Which of the two consoles has the upper hand when it comes to hardware?
With the PS5 and Xbox Series X both now merely months away from launch, the age old question – which of these two new consoles should I buy? – is going to be asked by many, many people, and asked often. There are some critical factors that we still don’t know about, such as the price, while for many, the single most important consideration in making that decision will be the games.
But the backbone of both consoles is, of course, the hardware that those games will run on, and whether or not that hardware will enable the PS5 or the Xbox Series X to do things that their competitor won’t be able to do is intrinsically tied to the question of which console will have the more compelling library.
It’s also worth noting that after a generation where both consoles were defined by off-the-shelf mid-range hardware, the PS5 and Xbox Series X are once again going back to custom elements, and there’s much differentiating the two of them than their predecessors. The question is- which one is better? That question isn’t easily answered, but let’s take a look at the individual aspects of both consoles anyway and try to do just that.
When it comes to CPU, both the Xbox Series X and PS5 are going for very similar things- one of the few areas where that can be said for both consoles. Both consoles use semi-custom Zen 2 CPUs with eight cores and 16 threads. The difference comes with clock speeds, and it’s here where the Xbox Series X has a slight edge- at least on paper.
The Xbox Series X’s CPU has a clock speed of 3.8 GHz without simultaneous multithreading (or SMT), and 3.6 GHz with SMT. The PS5, on the other hand, has a variable frequency of 3.5 GHz with SMT. What does that all mean, though? Well, it means that on paper, the Xbox Series X does have a slight edge, but effectively, it’s not going to end up making much of a difference, if at all.
The fact that the Xbox Series X is committing to harder numbers as opposed to the PS5’s variable frequency is definitely a point in its favour, since the PS5 might conceivably drop to 3.3 GHz or even 3.2 GHz in the worst case scenario- but again, while that is a knock against it on paper, it’s not going to make much difference, especially when you consider how negligible the differences seem to be in real world terms. It’s like two people who’re the same height, but one of them has their hair standing on end that makes them slightly taller. It doesn’t matter.
The Xbox Series X edges it here- but it’s a victory in name and little else. Both consoles have impressive processors that are more or less getting the same results.
This is one area where the Xbox Series X has a very clear advantage, and the area where all the talk about it having more raw power than the PS5 comes from. With a 12.16 TFLOPs GPU with 52 compute units, each running at 1.82 GHz, the Xbox Series X has a seriously impressive GPU, one that truly does feel like a significant leap over the console hardware developers have had to work with these past 7 years.
By comparison, the PS5’s GPU is much smaller on paper, with only 36 compute units as compared to the Xbox Series X’s 52. But – and this is a pretty significant but – the PS5’s GPU still has a frequency of 2.23 GHz, which is more than the Xbox Series X. That is a variable frequency, which, once again, means that it will every now and then drop off to below that number, but the net result is still a higher frequency than the Xbox Series X. The total compute power comes up to 10.28 TFLOPs.
What does all of that mean? It means that the Xbox Series X’s GPU is clearly the more powerful one, with much more raw power than the PS5, but the PS5 does boast of pretty impressive speed, and while that doesn’t bring it completely neck-to-neck with its competitors, it does come pretty close to doing that. The end result is an 18 percent gap in raw terms, which is not negligible, but not devastating for the PS5 by any means either.
This one goes to the Xbox Series X, but the PS5 is no slouch either.
Just as the Xbox Series X has a very clear advantage over the PS5 when it comes to the GPU, the PS5, too, has a vast advantage over the Xbox Series X when it comes to the SSD. The fact that both consoles have SSDs is, in and of itself, exciting no matter how you cut it, but the PS5 is frankly going above and beyond what most would have expected from it until a few months ago.
The Xbox Series X’s 1 TB NVMe SSD has a compressed throughput of 4.8 GB/s, and raw throughput of 2.4 GB/s- which is impressive, to be sure, especially for the console space’s standards. But the PS5, incredible enough, more than two times faster than the Xbox Series X on both counts. Its 825 GB NVMe SSD has a compressed throughput of up to 9 GB/s, and a raw throuput of 5.5 GB/s- which puts it far, far ahead of not only the Xbox Series X, but basically any SSD that has ever been made.
The Xbox Series X does have an ace in the hole that helps it (somewhat) make up for that giant gap- its Velocity Architecture, which is basically an umbrella term that Microsoft are using for several elements that work together to make streaming much faster, including hardware decompression, DirectStorage, and Sampler Feedback Streaming. Collectively, they reduce the work that the CPU has to put in for data transfers, make on-the-fly decompression much faster, and make streaming much more efficient.
The Velocity Architecture is accomplishing a lot, and the effects it will have will bleed over into more than just what the SSD can accomplish (for instance, it will free up the CPU to do more things). No, the Velocity Architecture doesn’t make up for the massive gulf between the two consoles’ SSDs, but its an important factor that cannot be ignored when talking about SSDs nonetheless.
This one, of course, goes to the PS5.
Memory is such a crucial factor in consoles- so often we see this being the one element that ends up crippling even the most impressive pieces of machinery. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like the PS5 and Xbox Series X will have that issue (or so it seems right now, at any rate).
Which of the two has the upper hand though? Well, it’s hard to say. The Xbox Series X has a 16 GB GGDR6 RAM. 10 GB of that has a bandwidth of 560 GB/s, while the remaining 6 GB has a bandwidth of 336 GB/s. Architectures that split their memories have proven to be tricky in the past, and while its conceivably that that might present issues for the Xbox Series X as well, its pool of 10 GB running at 560 GB/s seems like more than enough to handle whatever developers might throw at it- for the next year years, at the very least.
The PS5, in comparison, also has a 16 GB GDDR6 RAM- but it has a unified pool, and a bandwidth of 448 GB/s. Yes, that bandwidth is significantly lower than the bandwidth Xbox Series X has for its critical pool, but then again, the PS5 does have the advantage of having a larger, unified pool of RAM.
The end result? Well, both have advantages over the other, but effectively, they both pretty much arrive at the same spot. The Xbox Series X does seem to be better suited for 4K gaming, seeing as it can dedicate much faster speeds of 10 GB RAM to its GPU, but that gap most likely won’t be a huge one.
Where does all of that leave us? Well, it leaves us with a multi-faceted answer to the question of which of the two consoles has the upper hand in terms of specs. The Xbox Series X is the more powerful console on paper, especially in traditional terms, and its more impressive GPU is more than enough to ensure that. The PS5, however, makes up for that with its incredibly fast SSD, which is an area where it has the clear upper hand over the Xbox Series X. In terms of pure raw power, yes, the Xbox Series X has the upper hand, but if we take a holistic view of the hardware of both consoles, the difference between the two ends up being rather negligible, at least effectively speaking.
One crucial factor in this discussion that we also need to consider is the Xbox Lockhart- the supposedly cheaper and less powerful variant of the Xbox Series X (that Microsoft haven’t officially confirmed yet). There’s plenty that we don’t know about it, but at the end of the day, if it does exist – and it almost certainly does at this point – that will be the baseline that all developers will have to hit. Of course, Microsoft may very well have pipelines that would allow for efficient scaling of games, but having to ensure that their games run on significantly weaker hardware – especially in terms of GPU – is something that will invariably effect most developers. Again, though, the Lockhart is a big question mark in more ways than one right now, so it’s hard to be too sure of anything when it comes to this.
What we can do right now is compare the Xbox Series X and the PS5, and this is the conclusion you can come away with. Imagine two buildings, both of them twelve storeys tall- but while one is completely above ground, the other has six of its storeys beneath the ground. That’s the Xbox Series X and PS5- they’re both equal, but in very different ways. If its pure, raw power in traditional terms that you want to consider, then sure- Xbox Series X does have the edge.