Let the specs war begin! We now have key information about both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, including details on the GPU, CPU, and storage. There's a lot that goes into making a console beyond just the hardware, and plenty of opportunity for custom features that haven't been disclosed yet, but with the latest Microsoft and Sony announcements, we're ready to compare the Sony PlayStation 5 to the Xbox Series X and crown a preliminary winner.
Yes, we know that sounds a bit premature. This is not intended to be a definitive verdict of unreleased hardware. But if you've been thinking about which future console you might want to buy, we can at least analyze what information there is. Plenty of additional details are yet to be revealed, including things like pricing. And make no mistake, we expect these next-gen consoles to be expensive. The larger and more powerful CPUs and GPUs combined with SSD storage the two companies are talking about here ends up sounding a lot like a mid-range to high-end PC, and the final prices aren't likely to be too far behind. So you might want to start saving now.
AMD is providing the core CPU and GPU hardware for both the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5. Fundamentally, that means a lot of basic functionality will be the same. Both consoles will support ray tracing in hardware, and both will have Zen 2 CPUs and Navi 2x GPUs. But there are some differences in features right now.
First, the Xbox Series X will include a 4K Blu-ray drive. That's good for anyone without a fast internet connection, though don't expect to use the drive to run games directly. We expect many games to be distributed via digital download, and the Xbox Series X has a large SSD for storage. You can expand the storage with external USB 3.2 drives as well, and considering the performance disparity between SSDs and Blu-ray, trying to load all that data from a spinning plastic disc isn't a good idea, unless you like waiting. There's talk of using multiple external drives to store the various games you might be playing as well, so that you don't need to re-download large 100GB+ games multiple times.
The PlayStation 5 will also have a 4K Blu-ray drive, which is necessary for backward compatibility. That's a secondary concern, because Sony is making a lot of noise about its SSD storage in the PS5. Sony’s machine is said to pack some of the fastest SSD storage around, and the company says loading and saving games will be near-instantaneous (especially when compared with PS4 load times). The PS5 will also have an M.2 slot for storage expansion, though don't plan on just sticking any old M.2 drive into that slot—it will need to be fast enough and thin enough to fit. Sony is testing various drives to find out which ones meet its requirements. It will also support external storage.
Sony also talked up 3D audio, and the PS5 is putting a lot of effort into making audio better than ever. Cerny talked about audio quite a bit (check the video, and skip to 38:23) and noted that the most significant audio gains recently were with the PSVR, which could do "about 50 pretty decent sound sources." In fact, Cerny admitted the PS4 is in many ways a step back in audio compared to the PS3. PS5 will correct that, and according to Cerny it can do "hundreds" of higher quality sources. It will also feature multiple custom HRTFs (head related transfer functions) to let users select the one that provides the best 3D audio experience for their ears. This is an area of ongoing research, however, so we don't know how exactly things will turn out.
Winner: Tie. While there are clearly differences, it's impossible to say which features and functionality will be most important once these consoles arrive. We also don't have a full list of every feature. The base hardware should support similar features, and without the final hardware in hand we'll leave this part of the discussion for a future day.
Graphics cards and GPUs are the heart of any gaming console or PC, and the Navi 2x AMD chips going into the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are going to be a major upgrade over the current-generation consoles. The Xbox will have 52 RDNA 2 Compute Units (CUs), each with 64 GPU cores, running at up to 1.825 GHz. Sony is taking a different route and using 36 RDNA 2 CUs, again with 64 cores apiece, running at up to 2.23 GHz. Doing the math gives you 10.3 TFLOPS of computational power on the PlayStation 5 vs. the Xbox Series X's 12.1 TFLOPS. And since we're dealing with the same GPU architecture, those numbers should be directly comparable.
We don’t know yet whether the GPUs in the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 will be available to buy separately or good enough to make our list of best graphics cards. However, you can see in our GPU hierarchy that AMD's fastest current chip is the RX 5700 XT, which uses Navi 10 and delivers 10.1 TFLOPS of compute performance. At a minimum, then, the PlayStation 5 and especially the Xbox Series X should outperform an RX 5700 XT card. Pretty impressive for a console, though of course without a price tag it's not particularly meaningful.
Raw compute, core counts, and clock speeds aren't the only factors. One thing neither company has discussed in detail is the ray tracing performance or RT core counts of their GPUs. That's probably because AMD doesn't want to reveal such details right now. If AMD takes the same approach as Nvidia, it would put one RT core (or whatever AMD wants to call it) into each CU, but there's nothing stopping AMD from putting two, three, four or even more RT cores into a CU. It will probably be one or two, but potentially Sony could do two per CU and Microsoft could do one per CU, and Sony would have more ray tracing performance. We don't know.
Sony's lead architect for the PlayStation 5, Mark Cerny, is also correct in pointing out that if you have two chips with different configurations and the same theoretical compute, it's often 'better' overall to have fewer cores running at higher clocks. So 20 CUs at 2 GHz offers the same compute as 40 CUs at 1 GHz, but the 2 GHz version would usually have higher performance because other chip elements are also running twice as fast. The caveat is that modern chips can have multiple clock domains, and more CUs often means more ROPs and other elements as well. Conversely, higher clocks usually means higher power draw, so it's important to balance both aspects.
Sony and Microsoft haven't revealed all aspects of the PS5 and XSX hardware, however. For example, 16GB of memory was mentioned with the PS5, but is that the same 10GB + 6GB split that Microsoft is using for the Xbox Series X, or is that 16GB of system memory and separate GPU memory, or 8GB + 8GB or some other split? We don't know. Microsoft is using 10GB for the GPU, with 560 GBps of bandwidth, and 6GB for the system, with 336 GBps of bandwidth.
Winner: Xbox Series X. As it stands, barring additional disclosures, the Xbox Series X has the more potent GPU. It's potentially 20% faster, and that could extend to other areas like ray tracing as well. It's not an insurmountable lead, but it's the difference between something like an RTX 2080 and an RTX 2080 Ti in the PC space. The PS5 might have a slight advantage in some specific areas, thanks to its 22% higher GPU clock speed, but overall higher computational power will generally win out.
Both the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 are using 8-core/16-thread Zen 2 CPUs, which is similar to the Ryzen 7 3700X in our list of the best gaming CPUs, with the only difference being clock speed. The Xbox Series X CPU will be clocked at up to 3.8GHz, compared to the PlayStation 5's 3.5GHz. It's worth noting that the reported clocks are 'turbo' or 'boost' clocks, meaning the chips may not always run at the advertised speed, but given the static design constraints, they should run close to the maximum speed in most games.
Nominally, the Xbox has an 8.6% higher clock speed, but again those turbo clocks might make it closer in real-world use—or they might be further apart. Sony explicitly talked about using AMD's SmartShift technology, which was originally designed for laptops to better balance power distribution between the CPU and GPU. Generally speaking, it allows either the CPU or GPU to run at maximum boost clocks, but not both at the same time. Microsoft hasn't mentioned SmartShift, so potentially the PS5 will dip even further below its maximum boost clock. Neither company has revealed any details about power requirements or TDP at this time.
It's worth noting that both consoles are getting an absolutely massive jump in CPU performance compared to the current generation consoles. The eight Jaguar cores in current consoles … well, let's just dispense with the niceties: Jaguar cores suck when it comes to performance. They're reasonably power efficient, but they can't hold a candle to Zen 2. At an estimate, real-world performance of a Zen 2 core vs. a Jaguar core, at the same clock speed, the Zen 2 core is probably 3-4 times as fast (maybe more). And the new consoles will be clocked over 50% higher.
So, compared to the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, the CPUs in the PS5 and Xbox Series X should be about 400-600% faster. That puts the 8.6% clock advantage of the Xbox CPU into perspective.
Winner: Xbox Series X. The Xbox is technically a bit faster, though it's a relatively small lead. There may also be other features (eg, coprocessors) that will offload some of the CPU work that we don't know about yet. Regardless, the next-gen consoles are going to pole vault ahead of the current consoles and open the door to far more complex and interesting games. Also, the days of 30 fps 'cinematic' framerate caps on consoles should be well and truly put in the past. Those were mostly because the old Jaguar cores simply couldn't keep up with the demands of modern games.
If you listen to Sony's Mark Cerny go on (and on, and on and on) about the ramifications of having a fast SSD in the PS5, you might actually believe the SSD is the most important aspect of the new consoles. News flash: it's not. The best SSDs help make your PC snappier, and they'll do the same for consoles, but framerates depend more on the GPU and CPU. Regardless, both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X will have relatively large and very fast SSDs, and that's a welcome change. They'll also have 4K Blu-ray drives for those that like physical distribution of games.
Game developers have apparently resorted to all sorts of tricks to avoid the painfully long load times of HDDs and optical discs in the past. Going from a hard drive that could only spit out 50-100 MBps of data to an SSD that can do 5.5 GBps of throughput? Yeah, that's going to help a lot. Whether developers will actually give up forcing us to wait through world-building elevator rides and loading screens is another matter, but that's certainly something Sony is pushing for.
(Just as a point of reference, if you disable all the loading screens on a game like Wolfenstein Youngblood, it takes about 15 seconds to load the game instead of 45 seconds … but that's not the default behavior because we all need to see those splash screens and legal warnings. Anyway, back to the PS5 and XSX.)
Sony will have an 825GB SSD that uses 12 NAND channels and can deliver up to 5.5 GBps of throughput. The Xbox in contrast will use a custom 1TB NVMe drive, with a raw speed of 2.4 GBps but the ability to read compressed data at up to 4.8 GBps through a custom decompression block. How that plays out in the real world isn't yet known. 4.8 GBps would essentially be as fast as 5.5 GBps, but 2.4 GBps might make a difference in load times.
Part of the issue is the difference in bandwidth between storage and memory. 5.5 GBps is a lot more than a 50 MBps hard drive, but it pales in comparison to the 448 GBps that the GPU and CPU can get from RAM, never mind the Xbox's 896 GBps of total memory bandwidth. GPUs need data already in RAM to work properly, because of that large gap in bandwidth.
Microsoft also said it will support 1TB capacity USB 3.2 expansion storage, which would have a maximum speed of 20 Gbps (2.5 GBps). Potentially (probably) we'll see larger capacities in the future. Also note that while the PlayStation 5 SSD might be faster, even with game sizes getting larger, the Xbox Series X will be able to store two more 100GB games on its built-in storage.
Coming from the PC world, either SSD is probably more than sufficient—our favorite NVME SSD is more about bang for the buck than pure theoretical performance, as the latter doesn't generally impact gaming and home office use much. Any decent 1TB NVMe SSD should be 'fast enough' for most gaming purposes. Certainly we don't see a massive difference in game load times between the fastest PCIe Gen4 SSDs and even a modest SATA SSD on PCs. Consoles could go after more specific load time optimizations, and hopefully those trickle over to PC as well, but until we actually see the games and how they behave on the various platforms, there's not much more to say.
Winner: PlayStation 5 (maybe). This is a case of higher speed versus capacity. Sony appears to want an optimized gaming experience where load screens and delays are minimized as much as possible, and that's something we can get behind. But if it ends up being similar to what we see with PC games, anything more than 1-2 GBps of throughput likely won't be that big of a factor. Plus, Microsoft might actually have a faster SSD and it just hasn't revealed the final specs yet.
We've been recommending 16GB for PCs since 2015, if not earlier. Currently, our best DDR4 memory recommendations are 16GB and 32GB. Consoles will finally be hitting that mark at the end of this year with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. We know both consoles will have 16GB of GDDR6, but how they get there is different.
Microsoft says the Xbox Series X memory will be partitioned into 10GB for the GPU and 6GB for the system. It will use a relatively massive 512-bit interface, yielding a combined 896 GBps of bandwidth, with 320 bits for the GPU portion and 192 bits for the CPU. That's a lot of bandwidth!
Sony in contrast appears to be taking the unified memory approach. What's more, it will be a 256-bit interface, meaning total bandwidth is half that of the Xbox. Using a unified memory space would reduce the need to copy data between the CPU and GPU, but overall it's clear that once again the Xbox comes out ahead in theoretical performance. The PS5 may have more total usable RAM, depending on how things are handled.
16GB should be sufficient for gaming for a while yet, but while bandwidth looks great, capacity is clearly the least impressive upgrade compared to current generation consoles. The CPU is 4-6 times faster, the GPU is at least twice as fast and potentially 4x faster, and storage is up to 100x faster (based on Sony's figures). Meanwhile, you'll get about twice the memory of the PS4 Pro and only 33% more memory than the Xbox One X, or double the RAM of the original PS4 and Xbox One.
Winner: Xbox Series X. 16GB. Welcome to 2020, just in time for PCs to start moving to 32GB configurations. Consoles often haven't had 'enough' memory, though to be fair they're also not running a bloated Windows OS with tons of background applications and services. (The Xbox runs a stripped down version of Windows, which isn't the same as PCs.) But while the capacity isn't that impressive, using GDDR6 with a 512-bit interface means gobs of bandwidth. Typical PCs are still using a 128-bit interface (64-bit dual-channel) of DDR4 clocked at 3.2 Gbps, though with separated dedicated VRAM for the GPU.
Xbox Series X apparently will be a tall-ish box, sort of like two Gamecubes stacked on top of each other. It's probably the most PC-looking console ever, and also hints at the amount of power and cooling that will be required to keep the next-generation parts running happily. On the PlayStation 5 front, all we have right now are the development kits, which famously look nothing like the final consoles. The "V" shaped dev kit is the most outrageous looking design (see above), but previous dev kits haven't looked the same as the actual consoles.
Notably lacking from any discussions so far is any mention of support for VR headsets or any other specialized technology. The PS5 will be backward compatible with the PSVR, but there's no talk of a new PSVR yet. That's probably being saved for a future announcement. That leaves little for us to compare and contrast right now.
We don't have details on the cooling in either console yet, which is something Sony is "saving for a future discussion." Presumably, the cooling will need to dissipate about 200-300W of heat. That's not too difficult, especially if the cases and fans are larger than the previous generation.
Winner: Tie? This is impossible to judge right now, sadly. On the Microsoft side, we have a generic-looking box with an X on the side, that's about two or three times larger than the current Xbox One X. For the PlayStation 5, we have renderings of a sleek-looking console that would probably overheat, and a spaceship-like V dev kit that would certainly stand out in your living room, though perhaps not in a good way. Hopefully final hardware in both cases looks better than the preview teases.
More than the hardware, games matter, and for consoles, that usually means gaming exclusives. Right now, we're not aware of any officially announced exclusives. Presumably series that have been PlayStation or Xbox exclusives in the past will continue, so God of War on the PlayStation and Halo on the Xbox for example. Except, Microsoft has been releasing all of its first party games for both PC and Xbox as part of its Play Anywhere initiative, plus it has the Xbox Game Pass for PC. We like this new and cross-platform Microsoft approach, though it won't necessarily get us to leave PCs and start playing on Xbox.
There are some other cool bits of news related to game support, however. Both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will be backward compatible with previous generation console games. There's no guarantee of universal backward compatibility, but the vast majority of PS4 and Xbox One games should work fine on the next generation consoles—some games may require tweaks to get running post-launch, however, which is something Sony hinted at.
The backward compatibility is helped a lot by the PC-esque hardware used in both, of course. Just like most PC games made in the past 40 years can still run on a modern Windows 10 PC (albeit sometimes via emulation, like DOSbox), sticking with x86 processors makes it much easier to run the previous generation games.
Winner: Xbox Series X (maybe). Who are we kidding? The Xbox fans aren't going to jump ship, and the same goes for PlayStation fans. Both upcoming consoles look capable, and without a lengthier list of actual game exclusives, we can't really pick a winner here right now. I'll still be playing Microsoft games from the Windows Store or PC, though.
|Round||Sony PlayStation 5||Microsoft Xbox Series X|
There you have it. In our not-at-all-too-early view, the Xbox Series X will be the better console later this year. Assuming both consoles even make their target release dates. (Thanks for nothing, COVID-19.) Of course, without information on pricing or power requirements, we can't really declare an overall winner. The PS4 undercut Microsoft's Xbox 360 price by $100 at launch, and that definitely helped it in the previous generation console war.
Things can and likely will change between what we know now and what we'll find out before launch. The Xbox Series X has a slightly faster CPU and moderately faster GPU, and the PlayStation 5 likely has faster storage. Both are also a sizable jump in performance and features compared to the current generation PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, never mind the original PS4 and Xbox One.
Barring some major reveal in the coming months, this is undoubtedly the closest the two main consoles have ever been in terms of hardware. At least with the previous generation there were some significant differences in the GPUs. This round looks to be more about what games, services or other features the companies can tie into the console ecosystem. And even then, it won’t be until after both consoles launch that we’ll have a good sense of what included services and features most of us will actually use. But for now, we give Microsoft's Xbox Series X the edge.
We'll be updating this face off in the future as more plans and details are revealed.