Under The Hood Of the Playstation 4

Nov. 18, 2013
Sony’s Playstation 4 is finally available and we now know what is really inside the box.

Sony’s Playstation 4 (PS4) is finally on store shelves (actually it has been sold out in most places) so it is time to look under the hood to see how our good speculation was (see Xbox One And PlayStation 4 Look More Alike). Chipworks partnered with iFixit to do a teardown on the new Sony PS4 (see Inside The Sony PS4) so we now have a better idea of what makes the system tick. Most of the photos here were provided by Chipworks.

Not surprisingly, the PS4 (Fig. 1) is foremost a gaming console but it is a lot like a PC (see Where Has My PC Gone? It’s Gone Gaming). It is a rather compact and stylish PC that is powered by a custom SoC (system-on-chip) from AMD that supports AMD’s Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA). HSA is also supported by the new AMD Kaveri Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) designed for PCs (see Unified Heterogeneous Computing Arrives).

HSA incorporates the heterogeneous uniform memory access (hUMA) support as well as hQ (heterogeneous queueing). CPU and GPU share the same virtual memory address space courtesy of hUMA. The hQ support allows threads to initiate GPU tasks directly.

Figure 1. The Playstation 4 runs a custom AMD SoC that supports AMD’s Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA). (courtesy of chipworks.com)

The low power, 20-mm by 20-mm APU die has an 8 core, Jaguar x86-64 CPU plus a 1.84 TFLOPS AMD Radeon GPU. The GPU has 1152 cores. The SoC supports USB 3.0 and 1 Gbit Ethernet. The motherboard also has 802.11 b/g/n Wireless and Bluetooth 2.1. The system also support WiFi Direct. The SoC is surrounded by 8 Gbytes of GDDR5 memory in the form of 16 modules (Fig. 2). Half are located on the bottom of the motherboard.  

Figure 2. The AMD APU in the upper right of the PS4 motherboard is surrounded by sixteen 512 Mbyte GDDR5 memory modules. There are 8 on top and 8 on the bottom. (courtesy of chipworks.com)

As with existing and future APUs, the CPU and GPU share main memory. In this case it is GDDR5. For the standard APUs, it is DDR3 or DDR4 depending on the chip. The Kaveri is the first non-gaming version that has the HSA support that allows the CPU and GPU to share the virtual memory as well. This simplifies CPU/GPU application integration.

The network coprocessor is a custom Marvell chip. The WiFi module is a Marvell Avastar 88W8797 that supports multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n in addition to  Bluetooth 4.0 with Low Energy Support (BLE). There is also an FM radio and an embedded PMIC block. HDMI support is provided by Panasonic’s MN86471A.

The 500 Gbyte hard drive is upgradable (Fig. 3). There are already videos on the Internet that explain how to upgrade to a 2 Tbyte hard drive. This ability is worthwhile given how quickly storage technology is changing.

Figure 3. Sony made it easier to replace the 500 Gbyte hard drive (courtesy of chipworks.com).

More and more of Sony’s content is being delivered over the Internet from games to movies. Still, the system is equipped with a Blu-Ray player suitable for playing movies and games (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. The Blu-ray player is a tight fit and customize for the PS4.

The back of the PS4 (Fig. 5) exposes the Ethernet, audio and video connections. The Sony Playstaion camera connector is also on the rear of the system. There is also plenty of openings for the fan cooled system. The system can be mounted horizontally or vertically. The power supply is internal to the system. That can be a challenge for cooling but eliminates the power brick outside the system.

Figure 5. The rear panel provides network, audio and video connections. The USB ports are on the front of the unit. (courtesy of chipworks.com)

The Playstation 4 comes with a single DualShock 4 controller. Like the DualShock 3, there are two thumbsticks, dual triggers for each hand and two four button blocks on each side. Tilt sensors and force feedback are also standard. Minor changes like improved feedback and concave tops for the thumbsticks improves usability.

The big changes are the addition of a touch panel, a built-in speaker/headphone jack and a Share button that replaces the Start and Select buttons. The touchpad handles some of the latter functions. The Share button is designed for sharing content via social networking on the Internet. There is also a lightbar that can be detected using the camera but this is a feature that must be supported by games or other applications.

Sony has revamped the using interface for the PS4 replacing the XMB (cross-media bar) of the PS3. It is more tile-like and new games automatically install when the optical disk is inserted. The improved interface extends to the Sony Store as well.

Sony and Microsoft, with its XBox One, have a number of games that will be exclusively on their platforms but there are many more that are on more than one platform including the PC. This cross platform support is significantly easier now because the CPU and GPU architectures are much closer to one another. Each platform runs its own operating system and gaming framework that will be different so support multiple platforms is not something that comes for free.

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