For weeks rumors have swirled on the internet that Sony were working on releasing an upgraded PlayStation 4 system, which developers and gamer’s had dubbed the PS4.5 or PS4K.
Today we’ve finally got some solid information on the upgraded PlayStation 4, and its codename has been revealed as “Neo”, and obvious nod towards the virtual worlds created in the Matrix universe.
The earlier reports on the PlayStation 4’s upgraded CPU and GPU weren’t overblown, with the GPU capable of putting out 2.27 times the performance of the ‘vanilla’ machine, which is a pretty darn big difference.
|Original / Base PS4||PlayStation 4 NEO|
|CPU Specs||8 Jaguar Cores running at 1.6 GHz||8 Jaguar Cores running at 2.1 GHz|
|GPU Specs||AMD GCN, 18 CUs at 800 MHz||Improved AMD GCN, 36 CUs at 911 MHz|
|Memory Specs||8 GB GDDR5, 5500Mhz / 256-Bit Bus||8 GB GDDR5, 6800Mhz / 256 Bit Bus OR 5500Mhz on 320-bit bus|
|Memory Performance||176 GB/s||218 GB/s|
The above table illustrates the improvements over the original vanilla PS4 (known as ‘base’) vs the PS4 Neo. The obvious difference lies in the raw GPU performance. 18 Compute Units (total 1152 Stream Processors for the original console) versus the 36 Compute Units (2304 Stream Processors in the Neo). With this combined with a subtle clock speed bump of just over 100Mhz, we see the Neo’s GPU performance skyrocket compared to the original.
It’s more than likely the “Improved” GCN architecture refers to AMD’s upcoming Polaris GPU’s, known as GCN 4.0. These new GPU’s are manufactured on a 14nm FinFet process, allowing between 2-2.5X performance per watt (meaning the Polaris GPU offers over twice the performance for putting in the same amount of power). This is on top of other improvements for the GCN 4.0 architecture, including better memory compression, Primitive Discard Accelerator (which tests if an object is ‘visible’ on screen before its passed too far down the graphics pipeline) and scheduling units to better parallelize the workload across the plethora of Polaris Compute Units. For more on Polaris in consoles, checkout our Nintendo NX spec analysis.
The PS4 Neo looks to have a very similar configuration compared to the rumored Nintendo NX specifications, as it too will offer around double the performance of the base / vanilla PS4. Below is a handy comparison between the four consoles on the market to show how their proposed GPU specs measure up. The Xbox One’s 1.32 TFLOPS is dwarfed by the two new kids on the block, and even the PS4’s bar looks quite small in comparison.
While the above bars are impressive, they don’t paint the entire picture – as we don’t see the efficiency improvements taken into account. If the Polaris GPU is better at doing a task with fewer resources, the performance goes up. To put it another way, the NEO’s GPU is 2.27 times faster in terms of raw floating point performance, but once the architectures efficiency improvements are taken into account, this number could be more like 2.5X over the ‘base’ PlayStation 4 model.
Speaking about the PS4 Neo CPU, and Sony have opted to stay with the Jaguar X86 processor, with the same number of processor cores found in the vanilla machine. The difference is a considerably increase in the base clock of the CPU, raising the clock speed from the conservative 1.6Ghz of the vanilla PS4, to 2.1Ghz for the Neo. While the rumor sources indicate that the CPU is still a ‘Jaguar’ I do wonder if the CPU is actually Puma, which is a slight evolution of the Jaguar architecture. The biggest difference are down to reductions in power leakage and power consumption. It’s twice the frequency for the same TDP as the original architecture, which might help explain how the PS4 Neo remains in the same power envelope, but this is just a theory on my part.
The original PS4’s CPU was known to be the weakest link of the console, and had been called “quite slow” by a few developers. The additional clock speed will doubtlessly not only help dispatch additional instructions to the GPU, but also keep the AI, physics and other game logic running smoothly. Thankfully for Sony, higher resolutions and most graphical effects are offloaded onto the GPU, meaning the CPU didn’t need to double in performance, and likely why the company decided against outfitting the PS4 NEO with Zen (their upcoming CPU architecture). So the NEO has an increase of 30 percent over the base / vanilla models processor, which is nothing to sneeze at.
The Neo continues to use 8GB of GDDR5 memory, albeit with additional bandwidth available (218GB/s vs 176GB/s). This is actually in line with the amount of bandwidth I’d predicted the PS4K and NX to have given rumors they would use Polaris and put out twice the raw TFLOPS as the PS4 vanilla.
Considering AMD’s Tonga GPU is about 40 percent more memory efficient compared to the older GCN architecture (such as that found in the original PS4), and Polaris offer additional compression on top of that, the low 200GB/s mark always made sense. It’s not known what the exact configuration is, but it’s likely that we’re looking at GDDR5 clocked at 6800Mhz (at least) on a 256-bit bus versus a 320-Bit bus with 5500Mhz RAM. The latter would require additional room on the PCB, and with Polaris chips natively being 256-bit buses, it makes more sense to go with higher clocked RAM.
It’s worth noting that memory GDDR5 is available at 7GHz, and various AMD and Nvidia GPU’s have made full use of this RAM, but if the bandwidth leak of the PS4 NEO is accurate, it’s possibly Sony opted to stick to ‘only’ 6800MHz to be have slightly better yields and cost reduce the console a little. The CPU, GPU and other components inside the PlayStation 4 Neo all will eat up their slice of memory bandwidth, and with a 30 percent increase in the CPUs clock, we can logically expect the Jaguar to use a little extra bandwidth too.
In the above image, we can see the Xbox One’s Jaguar processor (similar layout to the PS4, just running at 1.75GHz) has 20Gb/s bandwidth, so we can assume the 30 percent boost puts this at 26GB/s at highest figures. Remember, the PS4’s CPU bandwidth being the same as the Xbox One has been confirmed by the folks over at Sucker Punch during their Infamous Second Son Post Mortem.
Keeping on the subject of memory, starting October, each PS4 game released will have two modes. “Base Mode” is for the ‘vanilla’ PS4, while “NEO Mode” is for the new machine. Supposedly games running in NEO mode will have access to the additional processor power, but also an extra 512MB of RAM. While 512MB isn’t a whole lot, it does up the memory budget considerably.
The original PS4 gave developers 4.5GB of memory for development, and another 512MB of ‘flexible memory’. Flexible memory is managed by the PlayStation 4 OS on behalf of of the game, while the other 4.5GB is allocated by the developers and the budget can be spent however they’d like. The Neo will now bump this up, presumably to 5GB Direct Memory, with an additional 512MB Flexible memory.
Unsurprisingly, the PS4 Neo will support 4K output, but according to the sources, it won’t be a requirement for developers to run games at that resolution. Sony do wish developers to try and reach UltraHD resolutions with games if possible, but they MUST keep the frame rates at least the same or better than the original PS4. If you’re wondering why developers won’t be able to push 4K on all the titles on the PS4 Neo, it’s because of the massive increase in pixel counts.
|Resolution||Total pixel count||Size difference vs the previous resolution|
|1280 x 720||921,600 Pixels|
|1408 x 792||1,115,136 Pixels||1.21x greater than 720P|
|1600 x 900||1,440,000 Pixels||1.29x more pixels than 792P|
|1920 x 1080||2,073,600 Pixels||1.44 more pixels than 900P|
|2560 x 1440||3,686,400||1.78 more pixels than 1080P|
|3840 x 2160||8,294,400||2.25 Pixels more than 1440P. 4x more pixels than 1080P!|
Essentially, running at 4K requires 4x the GPU performance as if you were drawing the same scene, at the same level of detail, at the same frame rate at just 1080P. Higher frame rates too eat up GPU performance, with a 30FPS game having 33.3ms to render a frame of animation, while a 60FPS game offers the system just half the amount of time, just 16.6ms. For more on frame rates and resolutions, checkout our guide here.
Sony also wish to ensure that there aren’t “Neo only” games, which means the PS4 Base and Neo versions of games will not only be very similar in terms of modes and features, but there also won’t be games which refuse to run in a base / vanilla PlayStation 4.
What happens if you pop an older game into your system, say KillZone ShadowFall or GTA5? Well, it’ll play the same as on your friends base machine. Developers will need to decide if they wish to patch the game to run at higher resolutions or otherwise take advantage of the Neo’s hardware.
It’s interesting that the NEO’s GPU also sounds rather similar to a supposed leaked Polaris 10 GPU model that was doing the rounds a few days ago (albeit for desktop). This model (known as 67DF:C4) too had 36 Compute Units enabled, but will have much higher clock speeds helping nudge performance up much higher than found on a console (probably about 20 percent higher clocks).
The Playstation VR is doubtlessly going to benefit the most, with reports showing the NEO might not need the breakout box which the vanilla models PS4 uses (though remember, this external PSVR unit only processes audio and ‘unwarps’ the image to be displayed on a regular TV). But because the PSVR’s resolution is lower than 4K, running at just 1920×1080 (so 960×1080 per eye) developers should be able to push higher frame rates and improve the visual quality of games over what the ‘base’ PS4 would be capable of.
It’s worth remembering that the PS4’s technology, specifically the bumping up of the number of Async Compute Engines inside the GPU’s, filtered into AMD’s PC hardware too. Despite the PS4’s GPU in terms of raw performance and Stream Processors being very similar to that of the Radeon 7870, it bares a lot of similarities to the Volcanic lineup of GPUs, for example the R9 290 onwards.