Subject: General Tech, Systems | August 2, 2013 - 11:48 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, ps4
Toys "R" Us received attention by listing launch dates for both next generation consoles on their retail website. The Xbox One is rumored to launch on November 29th, which is Black Friday for North Americans, and the PlayStation 4 on December 13th. The two console manufacturers refused to confirm these dates.
Then, something odd happened: a Toys "R" Us spokesperson allegedly contacted BT Games to assert their listing was provided by vendors of Microsoft and Sony.
You know, a giraffe has a long and easily accessible neck.
Most of the time, I cringe at placeholder information on store product pages. WiiU titles, prior to launch, were tagged with a list price of $99 at multiple sites; I have seen Unreal Tournament 2007 listed with a January 5th 2007 release date... and kept this incorrect date for, as I remember, about 6 months after it passed.
How many expected release dates have you seen for Duke Nukem Forever?
Even with the source, I cannot wrap my head around two Friday console launches. Tuesdays and Sundays have been more typical, I assume due to existing distribution for movies and games, which boggles me about why both would, independently, choose Friday.
I will remain skeptical until official word, or a leaked promotional image, confirms or denies this. My real point, I guess, is how retailers seem to have a policy of made-up placeholder dates and prices. Frankly, I tend to feel better citing an anonymous source.
Subject: General Tech | July 20, 2013 - 02:39 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: ps4, pc gaming, amd
The last ten years were somewhat hostile to PC gamers: DRM forced us into an arms race with companies we were trying to purchase services from; our versions were ported often late and carelessly; and we were told, repetitively, that our money was not relevant to real business-or-something-like-that. The rise of Steam aside, the whole last generation became the mullet of video game history...
Console in the front; PC in the back; console in the front; PC in the back.
The next generation at least demonstrates promise for our platform as we cross the blurry divide. Small and Indie studios push new concepts, and even new business models, almost always with the PC forefront. The growth of mobile, whether cutting into computer sales or not, are often designed abstracted from native hardware which allow software like Bluestacks to include the PC and pave the way toward development in completely open, abstract platforms, such as standards-compliant web browsers.
We will also experience a rebirth, due in part to AMD and their role in the upcoming console architectures, of games developed first on the PC and later ported to other platforms. The Crew, developed by Ubisoft Reflections, is the sum of a large repository of Windows, finally 64-bit, Direct3D 11 source code. From there, the PlayStation 4 version is derived.
Eurogamer goes into remarkable depth about certain aspects of the PS4 architecture and the process of bringing a PC title to its transistors. For instance, we were confused during Sony's announcement about the logistics of attaching Jaguar cores to a unified GDDR5-based memory system. The Eurogamer column, which draws reference to an earlier ExtremeTech editorial suggesting three possible block diagrams describing PS4 memory interfaces, more-than-suggests asymmetry between access rates across the alleged two four-core CPU modules, GPU, and system memory.
Image Credit, ExtremeTech via Eurogamer
As an interesting side-note: it turns out that just 6 cores will be available to developers, the remaining two are reserved for operating system usage.
It is good to see the PC leading the charge, genuinely this time, into what video games will eventually become. Feel free to market to other platforms as there will be no discrimination against your interested from my direction. So long as my dollars are respected when I decide their best use is for your product, I will be a satisfied customer.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | May 27, 2013 - 03:08 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, ps4, consolitis, consoles
So, as Wired editorial states it: hardcore console gamers don't want much, just the impossible. They want a "super-powered box" tethered to their TV; they want the blockbuster epics and innovative indie titles; they want it to "just work" for what they do. The author, Chris Kohler, wrote his column to demonstrate how this is, and has for quite some time been, highly unprofitable.
I think the bigger problem is that the console manufacturers want the impossible.
Console manufacturers have one goal: get their platform in your house and require their hand be in the pocket of everything you do with it. They need to make an attractive device for that to be true, so they give it enough power to legitimately impress the potential buyer and price it low enough to catch the purchasing impulse. Chances are this involves selling the box under cost at launch and for quite some time after.
But, if all of this juicy control locks the user into overspending in the long run, then it is worth it...
But Microsoft should be thankful that I cost them money to be acquired as a customer.
Well, looking at the Wired article, not only are console gamers ultimately overspending: it is still not enough! Consoles truly benefit no-one! The console manufacturers are not doing any more than maybe breaking even, at some point, eventually, down the line, they hope. Microsoft and Sony throw obnoxious amounts of money against one another in research, development, and marketing. Redundant technologies are formed to pit against their counterparts with billions spent in marketing to try to prove why either choice is better.
All of this money is spent to corral users into a more expensive experience where they can pocket the excess.
Going back to the editorial's claims: with all of this money bleeding out, Microsoft wants to appeal more broadly and compensate the loss with more cash flowing in. Sure, Microsoft has wanted a foothold in the living room for decades at this point, but the Xbox Division bounces between profitability and huge losses; thus, they want to be an entertainment hub if just for the cash alone.
But think back to the start, these troubles are not because it is impossible to satisfy hardcore gamers. These troubles are because Microsoft and Sony cannot generate revenue from their acquired control quicker than they can bleed capital away trying to acquire that control, or at least generate it more than just barely fast enough.
The other solution, which I have felt for quite some time is the real answer (hence why I am a PC gamer), has a large group of companies create an industry body who governs an open standard. Each company can make a substantial profit by focusing on a single chunk of the platform -- selling graphics processors, maintaining a marketplace, or what-have-you -- by leveraging the success of every other chunk.
This model does work, and it is the basis for one of humanity's most successful technology products: the internet.
As a side note: this is also why PC gaming was so successful... Microsoft, developers, Steam/GoG/other marketplaces, and hardware vendors were another version of this... albeit Microsoft had the ability to override them and go in whatever direction they wanted. They didn't, until Windows RT.
And the internet might even be the solution. The web browser is capable, today, of providing amazing gaming experiences and it does not even require a plugin. It is getting more powerful, even faster than the rate at which underlying hardware has evolved.
To end on an ironic note, that makes a web browser more capable of offline play than our current understanding of the Xbox One (and Sony has said nothing either way, for that matter).
I guess the takeaway message is: love the web browser, it "just works".
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Systems | May 23, 2013 - 06:40 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, unreal engine, ps4, playstation 4, epic games
Unreal Engine 4 was presented at the PlayStation 4 announcement conference through a new Elemental Demo. We noted how the quality seemed to have dropped in the eight months following E3 while the demo was being ported to the console hardware. The most noticeable differences were in the severely reduced particle counts and the non-existent fine lighting details; of course, Epic pumped the contrast in the PS4 version which masked the lack of complexity as if it were a stylistic choice.
Still, the demo was clearly weakened. The immediate reaction was to assume that Epic Games simply did not have enough time to optimize the demo for the hardware. That is true to some extent, but there are theoretical limits on how much performance you can push out of hardware at 100% perfect utilization.
Now that we know both the PS4 and, recently, the Xbox One: it is time to dissect more carefully.
A recent LinkedIn post from EA Executive VP and CTO, Rajat Taneja, claims that the Xbox One and PS4 are a generation ahead of highest-end PC on the market. While there are many ways to interpret that statement, in terms of raw performance that statement is not valid.
As of our current knowledge, the PlayStation 4 contains an eight core AMD "Jaguar" CPU with an AMD GPU containing 18 GCN compute units, consisting of a total of 1152 shader units. Without knowing driving frequencies, this chip should be slightly faster than the Xbox One's 768 shader units within 12 GCN compute units. The PS4 claims their system has a total theoretical 2 teraFLOPs of performance and the Xbox One would almost definitely be slightly behind that.
Back in 2011, the Samaritan Demo was created by Epic Games to persuade console manufacturers. This demo was how Epic considered the next generation of consoles to perform. They said, back in 2011, that this demo would theoretically require 2.5 teraFLOPs of performance for 30FPS at true 1080p; ultimately their demo ran on the PC with a single GTX 680, approximately 3.09 teraFLOPs.
This required performance, (again) approximately 2.5 teraFLOPs, is higher than what is theoretically possible for the consoles, which is less than 2 teraFLOPs. The PC may have more overhead than consoles, but the PS4 and Xbox One would be too slow even with zero overhead.
Now, of course, this does not account for reducing quality where it will be the least noticeable and other cheats. Developers are able to reduce particle counts and texture resolutions in barely-noticeable places; they are also able to render below 1080p or even below 720p, as was the norm for our current console generation, to save performance for more important things. Perhaps developers might even use different algorithms which achieve the same, or better, quality for less computation at the expense of more sensitivity to RAM, bandwidth, or what-have-you.
But, in the end, Epic Games did not get the ~2.5 teraFLOPs they originally hoped for when they created the Samaritan Demo. This likely explains, at least in part, why the Elemental Demo looked a little sad at Sony's press conference: it was a little FLOP.
Update, 5/24/2013: Mark Rein of Epic Games responds to the statement made by Rajat Taneja of EA. While we do not know his opinion on consoles... we know his opinion on EA's opinion:
— Mark Rein (@MarkRein) May 23, 2013
Subject: General Tech | May 22, 2013 - 10:33 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: xbox one, semi-custom business unit, ps4, microsoft, amd
Microsoft took the wraps off of its upcoming Xbox One console earlier this week, and it is now possible to compare Microsoft and Sony's next-generation hardware.
Prior to the Xbox One launch, Forbes contributor Paul Tassi postulated that Microsoft would be going a different route than Sony with its next Xbox. Specifically, that Microsoft would focus more on media playback and applications rather than purely gaming (unlike Sony, which is doing the opposite). At the time, I found myself agreeing with his sentiment, and now that the console as launched I believe Mr. Tassi was absolutely correct. Microsoft wants the Xbox One to be the center of your living room and the device you use for all of your media (and gaming) needs. The new console integrates the Windows kernel and can do multitasking of applications and media in a Metro-UI like fashion (2/3, 1/3 split screen).
On the other hand, Sony is positioning its console as the best gaming device for the living room, and is focusing on integrating all things gaming with media as more of an afterthought. Like previous PlayStation consoles, it will likely play back media files and Blu-ray movies just fine, but it is a gaming box at its core.
Interestingly, the hardware that both companies have chosen seems to line up nicely with those goals. Both the Xbox One and PS4 are based around a semi-custom AMD APU with eight Jaguar CPU cores, but they have gone in different directions from there.
PlayStation 4 hardware:
As a refresher, Sony's PS4 has the following hardware specifications.
- CPU: Eight core AMD “Jaguar” CPU
- GPU: AMD GCN GPU with 1152 shader units (in 18 CUs)
- Memory: 8GB of GDDR5 clocked at 5500MHz
- HDD: At least a spindle hard drive
- Bandwidth: 176 GB/s
Sony has changed directions from the PS3 by going with a simpler design that provides more graphical horsepower and higher system memory bandwidth versus the Xbox One. The PS4 uses a semi-custom AMD chip that has saved Sony a great deal of R&D money while also being easier for developers as it is that much closer to a traditional PC with its x86-64 APU (GDDR5 memory is unusual though). The PS4 is aimed at gamers and Sony's choice of hardware and memory reflects that.
Xbox One hardware:
Microsoft was not as forthcoming as Sony as far as touting specific hardware specifications, but based on the announcement and additional information acquired by AnandTech, the Xbox One features the following hardware:
- CPU: Eight core AMD “Jaguar” CPU
- GPU: AMD GCN GPU with 768 shader cores (within 12 Compute Units)
- Memory: 8GB of DDR3 system memory at 2133MHz as well as 32MB of on-chip eSRAM
- HDD: 500GB
- DDR3 Memory Bandwidth: 68.3 GB/s
- eSRAM Memory Bandwidth: 102GB/s
Microsoft took a different approach with the Xbox One. Instead of going for DDR5 like Sony did, Microsoft opted for a hybrid approach that uses a small but high-bandwidth and low latency embedded SRAM on the same chip as the CPU and GPU paired with a larger 8GB of traditional PC DDR3 system memory. This approach is interesting because it gives Microsoft a system that has access to low latency memory at the expense of the higher bandwidth that the PS4 enjoys with its single pool of DDR5 memory. Developers will need to become familiar with the embedded RAM to take full advantage of the latency benefits, however.
These hardware choices work out such that the PS4 has a distinct advantage when it comes to gaming performance. It has more GPU horsepower and high-bandwidth memory for feeding the processor high resolution textures. On the other hand, while Microsoft's console still has a respectable GPU (for a console), it seems to be optimized for lower latency memory access and just enough graphics oomph to enable the company to have a multimedia and home entertainment machine that can run multiple applications simultaneously while also satisfying gamers by giving them a decent graphical upgrade over the Xbox 360 for games.
This next generation of consoles should be interesting, as will the ensuing "flame wars" between fans. Both Microsoft and Sony have learned from the past (current) generation of consoles and are focusing on what they are good at to differentiate themselves. Microsoft is tapping into its Windows ecosystem of PCs and mobile devices and providing an app machine that the company hopes will be the hub of your living room entertainment needs. Sony, who does not have that expertise or existing infrastructure is also focusing in on what it excels at and that is gaming.
I'm looking forward to seeing how the consoles co-exist and how the market shakes out over 2014 and into the future as the hardware stays the same but software changes. Sony definitely has the hardware advantage to stay in the game longer when it comes to games and graphics, but Microsoft has a box that can do more than games and can find purchase in your media rack even after it is surpassed in gaming graphics quality by PCs and the competition.
What do you think about the split between the Xbox One and PS4's hardware?
Subject: General Tech | May 13, 2013 - 11:37 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: sony, semi-custom business unit, ps4, gaming, financial report, amd
Sony, a company with an annual profit of 436 billion Yen ($458 million USD) in its fiscal year ending March 31, 2013 saw PS3 and PS2 sales decline and a slight bump up in PSP and PS Vita sales. In a recent earnings call covered by Euro Gamer, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Masaru Kato stated that the company expects this year to be even better with the launch of its upcoming PlayStation 4 console. Sony does not believe it will incur any significant losses with the PS4 and that sales will "increase significantly." Unlike the PS3 which used a Cell chip that was expensive to develop, the PlayStation 4 uses mostly-traditional PC hardware. With the upcoming console, AMD did the majority of the development legwork which saved Sony money. As a result, Sony believes that the PS4 will turn a profit much faster than it took the PS3.
Looking into Sony's next fiscal year ending March 2014, the company is putting a renewed focus on smartphones and smart TVs. In the previous year, Sony saw combined PS3 and PS2 sales decline to $16.5 million from $18 million the prior year. Sony expects to sell approximately $10 million worth of PS3s in the upcoming fiscal year. While the company's PS2 console had a wild ride, it is no longer included in the company's sales forecast. Sales of Sony's mobile PSP and PS Vita gaming consoles are expected to decrease to a mere $5 million as well. Basically, Sony has a lot riding on its PlayStation 4 console. It expects to see its next-generation console make up for the decreased sales of its existing hardware.
Either way, a profitable Sony is a good thing, and I hope that the upcoming console is priced to sell while also resulting in a tidy profit for the company. I expect the Xbox-PS3-PC gamer flame-war to be especially entertaining this year, as the consoles are essentially using lower-end PC hardware (heh) and the two consoles specs are more-similar than ever.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Processors | May 8, 2013 - 09:32 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Volcanic Islands, radeon, ps4, amd
So the Southern Islands might not be entirely stable throughout 2013 as we originally reported; seismic activity being analyzed suggests the eruption of a new GPU micro-architecture as early as Q4. These Volcanic Islands, as they have been codenamed, should explode onto the scene opposing NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 700-series products.
It is times like these where GPGPU-based seismic computation becomes useful.
The rumor is based upon a source which leaked a fragment of a slide outlining the processor in block diagram form and specifications of its alleged flagship chip, "Hawaii". Of primary note, Volcanic Islands is rumored to be organized with both Serial Processing Modules (SPMs) and a Parallel Compute Module (PCM).
So apparently a discrete GPU can have serial processing units embedded on it now.
Heterogeneous Systems Architecture (HSA) is a set of initiatives to bridge the gap between massively parallel workloads and branching logic tasks. We usually make reference to this in terms of APUs and bringing parallel-optimized hardware to the CPU. In this case, we are discussing it in terms of bringing serial processing to the discrete GPU. According to the diagram, the chip within would contain 8 processor modules each with two processing cores and an FPU for a total of 16 cores. There does not seem to be any definite identification whether these cores would be based upon their license to produce x86 processors or their other license to produce ARM processors. Unlike an APU, this is heavily skewed towards parallel computation rather than a relatively even balance between CPU, GPU, and chipset features.
Now of course, why would they do that? Graphics processors can do branching logic but it tends to sharply cut performance. With an architecture such as this, a programmer might be able to more efficiently switch between parallel and branching logic tasks without doing an expensive switch across the motherboard and PCIe bus between devices. Josh Walrath suggested a server containing these as essentially add-in card computers. For gamers, this might help out with workloads such as AI which is awkwardly split between branching logic and massively parallel visibility and path-finding tasks. Josh seems skeptical about this until HSA becomes further adopted, however.
Still, there is a reason why they are implementing this now. I wonder, if the SPMs are based upon simple x86 cores, how the PS4 will influence PC gaming. Technically, a Volcanic Island GPU would be an oversized PS4 within an add-in card. This could give AMD an edge, particularly in games ported to the PC from the Playstation.
This chip, Hawaii, is rumored to have the following specifications:
- 4096 stream processors
- 16 serial processor cores on 8 modules
- 4 geometry engines
- 256 TMUs
- 64 ROPs
- 512-bit GDDR5 memory interface, much like the PS4.
20 nm Gate-Last silicon fab process
- Unclear if TSMC or "Common Platform" (IBM/Samsung/GLOBALFOUNDRIES)
Softpedia is also reporting on this leak. Their addition claims that the GPU will be designed on a 20nm Gate-Last fabrication process. While gate-last is considered to be not worth the extra effort in production, Fully Depleted Silicon On Insulator (FD-SOI) is apparently "amazing" on gate-last at 28nm and smaller fabrication. This could mean that AMD is eying that technology and making this design with intent of switching to an FD-SOI process, without a large redesign which an initially easier gate-first production would require.
Well that is a lot to process... so I will leave you with an open question for our viewers: what do you think AMD has planned with this architecture, and what do you like and/or dislike about what your speculation would mean?
Subject: General Tech | March 31, 2013 - 02:21 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: sony, ps4, playstation eye, playstation 4, gaming, dualshock 4, APU, amd
Sony teased a few more details about its upcoming PlayStation 4 console at the Games Developer's Conference earlier this week. While the basic specifications have not changed since the original announcement, we now know more about the X86 console hardware.
The PS4 itself is powered by an AMD Jaguar CPU with eight physical cores and eight threads. Each core gets 32 KB L1 I-cache and D-cache. Further, each group of four physical cores shares 2 MB of L2 cache, for 4MB total L2. The processor is capable of Out of Order Execution, as are AMDs other processor offerings. The console also reportedly features 8GB of GDDR5 memory that is shared by the CPU and GPU. It offers 176 GB/s of bandwidth, and is a step above the PS3 which did not use a unified memory design. The system will also sport a faster GPU rated at 1.843 TFLOPS, and clocked at 800MHz. The PS3 will have a high-capacity hard drive and a new Blu-ray drive that is up to 3-times faster. Interestingly, the console also has a co-processor that allows the system to process the video streaming features and allow the Remote Play game streaming to the PlayStation Vita at its native resolution of 960x554.
The PlayStation Eye has also been upgraded with the PS4 to include 2 cameras, four microphones, and a 3-axis accelerometer. The Eye cameras have an 85-degree field of view, and can record video at 1280x800 at 60 Hz and 12 bits per pixel or 640x480 and 120Hz. The new PS4 Eye is a noteworthy upgrade to the current generation model which is limited to either 640x480 pixels at 60Hz or 320x240 pixels at 120Hz. The extra resolution should allow developers to be more accurate. The DualShock 4 controllers sport a light-bar that can be tracked by the new Eye camera, for example. The light-bar on the controllers uses an RGB LED that changes to blue, red, pink, or green for players 1-4 respectively.
Speaking of the new DualShock 4, Sony has reportedly ditched the analog face buttons and D-pad for digital buttons. With the DS3 and the PS3, the analog face buttons and D-pad came in handy with racing games, but otherwise they are not likely to be missed. The controllers will now charge even when the console is in standby mode, and the L2 and R2 triggers are more resistant to accidental pressure. The analog sticks have been slightly modified and feature a reduced dead zone. The touchpad, which is a completely new feature for the DualShock lineup, is capable of tracking 2 points at a resolution of 1920x900–which is pretty good.
While Sony has still not revealed what the actual PS4 console will look like, most of the internals are now officially known. It will be interesting to see just where Sony prices the new console, and where game developers are able to take it. Using a DX11.1+ feature set, developers are able to use many of the same tools used to program PC titles but also have additional debugging tools and low level access to the hardware. A new low level API below DirectX, but above the driver level gives developers deeper access to the shader pipeline. I'm curious to see how PC ports will turn out, with the consoles now running X86 hardware, I'm hoping that the usual fare of bugs common to ported titles from consoles to PCs will decrease–a gamer can dream, right?
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | February 26, 2013 - 08:07 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: ps4, unreal engine 4
Unreal Engine 4 was present at Sony's Playstation 4 press conference, but that is no surprise. Epic Games has been present at several keynotes for new console launches. Last generation, Unreal Engine 3 kicked off both Xbox 360 and PS3 with demos of Gears of War and Unreal Tournament 2007, respectively. The PS4 received a continuation of the Elemental Demo first released at the end of E3 last June.
All I could think about when I watched the was, “This looks pretty bad. What happened?”
If you would like to follow along at home, both demos are available on Youtube:
As you can see from the animated GIF above, particle count appears to have been struck the worst. The eyes contain none of the particle effects in the PS4 version. There appears to be an order of magnitude or two more particles on the PC version than the PS4. There are no particle effects around the eyes of the statue. Whole segments of particles are not even rendered.
In this screenshot, downsampled to 660x355, the loss of physical detail is even more apparent. The big cluster of particles near the leg are not present in the PS4 version and the regular cluster is nowhere near as densely packed.
And the lighting, oh the lighting.
On the PS4 everything looks a lot higher contrast without a lot of the subtle lighting information. This loss of detail is most apparent with the volcano smoke and the glow of the hammer but are also obvious in the character model when viewed in the video.
Despite the 8GB of RAM, some of the textures also seem down-resolution. Everything appears to have much more of a plastic look to it.
Still, while computers still look better, at least high-end PC gaming will still be within the realm of scalability for quite some time. We have been hampered by being so far ahead of consoles that it was just not feasible to make full use of the extra power. At least that is looking to change.
Subject: General Tech | February 21, 2013 - 02:58 AM | Ken Addison
Tagged: titan, Tegra 4i, tegra 4, ssd, ps4, podcast, nvidia, Intel
PC Perspective Podcast #239 - 02/21/2013
Join us this week as we discuss NVIDIA GTX TITAN, PlayStation 4 Hardware, SSD Endurance and more!
The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!
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Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath and Allyn Malventano
Program length: 0:59:53
Podcast topics of discussion:
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0:49:00 Hardware / Software Pick of the Week
- Ryan: Excel 2013.. or not.
- Jeremy: WobbleWorks $75 Pen-Sized 3D Printer on Kickstarter
- Josh: Sweet lookin Monitor... not without quirks
- Allyn: Gunnar
- 0:49:00 Hardware / Software Pick of the Week
- 1-888-38-PCPER or firstname.lastname@example.org
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