There's a new console war brewing, again, but it's going to be quite different from the ones we've seen in the past. The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will be going head-to-head during the 2020 holiday season. And unlike past consoles, where PC gamers have sneered at the lack of power under the hood, these two newcomers are packing some serious chops.
Both consoles will have graphical power on par with a high-end gaming PC.
But relative to each other, is one console technologically superior? And is it going to be in a way that will actually affect your game play experience? To answer we spoke with Ryan Smith over at AnandTech, and we'd like to thank him for his contributions.
To start, let's take a closer look at how each CPU and GPU is designed. Both systems use custom chips based on AMD's RDNA 2 architecture, but the design philosophies behind each one are slightly different. The Xbox Series X generally runs at the same clock frequency all the time, 3.8 gigahertz on the CPU or 3.6 with multi-threading enabled, and 1.825 gigahertz on the GPU.
Unless you're running your system in some sort of insanely hot environment, you shouldn't see any throttling, and the Xbox Series X also has more memory bandwidth and more CPU clock speed headroom than the PlayStation. So clearly, the Xbox is superior, right? Well, maybe not.
The PlayStation 5 has a higher base clock on its GPU, at 2.23 gigahertz, but unlike the Xbox, it's designed to throttle if it's getting hit hard. However, keep in mind that with GPU throttling you don't have to lower the clock by much to keep the chip within its thermal design limits, so you can expect the PS5 to be running at a higher clock most of the time.
So, here's what this might end up meaning for you, the gamer. Those higher clocks on the PlayStation 5 will favor high polygon counts, think about highly-detailed character models, for example. However, the Xbox Series X, with its greater overall performance and consistency, might enable slightly nicer visual effects, which are driven more by the shader, the part of the GPU largely responsible for applying effects to pixels and vertices. A good example of this is the shimmering effect you see in games that try to replicate real-world heat distortion you'd see on a hot day.
Ultimately, which game will look better on which console will depend on what the developer is trying to emphasize visually. But let's change gears here for a bit and talk about storage, which is radically different on both of these new machines than on past generations' consoles. Gone are the days of consoles shipping with slow mechanical hard drives. Not only do both the Xbox Series X and the PS5 come with solid state drives, they use NVMe SSDs for huge amounts of storage bandwidth. Indeed, the PS5 will have 5.5 gigabytes per second of storage bandwidth, compared to 2.4 for the Xbox. That's less than half.
Regardless though, both systems will still have storage quick enough to enable rapid switching between multiple games, so you can pause one and quickly jump to another that you're also in the middle of, for some reason, as the memory contents of the game you are pausing can quickly be dumped to the SSD then reloaded once you've resumed playing.
The advantage that the PS5 might have here could be most noticeable when playing games with very high-resolution textures and assets. The higher memory bandwidth might enable them to load more quickly to avoid popping, where objects just seem to appear out of thin air.
The PS5 will also allow you to expand its storage with standard NVMe drives, meaning you could just go buy an M.2 SSD and slot it into your system. But there's a caveat, you need a PCI Express 4.0 compatible drive. The Xbox, on the other hand, will also support expandable storage, but it's proprietary.
However, you'll get the added convenience of being able to slot in the additional storage from the outside of the console. And you'll probably be able to get your hands on these mini-drives much more quickly.
So, the answer as to what console should you get isn't cut and dry at this point, as it never is. And of course there's a lot more to talk about than just processors and storage, so let us know if you'd like to talk about things like ray tracing, controllers, online play, insulting other people's moms, all these things. And whichever way you go, remember, they don't come out until late this year, so PCs are pretty cool too.