It’s been two years since the Xbox One and PS4 debuted here in the U.S. In that time, they’ve both earned their keep as the bearer of current-generation game consoles. Microsoft realized some months after release that it needed a $400, price-competitive version with the PS4 that lacked the Kinect camera, and has since remedied what was once a bit of a lopsided, apples-and-oranges comparison.
Since then, both the Xbox One and PS4 have sold pretty well, with the edge on Sony’s side — although January’s $50 price cut for the Kinect-less Xbox One helped Microsoft catch up. Both companies have released various bundles that may throw the price advantage in one direction or the other depending on whether you want what’s in a given bundle. That said, how do the two consoles directly compare with each other? If you’re thinking about buying one of these two consoles–or just want ammunition for bragging rights–here’s what you need to know.
One note before we get started: Unlike all previous console generations, the PS4 and Xbox One are almost identical hardware-wise. With an x86 AMD APU at the heart of each, the Sony and Microsoft consoles are essentially PCs — and their hardware specs, and thus relative performance, can be compared in the same way you would compare two x86-based laptops or ARM-based Android tablets. Read on for our Xbox One-versus-PS4 hardware specs comparison.
For the PS4 and Xbox One back in 2013, Microsoft and Sony both opted for a semi-custom AMD APU — a 28nm part fabricated by TSMC that features an eight-core Jaguar CPU, paired with a Radeon 7000-series GPU. (We’ll discuss the GPU in the next section.) The PS4 and Xbox One CPUs are virtually identical, except the Xbox One is clocked at 1.75GHz, while the PS4 is at 1.6GHz.
The Jaguar CPU core itself isn’t particularly exciting. In PCs, Jaguar was used in AMD’s Kabini and Temash parts, which were aimed at older-generation laptops and tablets respectively. If you’re looking for a reasonable comparison, CPUs based on the Jaguar core are roughly comparable to Intel’s Bay Trail Atom. With eight cores (as opposed to two or four in a regular Kabini-Temash setup), both the PS4 and Xbox One have plenty of CPU power on tap, even if neither measures up to what you can get out of a PC. The large core count allows both consoles to excel at multitasking — important for modern living room and media center use cases. Ultimately, though, despite the Xbox One having a slightly faster CPU, it makes little difference to either console’s relative game performance.
Again, by virtue of being an AMD APU, the Xbox One and PS4 GPUs are technologically similar — with the simple difference that the PS4 GPU is larger. In PC terms, the Xbox One has a GPU that’s similar to the entry-level Bonaire GPU in the older Radeon HD 7790, while the PS4 is outfitted with the midrange Pitcairn that can be found in the HD 7870. In numerical terms, the Xbox One GPU has 12 compute units (768 shader processors), while the PS4 has 18 compute units (1,152 shaders). The Xbox One is slightly ahead on GPU clock speed (853MHz vs. 800MHz for the PS4).
In short, the PS4’s GPU is — on paper — 50 percent more powerful than the Xbox One. The Xbox One’s slightly higher GPU clock speed ameliorates some of the difference, but really, the PS4’s 50-percent-higher compute unit count is a serious advantage for the Sony camp. Games on the PS4 have considerably more graphics power available, and that shows up in real-world comparisons. Beyond clock speeds and core counts, though both GPUs are identical. They’re both based on the Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture, and thus support OpenGL 4.3, OpenCL 1.2, and Direct3D 11.2.
RAM subsystem and bandwidth
Once we leave the CPU and GPU, the hardware specs of the Xbox One and PS4 begin to diverge, with the RAM being the most notable difference. While both consoles are outfitted with 8GB of RAM, the PS4 opts for 5500MHz GDDR5 RAM, while the Xbox One uses the more PC-like 2133MHz DDR3 RAM. This leads to a massive bandwidth advantage in favor of the PS4. The PS4’s CPU and GPU have 176GB/s of bandwidth to system RAM, while the Xbox One has just 68.3GB/s.
In Microsoft’s favor, the Xbox One has 32MB of super-fast embedded SRAM (about 102GB/sec in each direction, for a total of 204GB/sec of bandwidth). When ESRAM is used properly, as a cache, then the huge difference in main system RAM bandwidth can be ameliorated.
Both the Xbox One and PS4 have 500GB internal hard disks and Blu-ray optical drives, and you can get 1TB drives for each one as options. The Xbox One’s 1TB drive is actually a hybrid, with a solid state portion in addition to a spinning disk in order to improve access speeds, although real-world tests don’t show up as big a difference as you would think on paper.
It’s nice to be able to compare hardware specs in a straightforward fashion — especially if you’re a PlayStation fan, as it beats the Xbox One on paper. When it comes down to it, though, the specs mean little on their own: It’s always down to how game developers actually use the hardware. To begin with, games on the PS4, with its beefier GPU and simpler memory subsystem, are usually a bit smoother and more attractive. And we’ve seen this borne out in a variety of titles that show slightly worse performance on the Xbox One side, including recent titles like Metal Gear Solid V and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Even so, both consoles deliver stellar graphics, especially if you’re coming from an older-generation console.
Despite the resolution difference and upscaling, there is visually not as much difference between the Xbox One and PS4. By virtue of being based on the same GPU architecture, games on both consoles will look similar — the same lighting, the same textures, the same smoke, and so on. If you are playing games from a reasonable distance — say, 10 feet — you are unlikely to see too much difference between the consoles. Nonetheless, purists will want the PS4 for its more consistent 1080p output and, on occasion, higher frame rates.
Gaming and Online Services
The other differences between the two consoles are well known at this point, such as the controller design — the PS4 clearly has the edge here — and the available games. The biggest, like Grand Theft Auto 5, Metal Gear Solid V, and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, are usually cross platform, but there are exceptions. Both systems have some compelling exclusives. Notable exclusives on the Sony side include Until Dawn, Dragon Quest Heroes, Bloodborne, and Infamous: Second Son, while the Xbox One has Halo 5: Guardians, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Forza Horizon 2. The PS4 does much better on the indie game side, though, which is a key advantage.
Both models also do well as general-purpose entertainment devices. The Xbox One remains the better media set-top box replacement, thanks to its HDMI passthrough and live television capabilities, but most buyer’s don’t care for that, and the Ps4 has certainly caught up on the streaming service front. You can get premium Xbox Live Gold and PS Plus subscriptions for $60 and $50 per year, respectively.
Overall, the Sony PlayStation 4 remains our favorite two years later, thanks to its slight price advantage and better controller. But the games are the thing: If there’s an exclusive or two that you’re just dying to play, it’s better you buy that particular console; the differences in hardware just aren’t important enough here.
What do you think? Do you prefer the PS4 or the Xbox One? Let us know in the comments below — and please keep things civil. We know things get pretty passionate about these two systems.