Rants and raves about all the latest in video games and other forms of mindless entertainment.

May 21, 2005

Microsoft limbo...How low can you go?

Most people know by now that Xbox360 and Playstation 3 have been officially announced. This comes as no suprise, since Microsoft officially unveiled it's Xbox360 live on MTV. Live as in pre-recorded and aired later...ummm, wait; no thats right. In any event, Microsofts underwhelming unveiling did tell us one thing: the next generation is here. It's starting this fall and Microsoft wants to be the daddy. No one really cares either way, but Microsoft seems to think being first is best; time will tell.

One thing that isn't up in the air (like most everything after the paramount event E3), is that the Ps3 outclasses the Xbox360. Spec for spec the Playstation 3 is the dominant console. Here are the specs for the Ps3 and Xbox360.

SPECS: Xbox360

Whatever the case may be, you will more than likely stare at the pretty and distracting numbers and think "It's the games, so who the f*ck cares?". You'd be right, but having a powerful console also makes those games pretty, and both Sony and Microsoft have ensure that the future is bright. What I'd like to dwell on a little more is the fact that Sony's press conference was a dominant force at E3. It was an hour and a half of Playstation 3 tech demos, game demos and real-time and pre-rendered game footage. It was awe inspring. Perspiring fanboys fainted at the thought of Playstation 3 fulfilling their every desire. Microsoft on the other hand managed to rehash their MTV unveiling, and provide very little new information on Xbox360.

When it comes down it though, Microsoft is jealous. They don't like being the weakest, and they are. Their console is outclassed by Sony's Ps3, and in arrogant Microsoft fashion, they set out to fix that.

The following link leads to an article that Microsoft published about the Playstation 3 specs. Containing a few cold hard facts, it's nothing more than organized corporate damage control. It's a sad day we live in. Below the link, is also a full debunking of Microsoft's classic and depressing comparison.

Microsoft's Pathos

Microsoft's desperate and false attempt to degrade the Ps3 has failed. Anyone with a shred of intelligence can see through the utter crap MS has spewed. Not only does MS not have a Ps3 to base this knowledge on, they clearly ignore several points against them as well spew a few numbers that mean nothing.

Microsoft claimes the Xbox has three times the processing power of the Ps3. What they don't realize is that the Cell is comprised of 7 processors with an 8th core (inactive 9th). Sure, they admit it when dealing with floating point operations, but fail to realize each SPE is it's own working entity, much like the three individual cores of the 360. The comparison is ill conceived. Seven weak processors and one strong, is more efficient than 3 strong processors.

There's no question that Xbox360 has more internal memory bandwidth. However, when your console still uses the primative DVD9 format, 250 GB/s of bandwidth is overcompensating in a large almost comical way. The Ps3 uses Blu-Ray which can hold a maximum of 54 GB thus far (practically speaking). Even the Ps3's 48 GB/s bandwidth is overkill (again almost comically) in terms of necessary bandwidth. It's like saying "Look, I have 159 sports cars and you only have 30". Both people have ridiculous numbers, yet neither will ever use or need to use that many cars. The same applies here. The comparison again, supercedes it's use as far as a numbers game. Both will run exceptionally fast, and anyone else who doesn't think Revolution won't run just as fast with even a bandwidth slightly lower than the Ps3 is kidding themselves.

Again, what I enjoyed most was that MS seemed to have more intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Ps3 than most developers working with unfinished (gasp, just like Xbox360) hardware. Making boastful claims of processor inefficiency when every developer in sight will tell you the polar opposite. In fact they go as far as to out and out lie when talking about the 7 SPEs. Claiming they have no direct access to memory when each is equipped with 256 Kb of SRAM over and above the 512 MB of XDR and GDDR RAM.

Microsoft also claims to have the advantage by simply adding up their 3 x 3.2 GHz processors and comparing them in bar graph form by making the Ps3's bar only one third of the Xbox360's bar. Again, who do they think they're kidding? The Ps2 has 3 internal processors, each running at about 300 MHz. The Xbox has a 733 MHz processor at it's core. Do we simply add up the Ps2's inner 3 processors and call it a day? No, because in actual fact, the Xbox ends up being the monster of the day. They use the same math most fanboys use to proclaim the Xbox360 God's gift to gaming. A very poor tactic especially when they're filling their lies with useless hardware jargon.

The best part is when Microsoft goes as far as to invalidate their own specs (or even lie about them) in order to make Ps3 seem weaker. Claming their console can now produce on demand 2.4 TFLOPS and the Ps3 only 2.2 TFLOPs, when Microsofts official spec sheet clearly states a mere 1 TFLOP for Xbox360. Either they're lying about Ps3, or they're lying about Xbox360. Either way, they're lying; again.

While Microsoft clearly has the advantage of consolidated RAM with it's single memory storage of 512 MB GDDR RAM, they cannot ignore the fact that the Ps3 is using 256 MB XDR RAM, which is 8x faster than normal RAM. This is where the Ps3 gets it's power from. XDR RAM is designed for graphics processing, and is the reason why the Ps3 is more powerful than the Xbox360. This is the one key thing MS decided to ignore in it's little report.

Another thing they conventiently left out of their "special" report is the fact that the total memory of the Xbox360 is shared between the CPU and the GPU. What does this mean? Since the Ps3 has dedicated XDR RAM for the CPU, the GPU only needs to concern it's self with it's own job and a dedicated 256 MB of GDDR RAM to do it. The Xbox360's CPU will require most of the shared RAM, giving the GPU very little to work with. What does this mean? Ps3 gets 256 of XDR RAM which is about 4x faster than MS's little 512 of GDDR RAM, and still managed to have plenty of room to spare on the RAM-front for it's GPU, out performing the Xbox360. Go Microsoft, avoid the most important matters!

Ask any developer, any publisher, and they will tell you memory is of the utmost importance. Which is why developers struggled with the Ps2. Now, the Ps3 has a clear cut advantage over the Xbox360 on that front, which is ironically the most important.

The caveat Microsoft failed to mention, was that out of the 270 GB/s of the internal memory bandwidth in MS' new fangled Xbox360, 250 GB is confined to a paltry 10 MB of EDRAM frame buffer. Again, this gargantuan bandwidth will assist this EDRAM cache, however the cache is not an integral part of the processing. Analogously, it's same as a 2 meter diameter PVC pipe being used to funnel 3 drops of water into some sort of resevoir. Collectively, the bandwidth of the CPU in the Playstation 3 runs at approximately 45 GB/s, with the Xbox 360 only 22 GB/s. Truth be told, the Ps3 has it's memory divided so it's VRAM and GDDR RAM run at separate bandwidths, but exclusively each is still faster than the inferior Xbox 360.

It ironic since Microsoft does have an impressive system. In fact, it's beyond impressive. It's down right jaw dropping. Yet when Microsoft witnesses a competitor out doing them by a very noticeable margin, they go on record and blatantly lie. Unfortunately, this sad move has officially removed Xbox360 from my list of purchases. I refuse to support a company who will lie about their competition in order to make themselves look better. Playing the smoke and mirrors game while boasting about yourself is one thing, but lying about your competition is a sad sad thing. For this, I sincerely hope Revolution trounces Microsofts console. It would be for the best that Microsoft exit the gaming industry for good. Sony has been known to overblow their specs in the past, yet nothing like this. Not even Nintendo, who pretty much damns Microsoft and Sony on a daily basis would ever do this.

The entire press release is a joke. Microsoft lies about theirs and Sony's specs, and manages to convince no one that they have the most powerful console. The only people who would care to even finish reading that check point list of techno bleeble blabble, are the people who will see right through it. It's pathetic. The pathos of Microsoft, utterly pitiful.

We all knew this war was going to get rough, but no one expected this Faustian retort at such an early stage. Microsoft has sincerely dug it's own grave. If Ps3 manages to launch with Killzone 2 as the must own app, and manages to run the footage we've seen in real-time, consider it the final rusty nail in the coffin, and Microsoft's death blow. Microsoft has a very large expectation to live up to now. Experts, developers and analysts all agree that Playstation 3 out performs the Xbox360. In fact, it seems to be a clean sweep with everyone other than Microsoft themselves that Sony has the clear performance advantage. One way or another, by Spring of 2006, we will know who the real winner is in this mini-duel of "Who wants to beat the billionaire?".

Microsoft has diminished the significance of the Xbox360. Rather than say 'Yeah, Playstation is a flippin' power house, but we aren't far behind', they attempted to belittle the Ps3 into a puny mess of metal, with the Xbox being marginally more powerful. The terminology chosen managed to convey the message that they're slightly more powerful than a weak console, rather than give us the truth, which is that they're almost as powerful as super computer. Props to Microsoft on that brilliant move. Now only if inflection were a conveyable thing on the web...


Blogger CPT PYRO said...

Again, you make some good points. Your up to speed on the next gen market

June 15, 2005 1:58 PM

Anonymous David A. said...

Microsoft indeed uses several misleading comparisons and oversimiplified explanations. However, this post is equally guilty of the same offenses, apparently due to a lack of technical experience. Adding further interest, both Microsoft and the blogger above make good points.

I hope Adam will take these minor corrections to heart, and use them to inform his future punditry.

"when your console still uses the primative DVD9 format, 250 GB/s of bandwidth is overcompensating in a large almost comical way. The Ps3 uses Blu-Ray which can hold a maximum of 54 GB thus far (practically speaking). Even the Ps3's 48 GB/s bandwidth is overkill (again almost comically) in terms of necessary bandwidth."

This statement implies a relationship between internal memory bandwidth and the optical disc system. No such relationship exists. The fastest DVD drives presently manufactured can read data at peak rates of roughly 21,600 kb/s, or ~21.1 MB/s. Sony claims Blu-ray will provide speeds faster than this, but no hard numbers have yet been provided, and estimates are that a 2-3x improvement can be expected. As you can easily see, internal bandwidth expressed in GB/s would easily outclass any optical drive by many orders of magnitude. Yet both systems flaunt their internal memory bandwidth. Why? Because internal memory bandwidth has nothing to do with discs, it expresses the speed with which data can be transferred on the bus(-es) between the CPU, the GPU, and the system memory(-ies). Contrary to the point above quoted, this is an important metric, especially for high texture resolutions, large codebases, and highly data-driven games.

"The caveat Microsoft failed to mention, was that out of the 270 GB/s of the internal memory bandwidth in MS' new fangled Xbox360, 250 GB is confined to a paltry 10 MB of EDRAM frame buffer. Again, this gargantuan bandwidth will assist this EDRAM cache, however the cache is not an integral part of the processing. Analogously, it's same as a 2 meter diameter PVC pipe being used to funnel 3 drops of water into some sort of resevoir."

Clearly the writer is not familiar with the nature of a frame buffer, or why bandwidth to it is so crucial. To provide a simple example: When a game system draws a wall, it fetches the texture and vertices for the wall, transforms and lights them according to the parameters of the scene, and then rasterizes (triangle draws) them to the frame buffer (engineers will recognize that this is an oversimplification). Then, to draw a tree in front of the wall, it does the same thing, writing over the pixels that "wall" has already been rendered to. Similar rendering duplications are often incurred when applying complex shading techniques, which often involve the creative combination of multiple textures on a surface. In a complex scene, each pixel in the frame buffer (each of which is 24 bits, plus an 8-bit z buffer on most systems) can be written to several dozen times. The entire frame buffer for an NTSC game is roughly 1MB, but supersampling antialiasing techniques increase that cost exponentially, to around 8MB on nextgen systems (10MB of EDRAM starting to make sense?). Now, you write to that 50 times a frame, and you see 500MB per frame of bandwidth start to be necessary. At 60FPS, suddenly you need 30 GB/s! This is why both consoles have so much internal memory bandwidth. Now, the reason 250 GB/s (XB360) is better than 48 GB/s (PS3) is that the per second number creates a ceiling on each and every frame. If you have 48 GB/s of system memory bandwidth, no frame can ever exceed 800 MB of bandwidth usage (including any bandwidth used by the game aside from rendering). No matter what situations the player gets in to, that's your limit if you want to maintain a smooth framerate. So your target average bandwidth usage needs to be half of the peak, or less. Strong internal bandwidth is key to complex rendering techniques - look for the fanciest shaders on the xbox. The PS3's strengths are quite real, but they are more on the side of complex simulations. Put another way, water on the PS3 will move extremely realistically, while the XB360's water simulations will have the proper translucency properties, surface sheens, glinting foam, etc, but will move in a less believable fashion.

The XBox 360 has a significant advantage over the PS3 in that it is much kinder to programmers - its memory bandwidth ameloriates programmers' sins. The PS3 has a (considerably) higher potential performance, but will require much more careful coding (thus longer, more expensive, etc.).

"The Xbox360's CPU will require most of the shared RAM, giving the GPU very little to work with."

This is a baseless and foolish statement. The original XBox has a similar shared memory architecture (unlike the PS2), and it displayed remarkable prowess in feeding the GPU vast quantities of textures. Shared memory architectures in consoles have a long and varied history, and have both pros and cons when compared with split memory architectures. Stating flatly that a shared memory architecture will starve one part of the system of resources, without having had any training in computer architecture, as well as coding experience on the platform in question, is the height of irresponsibility.

"Experts, developers and analysts all agree that Playstation 3 out performs the Xbox360."

The first and last links lead to different presentations of the same Sony press release touting the strength of their developer support. Neither reference the relative performance of the two consoles. The middle link includes a bunch of quotes from PR people for 3rd party developers, who can be relied on for a positive quote anytime, about anything. None of them mention the Xbox 360, as they do not wish to alienate Microsoft. None of these links remotely support the thesis of the sentence they are embedded in. This is a cardinal sin in the blogging world.

As a software engineer with half a decade of experience on all the current video game consoles, I assure you that both consoles will rock, both companies will deceive you about them, and life will go on. There's no need to work up a lather about the various first party press releases.


June 24, 2005 5:17 AM

Blogger Finster said...

Good article. You should see the 4-part post over on Major Nelsons's blog about how sucky the PS3 is compared to Xbox 360. They threw up a bunch of idiotic graphs and pathetic numbers and I responded accordingly. Although, Sony has been known to throw out bogus numbers, as well. Basically, I think both companies are full of shit.

June 24, 2005 2:15 PM

Blogger Adam said...

There's no doubt. Sony claimed a 75 million poly ceiling for the Ps2, which as we know now is theoretical max in ideal conditions with minimal rendering.

However, one thing Sony is not known for is lying about their specs, or their competitions. Sony knew when Gamecube outpowered the Ps2, and instead of saying "No, actaully we're more powerful", they resorted to "We have DVD player, and Ps2 does not look like a lunch box". Childish bickering indeed, but nothing dishonest.

Sony also hasn't fudged their specs after releasing an official spec sheet for the same console. (ie: Xbox360's official 1 TFLOP, compared to the newly discovred 2.4...further lying about the Ps3, claiming 2.2 TFLOP, when the spec sheet clearly says 2.8).

You're right though, Sony does inflate numbers, but not to the point where they're describing an entirely new console, much like Microsoft did with their press release). I suppose there are two sides to every coin, but this one just happens to land Sony side up.

June 25, 2005 12:01 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

david a. > original post

Very fanboish rant indeed. In the end, each system will probably wind up performing comparably (much like each current generation system is comparable with its competition).

The deciding factors in the coming console war will be exclusive titles and pricing. So far, it looks like sony has the titles, and MS has the pricing. Nothing left but to wait and see.

August 04, 2005 9:58 PM

Blogger Adam said...

I'm sorry, but you're in denial. Ps3 is markedly more powerful than Xbox 360.

August 04, 2005 10:29 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

And the XBOX is appreciably more powerful than the PS2. The performance difference between the two, however, is minimal. I suspect most people will not notice any significant difference between the PS3 and the X360.

Again, it's all about exclusive titles and pricing. Sony's relationship with third party developers will continue to be a strong push in their favor, but the difference in pricing (100-150 clams, depending on how big of a loss each company is willing to take on their system) might turn the tables.

It's worth noting that the PSP, which is incredibly more powerful than the DS, is selling nowhere near as well as its inferior competitor. Which makes me wonder just how big of a factor price tags will have in the coming console marketplace.

August 05, 2005 10:04 AM


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