The Playstation 4 and Xbox 720 aren’t released yet – but in the PS4’s case at least, we certainly know a lot about its specs. It’s likely readers are aware of them by now, AMD Jaguar APU which features 8 cores (that’s 4 clusters x 2) that are a x86 / 64 bit hybrid. This is combined with 8GB of GDDR5 RAM, with 18 Radeon 7000 series GCN cores (running at 800MHZ) to provide the graphical grunt that we expect from the system. But there are certain questions that raises doesn’t it? For example – if we compare the PS3 to PS4 jump in specs, is it a big of a jump as say the PS2 to the Playstation 3? And what does this even mean – what can this extra power ‘buy us’ in terms of games?
Right now we’re at a point where the Tegra 4 on mobile processors are putting out 80GLOPS of power. In a recent comment Tony Tamasi of Nviida said ““The PS3 and Xbox 360 are barely more powerful than mobile devices… The next click of mobile phones will outperform [them]”. Indeed in Tegra’s 5 release it will likely see similar power to the PS3 and Xbox 360, their respective hardware is now long in the tooth.
So just how much computing power have we moved on from then? Well to put it into perspective
Microsoft’s original Xbox put out a total of about 7.3 GFLOPS of power, that was running 64MB of RAM, a custom Intel Pentium 3 Processor running at 733MHZ, and a Nvidia Graphics chip clocked at 250MHZ. The Xbox 360 on the other hand puts out substantially more – around 250GFLOPS for just the GPU alone. So what about the playstation 4? Well, that’s at about 1.79TFLOPS. It’s fairly clear that the jump in raw power between the original xbox and the Xbox 360 is more than the next generation. Let’s put it another:
We’ll take a look into the graphical demands of a few games from various stages of history (okay, technically one of them is a tech demo but you get the point).
Doom – 1993
320×200 x 30FPS x 6 operations per pixel – 10 MFLOPS
Unreal – 1998
1024×768 x 30FPS x 48 Operations per Pixel 1GFLOP
Samaritan Demo – 2011
1920×1080 x 30FPS x 40,000 Operations per pixel = 2.5FLOPS
Samaritan Demo from 2011 is produced by Epic Games, and is a demo of what technology of the future could look like. It is certainly visually impressive, but if you look at how much power it requires to run than say, the original Doom, you’ll get why. Now, this is the basics to understanding how a game will perform on a set piece of hardware. The more it has to calculate (for example, shadows, texture filtering, depth of field, lighting and so on) and the more complicated those algorithms are the more power you’re going to need on your hardware. Then you’ve got to take into account the target frame rate (we used to aim for 30 frames per second, but now we really like to see 60) and you can see just how things start to add up really quickly.
So Sony’s new Playstation 4 has 1.79TFLOPS, how does that stack up against current hardware? Well, that’s where things get a bit tricky. Nvidia’s Titan GPU (currently the flapship card out for 2013) puts out around 4.5TFLOPS – substantially more. Although you will be paying around £900 for the privilege of putting one of these into your compute. Other GPU’s are around the 2TFLOPS range – varying wildly based on your budgets.
Consoles make up for this somewhat with efficient design. There isn’t any wasted cycles or memory with bloated operating systems, and developers can better optimize titles for the hardware – your XBox 360 will have the same xpecs as my XBox 360 for example. Further, with Sony’s Playstation 4 (and likely Microsoft’s Xbox 720) using AMD’s APU design from Jaguar, we’ll be seeing a lot better management of resources. As regular readers or viewers know, there are certain tasks much better suited to GPU processing, while others are better suited to a scalar environment (in other words, CPU processing). With the emergence of APU (Accelerated Processing Unit) we’ll see these tasks be handled a lot easier.
AI, Physics, Post Processing and much more are just some of the tasks which are better farmed off to the GPU. Although the raw numbers of the Playstation 4 don’t lie – it’s not going to be a huge revolution that perhaps some in the tech industry were hoping for.
So just how far are we away from being able to produce life like graphics – in other words, rendered graphics so real that you couldn’t tell if it were a video taken by a camera or produced by a computer – the answer is quite awhile actually. Right now, the Playstation 4 is putting out around 1.79TFLOPS of processing power, and as previously mentioned, the Titan puts out around 4.5TFLOPS – certainly impressive (especially if you decide to SLI them) but it’s still far less than what’s actually needed. Tim Sweeney, the founder of Epic Games, commented that to produce “Good enough” visuals we’ve got to get into the 5,000TFLOPS range. That’s a far cry from even the might of what SLIed Titan’s can produce.
The progress of graphical improvements has been slowing down for awhile now – and while we’re still making improvements in technology there hasn’t been any major jumps in awhile. CPU’s are improving, such as Intel’s various jumps from Sandybridge, to Ivy Bridge and soon to Haswell, but we’re really only looking at about 10 percent improvement per generation. That’s assuming the same amount of cores / clock speeds of course. There are a number of big jumps on the horizon however. GPU wise, the next generation of Nvidia’s cards (the GTX 700) series are expected to be an improvement over the current generation, but just how much is up for debate. Many are expecting them to offer simple refinement over the current series, and perhaps 20 – 30 percent extra juice.
We however are moving forward at a decent pace – just think of how far we’ve come from the original Doom.l And as I said during my video – there have been some truly incredible moments in gaming, like the first time I played the Voodoo accelerated opening of both Unreal and Half-Life, but there have been a number since, and there will be a number of others in the future. Gaming as a whole is still very young, and the huge leaps we’re going to see aren’t just going to be used to push better looking textures and more detailed models. We’ll see a vast improvement on the Physics, the size and complexity of the worlds we interact with, and much more realistic characters as AI in those games improves leaps and bounds due to more power.