Every time a new console launches, computer gamers like me, quickly remind the gaming community that our choice platform offers more power and versatility than even the latest, brightest console. It’s still true this time, but things feel a little … different.
In fact, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are more powerful than both the mid-range gaming computers in my office – which would be unheard of in the PS4 and Xbox One days. While the computer still has a big point in terms of performance series– that is, you can spend more to get more – the latest consoles are more computer-like than ever and make the performance gap more than their ancestors did.
When Sony announced the PlayStation 4, hardware experts knew it would be on the weak side. AnandTech noted that console makers did not take CPU performance seriously enough, and that the GPU was equivalent to a Radeon HD 7850 or 7870 – then $ 140 and $ 170 graphics cards. It’s lower than an average price point, which means you can build a PC that would beat the pants of the PS4 and Xbox One quite affordably – indeed, many games have lower frames, downgraded graphics or both compared to halfway decent computers at the time. (This was not true across the board – some infamous PC ports had their own problems – but it’s clear that even a midrange computer will get more power to play with.)
Part of this was due to Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), the semiconductor company that has been designing the processors and graphics chips in Sony and Microsoft’s consoles for the past two generations. “When last-generation consoles were launched, AMD was in a bad state,” explains Brad Chacos, senior editor of games and graphics at PC World. “They still managed their old Bulldozer architecture, which was a big gamble that did not bear fruit for them.”
The failure led to them playing a second fiddle for Intel in the computer space for years, and the Jaguar processors in the PS4 and Xbox One were finished, energy-efficient versions of the already weak product. Although developers were able to optimize the games for the firmware, it still could not hold a candle to a well-built computer.
This year, as Chacos puts it, “AMD is shooting at all cylinders,” with their latest Ryzen 5000 processors beating Intel for the first time in a decade and a half. And since the chips are also found in the PS5 and Xbox Series X – unlike the old, almost tablet-like Jaguar processors in the last generation consoles – they can come much closer to the performance you can get on a good gaming computer .
However, it’s not just the processors and graphics chips. Solid-state drives, or SSDs, have finally come to consoles as well, offering the fast charging times we’ve been enjoying on a computer for years. SSDs also allow for faster loading of rags and faster fast travel, which improves real quality of life, leaving previous consoles feeling old and slow outside the gate. Put it all together, and the latest consoles look a lot like gaming computers in terms of graphics capability.
To be honest, this year’s consoles are also a bit more expensive than their predecessors – $ 500 for the best PS5 and Xbox Series X compared to the $ 400 PS4 and Xbox One (removal to Kinect). That higher price gives manufacturers a bit of leeway to include more powerful hardware – but Chacos notes that these consoles are still ‘extraordinary values’, especially since the computer hardware was outlawed in 2020 (thank you, Covid-19). $ 500 may be more expensive than the previous generation, but it’s a compelling price for the graphic fidelity you get, and the digital PS4 retrieves the old price of $ 400 with the same performance as the $ 500 version. (Although I would argue that Sony is offering the lower price in the hope that you will pay more for digital games in the long run.)