full stop. No extra equipment and regardless of how they’re connected to your console. For other TVs and sound systems, Atmos needs to be specifically supported and licensed. That’s where Tempest Engine has an advantage, because it’s meant to be universal.

        Both XSX and PS5 are going to be doing similar things with 3D and ray tracing audio, but Tempest Engine will let it handle more sound sources and process them for specific ear shapes.

        Tempest Engine is also made out of re-engineered GPU compute units… and obviously the XSX can do similar things using its own compute units. It’ll need to for the ray tracing.

        Similar story with the SSD. Both have them, both can use them for faster loads, both can use the SSD as a kind of virtual memory… but the PS5 might be a bit better at it.

  7. I expect the full feature reveal will be a bit more exciting, that will show us a bit more of the capabilities aside from the raw gaming power.

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