Next generation consoles, what will they become

Posted on August 13, 2018 by Michael Thompson

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It seems the rumour mill has kicked in again ahead of E3 with news of an early 2018 release of Sony’s new console to defend its honour in the power race. The burning question is just what will power the “Next Gen” machines, it all comes down to size and smaller is better.

The X and Pro both came on the back of the die shrink the APU’s sit on (this is single chip that houses both CPU and GPU in one, known as a SoC, system on a Chip). Proving a reduction in size reduces power and thus heat through its TDP levels. This was the single biggest reason it could offer a 2x increase on GPU and 31% boost to CPU clock speeds whilst staying within those vital wattage and thermodynamic levels. AMD roadmap gives us the view ahead and within reason 7nm is the next stop on that journey, a bigger and further reduction of almost 57% from the current Pro APU size. The plan is for this to land in 2019 alongside the new Zen2 CPU and Navi GPU architecture, as is common you tend to not design an entire new spec alongside your fabrication partner changes, meaning the current Vega GPU’s will be the first to hit this reduced footprint, cleaning the pipes so to speak.

With this planned for mid-2019, this is our first clue as to the date we can expect the PS5 to land, i.e. 2020. This is because being a pioneer would reduce the choice and benefit that Sony would have, indeed the likely plan will be for them to hold out when the fabrication model is refined and grab the best RoI(Return on Investment) of taking the short-lived Navi GPU design and the recent Zen2 architecture into its new APU that will again have custom features added. The reason is 2-fold: –

  • They will strike a better deal from ordering established designs that will be approaching EoL when it launches.
  • The improvements and refinements to the process will increase yield rates again enabling them to raise the safety margin limits that are factored into all chips.

Zen2 will have been on the market for almost a year, this will have a roughly 20% increase in performance over Zen. Navi will itself have architectural increases that will improve over Vega, these will already be available as APU’s but of course as we see no, still of a lower performance level than what we have in the consoles.

I expect them to be 8-Core/16T with the possibility of 4-Core/8T if the clock speeds and GPU increases are the best balance, these could still be marketing at 8 thread CPU’s which would appease the PR teams at launch. Depending on the core count, we could see speeds of 2.6 to 3.5Ghz at best, which alongside the huge Instructions per clock that Zen brings over the outgoing Jaguar would give developers far more choice with game worlds from AI, physics, destruction and online functions, but this would only be the start. Another benefit of increasing single Thread performance would help teams that do not have the budget to create asynchronous code that uses all the cores as often as possible, raising the base performance and features.

But most eyes will be on the GPU, as I said, do not expect the Next gen GPU to land with the PS5, although it may have some elements of it as we saw with Rapid packed math from Vega being within the Pro. Instead a high core count, somewhere in the region of 64 APU’s and 12-1500 MHz clock speeds will deliver 10-12Tflops of performance which will exceed the 8Tflops target that Sony has for true 4K or 8K@120Hz target that its next VR push will aim for. You see consoles rely on a USP, Unique selling point to make them attractive, killer apps are only part of that. With Xbox, BC is that brand and they have embraced it full on and it has worked, enough to push people to think about jumping ship or upgrading. For Sony they currently have 2, its first part content is unquestionable no matter where you sit and the investment they have within the WWS is both commendable and vital to their continued success, the other was introduced with the PS4 but could be as vital as the PS1 was for the mainstream adoption of 3D graphics, PSVR will be integral to the PS5.

It will be part of the initial design and will no longer require separate hardware aside the HMD and the controllers to work. Launching with a base mode that has no headset but supports the current PSVR headsets, I feel it will also have a VR pack that comes with the new headset and controllers. Fingertip tracking, room tracking and head mounted camera and tracking will make it even more accessible, wireless would be perfect but maybe a stretch to far at this point. The core aspect though will enable almost Pro quality looking titles to be pushed to the headset in 4K at 90 to 120Hz natively and the CPU boost will also empower a wider selection of titles to push the medium on into a new generation. Although VR is still not mainstream, Sony are in this for the long run and by factoring this into the design from the start it will make the adoption wider and gain more attention. PS4 was a proof of concept for VR as far as Sony go for me and the PS5 will be when they go full in and make this a true USP for the brand.

The final pieces will come from the Ram and Storage methods, I expect hybrid design for storage using a NAND designed 128 or 250GB M.2 type hard drive for dynamic content and an older style 1TB drive for mass storage, offering the best mix of speed, space and cost. Memory will increase but I still do not expect HBM2 to land in the machine, likely GDDR6 which is still part of AMD memory controller design AMD have for its APU’s and makes the most sense again for speed, heat and cost. Nvidia use the Samsung chips for its 1080Ti and will use the new 6 models inside its upcoming Volta GPU’s, this will resolve one of the biggest hurdles the consoles have always suffered from and APUs also suffer from, bandwidth. 256-bit or 384-bit bus as we see inside the X will offer 16Gbps speeds and between 512 to 900GB/s, this type of increase will enable developers to get much more out of the CPU and GPU along individually and in tandem via Asynchronous work-loads. Even going from the Pro this will be a huge 134% to a monstrous 300% hike to the machines bandwidth which will of great benefit for all. In addition, I expect either 16 or 32GB to be appointed, simply because they will allow even reductions to onboard memory chips once Samsung produce larger nodes at over a 3 or 4GB per chip. The other benefit will be they will be in mass production way before needed and at 1.35v use much less power for higher throughputs than the current GDDR5 in the consoles and even GDDR5x being used in cards currently.

All added together we will have a machine that will have a CPU between 300 to 400 % more powerful, a GPU 3 times more capable paired with roughly 4 times the memory and bandwidth alongside faster storage speed and VR ready that will play your entire PS4 catalogue as good or better than before, with the unlocked frame-rate options and dynamic resolution scaling becoming more common, we can already see the signs of this becoming a known factor. Even if you are not an Xbox owner or fan, you must thank them for making BC such a prominent feature than Sony cannot ignore this with its new machine.

Dates then, like I say, 2020, September 2020 to be precise is my expectation for this, why? Well it will mark the 25th Anniversary of the Playstation brand and will be a perfect companion to the hype and media attention, alongside some Special edition model. The benefit they have, is they have a 2-year window for this, as back when the 5th generation launched, it still had 12-month staggered launches between eastern and western markets, the PS1 hit Japan shelves in December 1994, so if push comes to shove they still have anything between that and September the following year as a launch window and for me that is just too big an opportunity for the big S to miss. $400 to $500 will still be the target price, with that mid-point being the sweet spot. A $500 price tag is all within operating margins and enables another good leap over the current gen (yes even the Pro and X) so hold on for more to come.



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