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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  • 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
  • expletive - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    "If you’re wondering whether or not there is a tangible image quality difference between 1080p and 720p, think about it this way - 1920 x 1080 looks better on a monitor than 1280 x 720, now imagine that blown up to a 36 - 60” HDTV - the difference will be noticeable. "

    This statement should be further qualified. There is only a tangible benefit to 1080p if the display device is native 1080p resolution. Otherwise, the display itself will scale the image down to its native resolution (i.e. 720p for most DLP televisions). If youre display is native 720p then youre better off outputting 720p becuase all that extra processing is being wasted.

    There are only a handful of TVs that support native 1080p right now and they are all over $5k.

    These points are really important when discussing the real-world applications of 1080p for a game console. The people using this type of device (a $300 game console) are very different then those that go out and buy 7800GTX cards the first week they are released. Based on my reading in the home theater space, less than 10% of the people that own a PS3 will be able to display 1080p natively during its lifecycle (5 years).

    Also, can someone explain how the Xenos unified shaders was distelled from 48 down to 24 in this article? That didnt quite make sense to me...

    John
    Reply
  • nserra - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    I was on the supermarket, and there was a kid (12year old girl) buying the game that you mention with the daddy that know sh*t about games, and about looking for the 18 year old logo.

    Maybe if they put a pen*s on the box instead of the carton girl, some dads will then know the difference between a game for 8 year old and an 18.

    #21 I don’t know about your country, but this is what happen in mine and not only with games.
    Reply
  • knitecrow - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    would you be able to tell the difference at Standard resolution?

    instead of drawing more pixels on the screen, the revolution can use that processing power and/or die space for other functions... e.g. shaders

    If the revolution opts to pick an out-of-order processor, something like PPC970FX, i don't see why i can't be competitive.


    But seriously, all speculation aside, the small form factor limits the ammount of heat components can put out, and the processing power of the system.
    Reply
  • perseus3d - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    --"Sony appears to have the most forward-looking set of outputs on the PlayStation 3, featuring two HDMI video outputs. There is no explicit support for DVI, but creating a HDMI-to-DVI adapter isn’t too hard to do. Microsoft has unfortunately only committed to offering component or VGA outputs for HD resolutions."--

    Does that mean, as it stands now, the PS3 will require an adapter to be played on an LCD Monitor, and the X360 won't be able to be used with an LCD Monitor with DVI?
    Reply
  • Dukemaster - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    At least we know Nintendo's Revolution is the lozer when it comes to pure power. Reply
  • freebst - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    I just wanted to remind everyone that 1080P at 60 Frames isn't even an approved ATSC Signal. 1080P at 30 and 24 frames is, but not 60. 1280x720 can run at 60, 30, and 24 that is unless you are running at 50 or 25 frames/sec in Europe. Reply

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