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  (Source: BGR)
First hardware makeover brings cosmetic tweaks, reduced weight, and an 8 percent drop in power consumption, possibly via a new SoC

Sony Corp. (TYO:6758) dropped a bombshell on its console arch-rival Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) in the wake of the 2015 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).  Today it offered up not one but two new PlayStation 4 SKUs.

I. A Tale of Two PS4s

At first glance this announcement may resemble that of Microsoft's in the week leading up to E3.  Both Sony and Microsoft launched their respective eighth generation consoles with 512 GB hard drives.  With Microsoft's recent announcement and with today's announcement from Sony both will now have a 1 TB SKU as well.

While Microsoft's 1 TB console received cosmetic tweaks, the 1 TB PS4 (the "PlayStation 4 Ultimate Player 1TB Edition") still features the same design the console has carried since its launch.  

On the design front cosmetic similarities are seen between the 1 TB Xbox One and Sony's second newly announced console variant.  Launching alongside the 1 TB model will be a revised PS4 500 GB console (CUH-1200) with tweaked internals and a fresh take on the design.  Like the 1 TB Xbox One SKU, the new 500 GB PS4 SKU (CUH-1200 has dropped the gloss (in Sony's case, the gloss on the HDD bay) in favor for a pricier (or so both Sony and Microsoft seem to think) look.
PS4 Second Gen.
The "jet black" colored PS4, with second-gen internals (CUH-1200)

However, from there the announcements diverge.  Where as Microsoft's was a mere cosmetic tweak coupled with a higher capacity internal drive (as far as it's said thus far), Sony's is a much major event.  Sony's is a clear hardware refresh and a step towards a "slim" design.  
PS4 glacial white
The console is also available in glacial white.

The fact that Sony beat Microsoft to the punch on the console hardware refresh front is somewhat ironic given recent rumors.

In late October of last year, the media caught wind of an apparently inadvertent leak via an overly detailed resume by one Daniel W. McConnell.  A former ATI engineer now plying his graphics processign unit design expertise as a senior manager in Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.'s (AMD) APU (accelerated processing unit) team, McConnell included a bullet points in an updated resume that bragged:

Successfully planned and executed the first APU for Microsoft’s XBOX One Game Console in 28nm technology and a cost-reduced derivative in 20nm technology.

...and...

Assembled and grew two cross-site execution teams for 2 successive XBOX APU revisions. This included developing key technical leads into senior positions allowing for successful execution and future team expansion to handle more SOCs.

Regularly presented program status to AMD and Microsoft senior executives, communicating risk mitigation plans to keep the project on schedule.

Based on this indiscrete account, most assumed an Xbox One "slim" edition was looming.

II. Under the Hood

Since their launch in Nov. 2013, the PS4 and Xbox One have shared the same octacore system-on-a-chip (SoC) brains -- a pair of 1.75 GHz quad-"Jaguar"core modules.  Both consoles' dies are built on fab partner Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Comp., Ltd.'s (TPE:2330) (TSMC) 28 nm process.  This is the same process AMD builds its PC graphics processing units (GPUs) on.

Both use analogous modular graphics processing units derived from the Radeon GCN 1.1 (Graphics Core Next) modules found on AMD's Hawaii die, a Volcanic Islands series design which powers the AMD Radeon R9 290X.  Dubbed Durango, the Xbox One on-die GPU (dGPU) has less available "compute units" (CUs) than the PS4's Liverpool GPU (12 in Durango vs. 18 in Liverpool).  This is largely compensated by a bump in the CU clock from 800 MHz (in Liverpool) to 853 MHz (in Durango), a 1/15th speedup.

Xbox One Soc

There are admittedly some minor differences.  The Xbox One has only 2 asynchronous compute engines (ACEs), where as the PS4 has 8 ACEs that can work in parallel with the GPU.  The PS4's 8 GB GDDR5's memory is roughly 2.6 times faster than the Xbox One's 8 GB of DDR3 memory.  But the Xbox One has a secret weapon of sorts -- a 32 MB cache of ESRAM (embedded static RAM) which is roughly 1.1 times faster than the GDDR5 in the PS4 even.  (The PS4 also has 256 MB of DDR3 for less intensive background tasks.)

Xbox One vs. PS4
A side-by-side comparison of the PS4 APU (left) and Xbox One APU (right) is seen.
[Image Source: Chipworks] (click to enlarge)

During real-world gameplay the PS4's slight graphical power advantage comes with a helping of higher power consumption.  Data from a study [PDF] by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), indicates that on average an Xbox One draws 112 watts during gameplay versus 137 watts for a PS4.

What does all this mean?

If anything, a redesigned SoC for the Xbox One, was virtually a ready-made SoC makeover for the PS4 as well.  And with a more power-hungry design, that's precisely the kind of trick Sony would be eyeing.

III. The PS4s They Are A'Changin'

Sony's new PlayStation 4, CUH-1200 , will replace the previous PS4 model, the CUH-1100.  As mentioned its makeover begins with superficial design tweaks similar to the Xbox One's.  The hard drive bay gets a new matte finish.  There's new color options -- Jet Black and Glacier White.  The price meanwhile remains fixed at $399 USD/EUR€399/JPN¥39,980 -- $50 USD more than the baseline 512 GB "Kinectless" Xbox SKU, or the same price as a Xbox One w/ Kinect.

PS4 Second Gen hardware
The second-gen PS4 hardware (CU-1200) uses 8 percent less power, weighs 10 percent less, and packs a number of subtle cosmetic tweaks.

The exterior also sees another cosmetic tweak.  As noted by PS4Daily, the problem-plagued rubbery membrane eject button is replaced with a mechanical button.  The location of the eject is still the same, though (recessed in the crack between the hard drive bay section and the larger half with the disc drive.  The LEDs have also reportedly been swapped out with ones tht are slightly less bright.

Under the hood, the first hint at more serious changes is the weight.  Sony confirmed to Kotaku that the new PS4 will weigh in at 2.5 kg (5.51 lb), a modest 10 percent reduction for the ~2.8 kg (6.17 lb) the previous model weighed.

Or to simplify things, the PS4 just lost nearly a pound!

Sony also claims the new console will be 8 percent more energy efficient.  That's roughly 11 watts less than the original hardware.  The mystery is how it pulled that off.

Based on iFixit's teardown of the original PS4 (CUH-1100), the 85 mm centrifugal fan and the bulky power supply are potential optimization opportunities outside the SoC.  It's also possible that the PS4 is switching from a 5400 RPM mechanical hard disk drive (HDD) to a more power efficient solid state drive (SSD).  Pictures of its labels show that the 5400 rpm, 500 GB HDD from Western Digital Corp. (WDC) has a max power draw of 3.5 watts (700 mA x 5 V -- DC).  Today's SSDs draw anywhere from a fifth to a sixth as much power as that.

PS4 HDD in hand
The PS4 stil uses a traditional 5400 rpm mechanical HDD to cut costs. [Image Source: iFixit]

I'm still a bit skeptical of that angle, though.  While it'd give you may 2-2.5 watts of power savings, 500 GB SSDs still cost around $150 USD (to consumers) versus roughly $50 USD for a good old-fashioned HDD.  And then there's AnandTech's commentary, which suggests that the power usage in the PS4 and Xbox One are rather poor at times, particularly in terms of the single-core and other lower power operational states.  Perhaps simple firmware optimization is providing part of the fix?

Occam's razor suggests maybe the expected die shrink to 20 nm is driving the modest savings,  though.  After all it certainly is the most plausible and simple explanation numbers-wise.

TSMC's information on the die shrink indicates moving from 28 nm to 20 nm transistors offers on average power savings of 25 percent power (at constant clock speed). AMD's 2013-era quad-core Kabini APUs at 1.5 GHz have a TDP (thermal design power) of 15 watts.  At 2 GHz, that raises to 25 watts.  (See the A4-5000 (1.5 GHz) vs. the A6-5200 (2.0 GHz), for instance)   So, the custom 1.75 GHz octacore gaming CPU cores in the consoles likely assumes around 2 x 20 watts, or 40 watts total at peak load.
AMD Kabini APU
The AMD console APU designs share their CPU cores with Kabini PC APUs.

At 275 watts, the Hawaii Pro GPU in the Radeon R9 290 graphics card from AMD packs a little over half 2.17 times more graphics cores than the PS4 (2560 in the R9 290 vs. 1192 in the PS4).  And clock speed is roughly a fifth higher in the R9 290 GPU.  So putting all this together, you have 275 / 2.17 x (1-0.1875) ≈ 100 watts for the TDP.

 
[Image Source: Brandon Hill/DailyTech]

Die size is another point of reference.  The full die size is 348 mm2.  The GPU part represents roughly 33 percent of the surface or ~115 mm2, while the CPU cores occupy an additional 15 percent (~50 mm2) of the die area, according to an analysis by Chipworks.
 
In total the SoC alone could easily have a TDP of 75-100 watts.  So going to 20 nm would cut the power in the ballpark of what Sony is stating (but it might in fact be too much).

AMD Kabini
Kabini has been sold in bold socketed and BGA forms.

Only time will tell whether an SoC refresh is driving the new PS4's power savings.

IV. Release Date and Price

Ditto goes for the new 1 TB SKU's price.  It's rumored to be sold under the code 1215A and 1215B, based on filings that passed through the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  Also unclear is what the long-winded title "PlayStation 4 Ultimate Player 1TB Edition" is referring to, other than the simple HDD upgade.  Geek speculates that Sony may bundle a year-long PlayStation Plus pass as an incentive in this "Ultimate" edition.


Sony did clarify one confusing detail to Eurogamer -- the 1 TB PS4 will use the older hardware internals and the older CUH-1100 design (w/ glossy HDD finish).  It's unclear whether it may pick up more fix-themed tweaks like the new mechanical eject switch.

It's reasonable to guess that at some point in the future the 1 TB SKU will also see an upgrade to the new look and new more power-efficient, lightweight innards.  However, there's no clear timeline for that transition.

Launch dates for both Microsoft's and Sony's 1 TB consoles are one known item.

Sony PS4 ultimate edition

The PS4 refresh will begin on July 15 at "select Europe and PAL territories."  Microsoft's 1 TB console, meanwhile, has already began U.S. sales since shipping on June 16 of this month.  Microsoft's strategy for the launch and supply has been simple -- U.S. first.  In contrast, Sony's PS4 arrives nearly a month later outside the U.S.  There's a good chance we'll soon see it in North America, as well, given the the FCC filing and popularity of the console in the U.S. and Canada.
CUH-1200
Another view of the CUH-1200 refreshed 500 GB PS4 SKU is seen.

While Sony's PS4 hardware refresh may have taken Microsoft aback, Microsoft managed to startle Sony as well, with its announcement of backwards compatibility support for select Xbox 360 legacy titles.  Sony executive Shuhei Yoshida said the unexpected unveil "surprised" folks at Sony.  He commented:

I didn’t think it was possible. There must be lots of engineering effort.

Microsoft also refreshed its wireless controller design to feature a 3.5mm jack and introduced a new "hardcore" controller for gamers who want a more expensive model with programmable features.

Xbox One controllers

More surprised may lie in store for Sony.  An "Xbox One Elite Console" listing briefly was posted on Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.'s (WMT) website before being pulled, as noted by OXCGN.  Priced at $499, some have speculated that this console is merely a bundle of the new controller wireless design and the 1 TB console (possibly with a Kinect included).  Others have suggested it could be a hardware refresh similar to Sony's 500 GB CUH-1200 SKU.

As Forbes' Dave Thier writes, though, neither console maker appears quite ready to pull off a "slim" console variant quite yet.  Perhaps a third generation hardware revision for either console might cut power consumption enough to adopt a heatsink passive cooling solution, the key to dropping the bulk fans and slimming the console.  The soonest we might see such changes is likely holiday 2015, but both Microsoft and Sony may instead look to launch "slim" variants in 2016.

Sources: Sony Japan [translated], [YouTube]





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