DF Weekly: If Xbox Series X is more powerful, why do some PS5 games run better?

On paper, the Xbox Series X is a much more powerful piece of hardware than the PlayStation 5, so why are we looking at a generation of consoles where Sony and Microsoft machines often deliver similar results? It’s a puzzle that has puzzled many over the past few years, and after discussions with multiple sources, including some of the highest-profile triple-A developers in the business, we finally have some answers—and it’s all presented in the edition of this week of DF Direct Weekly.

In terms of technical specifications, the Xbox Series X is undoubtedly the most powerful console on the market – at least until the much-discussed PlayStation 5 Pro arrives. Its GPU reaches 12 teraflops, augmented by a huge amount of memory bandwidth: a maximum of 560 GB/s. PlayStation 5? 10.23 TF of GPU compute is available, fueled by 448 GB/s of bandwidth. Then it is a clear separation. If we were to see that comparison of specs in the PC space, you’d expect to see the former being better than the latter.

It’s just that it hasn’t happened in this generation. Overall, it’s the closest console generation we’ve ever seen, and for the most part with multi-platform releases, the differences are pretty minimal. One machine may be better than the other, or vice versa. Sometimes where there are differences are variances in dynamic resolution scaling – which often seems imperceptible in A vs B comparisons. It’s a far cry from the Xbox One X vs PS4 Pro showdown, where Microsoft’s machine had a clear advantage – or the PS4 vs. Xbox One comparison, where Sony usually held a similar clear lead.

Embedded here for your viewing pleasure is DF Direct Weekly #169 – with Rich Leadbetter, John Linneman and Alex Battaglia on the mic. Watch on YouTube
  • 0:00:00 Introduction
  • 0:02:00 News 01: First look at FSR 3.1!
  • 0:10:56 News 02: Dead Rising remake in development
  • 0:22:55 News 03: Dragon’s Dogma 2 patched
  • 0:30:12 News 04: Project Keystone details revealed
  • 0:38:16 News 05: Forza Horizon 4 will be delisted
  • 0:49:38 News 06: SGSSAA appears in new game
  • 0:58:46 News 07: Unity 50Hz physics issue returns
  • 1:07:55 Supporter Q1: Why haven’t more reviewers noticed the problems with Elden Ring? And is it really fair to heap so much technical criticism on From Software?
  • 1:27:03 Supporter Q2: What should our expectations be for a possible PS3 emulator on PS5?
  • 1:36:05 Supporter Q3: Why is Series X sometimes still better than PS5 in cross-platform gaming?
  • 1:45:54 Supporter Q4: Can something like Auto SR be implemented on consoles for backwards compatible games?
  • 1:50:00 Supporter Q5: Why do low settings in games look so much better than before?

So after several years of talking to developers, what’s the explanation? How can a less capable car be better than a more powerful one? As seen recently in our Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree coverage, the difference in framerate in favor of the PS5 is surprising, considering it’s apparently the less capable machine.

We’ve heard some interesting theories over the years – such as how the Xbox Series X’s split memory configuration (560GB/s bandwidth on ‘fast’ memory, 336GB/s on ‘slow’ memory) might affect performance, but the number one reason we’ve heard from developers is concerned with the nature of Sony’s development environment. More than one triple-A key developer tells us that PlayStation’s GPU compiler is significantly more efficient than Microsoft’s alternative, meaning it makes better use of the graphics hardware. Overall, we understand that the lower level API access provided to PlayStation development means that game creators get more out of the hardware.

The second most common explanation we’ve received from developers has to do with the nature of the GPU itself. Mark Cerny himself discussed this way in March 2020 when he revealed the technical specifications of the PlayStation 5. While the console may have fewer computing units than the Xbox Series X – 36 vs 52 – the entire GPU works faster, which means that some tasks will end up faster, more suitable for some models of game engines. The extent of this advantage was always unknown as the PS5 runs on a boost clock on both the CPU and GPU – the maximum clock speed will be limited by a power limit on the processor.

However, we have yet to hear any complaints from developers about the boost clock unduly affecting GPU performance. And as far as raw numbers go, there’s an interesting note from the recently leaked PlayStation 5 Pro developer documentation: including the CPU boost option, which boosts the clock speed by ten percent, only sees performance drop of the GPU by one percent – effectively negligible then.

So, based on our conversations, the combination of a more efficient GPU compiler, lower-level APIs, and higher clock speed allows the PlayStation 5 to match or even surpass the Xbox Series X’s results in some scenarios. That said, there’s certainly value in the approach Microsoft has taken: by standardizing on DirectX 12 and the DXR ray tracing API, there’s something in common with PC development that definitely helps game creators. And of course, the Xbox has even more computing power – so game engines that use it will have an advantage. Additionally, there are situations where the Xbox ecosystem and feature set pay dividends. For example, while Elden Ring might run faster on PlayStation 5, Sony’s limited implementation of variable refresh rate support means we’d rather play the game on Xbox Series X – it’s just a smoother experience. smooth and more stable.

At this point, hearing the same set of points from a bunch of completely unrelated developers means that the case is effectively closed on this particular topic – and we expect to see a similar situation play out over the rest of the generation. PlayStation 5 Pro? This will be interesting. We’d expect it to build on the same strengths that made the PS5 competitive and go beyond – PSSR’s machine learning-based enhancement should act as a sort of effective ‘multiplier’ in boosting GPU performance .

This discussion is just a small part of DF Direct Weekly #169, where we have first impressions on the new Dragon’s Dogma 2 patch and AMD’s FSR 3.1 spatial boost review (expect more in-depth coverage of both soon) , plus reviews of the new Dead Rising Remake. I hope you enjoy the show – and remember that supporters of the DF Supporter Program not only get early access to every episode, but can also contribute to the show. Have a nice week!

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