PlayStation 5 will be so good that you will have to redesign your PC

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For the first time in a long time personal computers - not gaming consoles - will be the weakest link in the development of multiplatform games. Sony and Microsoft use technology that until now was virtually unavailable on the consumer market.

Microsoft and Sony keep saying that the most important element of their new consoles is their storage. There is a reason: the technology used in the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles is basically the Middle Ages in the form of slow disks with mechanical elements. To understand what a problem this is for game developers, it's important to realize that due to the poor storage performance of current-generation consoles, games for these consoles are much larger than they should be. Why?

Game developers, desperately fighting the bottleneck in the form of current-generation console consoles, duplicate game data and place identical files in many different places. Thus, they reduce the time it takes the disk head to find this data - because it can often be predicted that a given set of textures will almost always be displayed simultaneously. Rounding and averaging: the memory bandwidth of consoles will increase from 50 MB / s to 5 GB / s, which is approximately a hundredfold.

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PC gaming enthusiasts are looking at this gulf with pity. They have long been using SSD memory for a long time - and similar systems that will be found in the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Often significantly slower than those in new consoles, but it does not matter - it's still a gulf compared to the junk that provides Xbox performance One and PlayStation 4.

However, the new consoles bring more than just SSD bones. PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X use technologies previously reserved for high-performance workstations.

The Xbox X and PlayStation 5 memory chips - although very high-end - are not special to the gaming world. SSD, NVMe or PCIe 3.0 are, after all, the technologies that PC enthusiasts have expressed enthusiastically so far. Only that these technologies have been used in new consoles in a slightly different way than it was adopted on the PC market.

Sony and Microsoft boast of proprietary solutions for direct connectivity of the graphics processor with memory. They attribute themselves to these technologies only partly correctly - in fact, both companies have added a bit to each other to the technology that AMD uses in its GPU for professional applications (Nvidia also, albeit slightly differently). I am talking about a complete redesign of the motherboard to make mass storage an absolutely priority component.

How does SSD storage on PlayStation 5 work?

In PlayStation 5 we will find an SSD memory chip with a total capacity of 825 GB, capable of transmitting 5.5 GB / s data (up to 9 GB / s after applying compression). This means that all RAM can be filled with SSD data in less than two seconds. But how does it work?

The SSD system is connected to a dedicated hardware console memory controller with a 12-channel interface. This number does not matter much for performance, it is probably more associated with intelligent cost cutting: the capacity of 825 GB suggests that the SSD system consists of 12 SSD chips, each of which has a dedicated interface channel. Wise, but it's just a digression.

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This hardware memory controller is very important. It significantly relieves the main processor from managing I / O operations, i.e. SSD operation. It also assumes the role of a hardware accelerator for data decompression, again relieving the other systems from this task. How much does this save? Sony, he says, would have to add an additional 9 Zen 2 cores to its main processor without this chip to maintain console performance. The DMA controller provides one more benefit, and we pointed it out as an invention from the world of workstations - a direct combination of mass and operational memory. Thanks to this, SSD can be treated as expanded memory, completely bypassing the traditional path by other components of a typical PC.

This means that PlayStation 5 not only has very fast SSD memory - which is also found in PCs - but also data from this memory can be processed with a much lower delay and with a much lower CPU load than it does in a PC. The PlayStation processor does not deal with data decompression and transfer at all.

How does SSD storage work on Xbox Series X?

Very similarly, after all, AMD technology was the starting point for both solutions. Microsoft uses cheaper SSDs, and therefore significantly slower than those from PlayStation 5 - although representing an equally huge leap in performance compared to the previous generation consoles. Microsoft, wanting to limit the cost of production of the Xbox X Series, instead used a few software tricks, about which in a moment. SSDs in the new Xbox work with a bandwidth of 2.4 GB / s (4.8 GB / s after compression).

Like PlayStation 5, the Xbox Series X also has a built-in SSD memory controller, which offloads the CPU and provides a direct connection of SSD and RAM. Microsoft evaluates its solution with a similar measure as Sony, thus indicating how many Zen 2 cores in its CPU have been unloaded - and more specifically five. But this is not the end: further solutions are to be ensured by software solutions, which are not yet available for the PC world.

The algorithms sewn in DirectStorage - the API being an extension of DirectX - will analyze in the new Xbox which data (in particular textures) called to the memory is actually needed. Microsoft, it claims, has come to the conclusion in its game tests that a very small portion of the information loaded is actually used by the game. For example, only a small part of the large texture with 4K resolution is visible on the screen or processed by the graphics system. Apparently, the best memory management of Xbox One the game actively used only half of the data loaded into memory. It is usually even less effective.

The answer to this problem is the BCPack compression mechanism operating at the hardware level, which reduces the size of textures in memory, and the Sampler Feedback Streaming mechanism, which makes sure that only those fragments of textures that actually need the game engine reach the operating memory. At the same time, compatibility with game engines that are not optimized for Microsoft's ideas is not broken, although developers can influence it: the data rejected by the algorithm are still at hand in 100 GB SSD cache reserved for this purpose, which acts as an additional, extended RAM. Microsoft calls the whole solution as Velocity architecture.

Okay, but what does it actually mean? Yes, we don't know ... but we can always fantasize!

The architecture used in PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X is something we have never encountered. No console has worked so far on a similar principle, and the motherboards of standardized PCs are based on 30-year-old architecture - so here we did not have the opportunity to understand what such fast storage will provide us with. Microsoft and Sony talk about the instant loading and resuming of games, but - although it is undoubtedly convenient - it is difficult to count as a revolution in video games.

Unfortunately, we have not yet seen any video game written solely for the next generation of consoles - that is, which will be available only on PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, no version for PC or older consoles. How will game developers use this technology and what can change for us players?

Unloading the CPU will obviously free its resources so that it can take care of other tasks. These can be calculations related to the behavior of thousands of virtual extras controlled by artificial intelligence or advanced algorithms working on the realism of some race car simulator.

Fast memory also means you can juggle so-called assets quickly. This means that the game can load more data on the fly much faster, which its creators can use to introduce completely new mechanics and rules. Imagine an aerial shooter in which, after catapulting from the plane, we immediately go to the first-person mode on the ground - without any loading screen or comical simplifications like in the Battlefield games. However, this is only our fantasizing - we'll see how the creators themselves will use this new technology.

Game consoles are exciting again. Something like PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 .

Game consoles often offered players significant advantages over having a gaming PC - once they were integrated circuits accelerating the processing of so-called sprites (i.e. bitmaps) on the screen or operations in 2D graphics in general (do you know how difficult it was to create a Mario clone on a PC, who was no problem on Nintendo consoles?). Even the predecessors of Xbox One and PlayStation 4, thanks to their custom processors, were a piece of interesting technology.

The current generation consoles, unfortunately, turned out to be equipment designed mainly for savings in mass production. Both have created many great games representing a high artistic and technical level - but mainly due to the fantastic work of programmers and software engineers. A mid-range gaming PC will provide much better technical results than PS4 and X1.

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Meanwhile, PS5 and XSX are exciting and interesting again. Not only because of the very fast memory - which many end up comparing them with PCs - but also because of how it was designed and how it will be used. I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to new exclusive games from Sony. Because they will be the first to show us what this innovative architecture has to offer in reality. And I keep my fingers crossed that the success of the new consoles will affect the designers of PCs, whose basic architecture is already very outdated, and above all inefficient.

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PlayStation 5 will be so good that you will have to redesign your PC

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