Sat. Jan 28th, 2023
A shot of the PS4's main processor, courtesy of a teardown from Wired.
Enlarge / A shot of the PS4’s main processor, courtesy of a teardown from Wired.

In terms of raw power, the console’s hardware doesn’t really change over time; the PS4 you buy today has essentially the same pixel-push components as the one you buy in 2020. But through software updates, the current generation of game consoles manages to give developers access to more of that raw hardware power as time goes on.

Sony’s PlayStation 4 is the latest beneficiary of this trend. The system’s eight-core CPU used to dedicate two full cores to managing the underlying operating system, leaving only six available for developers to use for games. So it was a bit surprising when the release notes for a recent version of FMOD Studio’s middleware platform noted that the API “added FMOD_THREAD_CORE6 to allow access to the newly unlocked 7th core.”

Digital Foundry confirmed with its development resources that Sony has indeed unlocked a seventh CPU core for direct developer access. Those same sources suggest that the core can still be partially used for system-related tasks at some points, so it’s not exactly a one-sixth improvement in available CPU time. Still, every little bit helps when processing complex scenes or bits of game logic.

Existing games probably won’t see any performance improvements from this change unless developers go back and release a patch specifically designed to take advantage of it. In the future, however, developers will be able to reserve some more CPU time that used to be consumed by the operating system.

Sony’s move mirrors similar efforts by Microsoft late last year to unlock most of a seventh core on the Xbox One CPU for use by game developers. That move was curtailed somewhat by the Xbox One’s continued support for system-level Kinect-based voice commands, which can take up to half that core’s CPU time when actively used. That makes it hard for developers to know how much of that extra CPU power will be available at any given time.

Earlier in 2014, Microsoft announced it had also unlocked a 10 percent portion of the Xbox One’s GPU cycles previously reserved for system-level features like Kinect commands and snap mode. Before that, Microsoft reportedly increased the GPU clock speed of the Xbox One just before the system was released.

We’re hopeful that both Sony and Microsoft will continue to push for the kind of OS optimizations that allow more of the basic hardware to be used for actually running games. Combined with new optimizations and efficient techniques on the SDK side, we could see some decent improvements in top-level software performance, even on the static hardware of aging game consoles.

By akfire1

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