Reviews

Silent and Monolithic Power — PlayStation 5 review

Reviewing a console is always interesting as it is a collection of hardware that ultimately serves to provide you with delicious content. Still, these devices are amazing feats of engineering worth doing a deep dive into, so let’s do exactly that.

The PlayStation 5 is Sony’s newest iteration of their console hardware, representing a quantum leap forward in technological capabilities that should provide us with countless hours for years to come. Peeling back the layers, let’s see what’s under the hood.

  • CPU: AMD Zen 2-based CPU with 8 cores at 3.5GHz (variable frequency)
  • GPU: 10.28 TFLOPs, 36 CUs at 2.23GHz (variable frequency)
  • GPU architecture: Custom RDNA 2
  • Memory interface: 16GB GDDR6 / 256-bit
  • Memory bandwidth: 448GB/s
  • Internal storage: Custom 825GB SSD
  • IO throughput: 5.5GB/s (raw), typical 8-9GB/s (compressed)
  • Expandable storage: NVMe SSD slot
  • External storage: USB HDD support (PS4 games only)
  • Optical drive: 4K UHD Blu-ray drive

To really understand the hardware, we’ll take a look at this spec sheet line by line, demystifying the jargon and showing how it’ll help our games load faster and look better.

CPU:
AMD once again steps up to the plate to bring the PlayStation 5 to life. Using an 8 core processor with 3.5 GHz worth of processing power, this 64-bit processor from AMD has more than enough power to deliver ray-tracing, fast processing and load speeds, and much more.

GPU:
This GPU is high-powered goodness, bringing 10.28 TFLOPs of power — slightly more than that of a GeForce RTX 2080 Super, only that videocard costs $699 all on its own. Inside it has 36 CU, or compute units. These compute units are processing clusters that can independently take a workload, crunch it, and pass it back through the hardware to the memory. With 36 of them, the system is capable of delivering a lot of parallel processing, and it does so at 2.33GHz. Like the CPU, this processor is a custom AMD processor based on their RDNA 2 architecture. If you want to see what’s possible, look no further than the Unreal Engine 5 demonstration running in realtime on the PlayStation 5. Given the amount of games that run on Unreal Engine, this truly is a taste of things to come.

Memory Interface / Bandwidth:
Long have developers complained that consoles didn’t have enough memory, but you know they have to be happy to see a full 16GB of high-speed GDDR6 loaded into the PlayStation 5. Currently the fastest memory on the market (the experimental GDDR6X from Micron notwithstanding), the PlayStation 5 has a memory bandwidth of a whopping 448GB/s. For comparison, the PlayStation 4 had just 8GB of memory and could run at a maximum of 176GB/s.

Internal Storage:
The PlayStation 5 sports a high-speed custom NVME flash storage drive with 825GB of space, of which around 768GB is available for use after the OS install. While this drive may be smaller than the 1TB drive offered in the Xbox Series X, it absolutely dominates it in terms of speed. The Xbox Series X can read and write raw data at roughly 2.4GB/s, with compression pushing that to 4.8 GB/s. The PlayStation 5 delivers a remarkable 5.5 GB/s transfer speed, with compression pushing that number to a blistering 9GB/s! How does that manifest in gameplay? Well, loading times in games like Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales are all but eliminated entirely, and quick resume is instantaneous. It’s easy to take these raw numbers and draw all sorts of incorrect conclusions that every game will have split-second load times, but further optimization could actually make that somewhat true.

There is a secondary m.2 slot in the PlayStation 5 to help alleviate the smaller high-speed internal storage space. This slot will remain empty for a little while as Sony has confirmed that this space is reserved for a future update post-launch. It’s likely that they want the PCIe 4.0 standard drives to become more ubiquitous, and likely to certify one or two, before they move forward with allowing users to upgrade.

Load Times
All this power and speed has to result in faster load times, hopefully getting us back into our games faster and with fewer loading screens. We put that theory to the test, comparing load times between a PlayStation 4 Pro and the PlayStation 5.  These are initial load times from the moment I pressed “play”, past all the logos, and when I could press X to get rolling.

It’s remarkable just how fast the internal hard drive of the PlayStation 5 really is, and just how much of an improvement it can make.  Games that had been patched to reduce load time like God of War and The Last of Us Part II saw the least amount of improvement, but all of them are fairly remarkable.  I ran the Mortal Kombat 11 test several times to confirm — it’s just that fast.

Cooling:
The sleek tower-like design of the PlayStation 5 hides a fantastic cooling system that keeps the device extraordinarily cool. The console sports a 120mm fan that you might expect to see in a modern PC, and four temperature sensors within the case to allow it to run in a variable fashion. Sony has already stated that they intend to adjust this programmatically to allow it to spin slower or faster based on power consumption and heat dissipation. Ultimately, I could see this being similar to what we’ve seen in the current crop of GeForce RTX 2080 Super powered laptops, with several power profiles that can be adjusted on the fly. Could this lead to per-game adjustments? Time will tell, but I’ll say this much — as it stands, the console is silent, even under heavy load. Too many times I’ve had to turn up the volume on a game thanks to the inordinately loud fans on the PlayStation 4 — Sony has completely defeated this demon, and that’s something we can all get behind.

External Storage and Optical Drive:
While it’s only applicable to PlayStation 4 games, you can connect a USB-powered hard drive (SSD or rotational) to install your favorite previous-gen titles. Realize that anything you install here will be limited by the speed of the drive, so you might want to lean more heavily towards flash like an SSD, but rotational storage will work in a pinch.

If you opted for the PlayStation 5 over the PlayStation 5 Digital Edition, then you also have access to a 4K UHD Blu-ray Drive for all of your movie watching needs. I personally prefer having the drive as it allows me to load up larger games without having to download so much.

If you’d like a deeper look at the internals of the PlayStation 5, there’s no better way than Sony’s own teardown video. Check it out:

Size:
There’s no denying that the PlayStation 5 is rather large. The system measures 15.4” x 4.1” and 10.2” for width, height, and depth, respectively, weighing 9.9lbs — not that it matters as the system is for gaming, not juggling. Comparatively, the PlayStation 4 Pro is 11.6” x 2.1” and 12.9”, again for width, height, and depth at just over 7lbs. It can be oriented on its side thanks to the included stand, but it’s clear from the design that the intended orientation is vertical. Since the side plates are removable, it’s likely we’ll see customization there as well, so having it on display once again reinforces the intent.

User Experience:
We’ve gone through the hardware, but that’s only half the upgrades the PlayStation 5 brings to the table. First and foremost, know that the system boots and is ready to go within 17 seconds of plugging in the cord — a marked improvement over its predecessor. Once booted, you’ll find a well-blended and integrated operating system that aims to deliver entertainment to the user quickly. Let’s take a closer look.

Sony once again delivers a solid walkthrough of their own platform, showcasing the best features of the new OS at length. One of the things I like most about the new UI is that everything about the game you are playing or looking at in the PlayStation Store is pulled into one location. By way of example, while playing Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales I can see that I’ve recently completed several missions, resulting in achievements and a quick video pull to commemorate that moment. Moreover, I can see the screenshots I took, as well as the offer of in-game hints. These hints can be tied to specific challenges, where to find hidden objects, and more. If the game supports it, you’ll be given a small hint or proffered a video that shows you precisely what you need to do. If there are specific challenges or missions (called “Activities”), I can pop right into where that challenge happens with a single button press.

Another aspect that Sony has integrated into the UI is an approximation of how long it’ll take to finish a particular mission from where you are currently. This small thing can be a real boon for those of who shout “I’ll be down in 15 minutes” — now we can mean it. Beyond these elements, any news related to the game you’ve selected also appears here, available at your fingertips. Videos, news, screenshots, and stories all gathered in one place.

One of the best parts of the redesigned UI is that it is sleek and clearly designed for a 4K television. Gone are the oversized icons and cluttered ribbon, replaced by a UI that grants far more real estate to the games and entertainment you want to play.

DualSense:
There is one hardware element that is arguably the most significant in this console generation launch — the DualSense. Haptic feedback isn’t new, not by any stretch, but to feel this level of fidelity is truly something new. Typing on a keyboard, feeling the individual detents on a shower curtain as you pull it closed, and getting a tactile response when your weapons land is beyond anything we’ve felt before. This additional fidelity is accomplished with a pair of actuators replacing the rumble motors we’ve had since the Nintendo 64 days.

Beyond the vibration of the new controller, the Adaptive Triggers are a huge step forward. The allure of triggers that provide resistance has always been a matter of stronger springs, which frankly falls flat. Here, pulling back the trigger can be adjusted and throttled by the game itself. This can manifest in a number of ways, from a bow that gets harder to pull, a gas or brake pedal with variable resistance, or the tension and release of web slinging. I suspect these triggers and the dual actuators in the DualSense will spell immersion in a way we’ve not seen on any platform thus far, and arguably won’t see on the Xbox Series X.

At the bottom of the controller lies a built in microphone and headset jack, allowing you to use in-game voice chat supposedly without the need for a headset. Admittedly, we’ve not had an opportunity to try this yet, but with Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War on the horizon, we’ll have our chance soon enough.

The light bar in the front of the DualShock 4 has been replaced with a small ribbon that runs around the touchpad. It no longer lights up the entire room, but this calls out the only real limitation I’ve found with the new controller — it’s unlikely that the PSVR will be able to track this controller. While I wait for stock on the refreshed PlayStation Camera to test this theory, I’m hopeful that we’ll hear about PSVR 2.0 soon enough.

The surface of the DualSense is smooth on top, but the bottom is textured. Not just textured, but in fact made of tiny little PlayStation symbols — a cool hidden surprise. The charging port in the back is USB-C, meaning you no longer have to fumble with cable direction to juice up.

The overall dimensions of the controller have changed slightly from the PlayStation 4’s DualShock 4, but it lies comfortably in the hand. Admittedly, I spent entirely too many hours playing games these past few weeks, and with a battery life of roughly 5.5 hours, I’ve discharged and charged this controller more than a few times. It’s a massive step forward, and one can only hope third parties will embrace it in the same way that Sony first party developers have.

Surprisingly, and completely unadvertised, is the ability to remove the small black faceplate of the DualSense. Using an eyeglass screwdriver you can easily pop off this section, leaving us to wonder if we might see personalized plates, not only for the controller, but for the consoles sides coming from team Sony in the future.

Backwards Compatibility:
Sprinkled throughout this review lies several captures of PS4 games, some of which have received special attention to push their resolution and framerate to 4K/60, and others that simply benefit from faster load times and more stable framerates using the raw power of the system. At launch, the bulk of the top 100 PlayStation 4 games will be backwards compatible without a hitch. That said, Sony has also confirmed that disc-based PS3, PS2, and PS1 games will not be. It’s very likely that we’ll see PlayStation Now delivering these games in some form in the future, but we’ll have to wait and see.

It’s also confirmed that nearly every game coming to PlayStation 5 will also ship for the PlayStation 4, meaning that dozens of games arriving in the immediate future will be playable, albeit with reduced visuals, load times, and immersion factors like the DualSense, for the foreseeable future. It’s an interesting tactic that ensures nobody is left behind, but having seen the power of the PlayStation 5 and what raytraced lighting can bring to the table, there’s no way for me to go back.

Speaking of PlayStation 4 games, your brand new console is not on an island. With very little effort you can transfer your previous consoles save files, either automatically via PS Plus, or via a thumb drive if you like doing things the hard way. It’s up to each developer to support this, so I would imagine we’ll see the biggest titles make the leap first.

90

Excellent

PlayStation 5

Review Guidelines

The PlayStation 5 is a complete overhaul of Sony’s ecosystem, matching massive technological improvements with a stellar refresh of the user experience. AMD’s power CPU and GPU come together with the fastest possible storage solution to silently deliver games at 4K resolution and 60fps with power to spare. The new DualSense controller is a real differentiator for this generation, creating immersion unlike we’ve ever seen before. It’s no doubt Sony has built an amazing console, and I predict one that’ll be the must-have gift this holiday season -- if you can find one. Good luck!

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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