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Sony drops CELL, switches to x86 CPU for PS4

Posted: 26 Feb 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:PlayStation 4? x86 CPU? Jaguar? Radeon GPU? Xbox?

The PlayStation 4 made its debut last week and Sony Computer Entertainment revealed that its next-generation gaming console will use an x86 CPU instead of its own CELL processor.

Sony, which developed the processor for the PlayStation 2, is now dropping CELL as well as the Nvidia graphics chip which powered the PlayStation 3. According to Mark Cerny, lead system architect of PS4 at Sony, the Japanese consumer electronics giant will now run a new AMD accelerated processing unit (APU) which integrates an x86 CPU and GPU on the same die.

While Sony did not disclose the SoC supplier during the press event, the company's press release later revealed that PS4 will use a single-chip custom processor that includes an 8-core 64bit x86 "Jaguar" CPU built by AMD, with a Radeon GPU capable of 1.84 TFLOPS operation to process graphics.

Mark Cerny

Cerny: "The PlayStation 4 is made by developers and for developers."

By choosing the x86 CPU for its next generation gaming platform, Sony will gain two things, said Rick Doherty, research director at Envisioneering Group. "One is time to market, which is critical, and another is supercharged PC game developers excited to use their code and graphics rendering experience on PS4," Doherty said.

Although Sony's move is not an endorsement of the PC as a gaming platform, the switch to the x86 CPU should also attract a large installed-base of "extreme PC gamers" to PS4, he added.

In a way, Sony might have been announcing "an ultimate PC gaming machine called PS4," quipped Doherty. Referring to Microsoft's Xbox 360 game console based on the PowerPC architecture, Doherty said, "Bill Gates must be banging his head on the wall now, saying 'why didn't we do this?'" Microsoft's original Xbox was based on Intel's x86 CPU.

According to Cerny, Sony's PS4 development started five years ago, during the early days of the PS3 rollout.

Cerny said three principles that drove the development of the PS4 system architecture were: superior core performance whereby "nothing should come between the platform and the game play"; enhanced connectivity by building "a much more fluid, easy access among console, mobile devices and PlayStation Network"; and "what do developers want?"

Calling PS4 a gaming platform "by developers and for developers," Cerny described its hardware system as consisting of "x86 CPU, enhanced PC GPU, 8 Gigabytes of unified memory using GDDR5 and hard disc drive."

Brian Dipert, the founder and principal of Sierra Media, noted that the use of GDDR5 is "probably the most proprietary aspect of this otherwise very PC-reminiscent hardware design." Although GDDR5 is already used on stand-alone graphics cards, he added that it probably won't be in PCs as main memory for a while yet.


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