The PlaysStation PS5 and Xbox Series X are ready for launch, and it is good to see a head-to-head comparison between the two consoles. Let us take a look at the console specifications to see how they will perform. PS5 offers enhancements to user experience with their adaptive trigger haptic feedback DualSense controller. The Xbox Series X features its own Velocity Architecture. They both have something to offer the demanding gamer.
The expectations for the two consoles are quite high. A pre-holiday release just before Thanksgiving and Christmas puts them in a good position. It might be affected by recent economic woes, but sales could also be boosted as more people are staying home. Some tech reviewers have already given their thoughts about one of the consoles (or both), and so far they seemed impressed.
Since no actual console from either brand was used, this is not a review of the gaming experience, but more of a “deep dive” into the specs under the hood of each console. Some of the best hardware features in computing are going to appear in these consoles. I won’t get into the gaming part, but more of a discussion of the features based on the specs released.
Here are the PS5 specs from Eurogamer:
- CPU: 8x Zen 2 Cores @ 3.5GHz (variable frequency)
- GPU: 10.28 TFLOPs, 36 CUs at 2.23GHz (variable frequency)
- GPU Architecture: Custom RDNA 2
- Memory: 16GB GDDR6/256-bit
- Memory Bandwidth: 448GB/s
- Internal Storage: Custom 825GB SSD
- IO Throughput: 5.5GB/s (Raw), Typical 8–9GB/s (Compressed)
- Expandable Storage: NVMe SSD Slot
- External Storage: USB HDD Support
- Optical Drive: 4K UHD Blu-ray Drive
Xbox Series X
Here are the specs from Techradar:
- CPU: 8x Zen 2 Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.6 GHz w/ SMT)
- GPU: 12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @ 1.825 GHz
- GPU Architecture: Custom RDNA 2
- Die Size: 360.45 mm2
- Process: 7nm Enhanced
- Memory: 16 GB GDDR6 w/ 320-bit
- Memory Bandwidth: 10GB @ 560 GB/s, 6GB @ 336 GB/s
- Internal Storage: 1TB Custom NVME SSD
- I/O Throughput: 2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s
- Expandable Storage: 1TB Expansion Card (matches internal storage exactly)
- External Storage: USB 3.2 External HDD Support
- Optical Drive: 4K UHD Blu-Ray Drive
From a design perspective, it looks as if Sony came up with the more creative design in terms of aesthetics while Microsoft came up with a functional design that appears rather plain. The PS5 looks unlike anything you will see from a gaming console. It has been described by some as looking like a Wi-Fi router, a CD sleeve binder stuffed in a folder and even a “Stormtrooper”. The Xbox Series X looks just like speaker box or mini-fridge. One thing is for sure about both designs, they optimize air flow to keep the system cool. There are also other intricate details in their design, but I will not discuss that further but just getting that out there for reference.
When it comes to interfaces, both consoles still offer an optical Blu-Ray player. The PS5 has 3 USB-A ports (one on the front, two on the back), 1 USB-C port on the front and an HDMI 2.1 display port. It also has an Ethernet port on the back and an 802.11ac Wi-Fi card. The Xbox Series X has an HDMI 2.1 display port, 3 USB 3.2 ports, 1 Ethernet port and 802.11 ac Wi-Fi card. These are the typical ports and systems needed to quickly setup and get online.
Both consoles can stand vertical, which should be the natural position for the Xbox Series X while the PS5 comes with a stand. They can also lay vertical and be placed underneath the TV or display stand. Despite its slim design, the PS5 is actually quite massive. From some side by side comparisons, the PS5 looks a lot taller than the Xbox Series X. When it comes to height, the PS5 stands at 15.74" to the Xbox Series X 11.85". You will need a vertical clearance of at least an inch or more if you are going to put a PS5 on a shelf.
When it comes to performance, let’s look at the following features: CPU, graphics, storage and memory.
AMD is the chip used by both consoles. 8-core Zen 2 at 3.5 GHz on the PS5 and 3.8 GHz on the Xbox Series X. There are slight differences, but both consoles use the same microarchitecture and 7 nm fabrication process. Another difference is Sony’s CPU (and GPU) will be running at variable frequencies. The frequency or clock speed will vary based on the CPU demand. The cores will not run at a constant clock speed of 3.5 GHz, but will be downclocking when there is not much activity.
The Zen 2 uses SMT (Simultaneous Multi-Threading). It can achieve a significant increase in performance but only if the applications support it. The majority of games do not use multithreading so it seems there is no advantage to having it enabled. The purpose is for additional boosts to performance that is available to developers for their applications or games. Most developers would probably not spend the time to integrate SMT support with their products in order to meet the holiday release.
We are going to see graphics performance pushed to new levels in both consoles. They both get that boost from an AMD CPU (Zen 2 microarchitecture) and RDNA 2 GPU. Choosing AMD over Nvidia shows that the developers at Sony and Microsoft saw its performance capabilities, and decided to use it since they are also running an AMD CPU on the same device. That keeps the hardware platform under one vendor, so optimization would be easier to come by. Although the platform is under AMD, each console uses a custom implementation of the hardware.
The RDNA 2 was designed to be more efficient while delivering better performance per watt (54% on the RDNA 2) than previous generations. It also brings higher depth and reality through its raytracing feature. Microsoft’s customization delivers 12 TFLOPS (Teraflops) of processing power with 3328 shaders allocated to 52 CU, and runs at a locked 1,825 MHz. Sony’s customization delivers 10.28 TFLOPS with 36 CU and 2304 shaders at 2 GHz. These are just numbers, and not indicative of actual performance when it comes to playing a game.
Both consoles have a capability of True 4K from 60 to 120 fps, which would require a 4K or greater display output. The claims to 8K is substantiated for 4320 resolution, but at the moment there are no actual 8K games (November 2020). Instead, this means the consoles are capable of 8K for display, but not for game resolution. Most games are not even 4K yet, so the mention of 8K is more for marketing the level it is capable of. What is important is the target performance of the display and both will be able to render 4K at up to 120 fps.
The move to faster storage systems is definitely going to help decrease load times. When laptops added fast SSD drives to replace SATA and legacy drives, it decreased booting time significantly. Users can immediately login with less waiting and the read/write response for data allowed for more productivity. This also helps with loading games much faster.
Both consoles use a customized (non-standard) PCIe Gen 4 NVMe SSD with expansion slot available. The internal storage will definitely be ideal for storing the program files for games, while an external storage (external drive) is ideal for saving data from the games (e.g. levels, collectibles, game captures, etc.). While they use standard SSD, the form factor or size has been modified for the consoles. It cannot be directly replaced with off-the-shelf components, so consult with tech support from each console to see how to replace the SSD in case it is needed (e.g. drive problems).
The Xbox Series X has a 1 TB NVME type SSD, which many PC gamers also use for their customized gaming workstations. This supports the “Quick Resume” feature on the Xbox Series X that allows gamers to switch between games instantly. That would save time from having to reload a game. The PS5 has a lower capacity 825 GB but it still delivers for Sony the “next generation dream”. This is because of the custom design that has an I/O with a 12 channel interface delivering 5.5GB/s. The XBox Series X in comparison has an I/O throughput of 2.4 GB/s (raw) to 4.8 GB/s.
High bandwidth memory is ideal for games because of the amount of data that is being processed when rendering images. Faster memory delivered by GDDR6 which uses a double data rate interface. Both consoles come with 16 GB of memory but differ in their bus size. The Xbox Series X has a 320-bit bus, while the PS5 has 256-bit bus.
In terms of memory bandwidth, the PS5 can deliver 448 GB/s in total. For the Xbox Series X, the memory uses a different scheme. The Xbox Series X allocates 10 GB of its memory for the GPU, 3.5GB for standard memory and 2.5GB is reserved for the operating system. The bandwidth for the 10 GB GDDR6 is 560 GB/s while for the remaining 6 GB it is 336 GB/s. The optimization for graphics memory is what makes the Xbox Series X fast.
Faster memory makes game play smoother. With the fastest bus interfaces, there would be less latency so we can expect faster load times and more detailed rendering. More bandwidth helps with higher resolution graphics like 4K, so this improves on the output for the display.
These are the next generation consoles, that integrate new microarchitectures to deliver a new level for gaming. They also aim to deliver the same gaming experience across multiple devices, including mobiles. The consoles will bring advanced ray tracing, faster storage, high bandwidth memory, low latency rendering and high resolution output. To get the best out of either console, it will require a 4K TV or display for the best results and games that are True 4K or UHD. Both consoles will support backward compatibility (refer to website for more details) so this can be a much needed upgrade to older gaming consoles. While the specs look good on paper, it is best to see the consoles in action to really get an idea of their performance in the real world.