Making sense of the next-gen spec rumour mill

It’s easy to think up some numbers. That’s true whether you’re a journalist or a tech person trying to sound clever in front of a journalist.

And whilst we wouldn’t accuse any of the authors behind yesterday’s pair of next-gen spec stories of making anything up, they were so wildly different that one of them at the very least has to be significantly inaccurate.

MCV yesterday made light of one of the reports, but what can be made of the numbers themselves?

VG247‘s report claimed that the PS4 would pack 1.84Tf of computational power and the Xbox 360 1.23Tf. NowGamer, on the other hand pegged those numbers at 3.2Tf and 4.2Tf respectively.

Writing on his personal blog, PC Pro writer Mike Jennings reckons that VG247’s numbers are far more likely to be on the money owing to the fact that, put simply, NowGamer’s seem incredulous.

The HD 7660D has 614.4 Gigaflops of power, while the whole chip has 736 Gigaflops. That’s a country mile behind the 3.2 Teraflop figure that’s doing the rounds,” he wrote of the PS4 rumours.

Plenty more evidence suggests the 3.2 Teraflop figure simply isn’t anywhere close to reality. There’s no way an APU could contain a graphics core of that power while also packing in a processing module too: the power requirements don’t add up, and the heat generated would be too much for a console to bear.

Another major concern is cost. Sony might price the PS4 highly for the console market, but that level of GPU is way out of its league. Sony would be able to buy the cores for cheaper than retail prices, sure, but it’s also got to factor in the rest of the APU, memory, storage, a motherboard, a Blu-ray drive and a high-end case – as well as its profit margin.

The 4.2 Teraflop figure for the Xbox 720 is similarly silly. NowGamer says the next Microsoft console will be based on three SOC modules, with one based on the Radeon HD 8850 GPU and two using HD 8900-series cores. Even downclocked, the combined power could be enough to hit that mythical 4.2 Teraflop figure, but I still don’t reckon it’s plausible – again because of heat and cost.

That would make the Xbox 720 one of the most expensive and power-hungry consoles ever made and, given the hardware that’s allegedly being used, it’d be one of the biggest and loudest ever, too. Considering the Xbox 360’s reputation, I’m not sure that’s what Microsoft wants to do.”

It’s easy to get caught up in speculation when talking about new consoles, but it’s worth tempering rumours with a healthy dose of reality. AMD cramming a graphics core that’s faster than its best discrete cards into an APU that’s cheap enough, frugal enough and cool enough to run inside a console is a flight of fancy.

Similarly for Microsoft: producing three SOC products, each with its own high-end GPU, makes little sense when an extremely capable single graphics core would do the job just as well and for a lot less cash.”

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