The official specs are in for the PlayStation 4 and what we have is, by and large, confirmation of existing DigitalFoundry stories – with one outstanding, exciting exception. At the PlayStation Meeting yesterday, Sony revealed that its new console ships with 8GB of GDDR5 RAM, not the 4GB we previously reported. It was a pleasant surprise not just for us, but also for many game developers out there working on PS4 titles now and completely unaware of the upgrade – a final flourish to the design seemingly added in at the last moment to make PlayStation 4 the most technologically advanced games console of the next gaming era.
From an engineering perspective, it’s a remarkable achievement. Sony itself doesn’t fabricate memory, it buys from major suppliers who advertise the parts available months (sometimes years) ahead of delivery, so we have a decent idea of what options the platform holders have on the table in creating their next-gen systems. The GDDR5 memory modules – the same used in PC graphics cards – are only available in certain configurations, with the densest option available offering 512MB per module. The startling reality is that unless Sony has somehow got access to a larger chip that isn’t yet in mass production and that nobody knows about, it has crammed 16 memory modules onto its PS4 motherboard. To illustrate the extent of the achievement, Nvidia’s $1000 graphics card – the GeForce Titan – offers “just” 6GB of onboard GDDR5.
The availability of these modules has also been something of a moving target throughout the development of PlayStation 4. In many ways, the genesis of the new console has been an exercise in Sony learning from the harsh lessons brought about by the PS3′s custom architecture. The split RAM memory pool didn’t work out so well and a unified RAM set-up was always considered a must for the new console. Early rumours suggested that GDDR5 availability could even limit PS4 to just 2GB of memory, with 4GB at one point looking rather optimistic. What changed at Sony and encouraged them to go all out with its final design is not clear, but the chances are it would have been well aware of the RAM advantage offered up by its upcoming Xbox competitor, which – certainly up to its beta hardware at least – features 8GB of more bandwidth-constrained DDR3.
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