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PS4 lead architect describes its "supercharged PC" design

Published 
25 Apr 2013
Sony PS4 Controller

Sony's upcoming PlayStation 4 is like a "supercharged PC," the console's lead architect explains, while detailing the customisations made to its APU

Mark Cerny, Sony's lead architect on the upcoming PlayStation 4 console, has described the device as having a "supercharged PC architecture" that will be immediately familiar to developers.

Speaking to Gamasutra, Cerny explained that the PlayStation 3's biggest drawback was with its Cell processor. Despite providing plenty of raw performance, the design of the chip was new and unfamiliar - meaning developers often struggled to make the most of it, something Sony's switch to the x86 architecture, as used in desktop and laptop PCs, should resolve.

Describing the PS4 as using a "supercharged PC architecture" - based, as it is, on semi-custom versions of AMD's 'Jaguar' accelerated processing unit (APU) with eight processing cores and high-performance Radeon HD graphics. The console also includes 8GB of GDDR5 memory, a high-speed standard normally reserved purely for use on graphics cards. "The 'supercharged' part, a lot of that comes from the use of the single unified pool of high-speed memory," Cerny told the site, referring to the system's ability to have the graphics processors and general-purpose processors both access any area of system memory - solving a common bottleneck where data has to be shuffled from main memory to graphics memory and back again in non-unified designs.

Suggesting that the unified memory system, which AMD is working to bring to its desktop processors in the future, was "the largest piece of feedback" the company got from developers, Cerny states that it's something that will keep the PS4 ticking over even as PCs become increasingly powerful over its projected five-year lifespan.

Cerny also gave clues as to the customisation that has gone into AMD's APU, which is significantly more powerful than the APUs currently available for desktops and laptops. The company has added the ability for the chip to read or write directly to system memory without going through its layers of cache memory, introduced a way of marking cached data as 'volatile,' and adding 64 queues for telling the graphics processor to run general-purpose computation - up from just two in the desktop equivalent chips.

With bold claims that the line-up of games available at launch will be stronger than any of Sony's previous console launches - although Cerny told the site "I unfortunately can't give the title count" - the PS4 could certainly give Microsoft's Xbox 720, due to be unveiled next month, a run for its money.

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