AMD opens up about the PlayStation 4’s custom processor

AMD custom APU combines octa-core Jaguar CPU, next-gen 2TFLOPs GPU

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Trading off some of the PlayStation 4 almost-reveal limelight from Sony yesterday, AMD has shed a little more light on the custom processing unit that it has designed for the upcoming console.

In an email to members of AMD’s mailing list, the company has announced its “major design win”: the partnership that will see Sony’s PlayStation 4 powered entirely by AMD components. According to AMD’s “Allow Me To Elaborate” blog post, the PlayStation 4 will run a single-chip setup developed by AMD in coordination with Sony.

"The PS4 is the first announced design win based on semi-custom AMD APUs, and demonstrates AMD's commitment to taking AMD technology into adjacent high growth markets."

The post, authored by AMD VP of Global Communications and Industry Marketing John Taylor, talks in broad terms about the technology that will power the PlayStation 4. Taylor has previously written about AMD’s 2012 and 2013 client roadmap, referring to a ‘Kabini’ processor family which largely lines up with Sony’s announced specs for the PlayStation 4.

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The “semi-custom AMD APU” (accelerated processing unit) in the PS4 will combine eight general-purpose x86-64 central processing unit (CPU) cores with a graphics processing unit (GPU), as well as incorporating various integrated extras like memory controllers, video output drivers, and so on.

“Our semi-custom solutions take the same treasure trove of graphics, compute and multi-media IP found in our APUs, and customize them for customers who have a very specific high-volume product that could benefit from AMD’s leading-edge technologies.”

The CPU segment of the PS4’s APU will rely on AMD’s low-power ‘Jaguar’ processing cores, which incorporate a wide range of technologies not previously found in AMD processors. One area of advancement that will be of huge value to the PlayStation is Jaguar’s ability to shut off power to cores that are not being utilised, lowering power consumption and energy (heat) production. Outright performance will likely be inferior to a high-end AMD or Intel desktop CPU from the 2013 line-up, but the appeal of the PS4 is a tightly-controlled specification that allows for far more coding optimisation than the varied PC market allows.

The GPU segment of the PS4’s APU is being kept under tighter wraps. The only detail is the graphics processor’s “nearly 2 teraflops” (instructions per second) of performance. Taylor shared that the chipset will be from AMD’s “next-generation” family of Radeon graphics silicon — almost certainly built on the 8000-Series “Southern Islands” desktop or “Sea Islands” mobile architectures, using a 28nm fabrication process. Performance will be superior to a desktop Radeon HD 7850 graphics chipset. It’s likely the entire APU will be fabricated by TSMC, according to ExtremeTech.

”In the case of the PS4, we leveraged the building blocks of our 2013 product roadmap – the same technologies you find in the latest AMD APUs powering PCs, ultrathin notebooks and tablets – to create a solution that incorporates our upcoming, low-power AMD “Jaguar” CPU cores with next-generation AMD Radeon™ graphics delivering nearly 2 TFLOPS of compute performance! “

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The use of x86-based processing architecture in the PS4 makes the process of developing a game and writing code far closer to developing for a traditional Windows PC (or modern Mac), where the PlayStation 3 used a six-core Cell processor — based largely on the now-niche PowerPC architecture, which powered Macs up until 2006 but is now almost exclusively reserved for IBM’s UNIX servers. The Xbox 360 also used an IBM-designed PowerPC triple-core variant.

Writing for the specialised Cell processor requires more development time than for x86, with the possibility of introducing coding errors that do not exist on other platforms. The PlayStation 4 will theoretically make it far easier for developers to port games from PC or Mac to Sony’s platform and vice versa. This perception is reinforced by Sony’s push to attract independent game developers to its self-publishing platform for the PS4.

”This unique APU architecture enables game developers to easily harness the power of parallel processing to fundamentally change the console gaming experience. Not only creating the opportunity for new possibilities in software design, but also faster and more fluid graphics.

More details about the AMD 2013 APU line-up, and likely the PlayStation 4’s confirmed system specifications, will be released during the Game Developers’ Conference in March.

”This is going to be a very exciting year for gamers, especially for those with AMD hardware in their PCs and consoles, as we have even more game-changing (pun intended) announcements still to come.

Look for some more exciting things happening at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in March when we will provide even more info on how we are working with game developers to make AMD the hardware of choice for running the best games!”

AMD And The Sony PS4. Allow Me To Elaborate.

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Campbell Simpson

Campbell Simpson

PC World

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