After months of guessing and speculation, we finally know the hardware specifications for the next generation of home consoles. Microsoft has been relatively open with the Xbox Series X, offering the console's physical design, internals, and general philosophy. Sony is hiding part of its hand, offering the hardware internals today in a lengthy technical presentation by lead system architect Mark Cerny, but declining to even show what the upcoming system will look like. We still don't have any games, a retail price, or even a firm release date for either system.
What we can do is put both systems side-by-side and see how they'll stack up. Thanks to Sony's presentation today, blogs from Microsoft, and the details shared with our sister site Digital Foundry, we have a concrete picture where both systems stand. Here are the full specifications of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.
|PlayStation 5||Xbox Series X|
|CPU||8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.5GHz (variable frequency)||8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.8GHz (3.6GHz with SMT)|
|GPU||10.28 TFLOPs, 36 CUs at 2.23GHz (variable frequency), Custom RDNA 2||12 TFLOPs, 52 CUs at 1.825GHz, Custom RDNA 2|
|Memory||16GB GDDR6/256-bit||16GB GDDR6|
|Memory Bandwidth||448GB/s||10GB at 560GB/s, 6GB at 336GB/s|
|Internal Storage||Custom 825GB SSD||1TB Custom NVMe SSD|
|IO Throughput||5.5GB/s (Raw), Typical 8-9GB/s (Compressed)||2.4GB/s (Raw), 4.8GB/s (Compressed)|
|Expandable Storage||NVMe SSD Slot||1TB Expansion Card|
|External Storage||USB HDD Support||USB 3.2 HDD Support|
|Optical Drive||4K UHD Blu-ray Drive||4K UHD Blu-ray Drive|
Right off the bat, it's clear that the PlayStation 5 is a weaker system compared to the Xbox Series X. CPU, GPU, and memory bandwidth are all lower on the PlayStation 5, but the latter's gains are in the unique SSD architecture. The custom SSD implementation in the PS5 has twice the throughput at 5.5 gigabytes per second (GB/s) raw, versus the Xbox's 2.4 GB/s. The PS5 will be faster at pulling data from its hard drive compared to the Xbox Series X. The benefits here are in loading assets like models, textures, and world data; the PS5 can do it faster, meaning potentially bigger open-worlds and almost no loading. (Does 1 second vs 8 second load time bother you?)
The Xbox Series X is more powerful straight up and should run pretty much any game at a higher resolution and higher frame rate compared to its PS5 counterpart. It has a significant lead on the GPU side, with 12 Teraflops of power coming from 52 computing units (CU) at 1.825 GHz. The PlayStation 5 is running with 36 CUs at 2.23GHz; that's less than the Xbox, but they look faster on an initial read. The trick is that variable frequency based on power consumption within the system, so you're not always looking at the top speed of 2.23GHz. Cerny says that the drop shouldn't be that bad, though we haven't seen any real-world comparisons just yet.
"When that worst case game arrives, it will run at a lower clock speed. But not too much lower, to reduce power by 10% it only takes a couple of percent reduction in frequency, so I'd expect any downclocking to be pretty minor," Cerny told Digital Foundry. "All things considered, the change to a variable frequency approach will show significant gains for PlayStation gamers."
What Sony is betting on is that the higher frequencies will allow the PS5 to handle certain tasks much faster. It's a weaker GPU, but a more agile one. To offer a very reductive metaphor, the PS5 is a car with better acceleration and turning, while the Xbox Series X has a bigger engine and higher top-end. It's a Subaru WRX, compared to Microsoft's Dodge Charger.
At the end of the day, developers have to make games for Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, and PC. Theoretically, the unique SSD architecture means developers can do some interesting things with PS5 games in terms of building their worlds, but will they given a multi-platform requirement? On paper, the gap between the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation is somewhat similar to the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro. The Xbox will be more powerful, but the PS5 will still run the latest games just fine. I'd just expect a heightened use of dynamic resolution on PS5 to keep frame rates stable, just like PlayStation 4 Pro.
The custom SSD solution in the PlayStation 5 means that the system won't have a swappable hard drive like the PlayStation 4. To reach the speeds Sony is aiming for, that internal SSD is locked in place. The PS5 has a storage expansion slot just like the Series X, but the difference is Sony will allow for owners to use off-the-shelf PCIe 4.0 M.2 NVMe SSDs. Sony will have to verify compatible drives, but that's slightly better than Microsoft's proprietary solution. You're still looking at 1TB for around $200 in current prices. Like the Series X, you can run older PS4 games from external USB hard drives, but PS5 games will need to run on the internal SSD or the NVMe expansion drive.
Speaking of "older PS4 games", the PlayStation 5 is currently only backward compatible with PlayStation 4 games. This is via a legacy mode on the PS5's chip, not a whole PS4 system-on-a-chip within the PS5. Cerny says that "testing has to be done on a title by title basis." Sony has taken a look at the Top 100 PS4 titles by playtime for compatibility testing and it expects "almost all of them" to work. Microsoft has made further gains in this place, as the Series X runs all Xbox One games, which includes the Xbox 360 and Xbox games Microsoft has made available through its Backward Compatibility program.
Another bullet point is the PlayStation 5's Tempest Engine, which is a custom chip that's built to support 3D audio. The Tempest Engine supports hundreds of sound sources, each with its own tracked virtual position. This will allow for the benefits of surround sound, each through dual speaker setups and headphones. It's clear that the Tempest Engine represents Sony continued bet on the PlayStation VR, and there are rumors of an updated model of the headset coming for the PS5 after launch.
From the specs, the PlayStation 5 could be a cheaper system than the Xbox Series X. Sony could bring this in at between $399 $450, while the Xbox Series X feels like a $499 console. That said, Microsoft is trying to come from behind this generation, so it might play hardball on the price, taking a per console hit to match the PlayStation 5.
The bottomline is that the next generation is here and the word of the day is "speed." PlayStation 5 will run next-gen games just fine, with drastically shorter loading times. If you're tied to visual prowess, the Xbox Series X will likely be the system to pick up. Sony benefits from the absolute strength of the PlayStation 4's mental share and Japanese developers. In contrast, Microsoft has built up an impressive list of services to surround its powerful console, including Xbox Game Pass and the Backward Compatibility program. It's the same toss-up you have to make for the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro now; it's just a matter of what you prize more.