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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  • jotch - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    #20 well that can't be right for the whole consumer base, as I'm 24 and only know other adults that have consoles and alot of them have flashy tv's for them as well, I do. I think if you look at the market for consoles it is mainly teens and adults that have consoles - not kids. Alot of people I know started with a NES or an Atari 2500, etc and have continued to like games as they have grown up. Why is it that the best selling game has an 18 rating?? (GTA: San Andreas)

    The burning of the screen would be minimal unless you have a game paused for hours and the tv left on - TV technology is moving on and they often turn themselves off if a static image is displayed for an amount of time. So burning shouldn't occur.
    Reply
  • nserra - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    All the people that i know having consoles is kids (80%), and their parents have bought an TV just for the console, an 70€ TV.....

    Who is the parent that will let kids on an LCD or PLASMA (3000€) to play games (burn them).

    Or there will be good 480i "compatibility" in games, or forget it....

    #17 I agree.
    Reply
  • fitten - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    #14 There are a number of issues being discussed.

    For example, given the nature of current AI code, making that code parallel (as in more than one thread executing AI code working together) seems non-trivial. Data dependencies and the very branch heavy code making data dependencies less predictable probably cause headaches here. Sure, one could probably take the simple approach and say one thread for AI, one for physics, one for blah but that has already been discussed by numerous people as a possibility.

    Parallel code comes in many flavors. The parallelism in the graphics card, for instance, is sometimes classified as "embarassingly parallel" which means it's trivial to do. Then there are pipelines (dataflow) which CPUs and GPUs also use. These are usually fairly easy too because the data partitioning is pretty easy. You break out a thread for each overall task that you want to do. You want to do OpA on the data, then OpB, then OpC. All OpB depends on is the output data of OpA and OpC just depends on OpB's final product. Three threads, each one doing an Op on the output of the previous.

    Then there are codes that are quite a bit more complex where, for example, there are numerous threads that all execute on parts of the whole data instead of all of it at once but the solution they are solving for requires many iterations on the data and at the end of each iteration, all the threads exchange data with each other (or just their 'neighbors') so that the next iteration can be performed. These are a bit more work to develop.

    Anyway, I got long-winded anyway. Basically... there are *many* kinds of parallelism and many kinds of algorithms and implementations of parallelism. Some are low hanging fruit and some are non-trivial. Since I've already read that numerous developers for each platform already see low hanging fruit (run one thread for AI, another for physics, etc.) I can only believe they are talking about things that are non-trivial, such as a multithreaded AI engine, for example (again, as opposed to just breaking out the AI engine into one thread seperate from the rest of game play).
    Reply
  • probedb - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    Nice article! I'll wait till they're both out and have a play before I buy either. Last console I bought was an original PlayStation :) But gotta love that hi-def loveliness at last!

    #3 yeah 1080i is interlaced and at such a high res and low refresh the text is really difficult to read, it'd be far better at 1080p I think since that would effectively be the same as 1920x1080 on a normal monitor. 1080i is flickery as hell for me for desktop use but fine for any video and media centre type interfaces on the PC.
    Reply
  • A5 - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    You know, the vast majority of the TVs these systems will be hooked up to will only do 480i (standard TV)... Reply
  • jotch - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    #14 - here here! Reply
  • jotch - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    #10 - sounds to me like they're way ahead of they're time, future-proofing is good as they'll need another 6 years to develop the PS4 - but the Cell and Xenon will force developers to change their ways and will prepare them for the future of developing on PC's that eventually have this kind of CPU chip design (ref intel's chip design future pic on the first page of the article), like the article says the initial round of games will be single threaded etc etc...

    You might get alot of mediocre games but then you should get ones that really shine bright on the PS3, noticeably Unreal 3 and I bet the Gran Turismo (polyphony) guys will put in the effort.
    Reply
  • Pannenkoek - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    I'm quite tired of hearing how difficult it is to develop a multithreaded game. Only pathetic programmers can not grasp the concept of parallel code execution, it's not as if the current CPU/GPU duality does not qualify as one. Reply
  • knitecrow - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    you'll need HDD for online service and MMOP

    how many people are going to buy a $100 HDD if they don't have to?
    Reply
  • LanceVance - Friday, June 24, 2005 - link

    "the PS3 won’t ship with a hard drive"

    If that's true, then will it be like:

    - PS2 Memory Card; non-included but standard equipment required by all games.
    - PS2 Hard Drive; non-included and considered exotic unusual equipment and used by very few games.
    Reply

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