The Sony PlayStation 4 games console shares much of its hardware technology with the personal computer. We take a look at how it compares with a gaming computer in terms of price and performance.
The PS4 uses a graphics processing unit (GPU) based on the Radeon HD 7000 series of PC graphics cards that are designed by AMD. It has 18 compute units with 64 cores per compute unit, giving it a total of 1,152 cores. This gives the PS4 a theoretical peak performance of 1.84 TFLOPS that can be used for graphics, physics simulation or a combination of the two.
There are several known differences between the PS4's GPU and the AMD 7870 PC graphics card upon which it is based. The first is that the PS4 unit has a dedicated 20 GB / s bus bypassing the L1 and L2 GPU cache to allow for direct system memory access. Direct memory access (usually shortened to DMA) in this instance serves to speed up the graphics by reducing the number of processes required.
It also has additional L2 cache support for simultaneous graphical and asynchronous computing tasks thanks to the inclusion of a 'volatile' bit tag. This allows the machine to process graphics and computational code synchronously, without suspending one to be able to run the other.
Finally the console's unit has 64 sources compared to two on the PC unit for compute commands. The purpose of this is to allow for superior game-engine integration for developers when writing games for the console.
The question as to whether a PC is better than a PS4 depends of the way in which you carry out the comparison. In this article we look at the comparison from a cost equal standpoint. In a later article we deal with the comparison on an outright performance basis.
Comparable Costs – PC v PS4
If you look at comparable cost, including the costs of the whole system then the console would easily out perform the computer. A PS4 costs around £ 350 whilst the comparable Radeon 7870 graphics card costs around £ 150, but to this you would need to add the costs of the components to make up the rest of the computer such a motherboard, processor, memory, hard drive, case and software. To build a gaming computer somewhere around the cost of the Sony console you would end up with a system that is compromised on costs grounds at the expenses of performance. This scenario would without doubt leave you with a PC that can not match the console in terms of graphical performance.
There are several reasons why this is the case. The first is that games console has a large advantage due to the lack of a resource hogging operating system such as Windows. A PC needs to be able to do a lot of things, often simultaneously. To allow this, the operating system needs to be comprehensive, often taking a lot of the machines free resources just to run. A console's operating system will be a fraction of a PC or Mac computer, meaning that much more of the available power on a PS4 is free to be devoted to running games. This allows the PlayStation to get away with a lower overall specification while still being able to maintain performance.
The second is that the manufacturers producing consoles often sell at a loss due to the need to gain market share and out sell their rivals. This is especially true at the early stages of a console's life when development costs are being recouped. The PS4 v Xbox One is one of the biggest sales battles in the technology market which looks set to continue for many years to come. It is obviously difficult to compete with a product that is subsidised by its manufacturer.
Cost is not only the consideration when comparing the two. Computer users often have the rest of their system in place so more funds are available to spend on the graphics hardware alone, whilst to some outright performance is the only consideration. Please take a look at our next article, PS4 v PC Graphics Comparison – Part Two, where we consider the outright performance of the PlayStation and personal computer.