Microsoft took the wraps off of its upcoming Xbox One console earlier this week, and it is now possible to compare Microsoft and Sony's next-generation hardware.

Prior to the Xbox One launch, Forbes contributor Paul Tassi postulated that Microsoft would be going a different route than Sony with its next Xbox. Specifically, that Microsoft would focus more on media playback and applications rather than purely gaming (unlike Sony, which is doing the opposite). At the time, I found myself agreeing with his sentiment, and now that the console as launched I believe Mr. Tassi was absolutely correct. Microsoft wants the Xbox One to be the center of your living room and the device you use for all of your media (and gaming) needs. The new console integrates the Windows kernel and can do multitasking of applications and media in a Metro-UI like fashion (2/3, 1/3 split screen).

The PS4 and Xbox One Hardware Revealed, Console Makers Have Different Goals - General Tech  1

On the other hand, Sony is positioning its console as the best gaming device for the living room, and is focusing on integrating all things gaming with media as more of an afterthought. Like previous PlayStation consoles, it will likely play back media files and Blu-ray movies just fine, but it is a gaming box at its core.

Interestingly, the hardware that both companies have chosen seems to line up nicely with those goals. Both the Xbox One and PS4 are based around a semi-custom AMD APU with eight Jaguar CPU cores, but they have gone in different directions from there.

PlayStation 4 hardware:

As a refresher, Sony's PS4 has the following hardware specifications.

  • CPU:  Eight core AMD “Jaguar” CPU
  • GPU:  AMD GCN GPU with 1152 shader units (in 18 CUs)
  • Memory:  8GB of GDDR5 clocked at 5500MHz
  • HDD:  At least a spindle hard drive
  • Bandwidth:  176 GB/s

Sony has changed directions from the PS3 by going with a simpler design that provides more graphical horsepower and higher system memory bandwidth versus the Xbox One. The PS4 uses a semi-custom AMD chip that has saved Sony a great deal of R&D money while also being easier for developers as it is that much closer to a traditional PC with its x86-64 APU (GDDR5 memory is unusual though). The PS4 is aimed at gamers and Sony's choice of hardware and memory reflects that.

Xbox One hardware:

Microsoft was not as forthcoming as Sony as far as touting specific hardware specifications, but based on the announcement and additional information acquired by AnandTech, the Xbox One features the following hardware:

  • CPU:  Eight core AMD “Jaguar” CPU
  • GPU:  AMD GCN GPU with 768 shader cores (within 12 Compute Units)
  • Memory:  8GB of DDR3 system memory at 2133MHz as well as 32MB of on-chip eSRAM
  • HDD:  500GB
  • DDR3 Memory Bandwidth: 68.3 GB/s
  • eSRAM Memory Bandwidth: 102GB/s

Microsoft took a different approach with the Xbox One. Instead of going for DDR5 like Sony did, Microsoft opted for a hybrid approach that uses a small but high-bandwidth and low latency embedded SRAM on the same chip as the CPU and GPU paired with a larger 8GB of traditional PC DDR3 system memory. This approach is interesting because it gives Microsoft a system that has access to low latency memory at the expense of the higher bandwidth that the PS4 enjoys with its single pool of DDR5 memory. Developers will need to become familiar with the embedded RAM to take full advantage of the latency benefits, however.

These hardware choices work out such that the PS4 has a distinct advantage when it comes to gaming performance. It has more GPU horsepower and high-bandwidth memory for feeding the processor high resolution textures. On the other hand, while Microsoft's console still has a respectable GPU (for a console), it seems to be optimized for lower latency memory access and just enough graphics oomph to enable the company to have a multimedia and home entertainment machine that can run multiple applications simultaneously while also satisfying gamers by giving them a decent graphical upgrade over the Xbox 360 for games. 

The PS4 and Xbox One Hardware Revealed, Console Makers Have Different Goals - General Tech  2

This next generation of consoles should be interesting, as will the ensuing "flame wars" between fans. Both Microsoft and Sony have learned from the past (current) generation of consoles and are focusing on what they are good at to differentiate themselves. Microsoft is tapping into its Windows ecosystem of PCs and mobile devices and providing an app machine that the company hopes will be the hub of your living room entertainment needs. Sony, who does not have that expertise or existing infrastructure is also focusing in on what it excels at and that is gaming.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the consoles co-exist and how the market shakes out over 2014 and into the future as the hardware stays the same but software changes. Sony definitely has the hardware advantage to stay in the game longer when it comes to games and graphics, but Microsoft has a box that can do more than games and can find purchase in your media rack even after it is surpassed in gaming graphics quality by PCs and the competition.

What do you think about the split between the Xbox One and PS4's hardware?