Editorial

Published on February 25th, 2013 | by Jonathan Beck

26

You Can Build a PS4, But Why Would You Want To?

A writer over at Forbes, Erik Kain, has posted an article titled You Can’t Build a PS4: Why Sony’s Next Console Is Truly Next-Gen And Your PC Isn’t. It appears to be a response to one of their other writers who put forward that you can build a PC currently that would be similar to the PS4’s rumored internal hardware. I’m not sure if Mr. Kain has suffered some sort of head injury, or if he is moonlighting as a paid Sony reviewer, but the things this article spells out as “fact” are just blatantly untrue. So from someone who actually knows how a computer works, lets set the record straight.

RAM: Why GDDR5 has the “G” in front of it.

His first point makes it out as though the fact that Sony is using GDDR5 as the RAM for both the CPU and the GPU is some how a benefit. Here’s the problem with that – While GDDR5 does have a much higher bandwidth availability (primarily needed for translating things like complex polygons and high resolution textures, or calculating things like physics) it also has a significantly high latency. Standard DDR3 is designed for CPUs at a lower latency, so it can do things like send information  back and forth as fast as possible. It generally isn’t dealing with large physics objects or polygons, so it has to do a lot of things very quickly which is why it needs lower latency RAM. The “G” in GDDR5 is for Graphics. It’s Graphics RAM for a reason. It’s actually a detriment to the CPU to have to try and work with RAM it isn’t natively designed to use. Not to mention that GDDR5 is actually just a derivative of DDR3, but you can read more about this here and here.

One Chip to Rule them All, Or why shared RAM is still a bad idea.

He also makes a big statement saying that the hardware inside the PS4 isn’t something the standard consumer can get their hands on. What he doesn’t seam to realize, is that the processor in the PS4 is likely a custom revision of the AMD A10 5800k APU. He mentions it as its code name “Jaguar” and he also mentions that PC builders simply cannot do a CPU/GPU on a single chip configuration. I think Intel and AMD would like to have  a conversation with him on that one, because CPU/GPU single die chips have been around in the PC market for a very, very long time. The reason gamers don’t user them? It’s the same reason you don’t hire a plumber to do brain surgery. A CPU is very good a things like math, AI mapping, pathing, you know, CPU based things. A GPU is good at things like Textures, Polygons, Physics, and other things related to visuals or other types of heavy lifting. The reason they’re better when they’re not on the same chip? They each have access to their own pool of RAM designed for its specific function. Not to mention the fact he’s listing the PCI-e chipset link as a disadvantage. There really is no disadvantage there – current PCI-e Rev. 3 can handle up to 8 GigaTransfers per second, and Rev. 4.0 doubles that to 16 GigaTransfers per second. Aka, more than you can saturate even using a TriSLI Titan setup.

You actually hamstring yourself when you put them both on a chip. When they have to share resources, they’re limited in what they can do with whats available. Considering today’s video cards have anywhere from 1 – 6GB of GDDR5 on the card, and usually your system will have anywhere from 4 – 32GB of DDR3, this lets them work together very smoothly. No one who seriously plays PC games uses an on chip solution for CPU and GPU.

The other issue with running them both on one chip? Heat. With split CPU and GPU, each has its own cooling unit and neither’s computation really affect how well the other one can work. When you share a chip, you also share all the heat you generate. You only have one hunk of copper (or more likely aluminum) to disperse said heat. I don’t know if anyone remembers the Xbox 360 launch or not, but that design had a shared heatsink as well.  That led to a lot of cardboard coffins for Xboxes and a lot of repair costs for Microsoft. Not only is the performance subpar, you’re also running a higher chance of damaging your hardware with poor TDP management.

Windows? You need stinking Windows.

Here’s why. You can use Linux like he mentions, in fact our own Sean uses Linux as his daily driver because he’s smarter than we are. He’s even had success emulating Windows games with other free software like Wine or Crossover. Steam is also Linux native at this point, and more developers are lining up to support it all the time. However, he’s listing the expense of Windows as a detractor. While yes, it is annoying to have to pay for an operating system, you know what comes with it? A fucking computer. When you pay for Windows, your box now has things like an actual web browser, the ability to do more things than just play games. It also has the DirectX Platform, which basically every game uses, and defines a set of requirements for devs to follow. Kind of like a game console, only infinitely scalable. A Ps4 will probably be great at media, and as good at games as my last generation i7 build was, but it isn’t going to help you write your thesis, or produce YouTube content, or run Photoshop, or any of the other things many, many gamers do. He also fails to mention (again) that while the APU in the PS4 might be custom, it’s still x86. The next Xbox is also likely going to be x86 based, and you know what that means? PC Ports are now the easiest thing in the world, because there is no port, there’s slightly modify code and recompile. Aside from first party exclusive titles like Gran Turismo or Halo, it’s about to be a great time for PC gaming because as a developer, you’d be a fool not to release a PC version of your game.

Show me the money? I’d rather show you how a computer works.

On top of all this, he references that for a gaming PC capable of competing with the PS4 the magic price point is $1000.00. Not only does someone else at Forbes show you that isn’t true, but perhaps you’ve heard of our build guides? Maybe you don’t want to take us, or Forbes seriously, Well PC Gamer has a nice break down of PC vs PS4 internals for you right here. The $500.00 build is more than enough competition, and if you can scale to the other ones, all the better. Not to mention the fact when you buy a PC at that cost, you get to pick every part that goes into it, and it will likely last longer than the PS4, and still do everything it does and more. If you actually want to know what to expect inside the new PS4, Anandtech has you covered. They know what they’re talking about. Hardware is kind of their thing.

I almost think this guy wrote the article simply to draw ire from the PC Gaming community. He is so clearly uneducated it’s a disgrace. However I’m not sure why I’m surprised by this coming from a Forbes article. They hire under qualified, dispassionate writers who aren’t required to fact check, or apparently even know what they’re talking about, before an article goes live. If you want to play games on a PS4, go right ahead, but don’t tell me your new console is truly “next gen” and my PC isn’t, when you’re using the parts that would have built a high end gaming computer in 2010. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to playing games, editing videos, manipulating photos, sending emails and IMs, all from my not PS4.

Update

Mr. Kain has posted a brand new article today at Forbes titled PS4 vs PC: Where The Wild Things Are which clarifies several points he was trying to make yesterday, and maybe didn’t illustrate clearly. It’s a good article, and he does make his points much clearer. I’m glad to see he looked at the critiques (not just by us, but many others on his Twitter Feed) and used this as a learning experience. I may have been harsh on Erik yesterday, and in the event he comes back to read this article, I’m glad to see your new one, and I apologize if I was overly harsh.

Update 2

In a move that will surprise absolutely no one, the head of AMD’s marketing, John Taylor has announced that AMD has intentions to release a slightly modified version of the APU that will be powering the PS4 to public consumption. What this likely means is that instead of 4 CPU cores and 8 GPU cores, it will be slightly more balanced between CPU and GPU. It will also not feature any Sony proprietary technology, so it isn’t like you’ll be buying PS4 discs and popping them into your home PC (at least not until a hacker figures out how to make that happen). It’s an interesting move, and one we’ve never seen from a console generation before. You’ve never been able to order the same, or nearly the same, silicon that was powering a home gaming console and build a PC with it. Sony and AMD are changing that up.

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26 Responses to You Can Build a PS4, But Why Would You Want To?

  1. Austin says:

    this is all he things i wish i could just conjure up in my head in the middle of an argument with a PC gaming hater. I’m not a PC elitist but some people just irk me when they are so far from the truth it hurts. Great article by the way! :)

  2. Disconsented says:

    Now this is a fucking article.

  3. Charlie says:

    Hex, I love you.

  4. Kapsar says:

    You make some points, but you’re actually wrong sharing the memory between the CPU and GPU. It does make sharing of data more efficient. Furthermore, GPUs are also extremely good at any parallel processing task, creating polygons are just one example of this. They are also extremely good at decrypting and compressing data, it’s just difficult to program for them. As AMD is a major proponent of OpenCL, which is a language that allows programmers to directly access the GPU, it’s likely that they will be able to create a better experience on the PS4 than anticipated. This, fortunately, will also carry over to the PC gaming world as well.

    The main limitation in the manufacturing of this product, is that you’re creating three different types of semiconductor chips on one chip, which have different capabilities and perform better with different materials rather. It’s not as cut and dry as you make it out to be.

    On your point about ports being “the easiest thing in the world” if this is true, why is it difficult for people to get games on LInux and Mac? I’m only asking, because it likely will take more work than you realize since PS4 isn’t likely to be using Windows as the operating system, it may take more time than you realize. It’s probably going to be a version of linux which may mean that a port to linux will be easier than a port to regular Windows. Additionally, the overhead of Windows could be argued as a detriment to the system when compared to something with a much lighter operating system.

    I’m not really defending the PS4 as looking at what you’re ranting and hearing things that don’t really make all that much sense.

    • Jonathan Beck hexidecimal says:

      Sharing memory between a GPU and CPU may make trading information between the two slightly more efficient than doing it over a 8 GigaTransfer PCI-e line, but using them as a shared pool is still a bad idea. Say your code your game and there’s a glitch somewhere that causes the texture processing RAM to exponentially increase, choking the CPU of its RAM in the pool, or vice versa. Having them separated and talking over a huge pipe is a safer way to do things.

      You also notice I didn’t listen everything a GPU can do because things like Wikipedia exist. I was using larger things a GPU typically handles when used for gaming as examples. Yes, GPUs are excellent at all the things you mention, which is why they’re often used for things like Protein Foldering, BitCoin Mining or code decryption. Those thing just don’t happen frequently when playing games.

      As far as OpenCL goes, Intel, AMD, IBM and nVidia all have OpenCL support, meaning things like the HD4000 chip in today’s Ivy Bridge processors, anything from the current or previous generation of nVidia or AMD cards, and super computers like Watson all can utilize it as a way to directly access GPU hardware. I’m not sure what your point in listing it as something the PS4 chip can do, because it isn’t an exclusive feature. My desktop, and likely the computer your posting from has that same option, though I will agree that adding functionality like that into a game console will only benefit games that are being cross published.

      Also, as far as the Linux & Mac vs “Easiest thing in the world” comment, the reason you aren’t seeing it now, is that the current generation of games, IE the lowest common denominator that developers use to develop their games, aren’t on the same architecture. They’re Cell or PowerPC based, meaning those games are much more complex to transfer over to current PC lineups, often being outsourced to different studios, or requiring a completely separate team. This is no longer the case. When you start your development cycle on the PS4 or the new Xbox, you know you’re start at x86 compatible code, so you cane have your team specifically design it to be able to be ported to multiple platforms that use that architecture regardless of operating system. Hence why so many indie developers are showing up on all three. The OS may be different, but what runs it is still the same and that eases the port process by quite a bit. Especially if, like you mention, the PS4 runs a custom linux kernel. That means your devs are already familiar with a linux-esq platform, and it’s basically common knowledge the next Xbox will run on some form of windows, just like the first one did, so you aren’t bringing in a completely separate team their either.

      The overhead of windows at this point, at least as far as gaming PCs go at this point can definitely still be a problem if you aren’t building properly, though with the low cost of RAM today, coupled with the dropping cost in solid state drives, and the wide spread adoption of the 64bit variant of Windows, that overhead is very quickly becoming an non issue, it will become even less of an issue when again, a unified platform like x86 is used across the entire gaming industry.

      I do thank you for the comment though, as it gave me a chance to further flesh out my thoughts. Thanks for reading.

      • CJ says:

        Cell IS PowerPC based.

        • Jonathan Beck hexidecimal says:

          You’re right it is based on the PowerPC architecture. It is a significantly different setup than most other PPC based builds, even the Xbox 360, but you are definitely correct. Thanks for pointing that out.

      • Kapsar says:

        So, you’re argument against the sharing the memory between the two devices is basically that you’re concerned about either glitches or poor programming to manage the two processing units. I think that’s a fair concern, but there are memory controllers on the device that can regulate those issues. This is also why I wrote about OpenCL, while you’re 100% about the fact that anyone and everyone can use it, (although nVidia uses CUDA more) the combination of the CPU and GPU make the direct control more desirable for the programmer as they have better access and could likely create methods to address the concerns you have regarding glitches.

        Just one other note that has been really bothering me in all these articles, Jaguar isn’t the name of the product, it’s the cores that are in the product, it’d be like calling Trinity Bulldozer because of the cores that are in the processor. Not that this is your fault, but I’m just correcting facts here.

        • Jonathan Beck hexidecimal says:

          That’s true, I hadn’t considered the the memory controller that can regulate glitches like that which may occur. I’d still say that for what you’re going to do from a gaming stand point, you’d be better off with separate chips with separate memory pools but I understand why Sony is going to do things this way. They’re obviously a bigger expense to do it with 2 dedicated chips.

          I guess my major beef there is that the original article implies that this is the first time anyone has ever done this not only in a console (which is patently untrue) but also on a PC which is an even more grievous error.

          Thanks for the clarification on the naming convention as well, and thanks for pointing out other facts about what’s happening under the hood. It’s welcome here.

  5. Hydro says:

    Great article.

  6. SevenThreeSix says:

    Great work Hex, PC Master Race.

  7. Matty says:

    10/10 would read again

  8. BWALL says:

    Consoles are never gonna win the hardware race against PCs unless they get custom tech that is only available to them, and thus would make the console cost much more than most consumers are willing to pay. They need to focus on new IPs, better online services, and making sure games have dedicated servers for multiplayer. Not share buttons and facebook and twitter integration, software is the only thing that moves consoles and most consumers buy a console for what games get either exclusive or more suppourt from devs.

    • DirkDeadeye says:

      You need to understand that event was for a lot of people. And these features are sought after by the casual gamer, as well as some of the core gamers. You’re gonna tell me that business models like Zynga’s aren’t relevant today? Or that facebook, and twitter aren’t a singularity in the modern world?

      While I do agree a lot of us “enthusiasts” and “core gamers” don’t really want those features, it’s not designed around us. They want incremental sales. They want more people in their ecosystem.

      I also think that building around facebook and twitter is a smarter idea than managing a friends list. I mean most, if not all of us have a network of friends through these networks. Instead of building a new, separate community within the game system itself, why not just link the established network of people you already know in real life, and outside of that.. And just plug it right in and use it.

      You’re playing CoD 19 and you notice Steve from accounting is online. Holy fuck I didn’t even know he plays the video games. I’ll invite him into my lobby. After a night of gaming you anxiously await the dicussion at work

      You might not agree. And that’s fine. But what I’m saying is.. That’s kind of where they want to go. And that beats the hell of out forcing people to have a kinect installed.

      Also..Sony has a lot of First Party IP’s..at least compared to MS.

      Not to mention the perks of being a plus member. I mean, full games.

      I think they’re on the right path. And I will buy one. And move my PS3 into the bedroom.

  9. Whinterfell says:

    After reading this I went back and read the article this one was about. The guy had to go back and redact and amend the article as well as add in a Edit to fix and change his stance on a lot of it. And even then replies and amendments are still him being ignorant to the facts that people are trying to tell him.

    PC gaming isn’t exclusive to any one type of gamer. IS PC gaming sometimes expensive, yes it can be most of the time. That is all on how much of a performance boost you want. It isn’t $1000 or more all the time. But the main point so many people tend to forget is the other uses of PC’s. Like stated I can multitask so much more with my PC then any of my systems can. But then I spend the money on a higher end PC with a very good GPU.

  10. OGAgent says:

    When I first read his article I honestly thought it was some sort of troll. But no, it was just a really stupid person with no idea about computer hardware. Its kind of sad that a large website like that cannot hire someone that knows hardware to write for them.

  11. wazup52 says:

    Great Article Hex! <3

  12. CJ says:

    The PS4 is just a prepackaged PC meant for easy access to decent looking games. It’s not going to beat you $1000+ PC nor was it ever meant to, that’s ridiculous! I could bet the largest critics of consoles have GPUs that cost just as much or even more than a console.

    I am a PC gamer myself but unless you’re an arrogant prick, it’s not hard to understand why consoles still have a place, they’re for the lowest common denominator of gamers.

    People who don’t want to deal with the common PC issues like just getting a capable PC is hard enough for the average non-tech orientated Joe, they won’t know how to build a PC, they won’t even know what to buy for a gaming PC & they probably won’t know how to fix any problems they may run into (Googling is beyond some people’s capability), consoles just eliminate these problems. With a console you just put the disk in & you’re off.

  13. etharion says:

    “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to playing games, editing videos, manipulating photos, sending emails and IMs, all from my not PS4.”
    This ! PC may be more expensive, but you can do far more things with it… If you have PS4, you still need a PC…

  14. Mark says:

    Fantastic article recommended from a member at bb.com. Great read and great article!

  15. Jordan says:

    A very well written article. Good job Hex!

  16. Teh_Hicks says:

    Great article! Really enjoyed reading this. Well written.

  17. While I’m primarily a console gamer, it’s definitely refreshing to see PC advocates like yourself fighting for what you believe in. Especially with cold, hard facts. Definitely awesome read.

  18. atrain says:

    Very good article Hex. Informative with a bit of funny thrown in for good measure. I may be new to pc but this all makes a lot of sense to me.

hexidecimal

Jonathan BeckJonathan

I'll drink a beer with you at a party. I know hardware things and enjoy talking about them. I am still your new best friend and most trusted confidant.


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