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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  • SuperStrokey - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    I havnt been following the 360 too much (im a self admitted nintendo fanboy), but will it be backward compatible too? I heard it was still up in the air but as PS3 is going to be and revolution is going to be (bigtime) i would assume that 360 will be too right? Reply
  • ZobarStyl - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    #32 is right: how many games get released for all 3 console with only minor, subtle differences between them? Most of the time, first party stuff is the only major difference between consoles. Very few 3rd party games are held back from the 'slower' consoles; most are just licensing deals (GTA:SA on PS2, for example). And if you look back, of the first party games lineup, XBox didn't have the most compelling of libraries, in my opinion. Reply
  • yacoub - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    imo, the revolution will be a loser in more than just hardware. i can't remember the last time i actually wanted to play any of the exclusive nintendo games. actually, i think for about one day i considered a gamecube for metroid but then i saw it in action at a friend's place and was underwhelmed by the gameplay. forget mario and link, give me splinter cell or gran tourismo or forza or... yeah you get the idea. Reply
  • nserra - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    #27

    If you read the article carefully, you will see that since they are "weaker" pipelines, the 48 will perform like 24 "complete" ones.

    I think with this Ati new design, there will be games where the performance will be much better, equal or worst.
    But that’s the price to pay for complete new designs.

    On paper Ati design is much more advance, in fact reminds the VOODOO2 design where there are more than one chip doing things. I think I prefer some very fancy graphics design over a double all easy solution.
    Reply
  • Taracta - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    With 25.5 Gbs of bandwith to memory, is OoO (Out Of Order processing) necessary? Isn't OoO and its ilk bandwith hiding solutions? I have an issue with regards to Anandtech outlook on the SPPs of the CELL processor (I could be wrong). I consider the SPPs to be full fledge Vector Processors and not just fancy implementation of MMX, SSE, Altivec etc, which seems to be Anandtech's outlook. As full fledge Vector Processors they are orders of magnitude more flexible than that and as Vector Processors comparing them to Scalar Processors is erroneous.

    Another thing, RISC won the war! Don't believe, what do you call a processor with a RISC core with a CISC hardware translator around it? CISC? I think not, it's a RISC processor. x86 did win the procesor war but not by beating them but joining them and by extension CISC loss. Just needed to clear that up. The x86 instruction set won but the old x86 CISC architecture loss. The x86 insrtuction set will always win, fortunately for AMD because the Itanium was to have been their death. No way could they have copied the Itanium in this day and age which come to think of it is very unfortunate.

    From you have the processor the runs x86 the best you will always win. Unless you can get a toehold in the market with something else such as LINUX and CELL!
    Reply
  • CuriousMike - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    If it's a 3rd party game, it won't matter (greatly) which platform you pick, because developers will develop to the least-common-denominator.

    In the current generation, about the best one could hope for is slightly higher-res textures and better framerate on XBOX over ps2/gc.

    IMO, pick your platform based on first-party games/series you're looking forward to. Simple as that.

    Reply
  • Doormat - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    @#22: Yes 1080P is an OFFICIAL ATSC spec. There are 18 different video formats in the ATSC specification. 1080/60P is one of them.

    FWIW, Even the first 1080P TVs coming out this year will *NOT* support 1080P in over HDMI. Why? I dunno. The TVs will upscale everything to 1080P (from 1080i, 720p, etc), but they cant accept input as 1080P. Some TVs will be able to do it over VGA (the Samsung HLR-xx68/78/88s will), but still thats not the highest quality input.
    Reply
  • Pastuch - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    RE: 1080P
    "We do think it was a mistake for Microsoft not to support 1080p, even if only supported by a handful of games/developers."

    I couldnt disagree more. At the current rate of HDTV adoption we'll be lucky if half of the Xbox 360 users have 1280x720 displays by 2010. Think about how long it took for us to get passed 480i. Average Joe doesnt like to buy new TVs very often. Unless 1080P HDTVs drop to $400 or less no one will buy them for a console. We the eger geeks of Anandtech will obviously have 42 widescreen 1080P displays but we are far from the Average Joe.

    RE: Adult Gamers

    Anyone who thinks games are for kids needs a wakeup call. The largest player base of gamers is around 25 years old right now. By 2010 we will be daddys looking for our next source of interactive porn. I see mature sexually oriented gaming taking off around that time. I honestly believe that videogames will have the popularity of television in the next 20 years. I know a ton of people that dont have cable TV but they do have cable internet, a PC, xbox, PS2 and about a million games for each device.
    Reply
  • Pannenkoek - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    #19 fitten: That's the whole point, people pretend that even rotten fruit laying on the ground is "hard" to pick up. It's not simply about restructuring algorithms to accomodate massive parallelism, but also how it will take ages and how no current game could be patched to run multithreaded on a mere dual core system.

    Taking advantage of parallism is a hot topic in computer science as far as I can tell and there are undoubtedly many interesting challanges involved. But that's no excuse for not being able to simply multithread a simple application.

    And before people cry that game engines are comparable to rocket science (pointing to John Carmack's endeavours) and are the bleeding edge technology in software, I'll say that's simply not the reality, and even less an excuse to not be able to take advantage of parallelism.

    Indeed, game developers are not making that excuse and will come with multithreaded games once we have enough dual core processors and when their new games stop being videocard limited. Only Anandtech thinks that multithreading is a serious technical hurdle.

    This and those bloody obnoxious "sponsored links" all through the text of articles are the only serious objections I have towards Anandtech.
    Reply
  • jotch - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    #26 - yeah i know that happens all over but I was just commenting on the fact that the console's market is mainly teens and adults not mainly kids. Reply

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