Although I believe this to be all well and great for the console gamers, I’d like to highlight a different perspective on it, the PC gamers perspective, let’s start with a bit of history!
–Warning: This post has been written very much from my (a PC gamer) perspective!
First some history, the first mainstream consoles
Way back in the day when Quindor was stil a little boy, there already was a separation between “computer” gamers and “console” gamers. You had the original Nintendo Entertainment System and in some form or another the Sega Master system. These where the consoles to have those days.
The original Nintendo Entertainment System
But already there was a different group of gamers emerging, the one’s who didn’t own a console. Those where the people who had a “real” computer such as the Philips MSX(2) or Commodore 64. These computers where multi-purpose and could run any kind of program, which also included games.
Specification wise it’s hard to say who was best (Between the consoles and computers or even within the same genre). But looking back I remember a clear separation between the computer gamers and the console gamers.
At that time those two didn’t influence each other too much because both “platforms” had different it’s own kind of games and especially the consoles had their own unique titles which could never be played on another console let alone a MSX or C64 (we’re not going to talk about unofficial clones).
Forwarding time a little bit
In computer land, people had upgraded to either Commodore Amiga’s or PC’s. The Personal Computers as we know now a days where all hip and happening but graphically it couldn’t match anything the Amiga or the console generation of that time could put on the screen. The PC wasn’t really a gaming platform but it did have some unique games like Space Quest and SimCity and other games which just worked better with a keyboard and mouse instead of a game controller.
Later on, the PC would start playing catch-up to the consoles with better graphic card add-ons, better sound card add-ons, better game controllers, faster processors, well, just about everything. The PC kept upgrading at an insane pace, doubling it’s performance roughly every two years.
After a while the PC got titles like Doom or Commander Keen which where very solid games in it’s own right.
So now the PC could produce nice color graphics and had good sound too. The next revolution I remember came about around 1995/1996!
Moving on, 3D Graphics became the norm
Around 1995/1996 is when 3D graphics got introduced. This left things like the Amiga (which had some pseudo 3D graphics but nothing really up to par anymore) completely in the dust.
In 1996 the 3DFX VooDoo 1 was introduced for the PC and with it came revolutionary 3D graphics. Suddenly this PC which would only do 2D was able to run fully fledged 3D games! We had games like Wolfenstein or Doom before, but this was a whole different level all together!
The VooDoo 1 add-on card with VGA pass-through!
Consoles that could do the same where introduced around the same time (Let’s not talk about Nintendo Star Fox with separate processors in the cartridge). Nintendo presented the Nintendo 64 and Sega introduced their Sega Saturn and a new competitor showed up, the Sony Playstation!
Sony Playstation 1
All of these new innovations hit the market roughly within a years time and games where changed in a big way. Everyone was pushing 3D graphics. And although PC’s had 3D graphics, this was still an expensive add-on board, together with your sound card, etc. so consoles where the way to play your games.
A few years later Sega tried again with their Sega Dreamcast, a console I played a lot of Soul Calibur on but never really took off for them.
Another new player joins a new generation
Forward a few years again and Sega is basically dead in the water. Three grand powers remain and those are Nintendo and Sony. But wait, I said three, yes, because during this time Microsoft introduced their Xbox console!
So now we had the Sony Playstation 2 and the Microsoft Xbox directly gunning for each other in performance and features they possessed. Nintendo couldn’t follow their graphic prowess. They released the Nintendo Gamecube. And while it did alright, total units sold was nowhere near what Sony and Microsoft managed.
But another big competitor was still alive a kicking and gaining A LOT of ground. The PC Master race was also born around this time!
No longer was the personal computer regarded as a glorified spreadsheet machine which could also play some games or do 3D with some add-on cards. No, while the console manufacturers where battling each other the PC’s kept evolving year and after year. Gaining more power with each generation, not only CPU wise, but the term GPU was now very much a thing and these where getting faster with 6 month releases doubling performance each time!
It also didn’t require a separate add-on card anymore, you now bought a graphics card (you need at least 1 ;)) and it had a certain 3D power that came with it. Sound card where also integrated into the mainboard so became a standard component.
A rift starts appearing
This is also the start I believe where the capabilities of a decent PC would completely overpower the hardware that was in that generation of gaming consoles. A high-end PC now had a multitudes of the power of a gaming console and even a mainstream PC had 2x the performance the console could ever hope for.
Awesome games where getting released for the PC and it was even starting to get it’s own genre of games the consoles couldn’t quite compete with because of the keyboard and mouse and readily available network connection.
Still, consoles weren’t dead by a long shot! They touted their own unique features such as perfectly optimized games for the hardware, click and play (no crashes or other nonsense to deal with), special controller gimmicks or karaoke and everyone uses the same controller so it’s more “fair”, etc.
At the end of this generation, a problem for PC gamers started to arise though. Game developers wanted to sell their games to all the crowds, console and PC gamer alike. But consoles where stuck with the hardware they where sold with, never evolving.
2 big powers survive
Fast forwarding to the third generation of consoles we have the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii. Power was up a lot over the previous generations but the “Create one game and release it for both the Consoles and the PC” strategy was hitting a giant wall.
Playstation 3 vs Xbox 360
The Xbox 360 and PS3 where introduced with hardware on par or even a bit slower then a mainstream PC when they came out. Forward one year and the PC hardware in general was now 2x if not 3x as fast as the current generation consoles with high-end systems peaking much higher.
In the beginning this was not so much of a problem. Game developers had switched from targeting the PC as their main platform to targeting the consoles (The Xbox 360 and PS3 where close enough in performance to be considered equally as powerful) and they would port the same game to the PC and it would look ok.
First signs of a real problem
But this console generation lasted about 7 to 8 years! By that time PC’s had completely overtaken the “stuck in time” console hardware and even an average low power PC was a lot more powerful then the consoles. But game developers where still targeting console hardware during development.
The console development target problem appears
As you’ve probably been able to figure out reading up until this point, I’m mostly a PC gamer. I enjoy upgrading my PC ever 2 years or so and gaining the benefits of massively enhanced performance and capabilities that comes with it (such as a better graphics).
But ever since the end of the PS2/Xbox and start of the PS3/Xbox 360 era this wasn’t happening as it was before anymore. Upgrading my graphics card to one with 4x the performance didn’t really make the games look that much better.
This started becoming a real problem and actually, for me, meant I would not buy some really shitty ported to PC console titles because of really low res textures (the consoles where stuck with 256 to 512MB texture RAM while the PC had anywhere from 1GB to 4GB).
Yes PC only titles where still being released and those where awesome and make full use of what PC’s had to offer. But let’s say about 75% of game developers where targeting consoles and delivering really crappy PC versions of the same game.
Sometimes the same game would get released on PC 6 months or even 1 year later then their console counterpart and just look average. It would be resolution locked, no vsync, 30FPS locked or other idiotic nonsense making is basically unplayable.
The current generation, same problem
Forwarding a bit again we now have the Microsoft Xbox One and the Sony Playstation 4. Both are basically low powered PC’s in a console looking chassis. But that is fine, I can see how that made sense economically.
Oh, and there is also a Nintendo Wii U but it doesn’t really compete with the other two graphics wise.
Again the hardware inside of these consoles was much less powerful then what an mainstream PC could deliver. Games got better and more pretty because of the new power on the consoles, but for PC gamers, nothing really changed.
The lack of gaming console power quickly became apparent when even this brand spanking new generation of consoles couldn’t run 1080p games at 60FPS or even at 30FPS! After a while most game developers started to use lower resolutions such as 720p and other trickery to get the most out of the hardware possible to produce a decently looking game. These consoles have very limiting hardware and have since been passed by PC’s several times again!
Why are consoles so far behind?
As a PC gamer, I’ve been gaming on 1440p for a while so this was just a laughable joke really. Even mainstream graphic cards could play any of these games at 1080p with the same level of details and a lot better too!
And while this new generation of consoles did fix the texture issue of the previous consoles (This new generation had 8GB of RAM!) other more advanced features or raw power the PC’s have but the consoles don’t still where not being properly utilized because the consoles wouldn’t be able to do the same.
Some game developers had seen the light though and are now using or creating game engines which scale a lot better between the capabilities of the current console generation and a high end PC! But this involves a lot of extra cost, customizing the engine for each console AND the PC.
Current consoles have between 1.4 to 1.8 teraflops of graphics performance while the recently introduced NVidia GTX1080 has about 9.0! On average that is about 5 to 6 times faster. And yes, while it’s the current flagship in PC graphics performance, within 2 years this performance will be mainstream again and consoles will still be stuck at their original performance for at least 4 to 5 years, just like had happened in the past.
Introducing the Xbox Scorpio and the PS4 Neo!
So over the last few days, details have surfaced about the Microsoft Xbox One Scorpio and the Sony Playstation 4 Neo. I’m guessing both companies have realized that their current generation consoles are really under powered (they started off like that) and will become a problem with the new technologies emerging.
They are selling it as an “upgrade” to the current generation without really being an upgrade. Current generation users won’t be left behind and everyone will be able to play the same games. Yeah right, nobody is going to believe that right? This is just a new generation of consoles but they don’t dare admit it.
This generation wasn’t able to run 1080p at decent frame rates (For most games) so doing anything like 4K or VR is just completely out of the question. And those two features is just about anything anyone in the industry it talking about this year! If consoles would not be able to take advantage of these features consoles would be left behind and sales would plummet. (Or so I believe their reasoning went and I can kind of agree with that)
The solution? Introduce new consoles and act like nothing weird happened 😉
Not much is known about the specifications of these new consoles. From what I’ve been able to gather, we know around which time they are going to be introduced.
Looking at another recent introduction, the NVidia GTX1080, this card is touted as the first single card being capable of 4K at a good level of detail AND frame rate. We see modern games such as battlefield or the new doom running at High levels with consistent 60FPS frame rates. But this card has 9 teraflops of performance!
Comparing another number, the memory bandwidth, the GTX1080 and the Xbox One Scorpio are touting the same 320GB/sec of bandwidth. But NVidia uses some proprietary techniques to compress bandwidth, and by their own statement this lowers requirements or rather enhances available bandwidth by 1.6 times. Without these techniques they would need (a lot) more bandwidth. Currently AMD does not have comparable techniques available and since both the Xbox One and PS4 are using AMD chips it will be interesting to see how they are going to manage to tackle this hurdle.
Is it fast enough?
The only real answer to that question is, time will tell. But, we can do some educated guessing! 😉
I’m saying it now, 6.0 teraflops with 320GB/sec of memory bandwidth is NOT enough to run 4K games well. Yes console optimizations will give better results then a PC with comparable specifications, but not by more then 50% as would be needed. Limiting games to 30FPS could relieve some of the requirements a bit, but I already consider that a no-go compromise in my opinion.
It will however be enough to run VR at decent frame rates and resolution! Basically, the Xbox One Scorpio is currently 1 generation behind top level PC graphics now, and will be 2 generations behind when it’s released. That’s very decent, and as currently deemed more then fast enough for a “premium” VR experience with the Oculus rift of HTC Vive.
To me, it also seems like the PS4 Neo is more geared towards delivering a good VR experience then full blown 4K which Microsoft seems to be aiming for!
Currently both consoles are using a Jaguar based 8 core AMD APU (Integrated CPU and GPU) design. It will be interesting to see how both consoles are going to achieve this giant leap in performance needed.
From what I understand, CPU performance won’t be increased a lot and probably the current 8 cores is providing a decent level of performance for the games. Most likely, we’ll see a frequency bump (because of a smaller die process) but nothing revolutionary.
Graphics wise though, it will need an increase of several magnitudes (for the Xbox One Scorpio at least).
Sony Playstation 4 Neo
I think the PS4 Neo will use the same jaguar processor cores clocked a bit higher combined with a AMD Polaris 10 graphics card on one motherboard. So no more APU because currently there just isn’t a way of creating one that fast. The resulting performance will be between 4.0 and 5.0 teraflops I expect.
From an availability standpoint this is all available right now. They will need to design a board and a console around it but this technology is out there and readily available. Since the current design is basically a PC design already it’s relatively easy to build and will remain compatible with all current games without issue.
Using the above mentioned components should also fit very well within the power constraints a living room console has to work within.
Microsoft Xbox One Scorpio
The Xbox One Scorpio will most likely be using a much newer design. I expect it to either switch to a Quad Intel CPU with a dedicated GPU but more likely is a 4 to 8 core AMD ZEN design.
Since they have a lot more time available to them they might opt for something more advanced and create some kind of hybrid AMD HBM integrated APU design. Basically creating a super APU compared to the current version.
AMD has the know how and while ZEN is not available yet, it should be so before the end of the year. If it can combine some AMD ZEN with AMD Vega goodness and slap HBM memory on there it won’t be cheap but it will be a complete beast!
How is this great news for PC gamers?
So finally, how is this a good thing for PC gamers?
Well, instead of consoles being stuck with the current generation of below 2 teraflops performance for another 4 to 5 years they are getting a refresh now. The bar is getting raised after just 3 years!
And not by a little bit either, if the Xbox One Scorpio is really going to have 6 teraflops of power that’s a 4.28x time improvement over the current Xbox One! That’s HUGE! That is at least as much as the last generational jump (PS3 to PS4 and Xbox 360 to Xbox One) but probably even more then that was!
“Enhanced console” yeah right, this is a generational jump like any we’ve seen before!
But what does that really mean for the PC gamer? I suspect that game developers will start targeting this higher performance target for their new games. And if they are developing a multiplatform game which will be available on both PC and console this directly translates to getting better PC graphics!
Creating a game engine which can use 1.2 or 5.8 teraflops of performance effectively is really hard. And what has happened is that they target 1.2 teraflops and “add some bling” for anything that can handle more. Resulting is very mediocre PC graphics we’ve seen in the past (Again, dedicated or targeted PC titles excluded!).
But targeting say ~5 teraflops (expected PS4 Neo) and scaling it to 6 teraflops is a lot easier. In about a year 6 will be the number available on the Xbox One Scorpio AND mainstream (~200$ graphic card) PC’s!
This also ties in nicely with the new Microsoft strategy of having Xbox One games also run on Windows 10. If both platforms have mainstream performance levels of around 6 teraflops, that’s an easy thing to do!
Available graphics memory has also synchronized a lot more between consoles and PC lately. But I suspect the Xbox One Scorpio and the PS4 Neo will both have more memory to be able to handle the bigger 4K framebuffer and textures required at that resolution. This should again scale nicely with what is available on PC’s right now.
After reading this post (which got way too long), what does it all mean?
I’m hoping all this means we will be getting better PC graphics utilizing the performance that’s been available on PC’s historically all along. One common design targets for graphics performance will be beneficial for all partiti es involved. And in this case I’m hoping we’ll see awesome games get released for consoles and PC’s alike!
Hopefully, after this upcoming generation of consoles it won’t take another 6 to 7 years to see improvements, I like these 3 year incremental console improvements!