Sony plans PlayStation NEO with massive APU hardware upgrade

Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors | April 19, 2016 - 11:21 AM |
Tagged: sony, ps4, Playstation, neo, giant bomb, APU, amd

Based on a new report coming from Giant Bomb, Sony is set to release a new console this year with upgraded processing power and a focus on 4K capabilities, code named NEO. We have been hearing for several weeks that both Microsoft and Sony were planning partial generation upgrades but it appears that details for Sony's update have started leaking out in greater detail, if you believe the reports.

Giant Bomb isn't known for tossing around speculation and tends to only report details it can safely confirm. Austin Walker says "multiple sources have confirmed for us details of the project, which is internally referred to as the NEO." 

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The current PlayStation 4 APU
Image source: iFixIt.com

There are plenty of interesting details in the story, including Sony's determination to not split the user base with multiple consoles by forcing developers to have a mode for the "base" PS4 and one for NEO. But most interesting to us is the possible hardware upgrade.

The NEO will feature a higher clock speed than the original PS4, an improved GPU, and higher bandwidth on the memory. The documents we've received note that the HDD in the NEO is the same as that in the original PlayStation 4, but it's not clear if that means in terms of capacity or connection speed.

...

Games running in NEO mode will be able to use the hardware upgrades (and an additional 512 MiB in the memory budget) to offer increased and more stable frame rate and higher visual fidelity, at least when those games run at 1080p on HDTVs. The NEO will also support 4K image output, but games themselves are not required to be 4K native.

Giant Bomb even has details on the architectural changes.

  Shipping PS4 PS4 "NEO"
CPU 8 Jaguar Cores @ 1.6 GHz 8 Jaguar Cores @ 2.1 GHz
GPU AMD GCN, 18 CUs @ 800 MHz AMD GCN+, 36 CUs @ 911 MHz
Stream Processors 1152 SPs ~ HD 7870 equiv. 2304 SPs ~ R9 390 equiv.
Memory 8GB GDDR5 @ 176 GB/s 8GB GDDR5 @ 218 GB/s

(We actually did a full video teardown of the PS4 on launch day!)

If the Compute Unit count is right from the GB report, then the PS4 NEO system will have 2,304 stream processors running at 911 MHz, giving it performance nearing that of a consumer Radeon R9 390 graphics card. The R9 390 has 2,560 SPs running at around 1.0 GHz, so while the NEO would be slower, it would be a substantial upgrade over the current PS4 hardware and the Xbox One. Memory bandwidth on NEO is still much lower than a desktop add-in card (218 GB/s vs 384 GB/s).

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Could Sony's NEO platform rival the R9 390?

If the NEO hardware is based on Grenada / Hawaii GPU design, there are some interesting questions to ask. With the push into 4K that we expect with the upgraded PlayStation, it would be painful if the GPU didn't natively support HDMI 2.0 (4K @ 60 Hz). With the modularity of current semi-custom APU designs it is likely that AMD could swap out the display controller on NEO with one that can support HDMI 2.0 even though no consumer shipping graphics cards in the 300-series does so. 

It is also POSSIBLE that NEO is based on the upcoming AMD Polaris GPU architecture, which supports HDR and HDMI 2.0 natively. That would be a much more impressive feat for both Sony and AMD, as we have yet to see Polaris released in any consumer GPU. Couple that with the variables of 14/16nm FinFET process production and you have a complicated production pipe that would need significant monitoring. It would potentially lower cost on the build side and lower power consumption for the NEO device, but I would be surprised if Sony wanted to take a chance on the first generation of tech from AMD / Samsung / Global Foundries.

However, if you look at recent rumors swirling about the June announcement of the Radeon R9 480 using the Polaris architecture, it is said to have 2,304 stream processors, perfectly matching the NEO specs above.

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New features of the AMD Polaris architecture due this summer

There is a lot Sony and game developers could do with roughly twice the GPU compute capability on a console like NEO. This could make the PlayStation VR a much more comparable platform to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive though the necessity to work with the original PS4 platform might hinder the upgrade path. 

The other obvious use is to upgrade the image quality and/or rendering resolution of current games and games in development or just to improve the frame rate, an area that many current generation consoles seem to have been slipping on

In the documents we’ve received, Sony offers suggestions for reaching 4K/UltraHD resolutions for NEO mode game builds, but they're also giving developers a degree of freedom with how to approach this. 4K TV owners should expect the NEO to upscale games to fit the format, but one place Sony is unwilling to bend is on frame rate. Throughout the documents, Sony repeatedly reminds developers that the frame rate of games in NEO Mode must meet or exceed the frame rate of the game on the original PS4 system.

There is still plenty to read in the Giant Bomb report, and I suggest you head over and do so. If you thought the summer was going to be interesting solely because of new GPU releases from AMD and NVIDIA, it appears that Sony and Microsoft have their own agenda as well.

Source: Giant Bomb

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April 19, 2016 | 11:39 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Gotta love that they are putting such emphasis on frame rate. 24fps is great for movies, terrible for games. Now if they also include 4K BD playback, I will buy one for sure.

April 19, 2016 | 11:55 AM - Posted by funandjam

If it is not Polaris, then they are going to need a pretty beefy cooling solution as part of it, maybe not that massive heatsink that Morry always uses in his MB reviews, maybe an AIO? It just seems that in order to get about a 390 level of performance in an APU, there is going to be heat and a lot of it.

April 19, 2016 | 12:01 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

As I understand things, consoles are basically locked into an architecture, so that's why we're not looking at Piledriver/Polaris. If this does end up being real, the most likely scenario is a 16nm shrink of the existing uarch in order to cram more processing into the same TDP.

April 19, 2016 | 02:45 PM - Posted by funandjam

Interesting theory and quite possible, but it is my understanding that simply shrinking an architecture isn't that simple and doesn't mean it will work well, or work at all. Not that the bugs couldn't be worked out, but it would require splintering their dev team to devote resources towards shrinking an existing arch and also developing a completely new one and from what I understand, AMD has a considerably smaller team than either Nvidia or Intel does.

April 19, 2016 | 03:06 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Both the PS3 and 360 had multiple, well-documented die shrinks without changing the actual architecture, it's relatively simple and huge cost savings for the manufacturers. Lower BOM through smaller power supplies, smaller exterior cases, fewer parts.

I still kinda doubt that Sony is going to do anything but release a shrink. They already have a good performance lead on Xbone and an absurd lead in sales, so it doesn't make a lot of sense to do it. Does it?

April 19, 2016 | 05:14 PM - Posted by funandjam

Fair enough, but we are talking about shrinking the node down to 14nm Finfet, to me that means not as simple as it used to be. Recall that 20nm was skipped entirely by both N and A?

Whether it is a die shrink of the current architecture or new arch at lower node(polaris), it makes sense to do this because of VR. All of these reviews about how in order to have a good experience in VR, it should have a min of 90fps and Sony's VR is at 60fps? the consoles need the hardware boost to do any kind of VR gaming and for it to be a good experience.

April 19, 2016 | 04:41 PM - Posted by Cataclysm_ZA

Over time, the Xbox 360's setup evolved from a three-chip setup into a single SoC on a 45nm process, down from 90nm - that's a die shrink and integrating everything into a single package (eSRAM is still separate though). And back then it was IBM handling the fabrication and integration, and AMD's hardware teams were providing support for the GPU side of things. It's perfectly doable and possible, and that's how consoles have been made cheaper in the past.

April 21, 2016 | 02:40 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Those shrinks were generally an actual shrink of the original design. In this case, it seems to be that they are making a significantly more powerful device rather than just a shrink. I don't really see much of an issue with that since it will be completely backward compatible and developers will still produce games targeted at the original device due to the large installed base. I don't know if the driving force behind this is VR or the unexpectedly rapid uptake of 4K televisions. The current console is acceptable for a 1080p television. Most of the time, you will not notice much of a difference if the video is upscaled from 720p or 900p. Moving to a 4K tv though, upscaled 720p might not look so good.

April 21, 2016 | 02:31 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If it has more processing cores, then it is not just a shrink. There would be limited utility in just doing a straight shrink in this case due to the large jump in process tech. A shrink of the current PS4 APU would be very low power, but it would be a lot of work to make a relatively low performance device. It would also have limited reusability. I don't know if AMD will be making any 14 nm products that would use such a GPU. If they were going to make a GPU of that size, they would want the advanced features available in the Polaris designs rather than the outdated features of the original PS4 APU. The original PS4 is several years old now, and I don't think that GPU was the latest design at the time, although I read some stuff saying that they added extra asynchronous compute to the original PS4 chip. Current AMD designs have a lot of ACEs, so they may just be able to use an off the shelf core and still maintain a high degree of comparability.

With this (rumored) device they could easily reuse products that they are already working on, so the added cost may actually be minimal. If they already the layout and everything completed for a Polaris GPU of that size trageted at 14 nm, then how much work is it to just place it on the same die as a CPU? If they already have the 14 nm CPU design, then I wouldn't think it would take much to integrate it in the same die.

April 19, 2016 | 12:08 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"The documents we've received note that the HDD in the NEO is the same as that in the original PlayStation 4, but it's not clear if that means in terms of capacity or connection speed."

if they do an entire update of the APU and keep storage running across a SATA2 interface, the entire hardware division should be fired. Load times on the new generation are atrocious.

April 19, 2016 | 12:31 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Agreed. Also, moving to Sata III would make SSDs an even more viable option for consoles.

April 19, 2016 | 12:41 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I believe that this is just going to enhance the 1080p games visual and provide 4k movie playback. consoles has alwyas been a step behind pc's and we still cant run a game in 4k at constant 60fps without a ridiculous expensive 980 ti sli set up on current gen computers. I think i will just stick with my samsung 4k blue ray player and wait for the real next gen console upgrade.

April 19, 2016 | 12:44 PM - Posted by jonothon laycock (not verified)

I thought AMD Polaris chips are using GF/Samsung 14nm not TSMC 16nm

April 19, 2016 | 01:04 PM - Posted by mAxius

you are correct...

April 19, 2016 | 04:21 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Ah, right, sorry, fixed!

April 19, 2016 | 12:45 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I like it, good performance at a good price.

PC GPU prices have gotten stupid high with terrible game support.

April 19, 2016 | 01:03 PM - Posted by rkaycom

This will be 4K @ 30fps because lets face it, not a lot of TVs in the wild support HDMI 2.0 and a "slightly slower then" a R9 390 isn't gonna be pushing the 60fps barrier anytime soon.

I personally think this is going to be the VR all-in-one model and if you already have a PS4 you can buy an attachment. Sorter like with the Sega CD, you could buy it solo and connect it to your console at home or you could buy a completely new console that came with the Sega CD included.

Sony has ZERO reason to push for a power play with Microsoft, Sony already has the more powerful system that is consistently getting higher frame rates and higher resolution then the Xbox, this is why I think this is a VR related, Microsoft isn't talking about VR, and they also aren't talking about a new console to power it either.

I could also be that Sony realised the problems with doing a VR Headset + Extra GPU attachment thingy and canned the idea for a new console.

April 19, 2016 | 03:20 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

My $300 Korean 4k Seiki has HDMI 2.0 ports and HDCP 2.2. Super excited about the PS4 upgrade.

April 19, 2016 | 01:53 PM - Posted by StephanS

2.1ghz + 900mhz . this is 14nm and polaris.

2300 GCN compute at 900mhz and 28ns would completely blow up the thermal design of a console.

If true, the specs are simply spectacular. I would say to much on the edge for a 2016 release.

This most likely will be in the hand of developer by the end of the year, early next year for a late 2017 release...

April 19, 2016 | 08:02 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Couldn't it be a custom Bristol Ridge APU?

April 19, 2016 | 02:42 PM - Posted by Fliperman (not verified)

A waste of money can buy ...

April 19, 2016 | 03:44 PM - Posted by Mephisto_76 (not verified)

This is total BS. Why don't Sony & Microsoft make consoles that are user upgradable and can accept the same discrete retail graphics cards, ram, and data storage systems that are used on pc's. That way consumers could keep their consoles current/relevant without having the shell out the full cost of a new console. - But wait!, this sounds just like a PC! Maybe Sony and Microsoft should just make consumer upgradable PC's running their own OS's.

April 19, 2016 | 07:40 PM - Posted by Johan Krüger Haglert (not verified)

Exactly. Because upgrading a PC from what the Playstation 4 had before to what it has now would just be replacing the motherboard, the APU, the memory... possibly the storage.

So that leave the case, the BluRay player and the power supply, or you'd get two consoles instead.

April 20, 2016 | 08:32 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Because it would be a driver and compatibility nightmare to keep up with. Which means more testing and QA, which means more costs.

Right now, they only need to test for 1 spec, and then it works exactly that same way for 40 million physical copies of that spec.

April 19, 2016 | 04:25 PM - Posted by arbiter

Even with # shaders close to a 390, looks like probably 30-40% slower then that. 215GB/s mem bandwidth is almost half what a 390 has which is just under 400GB/s. 4k gonna have to take some graphic loss to get there.

April 20, 2016 | 05:38 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

A 14 nm design may have more on-die cache and it also may have some of the new compression features introduced with Fiji, so memory clock will not be quite as limiting. I wouldn't expect games to render at 4K though. I would suspect most would render at 1080p and upscale with probably hardware supported upscaling, that is, if this is actually a 14 nm device. They have shrunk console processors in the past, but they mostly have not increased the performance significantly. With the giant jump in performance possible with 14 nm and the need for more performance for VR, it doesn't seem that unlikely that they would provide a higher performance console. It isn't that hard to support two targets compared to the PC space.

April 19, 2016 | 05:07 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This is really interesting, I'm not a current gen console owner but it is cool to see console owners finally get some relatively beefy hardware - an 8-core APU with the SPs of an R9 390 + low level optimization of a console... I have no doubt in my mind that Sony could do native 4K at 30Hz with that hardware.

Very cool stuff indeed, I might actually get a PS4.5 now assuming it's not more than $400.

April 19, 2016 | 06:19 PM - Posted by funandjam

techpowerup seems to think it most likely a Polaris chip -

http://www.techpowerup.com/221811/playstation-4k-to-feature-a-2-304-sp-a...

April 19, 2016 | 06:24 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If this is polaris 10 which was leaked previously, it would be more powerful than a r9 290x. Polaris 10 was leaked running at 800mhz core clock and 5000mhz memory clock. The low clocks were because it was an engineering sample and even with them being lower it outperformed a r9 290x. This particular gpu is said to be clocked at 911mhz core and nearly 7000mhz memory. This would give it an extra 10%+ performance boost on top of the fact it is faster than a r9 290x. There's your 4k gaming at 30fps people.

April 19, 2016 | 06:28 PM - Posted by Arkamwest

If the game consoles start being upgraded more quickly, I will start buying consoles better than pc´s graphics cards.

April 19, 2016 | 06:29 PM - Posted by Arkamwest

This is great for pc gaming

April 19, 2016 | 06:36 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Queue Neo Geo and Jaguar console jokes...

April 19, 2016 | 06:52 PM - Posted by Lance Ripplinger (not verified)

I am just guessing that 1080p resolution will be up-scaled to 4k? Because there is no way this hardware can handle actual 4k, especially at reasonable frames or am I off base here? I am also curious about cooling for this. Will they be able to use the same cooling setup on the current PS4, or will they have to design a whole new setup?

April 19, 2016 | 08:36 PM - Posted by Johan Krüger Haglert (not verified)

Of course it can do 4K and of course it can do it in 60 Hz.

Something simpler could too. The question is how complete scenes you can build up.

As for wccftech speculated in 50% more powerful CPU part and 2+ times more powerful GPU part but it has been hinted that the GPUs use 2.5 times less power for the same performance so it would likely end up being about the same power consumption, just with more modern parts.

April 20, 2016 | 04:15 PM - Posted by Lance Ripplinger (not verified)

I think I am confused by all of this. I was under the impression that even the most powerful desktop graphics cards today struggle with 4K, and so you end up having to do an SLI or Crossfire X configuration. Since this being the case, how can a single SoC from AMD possibly hope to truly play a game title in true 4K, and at very good FPS (60 seems to be the standard these days?).

April 20, 2016 | 05:49 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

People with desktop systems built for 4K also want turn up the graphics settings to ultra and such. In a system that connects to a TV that you sit 10 feet away from, such high settings are probably unnecessary. Current card can render at 4K, you just need to turn the detail settings down for most games to achieve a playable frame rate. For such games, it may be better to run lower resolution at a higher detail setting. The same thing applies to a gaming console. This is why we have some games running at 900p and upscaling. This new PS4, if it is Polaris based, may be able to run 4K for less demanding graphics settings, but most games would probably look best and achieve the best frame rates at upscaled 1080p.

April 20, 2016 | 03:33 AM - Posted by greg reavis (not verified)

One thing that would be really cool to see is Linux installed on this. Another on top of that would be could you game on Linux with a ps4, and what would the performance be? It's not practical and probably more trouble than it's worth, but cool things don't need to be logical.

April 20, 2016 | 02:26 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Well it runs BSD/or some variant of BSD so it should not be too hard getting a Linux OS up and running should the crackers/hackers be able to root the device.

I'd love for this new SKU to be an APU based on an Interposer solution as then Sony/Other clients and AMD could be in a position to change out the devices CPU die for a newer variant without having to do a complete re-engineering of the other interposer based dies like the GPU, or DSP/other dies. When AMD switches to creating all of its APU SKUs on an interposer package then things are going to be a whole new ball game, and AMD will be ahead of everyone in its ability to wire separately fabricated CPU/multi-core complex Dies to much more beefy GPU Dies, GPU dies that are themselves separately fabricated. So AMD could have CPU and GPU wired up more directly and with wider parallel traces CPU to GPU via the interposer's silicon substrate, and that is in addition to having those wide data paths to the HBM die stacks!

Once AMD goes APU on an interposer for all of its SKUs, things will be much better on the inter-die communication fabric side, with the interposer allowing for tens of thousands of wide parallel traces to be used to directly wire up all sorts of separately fabricated processor dies like CPU dies and GPU dies, or DSP dies and FPGA dies! AMD already has a patent application for the adding of some FPGA compute to the HBM's die stacks by sandwiching the FPGA die between the HBM's bottom control logic die and the HBM memory dies above.

Those AMD purposed exascale and HPC/Workstation SKUs are going to be APUs on an interposer based with the CPU/s die wired to a beefy GPU die and both sharing the HBM memory stacks that will all be hosted on an interposer package that itself could be made to have more than just traces for high effective bandwidth via wide parallel functionality. Interposers, the silicon variety, could also have logic and other functionality etched into the silicon, for much more functionality for intelligent and coherent connection fabrics, in addition to being able to have tens of thousands of parallel traces etched into interposer's silicon substrate!

April 20, 2016 | 06:00 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This is certainly not an interposer based design! Look at the memory bandwidth numbers! Also, interposers are more expensive. You aren't going to see them in a price sensitive console just yet! Maybe for the PS 5!!!

A lot of the designs that you go on and on about are going to be severely limited by interposer size. The HPC device Nvidia is making will cost thousands of dollars, if not tens of thousands of dollars. Part of that is probably the yield of a 600 mm2 die on 16 nm; I wouldn't be surprised if that is in the range of one good die per wafer. They are also pushing the size limits of the interposer. It may actually be bigger than the reticle, and therefore much more expensive.

Not every story needs a "wouldn't this be great on an interposer" comment!!!

April 20, 2016 | 08:19 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Interposers are just slabs of silicon how big can they be made currently is not how big they will be made in the future. Interposers can be spliced up to make larger systems it's not hard! The first APUs on an Interposer systems will be the server/HPC varity, and between that and the GPU industry using interposer technology things will get cheaper fast. A lot of the cost of the professional workstation SKUs go into certifying the drivers to work with the professional CAD/Graphics software so it's not the hardware part in itself that is the only part of the high server/HPC/Workstation pricing, the hardware on the consumer SKUs is not too much different from the hardware on the professional SKUs, so you argument is not very good.

Most of AMD's interposer R&D will be funded through government exascale grants, and server/HPC/Workstation sales. There is also the rumor of a AMD Sugon deal Joint Venture with China's HPC giant Sugon Sugon Information Industry Co., Ltd.

AMD will be making some workstation APUs on an Interposer variants that will beat Intel's Graphics/GPU compute hands down, and as for potential for much higher than Nvlink bandwidth performance to a single GPU, the APU on an interposer will be very powerful even if its Zen cores do not match Intel's latest in the single core IPC metric. Intel and AMD have more to worry about with the power8s/Power9s scheduled to be used by Google and others for their server farms! AMD will be able to price its entire line of SKUs towards a lower margin business model with AMD already down to a minimal level of employee/business costs while Intel will have to layoff thousands to have the cash reserves to best the market in pricing, gone are the days of the uber high margins that Intel could command, and AMD only needs to capture a smaller percentage of the sever market to stay in business.

AMD will also be in the Custom ARM server business when K12 comes online in 2017, so expect that AMD's custom server SKUs may be the first custom ARMv8A ISA running cores that have SMT abilities, a big plus for CPU core utilization on a custom ARM core.

April 21, 2016 | 01:40 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

To long,didn't read other than "not that hard". "Not that hard" is probably still really expensive. Also, off topic. This new PS4 revision is not going to ha an interposer based system.

April 20, 2016 | 10:52 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Problem is, are they going to simply include an option for 4k output or will they fully take advantage of the extra power in 1080p games or will that be a second thought for devs

April 20, 2016 | 11:58 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This is definitely the going to be the the VR bundle PS4, remember Sony's original codename for their VR was Morpheus. Makes sense that the all in one VR bundle would be codenamed Neo.

April 23, 2016 | 08:22 AM - Posted by Chucky (not verified)

This^
If a game on PS4 runs at 900p\60fps, then this can achieve 1080p/90 for VR

April 25, 2016 | 07:31 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I think this 4k (ready?) is not for gaming but for movies and vr.

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