We’ve been hearing rumors for more than a month that Sony would launch an updated PS4. The specs on the new unit, known unofficially as the PS4K or PS4.5 have now leaked, and they point to a significant performance jump for the updated platform.
According to Giant Bomb, the new platform is codenamed Neo, and will offer eight AMD Jaguar CPU cores clocked at 2.1GHz, 36 Compute Units based on Polaris and clocked at 911MHz, and the same 8GB of GDDR5, but with maximum bandwidth of 218GB/s.
All of these specs are a notable improvement over the current PS4, but the GPU jump is easily the largest. The Neo’s CPU is 31% faster than the old PS4, the GPU should be more than twice as powerful, and the system packs 24% more memory bandwidth. This new platform would also incorporate the bandwidth-saving color compression that launched with GCN 1.2, as well as any other improvements introduced by Polaris.
As we expected, games will not be required to be 4K native, though Sony is leaving developers the option if they wish to target it. Critical to the Neo’s proposition is that it must maintain frame rates at least as high as those on the original PS4. In practice, the Neo should outperform the classic PS4 at every level, with better performance in existing titles. Tellingly, there will be no Neo-only games, no Neo-specific features in titles, and no unlocks or capabilities that are tied to owning the new platform.
If you buy a Neo, you’re buying better performance in games that will run just fine on the PS4, but not access to a special store front, unique features, or other capabilities. This makes a certain amount of sense under what’s called the iPhone model, in which a company maintains a limited number of product SKUs with a common operating system and a mostly common set of capabilities. There can still be differences, however — Apple still gatekeeps some features, like ad blocking, off older 32-bit phones. Sony isn’t going that route, at least not yet.
Sony’s decision to keep the existing GDDR5 memory interface and to modestly improve its bandwidth suggests a jump from 5.5Gbps chips to 7.0Gbps — well within current GDDR5 specs. The new GPU cores will be far more powerful than the current solution, but the lack of additional memory bandwidth or a commensurate increase in CPU power means that Sony continues to target compute offload to the GPU as a major way to increase game performance. Compute offload shouldn’t place a heavy burden on system memory the way that increasing resolution does, and Polaris should be more capable than the GCN solution currently inside the modern PS4.
The good news is this: There’s no reason the PS4K shouldn’t be able to handle 1080p output at a constant 30 FPS. It’s not clear yet if Sony will allow developers to offer higher resolution output, but even if resolution is locked for both consoles, the Neo version should be far superior to what PS4 players have put up with to date. CPU bottlenecks should be significantly alleviated, while doubling GPU power and increasing the clock speed should yield great dividends there, as well.
Existing PS4 games should “just work” with Neo (possibly after a small patch), offering more consistent frame times and fewer drops. This may let us identify which titles were fundamentally underpowered, and which had coding problems that led to performance hits. While the original 2013 PS4 may have been a tad underpowered, this new console offers significantly better performance. If games still struggle to maintain a constant 30 FPS on both versions of the platform, it’ll be a good bet that poor optimization, not intrinsic hardware weakness, is actually to blame.
There’s no evidence of any VR tech integration with Neo or that using VR with Neo will unlock existing modes. This could limit the performance of Sony’s first-generation VR technology, but making the hardware compatible with all PS4 variants gives the company a much larger install base and the only reasonable chance of shifting huge numbers of units by Christmas.
Eurogamer is reporting that the current specs for the PS4K don’t actually include an updated Blu-ray drive or SSD options. Both of these surprise us — an SSD option might have been a great way to position a $499 SKU as a luxury upgrade over a standard HDD product at $399, while the addition of a UHD Blu-ray drive would position the PlayStation 4K as a natural fit for the new standard. Historically, Sony led the charge into both DVD and Blu-ray films with its PS2 and PS3. The PS4 launched before 4K Blu-ray was actually ready for market, but skipping that transition now feels short-sighted.
Now that we’ve effectively got confirmation on a new PS4, one can only assume that Microsoft is working on something similar. There’s no way Microsoft could allow Sony to take the lead with features like this without offering something of its own in return.