How powerful is the PS5? That's one of the key questions being asked right now, as we stand on the precipice of the ninth console generation. Of course, it is more pertinent than ever given that Microsoft staged one hell of a comeback tour with the Xbox One X late into this current cycle, wrestling the "most powerful console ever made" moniker out of Sony's grasp. This is, admittedly, a difficult question to answer right now but, given that we now have initial PS5 specs, we can at least begin to investigate. It's worth noting up top that the following information is the first information on the PS5 specs we have received and that plenty more is to come as we work our way towards the expected PS5 release date in 2020.
The key piece of information we have so far, as dictated by PS5 lead architect Mark Cerny to Wired, is that Sony will be once again pairing with leading technology manufacturer AMD to handle the core internals of the system. The two companies are teaming up to engineer a custom system-on-chip package – or a SoC, as it is commonly referred to. An SoC effectively combines the Central processing Unit (CPU) and the Graphics processing unit (GPU), with this integration letting what resembles the heart and head, respectively, of the machine work more efficiently with one another.
When it comes to the PS5 specs, this is a key detail. While Sony is certainly taking aim at redefining what we believe to be possible when it comes to resolution, frame rates, performance, and fidelity in our games, it's going to need some serious power behind it to make this happen. The PS5 specs we have so far include a third-generation Ryzen 3 CPU that has been customised by AMD to match Sony's ambitions. This eight-core design CPU meets with the custom GPU derived from the company's unreleased Radeon Navi line of graphics cards, which utilises AMD's proprietary 7nm Zen Microarchitecture.
That detail in the PS5 specs is key, Sony believes, as it will unlock the potential for huge visual and audio enhancements, such as the capacity to stimulate 3D audio and support ray-tracing initiatives. The former point is fantastic news, as object-based positional audio – such as DTS: X or Dolby Atmos – has the potential to really change the way we perceive sound in gaming. PS5 audio, Sony maintains, is particularly improved if you're using headphones, although the company is yet to confirm whether the PS5 will support true binaural audio. Still, Sony has identified that audio is one area it believes this current generation has failed, and a specialised audio processor will indeed be a big part of the PS5 specs to ensure that developers are able to deliver more dynamic soundscapes without the audio processing eating away at CPU resources, as is so commonplace today. Given that the Xbox One X offered Dolby Atmos support back in 2017, it's good to see Sony committing to improving an area of its console design it had left surprisingly unaddressed up until this point.
Of course, Sony is also asserting that the PS5 will also be future-proofed to support 8K displays and frame rates at 120 Hz, but will reportedly support the current gold standard of native 4K at 60 frames-per-second. Sony is playing this one close to the chest, giving just enough details of the PS5 specs to show that it is aiming to release a console far superior to the PS4 Pro, but hold just enough back that it's difficult to make any substantial conclusions as to how it stacks up against Microsoft's Xbox Project Scarlett or Google Stadia. One common way of measuring potential graphical/power output would be to measure its teraflops, but Sony has been hesitant to speak even in these terms at this relatively early stage of production.
We're a little over a year away from the expected reveal of the PS5, much less its assumed 'Holiday 2020' release date and that means there's still plenty of time for Sony's engineers to optimise its SoC design, not to mention ensure that it has enough resources in place to appropriately manufacturer the CPU and GPU chips it needs to a large scale. The facts will remain the same but the details will change. Launching a new console is tricky business, and Sony will no doubt be working out what it can and cannot offer at launch with the resources it has to hand.
The SSD is the PS5 specs game changer
The most significant piece of the PS5 specs puzzle isn't the specifics of the CPU or GPU, but the type of hard drive Sony is packing inside of this thing. While that might sound incidental on the surface, it actually has the potential to change the way that we play and enjoy games today. The PS5 is going to come equipped with a solid-state drive (SSD), marking a shift from the mechanical hard drives which have been commonplace in the PS3 and PS4 era.
While SSDs have been typically found in PCs and laptops for the better part of a decade, manufacturers have long struggled to get the drives into traditional console hardware. Sony now believes it has found a solution to this particular problem, and it believes that this seemingly simple change will drastically reduce loading times and improve performance across the board. While Sony hasn't been forthcoming with details on the custom SSD it is engineering for PS5, the company is promising that the tech it has to hand will effectively be faster than any commercial solid state drive you could find on the market right now.
The best point of comparison would likely be high-speed NVMe SSD drives that are widely available for PCs right now. These drives can offer boosted read speeds north of 3000MBps, which is made possible thanks to the fact that these SSDs connect directly to a PC's mainboard via a PCI-E input slot – a superfast input typically used by graphics cards and internal video capture cards. This is a big upgrade from the platter-based 5400RPM mechanical hard drives in current-gen consoles, which connect to the system internally via the computer bus interface Serial ATA, delivering estimated read speeds of just 80MBps.
Until Sony goes into further detail on the PS5 SSD we don't yet have a clear idea of how this will be utilised and integrated, although the leaked PS5 gameplay reveal shows Insomniac's Spider-Man have its loading time reduced from an average of 15 seconds on PS4 Pro to just 0.8 seconds on a PS5 dev kit. That's just the beginning of what an internal SSD could bring to the table here, of course. When you do literally anything in a game, the engine is (essentially) scrambling frantically behind the scenes to pull the relevant data from the hard-drive, attempt to properly align it, and stream the elements out onto the screen.
Get in front of this process in any way and the game will break; developers have had to get increasingly smarter with masking lengthy processing and loading processes, a natural result of file sizes increasing due to the increased size of game worlds, art assets, audio, code and everything else that a modern production encompasses. If developers choose to utilise this new tool, it could even change the way we move through game worlds; a reason that, in a game like Spider-Man, you don't move any faster the more powerful and experienced you get is because the game can't physically stream the game world into place any faster than it already does at the beginning of the game. In theory an SSD could remove this roadblock, letting you traverse worlds faster and snappier as you gain new abilities or jump into the seat of faster vehicles. When it comes to the SSD, it's up to developers to work out how best to utilise it to change the way that we play.
As you may recall, back in 2013 Sony made it a company policy to enforce hard drive installs for all PS4 games. The primary reason for this was to help developers mitigate this scaling problem; real-time read speeds from traditional optical media (a Blu-ray disc) from mechanical hard drives simply wasn't fast enough to keep up with the demands of the games developers were putting together. Of course, an SSD doesn't immediately fix this problem. PS5 games will need to be properly engineered and fundamentally built around the SSD to make full advantage of it – PS4 games played via PS5 backwards compatibility may see small performance improvements, but they are built around current-gen hard drive speeds and as such won't be largely impacted by the switch.
Biggest PS5 specs questions
Of course, there are still so many unanswered questions about the PS5 specs that will only come in time. We don't yet know what memory the PS5 will make use of, although it would seem fairly likely that Sony will deploy GDDR6 RAM – which is what Microsoft has confirmed it is doing with Xbox Project Scarlett. The PS4 offered GDDR5 RAM at launch, which operated at an estimated 184GBps, which was later boosted in the PS4 Pro to 218GBps. Microsoft was able to optimise its internal systems even more by the time the Xbox One X rolled out, pushing that up to 326GBps. It's widely believed that GDDR6 RAM could double this without significantly impacting power consumption.
PS5 Ray Tracing
We try to break down just how important will ray tracing be for Sony's PS5 and Xbox's Project Scarlett in the next-generation.
In fact, Microsoft is touting that its own proprietary SSD can also be utilised to further speed up data access, acting as virtual RAM of sorts to support the GDDR6, should a developer wish to do so. Whether Sony will follow suit remains to be seen, but we are so early in the day that there is still plenty of time for these questions to be answered. We don't yet have a firm grasp on how the PS5 will handle ray-tracing and whether it will be hardware accelerated like Project Scarlett – AMD is still yet to properly detail this aspect to its own chipsets, so this will no doubt come in time.
It's an exciting time to be a PlayStation fan. Even now, with the leanest of details of the PS5 specs there's plenty to get excited by. It's clear that Sony is pushing for true revolution this generation, looking to fundamentally alter the way that games perform and the tools developers have to meet their ambition head on to create all-new experiences.
For more news on the PS5 as it breaks, be sure to subscribe to Official PlayStation Magazine for all of the latest details on Sony's next-generation plans.