The Sony PlayStation 3 was first released to the general public in November 2006. It was designed to be at the cutting edge of games consoles, aiming to out do its main rivals the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii. The consoles impressive specification includes a Cell Processor, XDR memory and a dedicated graphics processor by graphics specialist NVIDIA. The console also includes a built-in hard drive, an integrated Blu-ray drive and built-in wireless networking capability. The replacement for the PS3 is expected around 2011. Probably called the PlayStation 4, what can we expect on the technical side of things compared to the current console? In this article we’ll deal with the main processor and the main memory specifications. In future articles we’ll cover the graphics processor, integrated hard drive, optical media drive and the control and connectivity features.
The heart of the PlayStation 3 is its Cell Processor, jointly developed by Sony, IBM and Toshiba. The processor is a highly advanced piece of engineering with eight independent processing elements (although to increase production yields only seven are actually used). It is doubtful that any game yet developed for the console has got anywhere near utilising the processors full potential – in fact it’s considered so far advanced that IBM are now using it in its super-computers (look up the IBM Roadrunner for further reading). Considering the high level of development that has gone into the Cell Processor along with its immense processing power there is absolutely no need for a prolonged and costly research and development program in this area. I would expect nothing more than an upgrade to the existing specification, maybe increasing the number of processing elements from the current eight, coupled with an increase in the clock speed (or MHz) of the processor. This should see the PS4 have plenty of data-crunching power during its life cycle.
The current PlayStation’s main memory is an advanced XDR (standing for extreme data rata) type of DRAM and is utilised solely by the Cell Processor. At the time of the consoles release this was, and still is, a highly exotic (and expensive) form of memory. It wasn’t developed specifically for the PlayStation console but it is very effective in situations that required a fast throughput of data and as a result was an ideal choice for the unit. It is still a current technology without any direct successor and as a result I would expect it to be used in some form in the PS4, albeit with a slightly enhanced specification. I would expect these enhancements to be in the form of more memory, perhaps doubled to 512MB, and it to run at a faster speed than the current rumoured throughput of 3.2Gbps (Gigabits per second). The memory can already run at 4.8Gbps, so expect at least this speed.
That concludes our look at the first two elements of the PlayStation 3’s successor. Look out for a follow on article dealing with the future of the current consoles graphics system, integrated hard drive and optical media drive, along with the control and connectivity features of the console.