A few months ago near the start of E3, Sony made an interesting revelation: that they would be releasing a higher performing PlayStation 4 console. A console intended to complement the standard/slim model, this faster PlayStation would be an unusual – if unprecedented – mid-generation update of sorts for Sony’s console family. Previous generations of consoles have offered add-ons, but a significantly faster model is something else entirely.

In any case, after much speculation and a fair bit of analysis on how the PlayStation 4 ecosystem would work with multiple models, in an event in New York City this afternoon, Sony announced the new console. Dubbed the PlayStation 4 Pro, it would sit alongside the newly launched slimmer PS4 (an original PS4 with a die shrunk SoC) as a premium, more powerful entry in the PlayStation 4 family. The console  is intended to cover a spectrum of use cases for Sony, including 4K TV support, HDR, better VR performance, and higher fidelity graphics on today’s 1080p TVs.

As AnandTech is not a gaming website, I’m going to skip the gaming ramifications. Instead, let’s do what we do best and dive into the hardware.

PlayStation 4 Pro: AMD’s Next Semi-Custom SoC Win

A bit to my surprise, Sony actually released some basic specifications about the underlying hardware. The information is similar to what we were given close to the PS4 launch, but at the same time I wasn’t expecting this information until we were closer to the PS4 Pro’s November launch.

Sony PlayStation 4 Spec Comparison
  PlayStation 4 (OG) PlayStation 4 (Slim) PlayStation 4 Pro
CPU Cores/Threads 8/8 8/8 8/8
CPU Frequency 1.6GHz 1.6GHz > 1.6GHz
CPU µArch AMD Jaguar AMD Jaguar AMD Jaguar
Shared L2 Cache 2 x 2MB 2 x 2MB 2 x 2MB?
GPU Cores 1152 (18 CUs) 1152 (18 CUs) 2304 (36 CUs)?
Peak Shader Throughput 1.84 TFLOPS 1.84 TFLOPS 4.20 TFLOPS
System Memory 8GB 5.5 Gbps GDDR5 8GB 5.5 Gbps GDDR5 8GB ? Gbps GDDR5
System Memory Bus 256-bits 256-bits 256-bits
System Memory Bandwidth 176.0 GB/s 176.0 GB/s 176.0 GB/s?
Optical Drive 6x BD 6x BD 6x BD
Power Consumption
(Up To)
250W? 165W 310W
HDMI 1.4 1.4 2.0
Manufacturing Process 28nm 16nm? 16nm?

With a focus on increased performance, the heart and soul of the PS4 is a new, higher performance SoC from AMD. One of AMD’s semi-custom design wins for H2’16, Sony has released certain details that help paint a useful, though not quite complete picture of what this SoC can do.

On the CPU side, Sony is not officially discussing clockspeed. However they have confirmed that it is still an 8 core Jaguar design like the original PlayStation, so there are no additional CPU cores in play. Furthermore the CPU clockspeed has been boosted by an undisclosed amount, so total CPU performance has increased.

While I have some ideas on what those numbers may be, it does depend in part on how much work AMD put in on the semi-custom stage of the design process. The newer manufacturing process – which I believe to be TSMC’s 16nm since that is AMD’s regular semi-custom fab partner – certainly delivers some benefits. But at the same time the Jaguar architecture was not originally designed to scale to very high clockspeeds – keep in mind that this was a low power architecture to begin with – so there are frequency bottlenecks besides simple silicon limits. For reference, the fastest desktop Jaguar desktop processor topped out at 2.2GHz. Unless AMD has done any major reworking of Jaguar for Sony, that is about as good of a guess as we can make, short of Sony confirming any numbers.

Meanwhile on the GPU side, things get a lot more interesting. The PS4 Pro’s SoC features a far more powerful integrated GPU, more than doubling the rated performance of the original PS4. Overall the PS4 is rated for 4.2 TFLOPs, versus 1.84 TFLOPs on the original console. In terms of raw throughput, this is to AMD’s current-generation mainstream discrete GPUs, offering throughput somewhere between the RX 470 (4.9 TFLOPs) and the R9 380X (4.0 TFLOPs).

The significant increase in GPU performance is easily the biggest selling point of the new console, and is the cornerstone of Sony’s plans to pitch the console as a higher fidelity alternative to the stock PS4. This includes both higher quality rendering (e.g. more objects, better shadows, etc) and higher framerates, but also higher resolutions as well as part of Sony’s greater push to make the PS4 Pro synonymous with 4K.

As far as the GPU configuration goes then, officially we don’t have anything to work with besides the raw throughput. Clockspeeds and CU counts are both very good questions right now, as the jump to 16nm will have improved both AMD’s ability to pack in more CUs in a given area, and, at least to some extent, rev up the clockspeeds. So how AMD has opted to balance these factors is an interesting question.

Given that GPU throughput has increased by 2.3x, my hunch is that AMD has pushed both aspects. A straight doubling in the CU count coupled with a modest (14%) increase in the GPU clockspeed would reach the stated performance numbers without too radical of an alteration of the GPU architecture. But there’s a lot of wiggle room here; it could just as easily be 34 CUs at a higher clockspeed, for example. A wider design favors power efficiency – which is always a boon in a console – but as 16nm is still a newer process, it’s a chip yield risk.

Meanwhile, it’s important to note here that as we’ve seen in the discrete GPU space, shader throughput is not everything. Shaders are indeed frequently the biggest bottleneck to GPU performance, but they are hardly the only one. One way or another AMD has greatly increased the shader throughput of their SoC, but rather they’ve increased the unit counts on any other aspects remains to be seen. Whether they’ve added additional geometry units or ROPs could significantly influence the performance of the console, as it’s going to be relatively harder to fill up those expanded shader resources if these other resources weren’t similarly expanded. At the same time we don’t know anything about how the GDDR5 memory is clocked; I think it’s a safe bet that it’s clocked higher since the original console was only at 5.5Gbps, but even 7Gbps memory would only be 27% more memory bandwidth to feed a much wider GPU. In short, it’s best not to assume that all aspects of the GPU have been doubled, and consequently that the real world performance advantage for the PS4 Pro is not going to be quite as great as the GPU specs indicate.

Slim PS4 next to PS4 Pro

On that note, while Sony is pitching the console for 4K video and gaming, Mark Cerny was rather clear that to reach 4K gaming, they expect developers to make significant use of both spatial and temporal anti-aliasing/reprojection.to reach 4K. In other words, most of the time the console won’t actually be rendering games at 4K. This makes a lot of sense; all else held equal, the PS4 Pro needs to fill 4x as many pixels with a GPU that’s (at best) 2.3x as powerful.

This means that the number of games that natively render at 4K is by necessity going to be relatively few. Games could still render at resolutions over 1080p (e.g. 2560x1440), giving them more fidelity than current 1080p games, but various upscaling/reprojection methods will have to close the gap to 4K. Given that even the best PC GPUs have only recently reached the performance level to render the necessary 8.3Mpixels without significant quality compromises, and we’re likely a generation (or more) from consoles being able to reach that same level.

The Polaris Connection & Closing Thoughts
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  • goatfajitas - Friday, September 9, 2016 - link

    "Value proposition for consoles always was a standardized level of quality for a long period of time."
    - IMO that was completely broken and not only holding consoles back, but gaming as a whole... Now MS and Sony have somewhat fixed it... Or at least improved it.
  • Michael Bay - Friday, September 9, 2016 - link

    Console customers don`t see shortened upgrade cycle as an improvement, and in money terms it`s like PC market. Quite a lot to lose.
  • rarson - Friday, September 9, 2016 - link

    Console customers don`t see shortened upgrade cycle as an improvement, and in money terms it`s like PC market. Quite a lot to lose.

    It's not a shortened cycle, it's exactly the opposite. I'm not sure why this is so hard for console gamers to understand. By increasing performance of the PS4 platform with the Pro, and ensuring all games run on both consoles, the life of the PS4 gets extended by guaranteed software support for as long as the more powerful hardware remains relevant.

    I still game on my 8-year old PC. I can even run Doom on it and it's very playable. My old PC doesn't get less software support just because newer, faster hardware came out for the same platform.
  • Michael Bay - Friday, September 9, 2016 - link

    In console world, 6 years of support is a _standard_. Trying to peddle that as a feature now simply reeks.
    Plus, you have to be really gullible to believe both versions will get the same amount of testing and support. Performance creep on PC around PS2/original XBOX timeframe is exactly what gave console side a lot of new customers in the first place.
  • goatfajitas - Friday, September 9, 2016 - link

    We are talking about the same game on the same platform with (likely) higher res textures and a few other graphics settings notched up a bit. It's not like an entirely new console... I look at it this way... No-one is forcing it, if you don't like it, don't buy it. If you feel "betrayed" that somehow the PS4 Pro lessens the experience of your PS4, then sell your old PS4 and enjoy your principals. I will be enjoying my PS4 Pro and playing games on it.
  • goatfajitas - Friday, September 9, 2016 - link

    I am a console owner, a PS4 owner and I am happy to pay another $400 for a PS4 pro and extremely happy I dont have to wait until the year 2020 to do it, sooooooo......
  • Michael Bay - Sunday, September 11, 2016 - link

    So Sony is rubbing hands and counting shekels, yes.
  • rarson - Friday, September 9, 2016 - link

    Actually the hardware decisions were very smart, unless you want to run your console business into the ground by releasing another overpriced, power-hungry, failure-prone platform that you have to sell at a loss just to move.
  • Morawka - Sunday, September 11, 2016 - link

    There is nothing smart about using 5 year old CPU cores in a next gen console. There is nothing smart about omitting a 4K HDR Blu Ray player, especially when you are part owner of the Blu Ray Spec. Instead they license the 4K HDR player to their competitor Their Next Gen PS4 is less capable than a refreshed Last gen product in home theater capabilities.

    Sony was already sorely lacking in software capabilities such as Backward compatibility. Instead they offer alternatives that require you to have very fast internet with low latency by running a virtual machine in the cloud. When microsoft can do it on the console, with virtually identical hardware capabilities.
  • Drakoid - Thursday, September 8, 2016 - link

    Yes, betrayed. I played ps3 for 6 years. I would expect ps4 to stay exclusive for 6 years too...but no they had to release this "ps4 pro" after 3 years.

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