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Is the PS3 faster than PCs? |

On a recent Bonus Round video, I noticed Michael Pachter say the following inflammatory quote:

“Nobody has a PC that’s faster than a PS3.”

First off, Pachter is completely right. A PS3 or a 360 will absolutely blow the pants off of most PCs for playing 3D video games.

On the flip side, the way he worded that statement, he’s not really right. Lots of people have a PC that’s far faster than a PS3. For example, me. My PC has a quad-core CPU, 8 GB RAM, a nice video card, and will destroy the PS3 on any direct benchmark with the same software. It’s not even a new PC; it’s two years old and the hardware you can buy new is far better.

But of course, almost no one buys computers like that. Almost every PC/Mac user that I know uses laptops not desktops. Try running your Crysis FPS test on an Intel Integrated Graphics system. Heck, try playing Peggle with Intel Integrated Graphics. I did, it would hover at about 4 FPS, and would frequently dip to below 1 FPS, until I figured out you have to go into the settings and disable hardware “acceleration” and use the software (CPU) renderer.

The PCs that people use for work and school, which are mostly laptops, simply can’t play the types of 3D games you get on consoles.

  • Mike

    The fair statement is that PS3 is faster than what a lot of people are using as gaming PC’s. Look at what sells these days – MMO’s, The Sims, and Popcap games that have very modest system requirements.

    Higher end PC gaming is daying off. Maybe too many of the genres like FPS got focused towards consoles, maybe too many people are offsetting the investment in pricey hardware by pirating games…. whatever the reason, that market is eroding. This is why Epic, id, Crytek and every other formerly PC centric high end developer is targeting consoles now.

    It seems like the primary source of higher end PC games is going to be eastern european developers who do not want to deal with the expense of development kits and royalties of getting their titles published on a console.

  • At first I was like “what the heck does he mean?”, but then… I built my current PC just mere two months before the PS3 came out in Europe… CPU wise, the PS3 dances around my weak dual core, but all the rest… A GPU with as much RAM as the whole PS3 (G80), 12 times as much main RAM, 10+ times as much HDD and MUCH faster at that too…

    But anyways… just look around what DELL sells. I’d say 95% and up of their sales are PCs with either a weak GPU or no GPU at all.

    Gaming on PC was much easier in the olden days (the CPU was all that really mattered, performance wise). No wonder stuff’s going downhill over there (in terms of big budget games, though I must say Dragon Age is PERFECT).

    Problem is also the hard time the user WILL have if he wants to buy a game and find out, if his PC will be able to run it at all… I mean, even I (and I am a programmer) have problems knowing what is the current gen of GPUs with their generic names and numbers. This was also easier some years ago (Geforce 2? 3? What do you have^^ Not… “A Radeon 48433402 X2 TTY Ultra OC”).

  • Yeah, you can get ‘better’ games on PC – but you’ll also pay a hell of a lot more to do it.

    I went through a PC gaming spell. From late 1996 until mid 2001, I had three ‘top spec’ gaming systems, buying (pretty much) a new one every 2 years. The last one, I even had to wait for it to be built/delivered because the graphics card I chose was so new it wasn’t yet available in the UK.

    In total, those PCs cost me in excess of £6,500 – and that’s the problem with PC gaming; as soon as you’re up to date, you’re out of date. If you want to keep playing the latest games at the top settings (i.e. better than a PS3/Xbox 360), you have to keep spending. I just wasn’t prepared to do that any more.

    My current PC is a Dell Inspiron 530 I bought in January 2008. I chose a system with enough ‘oomph’ do some video editing (Intel ViiV Core 2 Quad @ 2.4GHz, 2GB RAM, 256MB ATi graphics card, 500GB HDD) for a little over £500 and left PC gaming behind. I don’t miss it, and my wallet/bank balance are certainly looking healthier as a result.

    Whatever your preferred platform, the fact is that you simply won’t find a gaming PC for the same price as a PS3/360 which will play games to the same high standards. Graphics cards alone can cost the same as the consoles. That’s partly why I never considered the PS3 to be an expensive piece of kit, even at its launch price.

  • earl

    A couple of years back Wired magazine had a little infographic about the PS3s processing power. They said it was 1.8 tFLOPS (IIRC) and that it compared to the power of 430 Pentium 4 PCs.

    I don’t even want to get into the argument about the accuracy of that, but I think that little page in Wired helped push the impression that the PS3 was lightyears ahead of everything else. I remember quoting that article to my friends to try and justify buying the thing!

  • Michael

    Pachter likes using interesting language – and that’s what makes him interesting to listen to.

    Notice he said ‘nobody …’ not ‘no machine …’. Basically there are people who do have ‘faster’ machines, but they’re pretty insignificant in number as a consumer market from a business perspective, where he’s coming from.

    As to the technical specifications, the PS3 is still a very fast machine. It isn’t just the individual components either, it’s the whole system design. It’s designed from the ground up to shift a lot of data around very fast, particularly graphics data.

    The PC was designed from the ground up to accept keystrokes and turn them into disk accesses! Graphics and sound were just bolted on using slow busses – these have improved over the years but are still a bottleneck.

    With the PS3 it is like the whole computer is placed directly on the graphics card memory, rather than through a bottleneck of random busses. Every potential bottleneck has been removed or mitigated in some fashion. This is pervasive throughout the whole system design from the CPU down. You simply need a ‘much faster machine on paper’ as a PC design than the PS3 to equal it’s performance in general. An analogy might be putting a Ferrari engine in a 1960 Toyota Crown and testing it on a drag strip. Sure it might go faster than a more modern car with a less powerful engine, but the suspension and running gear isn’t matched to the system – the engine’s power might sound great but it is wasted cost if it’s power isn’t being transferred to the road efficiently. Even with the massive volume and calendar advantage, a comparably performant PC still isn’t quite price competitive to a PS3 (even taking into account the Sony subsidies) simply because the PC system design is so poor.

    And beyond that, the CBE is really a very fast processor. You can’t just compare ‘like software’ – it has to be specifically written for it. I did some coding on it last year out of interest, and roughly speaking, each SPU is about 2x faster than the PPU for the same (scalar, branchy) code. For code that can be ‘SIMDised’ you can often see another 8x (or more) increase on-top of that (you can get more than the 4x SIMD width because you can eliminate most of the data-dependency stalls too). And then you’ve got 6 of those to work with, so for the right algorithms you’re looking at 2x8x6 ~= 100x faster than a straight PPU port of the code. And that’s guaranteed performance – no cache thrashing or other nasties to worry about – even memory access latencies (for both code and data) can be pretty much hidden with many algorithms.

    Of course, realising this performance isn’t easy, but Naughty Dog have shown some of what is possible (and I wonder what their programmer budget was versus their art budget).