Sony's 'PS4K': faster CPU, more RAM, same small HDD ()

The much-rumoured upgraded PlayStation 4, nicknamed PS4.5 or PS4K, has inched closer to reality, with details emerging of the revised console's specifications. 

Although Sony itself has still not officially confirmed the hardware's existence, it is also claimed that the machine is codenamed 'NEO' internally. A release before the end of 2016, possibly to coincide with the launch of PlayStation VR, is still being targeted.

Initial reports of the NEO specs surfaced at Giant Bomb and appear to have been corroborated by Eurogamer's Digital Foundry. The new version is likely to benefit from boosted CPU and GPU performance, and faster memory.

Specifically, it is claimed that the current octocore 'Jaguar' CPU will get a clock speed boost from 1.6GHz to 2.1GHz; the GPU doubles from 18 compute units at 800MHz to 36 at 911MHz; and while memory remains 8GB, it too gets faster, leaping from 176GB/s to 218GB/s, with a 24 per cent spike in bandwidth. The increased power is intended to allow for 4K quality output for games and video, as well as better serving Sony's virtual reality plans – a notoriously power-hungry technology at present, on any platform.

Perhaps strangely, the stock 500GB hard drive doesn't appear to get an upgrade. Giant Bomb says the HDD will be "the same as that in the original PlayStation 4, but it's not clear if that means in terms of capacity or connection speed." This will likely be a disappointment to some, as more internal storage – or the ability to use external storage devices – has become one of the most common requests from gamers.

The good news for anyone with an existing model PS4 though is that Sony has reportedly laid down strict guidelines on how developers can access the increased performance of the PS4 NEO. There will be no NEO-exclusive games, all future releases must remain compatible with existing PS4s, and multiplayer performance will have to support players on either version.

To help support this, games will begin shipping with two modes. The 'base' mode will optimise for existing hardware, while 'NEO Mode' will be unlock the hardware upgrades increasing the visual quality. Although the NEO is predicted to support 4K output, games themselves won't necessarily be required to be 4K native, merely maximise frame rate and image quality for a 1080p output. Picture quality is likely to be upscaled for owners with a 4K TV.

The dual mode are set to go into effect from October 2016, supporting the rumoured launch window for the PS4 NEO. Developers may also have the ability to patch in support for NEO Mode for existing games.

However, increasing the power of the PS4 while restricting developers in how they access that power could be seen as an odd decision, especially coupled with reports that the NEO won't supplant the existing hardware but instead be sold as a premium product alongside it. The specs also reveal some surprising omissions from what an enhanced PS4 could offer without impacting gaming performance. For instance, the Blu-ray drive in the NEO appears to stay the same, rather than upgrading to a UHD 4K compliant model, and there's no sign of it being able to support HDR video, as recently implemented by Netflix.

Of course, until Sony itself confirms details, there's a lot of guesswork surrounding the PS4K/NEO, including how it may or may not actually benefit PlayStation VR. At this point, we'd expect a formal reveal at E3 in June – Sony's next major opportunity for a showcase.

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