Console Wars

PS5 CPU, memory, teraflops, backward compatibility, and all the other specs Sony revealed

Sony finally pulled the curtain back on the PS5 today and we learned just how powerful the system is.

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Sony's highly anticipated PS5 event on March 18 just ended, and while it wasn't the exciting news bonanza some gamers were hoping for, we still learned a lot about the upcoming PlayStation 5 and its technical specifications (or specs, for short). That said, there's also a lot we didn't learn, from new launch titles to price and design, we still have plenty of questions.

These major reveals include the system's SSD, GPU, and 3D audio technology, which should rival the likes of what Microsoft showed off for Xbox Series X on Monday. Here's everything we did (and didn't) learn about the PS5 at Sony's recent event.

PS5 specs: SSD

The SSD was actually the most requested feature for the PS5 from developers, according to Mark Cerny, Sony's lead system architect for PlayStation hardware. As such, the console will feature 825 BG SSD. The PS5's SSD will be able to read 5.5 GB in a second. Sony claims that update installs will almost completely go away thanks to this feature. The SSD will also feature a custom flash controller with a 12-channel database, a Kracken decompressor, a dedicate DMA controller, two I/O coprocessors, on-chip RAM, and coherency engines to free up possible bottlenecks that could impact game performance.

Why it matters: In general, this should drastically decrease load times, as slow hard drives are often what force long loading times. Frame rate issues should also be much less common. Some games have no loading at all. Cerny also claims this will give developers more freedom to create bigger and cooler worlds as they are no longer required to battle hard drive constraints.

PS5 Specs: Expandable Memory

Sony also confirmed that the PS5 will support external drives. USB hard drives will be supported but will only be able to do 100 MB a second. That being said, the PS5 will also support M2 SSDs available on the open market to expand data. As there may be some issues with SSD working the PS5, Sony will share which ones will work with the system at a later date. Unfortunately, Mark Cerny expects this to happen after launch.

Why it matters: The PS5's default memory is a bit smaller than the Xbox Series X's so expandable memory will be required. It's good to hear that it will support a broader set of drives rather than one proprietary one. Hopefully, we're able to get more clarification on which third party SSDs are supported closer to the PS5's launch.

PS5 Specs: GPU, Ray Tracing and Backward Compatibility

The PS5 will have a custom GPU based on AMD's rDNA 2 technology. It will also be backward compatible with the PS4 as the legacy modes have been embedded into modes of the GPU. While they wouldn't name games, Sony claims that the top 100 games on PS4 will be playable at launch. The PS5 GPU will also support primitive shaders to improve textures, ray tracing to embellish lighting and make it look more realistic.

The GPU of the PS5 will also be capped at 3.5 GHz and will technically have 10.3 teraflops and 36 CU. That being said, Sony isn't boasting about teraflop and CU counts as they don't have direct connections to what a system can do.

Why it matters: It will enable backward compatibility with PS4, with developers having the option to take advantage of the GPU. Unfortunately, compatibility for other PlayStation consoles does not seem to be on the cards, and the fact that not all PS4 games will be supported at the console's launch is a bit disappointing.

PS5 Specs: Custom Audio Engine

PS5 will feature a custom audio engine called Tempest 3D AudioTech so it can support detailed 3D audio. The addition of ray tracing will also help audio as it has use with sounds as well. Specifically, the engine will allow developers to support hundreds of advanced sound sources in their full detail. It will have no caches and function similarly to an SPU-like architecture. The aim of this is to make the sound more accessible, not just those with soundbars and is better than available Dolby tech. Of course, the Tempest engine will fully support all headphones at launch and work is being done with various surround sound sets.

Cerny confirmed that the new audio engine is "extensively used" by some PS5 games in development already. PS5 will support 5 HRTFs at launch to adjust to the player's sound systems. More testing will also be done, with Sony even contemplating having players send pictures or videos of their ears to help develop the technology

Why it matters: Sound plays a pivotal role in-game immersion, so the fact that the PS5 will have super detailed audio could make Sony's captivating games even better. The Xbox Series X also has no clear comparison in the sound department, so Sony appears to be poised to win the next-gen audio wars.

Other technical PS5 specs

While Sony did not spend as much time on these specs during the presentation, we learned PS5 will feature 16GB of RAM GDDR 6, and, thanks to the SSD, much more of it can be used for the games. It will also have a CPU with 8 Zen 2 Cores at 3.5GHz and will use a 4K UHD Blu-ray Drive

Why it matters: While Sony didn't go into as much detail on these features, they are all still impressive leaps from last-gen consoles that will allow developers to put more detail into the games and not have to struggle with getting them up and running as much.

What about the PS5's price, design, games...?

We weren't expecting much from this announcement, which was originally meant for a smaller crowd at the Game Developer's Conference. That said, it would have been nice to see the final PS5 design — especially after Microsoft revealed the Xbox Series X design a while ago — and a vague mention of a price range and some launch games would have been a pleasant surprise.

However, as Cerny made clear, there's plenty more time before the PS5's release date this fall to reveal all those juicy details. Today was just about the specs.

The Inverse Analysis

The presentation wasn't very consumer-friendly and the lack of any physical hardware or game reveals is a little disappointing. Still, the PS5 is on par with the Xbox Series X in most areas and even outdoes it in some like audio. Still, until Sony reveals the actual console as well as its controller and games, Microsoft will continue to have the upper hand in the leadup to the launch of next-generation consoles.

PS5 is still set to be released during Holiday 2020.

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