Next gen hardware. Is it really next gen? Plus Cell Processor in detail
In the past month or so there have been many stories and questions about which system truly does have the best hardware. With both companies coming out with better games, better software, is a hardware winner a little clearer? I will exclude the Nintendo Wii from this article because it does not hold a fair comparison hardware wise. Also I will not put software into this article. This is strictly a hardware overview. I will not include WiFi, HD-DVD or Blu-Ray drives, etc. into this as this is not a review to make you buy one hardware over the other. This is an detailed overview of the important hardware inside.
I’m not going to get into detailed systems specs as those may become a little confusing and playing a numbers comparison game isn’t fair to neither the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3. Since it would be like comparing apples to oranges. Each fanboy of each system has one piece of hardware which they say makes their system the better system. For once, I agree. The Xbox 360 has a powerful GPU, the ATI Xenos. The Playstation 3 on the other hand has the Nvidia RSX. Winner? The ATI Xenos. Each GPU has postivies and negatives and the RSX on paper might have the better numbers but it isn’t the winner. Having the best numbers, doesn’t always provide the best results. Look at the New York Yankees. However, the biggest different between them is the ATI has a unified shader architecture allowing for many more things while the RSX is more restricted. This in turn creates certain graphical restrictions and slows down the process. The other big difference is anti-aliasing. Where in the Xenos GPU it is built in, on the RSX it is much harder to achieve. This has been proven in several past games. Remember though, these are first year titles so giving the difficulty of the Playstation architecture, it isn’t a fair comparison yet. Even yet, some developers take the short cut instead of achieving full 4X AA. Developers like Capcom for example use a blur effect between frames to get rid of jaggies. If done right, it isn’t a problem, but if over done like in Ghost Recon for the PS3, it looks like someone threw vasoline over your TV screen. Then there are developers like Infinity Ward that achieve full 4X AA with the Playstation 3.
The processors is where the Playstation 3 wins. The Playstation 3 uses a new processor calling it the Cell. The Cell counts as one main CPU with 8 SPEs under it. Only 6 though are accessible to the developer as one is disabled for better benchmarks and one is used for the OS. The Xbox 360 on the other hand uses a tri-core Xenon processor. No slouch either, and its biggest advantage over the Cell is the architecture since developer’s are most familiar.
So if the PS3 has a similar GPU and a more powerful CPU, why are there so many problems? Why the lack of AA? Why is the frame rate worse? Well there are many answers for this. After getting certification in a couple Cell processing seminars, I have spent sometime with the Cell. It is one powerful chip but making it do what you want is where it gets tricky. Same old story right, difficult coding. To get a better understanding of how the processing works, here is an example. Pretend you and two friends are building a shed outdoors. The Xbox 360 CPU way of doing it would be all three of you work on the shed in the backyard together. Simple right? The Cell CPU would have you outside, one person in the garage and one person in the house doing the work. And than delivering it to you. However, the work must come at the right time as a delay will cause the other friend (SPE) to be delayed and errors occur. As you see, just in this example how much more complicated it is to get the Cell to do the work you want; especially in video games. So why the bad frame rate? Well if you are playing a game and one SPE is suppose to deliver information to the CPU but is late, while the 2nd SPE is already in line, the frame rate will crash or the game. You cannot delay information, everything has to come on time or it just doesn’t work. The advantages of this are huge though as you can assign each SPE to do certain things. Have one do the AI, one do visual, one do sound, etc. As you see you can really expand what you can do with it once it is better understood. For these reasons the Cell is more powerful and the fact that is not yet understood just makes it that much better.
For the most part, both systems at this point are the same. With each having positives and negatives. So what separates them?
Space. While Sony decided to go into the future with a HDD option on every Playstation and Blu Ray, Microsoft went back in time with making HDD an option and sticking with DVD9. In the beginning the difference wasn’t as big but now it is becoming a problem. Many developers have already spoken that not having HDD as an option is creating problems, and it sure is. Look at Mass Effect. Texture rendering and pop in is bad. A HDD install would have been an instant fix to this problem. Next look at space. There have already been a couple Xbox games that have come out on more than one disc. With graphics and AI improving, the problem will only become bigger. For example, as mentioned earlier the 360 has a more powerful GPU, however, if the textures for the game that make it look better graphically don’t fit on the disc, the GPU power is wasted. Now you are saying, compression. Personally I hate compression. It degrades the quality and there is only so much you can compress before you start cutting features out. Some of this problem can be salvaged by creating a optional HDD install. Will Microsoft choose to go this route, we shall see.
My finals thoughts on this are that for whatever reason Microsoft chose to go with its machine half next gen and half old gen. Why? I mean the original Xbox had an HDD. I really don’t understand. Rumors have surfaced that Microsoft is making a new console for release in 2010 which is early. A five year life span was good in the orginal Nintendo days but not today with the technology these systems are packing.
So tell us, if Microsoft does come out with a new system in two years will you buy it? Will you continue to support Microsoft?
As always thanks for reading, this wasn’t an article meant to get you to go with one system over the other but to give you a more detailed look at the hardware inside.