The point of a gaming console is to play games.  The PC user in all of us wants to benchmark, overclock and upgrade even the unreleased game consoles that were announced at E3, but we can’t.  And these sorts of limits are healthy, because it lets us have a system that we don’t tinker with, that simply performs its function and that is to play games. 

The game developers are the ones that have to worry about which system is faster, whose hardware is better and what that means for the games they develop, but to us, the end users, whether the Xbox 360 has a faster GPU or the PlayStation 3’s CPU is the best thing since sliced bread doesn’t really matter.  At the end of the day, it is the games and the overall experience that will sell both of these consoles.  You can have the best hardware in the world, but if the games and the experience aren’t there, it doesn’t really matter. 

Despite what we’ve just said, there is a desire to pick these new next-generation consoles apart.  Of course if the games are all that matter, why even bother comparing specs, claims or anything about these next-generation consoles other than games?  Unfortunately, the majority of that analysis seems to be done by the manufacturers of the consoles, and fed to the users in an attempt to win early support, and quite a bit of it is obviously tainted. 

While we would’ve liked this to be an article on all three next-generation consoles, the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Revolution, the fact of the matter is that Nintendo has not released any hardware details about their next-gen console, meaning that there’s nothing to talk about at this point in time.  Leaving us with two contenders: Microsoft’s Xbox 360, due out by the end of this year, and Sony’s PlayStation 3 due out in Spring 2006. 

This article isn’t here to crown a winner or to even begin to claim which platform will have better games, it is simply here to answer questions we all have had as well as discuss these new platforms in greater detail than we have before. 

Before proceeding with this article, there’s a bit of required reading to really get the most out of it.  We strongly suggest reading through our Cell processor article, as well as our launch coverage of the PlayStation 3.  We would also suggest reading through our Xbox 360 articles for background on Microsoft’s console, as well as an earlier piece published on multi-threaded game development.  Finally, be sure that you’re fully up to date on the latest GPUs, especially the recently announced NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX as it is very closely related to the graphics processor in the PS3. 

This article isn’t a successor to any of the aforementioned pieces, it just really helps to have an understanding of everything we’ve covered before - and since we don’t want this article to be longer than it already is, we’ll just point you back there to fill in the blanks if you find that there are any. 

Now, on to the show...

A Prelude on Balance

The most important goal of any platform is balance on all levels.  We’ve seen numerous examples of what architectural imbalances can do to performance, having too little cache or too narrow of a FSB can starve high speed CPUs of data they need to perform.  GPUs without enough memory bandwidth can’t perform anywhere near their peak fillrates, regardless of what they may be.  Achieving a balanced overall platform is a very difficult thing on the PC, unless you have an unlimited budget and are able to purchase the fastest components.  Skimping on your CPU while buying the most expensive graphics card may leave you with performance that’s marginally better, or worse, than someone else with a more balanced system with a faster CPU and a somewhat slower GPU. 

With consoles however, the entire platform is designed to be balanced out of the box, as best as the manufacturer can get it to be, while still remaining within the realm of affordability.  The manufacturer is responsible for choosing bus widths, CPU architectures, memory bandwidths, GPUs, even down to the type of media that will be used by the system - and most importantly, they make sure that all elements of the system are as balanced as can be. 

The reason this article starts with a prelude on balance is because you should not expect either console maker to have put together a horribly imbalanced machine.  A company who is already losing money on every console sold, will never put faster hardware in that console if it isn’t going to be utilized thanks to an imbalance in the platform.  So you won’t see an overly powerful CPU paired with a fill-rate limited GPU, and you definitely won’t see a lack of bandwidth to inhibit performance.  What you will see is a collection of tools that Microsoft and Sony have each, independently, put together for the game developer.  Each console has its strengths and its weaknesses, but as a whole, each console is individually very well balanced.  So it would be wrong to say that the PlayStation 3’s GPU is more powerful than the Xbox 360’s GPU, because you can’t isolate the two and compare them in a vacuum, how they interact with the CPU, with memory, etc... all influences the overall performance of the platform. 

The Consoles and their CPUs
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  • tipoo - Wednesday, August 06, 2014 - link

    "RSX is easily far more then four times the speed of the GPU in the XBox."

    It's funny reading these comments years later, and seeing how crazy the PS3 hype machine was. I assume this insane comment reffered to the 1 terraflop RSX thing, which was a massive joke. RSX was worse than Xenon not only in raw gflops (180 vs over 200 I think), but since it didn't have unified shaders it could be bottlenecked by a scene having too much vertex or pixel effects and leaving shaders underused.
    Reply
  • calimero - Sunday, June 26, 2005 - link

    Here is one tip about Cell:
    to play MP3 files (stereo) on PC you need 100MHz 486 CPU. Atari Falcon030 with MC68030 (16MHz) and DSP (32MHz) can do same thing!
    Everyone who know to program will find Cell outstanding and thrilling everyone else who pretend to be a programer please continue to waste CPU cycles with your shity code!
    Reply
  • coolme - Sunday, June 26, 2005 - link

    "Supporting 1080p x2 may seem like overkill,"

    It's not gonna support 1080p x2

    "One thing is for sure, support for two 1080p outputs in spanning mode (3840 x 1080) on the PS3 is highly unrealistic. At that resolution, the RSX would be required to render over 4 megapixels per frame, without a seriously computation bound game it’s just not going to happen at 60 fps." -- Quote from page 10
    Reply
  • nevermind4711 - Sunday, June 26, 2005 - link

    People have different ways of expressing the frequency of DDRAM. The correct memory frequency of 7800GTX is 256MB/256-bit GDDR3 at 600MHz, but as it is double rate some people say 1200 MHz.

    In the same way you can say the RSX memory is operating at 1400 MHz. How else could 128 bit result in a memory bandwidth of 22 GB/s for the RTX?

    #64 knitecrow, who is your source that the RSX does not contain e-dram, or is it just speculation?

    Besides, your conclusion from extrapolating the transistor count may be correct, but assuming the transistor count is proportional to the number of pixel pipelines is a rather big simplification, there is quite a lot of other stuff inside a GPU as well, stuff that does not scale proportionally to the pixel pipelines.
    Reply
  • Furen - Sunday, June 26, 2005 - link

    The RSX is supposed to be clocked higher but will only have a 700MHz, 128bit memory bus (as opposed to the 1200MHz, 256bit memory bus on the 7800gtx). Reply
  • knitecrow - Saturday, June 25, 2005 - link

    #61
    too bad you don't speak marketing.
    When they say near.. it means very close. Could be slightly under or over. If it was something like 320M... they will be hyp3ing 320M.


    #62 too bad you are wrong

    with 300M transistors, the RSX is a native 24 pixel pipeline card

    You can extrapolate the number by looking at:
    6800ultra - 16 - 222M
    6600GT - 8 - 144M

    it has no eDRAM.

    The features remain to be seen, but its going to be a G70 derivate -- just like XGPU for the xbox was a geforce3 derivative.

    There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the RSX is going to be more powerful than 7800GTX.

    Just because a product comes out later doesn't make it better

    Exhibit A:
    Radeon 9700pro vs. 5800ultra

    Reply
  • Darkon - Saturday, June 25, 2005 - link

    http://www.psinext.com/index.php?categoryid=3&... Reply
  • Dukemaster - Saturday, June 25, 2005 - link

    I think it is very clear why the RSX gpu has the same number of transistors but still is more powerfull then the 7800GTX: the 7800GTX is a chip with 32 pipelines with 8 of them turned off. Reply
  • nevermind4711 - Saturday, June 25, 2005 - link

    Interesting article. However, I find it strange that Anand and Derek do not comment on the difference in floating point capacity between the combatants. 1 TFlops for X360 vs. 2 TFlops for PS3. For X360 we know that the majority of flops come from the GPU, where probably the big part consists of massively paralell compare ops and such coming from the AA- and filtering circuitry integrated with the e-DRAM.
    It would be very interesting to know how the RSX provides 1.8 TFlops. I do not think the G70 has a capacity anything near that. Could it be possible that Sony will bring some e-DRAM to the party together with AA and filtering circuitry similar to X360. After all Sony has quite some experience of e-DRAM from PS2 and PSP.
    Anand and Derek wrote "Both the G70 and the RSX share the same estimated transistor count, of approximately 300.4 million transistors." Where do this information come from? Sony only said in its presentation the RSX will have 300+ mil t:s. G70 we now know contains 302 mil t:s.
    #48: Sony may very well have replaced some video en/de-coding circuitry of the G70 with some e-dram circuitry.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, August 06, 2014 - link

    That was such bullshit. RSX was worth under 200Gflops, Cell about the same and much harder to extract that much from, Xenos was over 200, Xenon was around 100. Nothing was near the terraflop range except in marketing bullspeak. Reply

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