AMD has always been something of an underdog in the PC space, at least when it comes to CPUs. It’s nice, then, to see them score big contracts like the one inked with Sony to provide the brains and the brawn behind the upcoming PS4 console. Inside of the PlayStation 4 rests a next-generation low-power CPU from AMD, codenamed ‘Jaguar’. Despite being a lower-end CPU, the new architecture is promising gains of 15% greater instructions per cycle over last gen’s Bobcat. While the PC versions of the chips are targeted directly at Intel’s frustratingly slow Atom processors, don’t think that Sony can’t make this work.
This new Jaguar chip is some sort of custom monstrosity worked out between Sony and AMD. The normal version of the Jaguar chips are set to max out at four cores, while the PS4 is getting some sort of eight-core chip. And based on what we know about Jaguar, those are real cores, too – not the pseudo-eight-cores-but-it’s-really-just-a-quad-core-chip stuff that we saw them put out over the last couple of years.
The best part about using one of these chips with a low thermal envelope is its effect on heat generation within the console. AMD’s chip should run much cooler than what was in the PS3, which means it’ll need less in the way of cooling fans to keep things from overheating. Between that and a year old PC GPU (but likely built on a smaller process) providing the graphical oomph, the PS4 should run much cooler and much quieter than its current-gen sibling. Overheating plagued the Xbox360 well into its lifespan, and even touched on the PS3, so it’s no surprise that Sony took steps to mitigate it here.
How fast? Hard to say, but the traditional PC Jaguar CPUs max out at 1.8GHz, so we’ll likely see Sony pumping them out at 1.8GHz or 2.0GHz for the PS4.
There’s also an AMD GPU inside – what, exactly, we don’t know. Based on its processing power, though, it seems roughly equivalent to an AMD Radeon HD 7850. Sony stated that the GPU would be capable of up to 1.84 (presumably single-precision) TFLOPS, or floating point operations, per second, which is similar to what the 7850 was capable of producing. An underclocked 7870 could be similar – of course, the reality probably lies somewhere adjacent to both of these, as it may be a custom variant sitting on the APU with the Jaguar cores.
At least they managed to wildly improve the disc loading times – or well, we hope they did. The PS4 will ship with a 9x Blu-ray drive, which is a solid improvement over the 2x unit we got with its precessor. At 1x, the first drives cost transmit data at 4.5MB/s; that means that games had to load at just 9MB/s with the PS3, and they’ll be able to pull up to 40MB/s with the PS4. It’s still nowhere near as good as what you get with even a low-end hard drive these days, but until optical drives are gone for good, it’s not as bad as it could be.
Speaking of hard drives, aside from saying there’s one built in, we’ve got little to go on. Sony promised to make the PS4 the most open console several times during their presentation, so that hopefully means we’ll see the same sort of treatment here: letting users put in their own hard drives, making upgrades cheap and easy, and not giving in to proprietary BS like how Microsoft treats Xbox360 users.
Controllers will connect over Bluetooth (only 2.1, unfortunately) or USB 3.0 ports, and the system will connect to your Internet connection through either 802.11b/g/n or Gigabit Ethernet. There’s an HDMI port, analog audio and video out, as well as optical video out.
In short, it’s a promising next-generation system. It’s clear that Sony learned a lot from the fiasco of putting out a console that was too ahead of its time: developers despised making games for a PS3, mostly because they didn’t know how – that’s no surprise, according to some IBM employees who were around when the Cell launched.
We still don’t know how much it’s going to cost, but it’ll come as a shock if Sony screws up at prices themselves out of the market again. $599? Unlikely. Despite all of the new technology involved, it’s much cheaper relative to the market than the PS3 was when it came out all those years ago. Our best bet? $399.
For everything else, we’ll have to wait until E3 in June.