As PC gamers, we’ll forgive you if the arrival of next-gen gaming consoles hasn’t got you as excited as the recent hardware launches from Nvidia and AMD. But, there are some pretty good reasons why these new consoles should be of interest to the glorious PC master race – thanks to what’s underneath their shells. The technology that goes into gaming consoles has both mirrored and influenced PC gaming for some time now.
Both next-gen consoles, the PS5 and the Xbox Series X, are running with AMD-designed technology at their core as they utilize AMD Zen 2 and RDNA 2 chips. Of course, for us PC gamers, the newly released AMD Zen 3 CPUs are more likely to appear in a gaming PC build than the Zen 2 (although the 3000 series are still solid gaming CPUs), but we haven’t yet got our hands on RDNA 2 as that will release along with AMD’s new 6000 Series GPUs later this year. Speaking of specs, why don’t we take a closer look at how both consoles stack up.
The two consoles aren’t completely the same under the hood though. With the PS5, Sony is bringing its very own 3D audio algorithms, super-high bandwidth I/O, and SSD controller. Over on team Microsoft, the Xbox Series X features “Xbox Velocity Architecture” as well as bringing with it all the advancements introduced with the DirectX 12 Ultimate API.
But, I hear ya – you’re a PC gamer! You don’t care about all this console talk! I know, I know – it’s all our Content Creator Charlie ever says when the work Slack discusses anything console-related. But, with new-generations of consoles comes new technology, and that new technology often makes it’s way over here, to PC gaming land. So, let’s take a look at what new console-based technology could be appearing in your next PC build.
Why not start big and dive into the world of next-gen gaming graphics. And what else would we talk about here other than ray tracing? Ray tracing has definitely been the buzzword of the GPU world for some time now and, what was once an Nvidia-exclusive technology will soon be crossing over to AMD GPUs as well. And, of course, this is reflected in the fact that both next-gen consoles come fully-equipped with ray-tracing capabilities.
Diving a little deeper into what’s coming up with these consoles, let’s take a closer look at the PS5. Sony’s own Mark Cerny has confirmed that we’ll see a lot of similarities when it comes to the custom technology in the PS5 and the Big Navi cards from AMD – officially known as the Radeon RX 6900 XT, RX 6800 XT, and RX 6800 (although more variants are already rumored to release soon). Cerny went on to say:
“AMD is continuously improving and revising their tech. For RDNA 2, their goals were, roughly speaking, to reduce power consumption by architecting the GPU to put data where it’s needed, to optimize the GPU for performance, and to add a new, more advanced feature set. But that feature set is malleable, which is to say we have our own needs for PlayStation and that can factor into what the AMD roadmap becomes. So collaboration is formed. If we bring concepts to AMD that are felt to be widely useful, then they can be adopted into RDNA 2 and used broadly, including PC GPUs. If the ideas are sufficiently specific to what we’re trying to accomplish, like the GPU cache scrubbers I was talking about, then they end up being just for us. If you see a similar discrete GPU available as a PC card at roughly the same time as we release our console, that means our collaboration with AMD succeeded in producing technology in both worlds. It doesn’t mean we simply incorporated a PC part into our console.”
Of course, all this means that we won’t see every scrap of new technology make it’s way over to PC gaming – like the cache scrubbers Cerny talked about, but it does mean we get some shiny new GPUs to play with in the form of the new RDNA 2 line. And, it seems like the majority of graphical features developed for the new consoles has, in fact, been included in this line – but as PC gamers, we just get more of it. The 6900XT comes with 80 compute units compared to the Xbox Series X’s 52, and the PS5’s 36. And, even their entry-level 6800 beats them with 60 compute units. Granted, even the entry-level card is a good $50 more expensive and is only one component in your PC build – but it’s bringing so much more to the table.
Unreal Engine: Lumen And Nanite Technologies
It’s also worth noting that the PS5 showed off some fancy new skills in a tech demo that utilized Unreal Engine 5. They used this demo to showcase two key technologies: Lumen and Nanite. These technologies will take away some of the burden from developers and place it onto the engine itself which, in the past, would have been too complex for most systems to handle.
Both Nanite and Lumen technologies help to create beautifully epic game environments by utilizing real-time ray tracing, and streaming and scaling assets in real-time.
While this was a PS5 tech demo, Unreal Engine isn’t tied to any specific platform. And, we have it on good authority, thanks to Epic Games’ CTO Kim Libreri that PC gamers can look forward to this technology too as she said an RTX 2070 Super would get “pretty good” results in the same demo. And, with that being a last-generation GPU now, imagine how well the latest cards will perform.
One of the big talking points surrounding both next-gen consoles is the inclusion of an NVMe drive – something that will be all too familiar for PC gamers with most of the best gaming motherboards coming fully equipped with multiple NVMe SSD slots as standard nowadays. Looking to increase their system bandwidth, both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will include custom I/O and compression technologies.
Next-Gen Console SSD Technology
The new Velocity Architecture that we see in the Xbox Series X is Microsoft’s way of helping its console along in this regard. It combines four key technologies: DirectStorage, a custom NVMe SSD, Sampler Feedback Streaming, and a dedicated compression block. And, it’s good news for PC gamers once again as at least half of these technologies will be making their way over to our systems soon enough – with some already in the works.
Let’s begin by looking at DirectStorage, a member of the much more familiar DirectX line of products. DirectStorage is a new I/O system that will reduce CPU overhead from a multi-core workload to just a sliver of a single core. This is a goal that’s common across both of the next-gen consoles as well, a big focus on reducing CPU load to just a fraction of what it once was. And, with this being Microsoft, they’re planning on bringing DirectStorage to Windows as well as their new console – so this is something PC gamers should be keeping a keen eye out for.
Working in tandem with the increased bandwidth is the new I/O API that further helps to free up CPU operations for other important tasks. And with consoles typically running at a much slower clock speed than their high-end PC build equivalents, this is an infinitely important thing to aim for. The best part of all this for us is that both Nvidia’s RTX 30-series GPUs and AMD’s Radeon RX 6000 series GPUs both support DirectStorage, meaning the PC will continue to be a match for these new consoles.
Next, we have Sampler Feedback Streaming or SFS, and this is another technology that’s already in development for PC. In short, it works on improving texture streaming and texture-space shading. These both allow rendering at higher resolutions with the utmost fidelity but without taking up all the system resources for this one, singular task. This may sound familiar to some of you, as it was included in the recently released Direct X 12 Ultimate API that received its first developer-friendly drivers from Nvidia before it’s full roll out as part of the next wave of in-development games. DX12 is an API for the next-generation of games bringing with it DirectX raytracing, variable-rate shading, and mesh shaders – it is an integral part of the next-generation of gaming. And, it’s confirmed to be compatible with both Nvidia and AMD hardware – so there’ll be full support for PC users too.
And while the Xbox Series X and PC gamers will have full access to this, the PS5, on the other hand, can’t make use of DX12 or any part of Microsoft’s API for that matter. But, they’ve still managed to develop their own technology with AMD that produces similar results. Sony’s custom chip they’ve placed inside the PS5 integrates a custom I/O complex that, like the Xbox, delivers impressive console bandwidth. In the PS5, it includes a hardware decompression chip, a dedicated DMA controller, two I/O co-processors, coherency engines, and the proprietary GPU cache scrubbers we heard about earlier.
One area where the PS5 differs from what’s available on PC is that they’ve designed their very own flash controller for the onboard SSD. We have nothing similar to this available to us PC gamers right now, so it will be interesting to see how this stacks up against the best PCIe 4.0 controllers out there.
What Does This Mean For PC?
If decompression is such a focus for these consoles, then it’s safe to assume it will also be a big focus for future game development – so, what does this mean for PC? It seems like we’re likely to see a lot more of this technology make its way into our PC builds. High-bandwidth cache is something that AMD has already spoken about briefly in their latest live streams around the Radeon RX 6000 series with it’s 128MB of new “Infinity Cache” in all their GPUs.
There’s also the much talked about Smart Access Memory technology that AMD recently introduced – something that’s only available when you pair a new 5000-series AMD CPU with a 6000-series AMD GPU. If you want to know more, then check out our full write up on AMD Smart Access Memory here.
We already know that system IO, memory bandwidth, and storage performance are going to vital across all platforms when it comes to gaming with Epic Games suggesting that fast SSD storage is essential. They labeled the PS5’s storage solution as “god-tier” but PC only got an “okay” rating – so without these new technologies, there’s a chance we could fall behind here.
3D Audio Technology
Now, we turn our attention to audio. As we all know, gaming PCs have been capable of both 3D and spatial sound, such as HRTF processing, for some time now. This has been a task that is usually placed upon the CPU unless your setup can take advantage of dedicated chips within your gaming headset or digital-to-analog converters (DACs).
With the Xbox Series X, we get a dedicated audio block that works to process sound in extremely fine detail and with more complex algorithms and will also feature plug-in support for Unity and the Unreal engine. For the PS5 though, and this is where it gets interesting for PC gamers, they are including a brand new 3D audio engine built out of a repurposed GPU Compute Unit. With this new technology, Sony will bring spatial and HRTF processing without putting the extra burden on the CPU. And, while it is Sony’s own creation, they haven’t gone so far as to label it proprietary. This leads us to believe we can expect to see a lot of similarities between Sony and AMD’s audio engines in the future.
Controllers – PC Compatibility
And, finally, we come to next-gen controllers. As much as love some good keyboard and mouse gaming, we have to admit that some titles are best played with a controller. And so, for many of us, we’ve often linked up our PCs with our PS4 or Xbox controllers over the last few years – so will we be able to do the same with these next-gen controllers too? The new Sony DualSense controller and the redesigned Xbox controller will indeed be able to link up with your PCs at some point. That means you’ll be able to enjoy all the new benefits and features of these next-gen controllers on PC too, ensuring that you can enjoy the next generation of games the way they were meant to be enjoyed.
Whether you solely game on PC or allow yourself to dabble in console gaming on the side, it’s no doubt that the new technologies these next-gen consoles bring with them will only work to improve the gaming experience for everyone. Faster loading times, more realistic graphics, and more immersive audio all sounds grand to me, and I can’t wait to see what this new generation of gaming brings us. From the new CPUs and GPUs from AMD, Intel, and Nvidia to the new consoles from Sony and Microsoft – 2020 has been a great year for gaming, even if it’s been terrible for everything else!
What about you, what new console technology are you most looking forward to seeing in your PC build? Let us know in the comments below.