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With Nintendo’s Wii U struggling with low sales, and Sony moving from its controversial ‘Cell’ processor to an AMD x86-64 processor, are we about to enter a new era in games console hardware, where bespoke CPUs are a thing of the past and games consoles are little more than branded gaming rigs with a custom OS? If so, is PlayStation 4 just another one of these branded gaming rigs? Let’s take a look at the PlayStation 4 specs that have been released so far:
Processor x86-64 AMD “Jaguar” 8 core CPU
Graphics 1.84 TFlops, AMD Radeon Graphics Core Next engine
Memory 8GB GDDR5 RAM
Storage HDD (size unconfirmed)
Optical Drive 6x Blu-Ray drive
Input/Output USB 3.0
Ethernet 10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 1000-BASE-T
Wireless IEEE 802.11 b/g/n
You can pick up most of that kit, or at least a comparable retail version, at any decent computer hardware retailer. So does this mean that PlayStation 4 will essentially be Sony’s new gaming rig, with a PlayStation OS? In a way, yes. But having its own OS, as well as a fixed set of hardware (unlike the virtually infinite combinations of PC hardware), means that PlayStation 4 will still be a long way from a Windows PC.
The next PlayStation OS, whatever it is called, will be a very lean piece of software when it comes to resource usage. Just look at what PlayStation 3 manages to achieve with just 256MB of RAM. Compare that to Windows Vista, which was released just a couple of months after PlayStation 3 and needed at least 1GB of RAM to run effectively, and you’ll see what kind of advantage home consoles have with regard to RAM usage. By the same standard, PlayStation 4′s beefy 8GB of RAM will probably be enough to see it compete with PCs that have 16GB of RAM or perhaps even more.
The same is true with the CPU and GPU specs: by having to cater for so many variations of hardware, PC game developers have to sacrifice a significant amount of performance if they are to keep development time within a financially manageable length. By having just one (for first party developers) or two (for dual platform developers) sets of hardware to focus on, developers are able to push a console to its absolute limits, and take advantage of all the specific optimisations and nuances available to them. Again, this will allow a console to out-compete a similarly spec’d PC by some margin.
The story doesn’t end there however. By offering a “walled garden”, game piracy is kept to a minimum, and this is a big incentive for developers. We’ve heard time and time again from developers that piracy is frequently a barrier to PC game development, whereas this is only a minimal issue for consoles. This, along with other factors, results in many best-selling console games simply skipping PC release altogether, which is a real shame for PC gamers. The only way to play games like Red Dead Redemption, Final Fantasy XIII, and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is to buy a console, and that’s before you get into system-specific exclusives like Gran Turismo 5, Ni No Kuni, Forza and most of the Halo games.
One of the other major benefits of the walled garden is that everything works, from the word go. Every Xbox 360 comes with a predefined wireless joypad and a headset/microphone to plug into it. Every PlayStation 3 comes with a Blu-ray drive capable of storing 50GB of data and a motion sensitive controller. Developers know exactly what their audience will be using, and can develop games to specifically take advantage of whatever features they like. Like any iPhone developer will tell you, development is simplified when you know exactly what you’re working with.
So yes, in theory the hardware of PlayStation 4 does make it look a lot like a branded gaming rig. In practice however, there will be as much difference between PlayStation and PC as there ever was. Does that mean that PlayStation 4 will be better for gaming that a PC? No, but it’s clear that for the time being at least, there’s room for PC and console to exist side-by-side as they have always done.