It's been almost a year since Sony started talking about the PlayStation 5 in an uncharacteristically revealing Wired interview. We learned the next-generation console will be powered by AMD's third-generation Ryzen CPU and a custom Radeon Navi GPU. Additionally, it'll support hardware-accelerated ray-tracing and feature speedy SSD storage. But beyond confirming the name "PlayStation 5" and announcing a familiar-looking logo, Sony hasn't given us many specific details about the console -- certainly not as many as Microsoft has around the Xbox Series X, which on paper has similar hardware.
That changes today. Sony's lead PlayStation architect, Mark Cerny, finally gave us an in-depth look at the PS5 in a livestream event, in lieu of a major GDC keynote. And if you don't feel like sitting through that, Eurogamer has a full breakdown of his presentation. The key takeaway? It'll certainly be a huge hardware leap over the PS4 and PS4 Pro -- but it remains to be seen how Sony's hardware can compete with Microsoft's upcoming console.
Let's talk specs: Cerny confirms that the PlayStation 5's graphics processor will feature 36 compute units and up to 10.28 teraflops worth of compute performance. That's a bit less than the Xbox Series X's 12-teraflop GPU, but realistically you might not see many differences in performance. There are plenty of other system optimizations, like the company's focus on a custom 825GB SSD, that'll be a huge leap over the PlayStation 4. That SSD will push 5.5 gigabytes per second compared to a mere 50 to 100 MB/s, meaning it can fill the system's 16GB of GDDR6 RAM in two seconds. And on the plus side, Sony will let you plug in a standard NVMe SSD to expand storage while Microsoft will rely on specialized 1TB SSD expansion cards.
Cerny was quick to point out that teraflop numbers are a "dangerous" way to measure absolute levels of performance. A teraflop from the PlayStation 5 translates to much more gaming performance than a teraflop from the PlayStation 4, thanks to the new console's more-efficient architecture. Still, it's not exactly unfair to compare the PS5 to the Xbox Series X, since both systems will be based on AMD's CPUs and GPUs.
It's interesting to see how Sony and Microsoft devices take advantage of AMD's hardware. The PS5's eight-core Zen 2 CPU will run up to 3.5GHz with variable frequencies, so it can slow down when necessary. The Xbox Series X, meanwhile, will lock its Zen 2 processor at 3.8GHz, and devs can also choose to run their games at 3.6GHz with hyper threading. Sony also chose to use 36 RDNA 2 compute units running at up to 2.23GHz with a variable frequency while Microsoft stuffed its system with 52 compute units running at 1.825GHz. Cerny argues that running fewer cores at a higher frequency rate is more beneficial than running more cores at a lower rate, since it will lead to a speed bump across many GPU tasks.
Sony definitely has the lead with its custom SSD with 5GB/s of raw bandwidth and 8 to 9GB/s of compressed throughput. The Xbox Series X's SSD will be limited to 2.4GB/s of raw data and 4.8GB/s compressed. Again, while the numbers are significantly different, it's unclear how the performance will vary in real-world use. Microsoft also has a slightly higher GDDR6 memory bandwidth -- 10GB at 560GB/s and 6GB at 336GB/s -- than Sony's 448GB/s, which could make up for the slower storage.
Cerny also spent plenty of time exploring how the PlayStation 5 will evolve audio quality. The system's Tempest Engine will be able to process 3D audio with a focus on presence and locality: You''ll not only be able to hear a rainstorm but also potentially feel like you're being engulfed in one. While Cerny says you won't need high-end gear to take advantage of the system -- it'll work with standard headphones and two-channel speakers initially -- the company is also exploring how it'll work across TV speakers, surround sound systems and sound bars. In the long term, you might even be able to map the shape of your ears -- similar to how Sony's 360 Reality Audio technology works -- for a customized experience.
While it's nice to finally attach some numbers to the PlayStation 5, Microsoft is still well ahead when it comes to next-gen console information. We still don't know what the PS5 will look like. Meanwhile Microsoft has already given YouTuber Austin Evans and Digital Foundry plenty of details around the Series X's case and cooling design.
At the least, gamers can rest a bit easy: At this point it looks like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X will offer a similar level of next-gen performance. And Sony's decision to stick with a more efficient CPU and GPU design might allow it to price its system for significantly less.