What we’re hearing from sources follow a Forbes rumour last week that chip-maker AMD would make the graphics chip for a PS4, a shift from the PS3’s use of a graphics chip from AMD rival Nvidia.
The abandonment of the Cell architecture would thrill the many game developers who have struggled with the complex chipset, but it could also be viewed as the admission of a mistake.
Cell was the pet project of PlayStation creator Ken Kutaragi, who dreamed that the chip — a “Power Processing Element” married to eight “Synergistic Processing Elements” — would make the PS3 the most impressive gaming console ever. He spoke of a home equipped with multiple devices that were powered by Cell, all of them linking to each other to increase the computational power driving any of the devices.
Cell was not the revolution Sony hoped and hyped that it would be. It also never managed to make the PS3 appear to be significantly more powerful than the year-older Xbox 360. That could have been the Cell’s fault or simply the result of development decisions that compelled game creators to make their games run on both the PS3 and the generally more popular Xbox 360.
But with no Cell or Cell successor in the PS4, what would Sony do? Here’s where the reporting turns to speculation. One theory I’ve heard is that AMD will provide both the CPU and GPU for the PS4, meaning that AMD, not Sony, would engineer the main processing and graphics chips for the machine. Should AMD be doing that, they could go with the AMD Fusion architecture, which puts CPU and GPU on the same chip. AMD has already been putting chips like this out (one was considered for the MacBook Air), which would enable Sony to turn to developers and say: you could be working with the PS4 architecture right now; just work on an AMD Llano chip or something. Would developers like that? They’d have to prefer it to Cell and — what do you know — here’s one of gaming history’s best programmers, id’s John Carmack, saying in an interview with PC Perspective last year that AMD Fusion-style chip architecture is “almost a forgone conclusion” for the future of computing.
A Sony rep declined to comment on this story, citing the company’s policy not to comment on rumours and speculation.
Sony hasn’t even acknowledged the existence of the PlayStation 4 let alone detailed the guts within it. But we’re beginning to hear trickles of information about Sony’s next gen. It’s all vaguer than the talk for next Xbox, code-named Durango, which Microsoft has been showing to publisher and developer partners.
The lack of chatter on PS4 would suggest that Sony will once again put its next console out after Microsoft. But if the chipset for the PS4 is actually one that already exists, then aspiring PS4 developers might find themselves capable of ramping up for this new machine faster than expected. And if that happens, the code-named Durango, probable for 2013, might have a sparring partner from Sony sooner than we thought.