Is the GPU holding the PS3 back?

GTA IV, quite famously, was delayed from being a 2007 release to being a 2008 release because of problems Rockstar were having with the Playstation 3 version of the game. And now Codemasters admit that whilst the Microsoft Xbox 360 version of Grid runs at a solid 30 fps the Playstation 3 version doesn’t. These are just two of the latest of a long stream of disappointments with the comparative performance of the PS3. What is happening here?

The enormous power of a modern game console comes from two processors working together. The CPU (Central Processing Unit) and the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). Console manufacturers have traditionally bought in CPUs from manufacturers such as Intel and IBM whilst GPUs have come from the likes of nVidia and ATI.

For the PS3 Sony wanted to have a technology advantage so they developed, in conjunction with Toshiba and IBM, the Cell processor. A clean sheet design with many innovations this took $400 million and four years to develop. The intention was to use two of these in the PS3, one as CPU and one as GPU. However at the last minute Sony realised that the Cell GPU wasn’t up to the job so they went to nVidia and bought their 7800GTX GPU. This gave them a number of disadvantages:

  • It wasn’t designed or optimised as a console GPU. It was designed and optimised as a PC GPU.
  • The whole architecture of the console was compromised by the last minute change.
  • The 7800GTX has less raw processing power than the Microsoft Xbox 360 GPU.

Microsoft had their fingers burnt by not owning the chips in the original Xbox, so for the 360 they decided that they wanted to own the rights to both processors. They sat down and co designed their GPU with ATI. By doing this they were able to optimise it’s capabilities for video game playing and also they were able to design it into the elegant system architecture of the Xbox 360. They also gave it a lot of raw power.

So although the Platstation 3 has a more powerful CPU than the Xbox 360 it seems to be less powerful as a gaming machine. And real world results with real games have so far proved this. As Richard Huddy of ATI said in an Edge magazine interview: “I think Xbox 360 technology is likely to outperform PlayStation 3 technology by a pretty healthy margin in the long run.” It looks like the GPU is holding the PS3 back.


  1. I wanted to buy a ps3 so bad but now I’m gonna buy a xbox 360 😀 Because this cell processor legend started to boring people.

  2. @Deadmeat

    > Who cares about “in theory”. What matters is “in practice”.

    I know, read my whole post (as a matter of fact, the next sentence)

    I know the difference between the PPU and a Xbox 360 core, having done quite a lot of work on both.

    I can see some applications where the 360 CPU could perform equally the dual core P4 (number crunching ones) but from experience, despite Microsoft’s excellent compiler, the “average code” execution isn’t quite up to the pentium’s.

    That said, this is a bit out of topic, and at least we agree on the GPU 🙂

  3. @Deadmeat

    “Who cares about “in theory”. What matters is “in practice”

    You’ve been talking theoretical all day!

    Plus the point of your whole argument was to say how weak the PS3 was in comparison, but soon as people state figuresz to the opposite its ‘we’re not talking theoretical.

    Ok So you were there to oversee all the contract negotiations and know EXACTLY how much Sony/nvidia spent on making and developing the RSX?! What a joker. All Hearsay.

    What kind of professional (with a masters no doubt) takes the time out to write such obviously biased statements? This is such a tired old argument anyway.

    You now compare the CELL to a 800Mhz Pentium 3, but an the 360 cpu which is also an ‘in-order CPU’ is (of course) as good as a full on 3.2 Ghz dual core ‘out-of-order’? Xbox Turbo??? That definitely belongs to 360 with its Loud-as-hell DVD9 tech and proprietary HD’s.

    A Masters doent mean youre ill-informed or unbiased, or you didnt pay attention or cheated your way through
    and, whilst displaying some knowledge you obviously fell asleep at some points or just pushing a fanboy agenda.

    My question to you and 360 fanboys Worldwide this:

    With 360’s 1 year head start, and game development being very similar to PC’s on 360 and it being much easier to develop and the CPU AND GPU being so much better than those of the “Xbox Turbo”/PS3 as you call it- how the hell do games like GTA 4, Burnout, DMC 4, COD 4, Bioshock (from early screens) look the SAME????
    (And to some people’s tastes BETTER LOOKING ON PS3?)

    Even if a 360 fanboy says the game X looks better on 360 surely it would be a whitewash, not “look it looks more colourful on PS3”, “slightly better aliasing” and other minor differences that most people cannot make out.

    FACTS are that recent games=last 6/7months starting with COD, that are multiplat (INCLUDING GRID) look pretty much even. That is a fact. It is also a fact that PS3 has been out 1 year less. And is Harder to program for (according to devs).

    So what can we expect when the devs actually know what theyre doing?? E.g. like with Ps2, and Ps1 (compare Tekken 1 graphics to Tekken 3) A whole lot better i.e. MGS4. This is undeniable, it is being universally hailed as a technical masterpiece. Even those like Eurogamer who gave it an 8, hailed its technical prowess, and dropped points for things like install times.

    Ps3 is nowhere near an Xbox turbo, that comment sold you out as the fanboy that you are. More like a 360 Turbo given all the factors (time on the market, difficult to program, and multiplats now looking near enough identical).

    And I didnt need a masters to figure that out.

  4. every game for ps3 that i have owned since i bought a ps3 has a choppy frame rate. the gpu obviously can’t maintain a smooth frame rate and nice visuals like the 360 can. pretty much sony convinced me to buy a 360 after making the mistake of buying a ps3 for 600 dollars. i owned call of duty 4 for ps3 and 360. guess which version ran smoother and looked better? xbox 360. ps3 version had a choppy frame rate when a lot of intense battle started going on. 360 version maintains it’s smooth game play.

  5. metal gear solid probably has the best graphics for ps3 so far. but guess what. it has a choppy frame rate. cut scenes are all choppy, as far as game play, there are certain points that are choppy with out too much going on. just a tip from you to me, try not to alert the enemy cause once you do and you have a lot of enemies chasing snake, it may become difficult to elude the enemy once the frame rate drops. come on this game was in development for 2-3 years and it STILL isn’t perfect. i agree that the ps3 gpu is inferior. maybe they should have concentrated on game play rather than the movies any way. you spend 75% of the time watching cut scenes than playing.

  6. I feel this is all just ****. For Sony to throw in a GPU last minute sounds unlikely. There was a article here on N4G from a developer saying that there is nothing wrong with the PS3 GPU you just have to know how to get the most out of the system and it will perform just fine, you should go look for that article cause he explains it better than me. Oh I found it please read.
    Memory limitation is PS3’s ‘biggest challenge’
    The PS3’s 256MB of memory, half that of the Xbox 360, is the biggest challenge developers face when making games on Sony’s console, Monster Madness producer Lee Perez has told

    Perez, who has worked closely on the development of Monster Madness and upcoming DS game Ninja Town, said that while the PS3 has half the memory of the 360, its Cell processor can in theory allow developers to “offset” those problems.

    Speaking specifically about the unique challenges PS3 development presents, Perez said: “The biggest thing is the memory. The PS3 only has 256 megs of memory. The 360 has 512 so you have twice the memory when you load a level. Now the offset to that is the Cell processor, so if you understand and your engine can understand how to use the multiple cores in tandem you can offset that. Theoretically you can do a lot more, especially if you have a lot of physics objects because it’s very math intensive, not memory intensive. So finding that sweet spot where your game does well in both and it takes advantage of its individual skills is tough.”

  7. If you guys are going to compare graphics be reasonable about it. You don’t compare MGS to Gears. Why? Because they are not on both systems! You have to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. COD4 PS3 version runs half the frame rate as the 360 version. You must be refering to pre-release hype. There are FEW ps3 cross platform games that look as good or better than 360 games while still running as fast a frame rate, and AI, and Textures.
    Multiplatform Developers have been telling you this since day one! Just like ps2 and xbox(1) days people make excuses for years and never admit it or try the 360 on the EXACT same tv as they run their ps3’s. A cheap walmart tv on a DEMO version of a game does not count.

  8. #105 slim jim on msg choppy on movies? NOOOOO please tell me you have not played it on anyone else’s ps3. (cause I’m hoping it was just your hardrive is a little fragmented, or you didnt get the new 2.41 firmware, I can hope cant I!). That is going to be one of the things I look forward to on the PS3 the MG cut scenes (as soon as the systems price drops later this year). I can only see it dropping after that executive making a 150 million sold target, or he is trying to make everyone have hope for the future.

  9. @Jackson:

    You said this:

    “Yes uncharted looks good, but for a game to look that good on the PS3 it takes enormous time and resources, this should not be if the system is “more powerful.””

    Um…Uncharted came out only a year after the ps3’s launch, and only a year and a half after it was announced (E306).

    The only ps3 games that could’ve arguably taken “enormous time and resources” are Killzone 2 and FFXIII.

    In reality, Killzone 2 hasn’t been in development all that long. It was announced at E305 in the form of a CGI trailer, because they hadn’t begun development on the actually game at all, and they didn’t begin full production until just prior to Killzone: Liberation’s release, and that game didn’t come out until November of 2006.

    As for FFXIII, that’s just Square being Square.

    If you look at MOST ps3 titles, they haven’t taken that long to be developed. Just look at Insomniac’s titles (Resistance 1/2, Ratchet & Clank), Uncharted, MotorStorm 1/2, and many others.

    Hell, even Polyphony Digital, the kings of delays, managed to get GT5 Prologue out just over a year after launch, and GT5P has more content than many full games. Not to mention it LOOKS stunning.

  10. It doesnt matter which is more powerful what matter sis which has a better games and that is the 360 the PS3 will never catch up to what the 360 is offering FOr example on the next update will be to install the whole game onto the hard drive with an entirely diffrent dashboard while ps3 owners are crying for more games and a decent online system.Many are making the switch to 360 already cuz theyre tired of waiting for Sony to catch up

  11. to Brucie:

    I wrote severals comments but yea it don’t see them but that’s ok even if you don’t post then i hope you read them the rsx is more weaker but faster than ati gpu (360) but the fact is that rsx is design to run side by side with cell, the outcome of that is that those areas that rsx falls short to 360 gpu the cell will compensates many developers since they chose not to work with cell they used the rsx and thats why many many games cross platt will look better on 360.
    fanboys keep insisting that the 360 is more powerful since carmack said it on an interview, and the truth is that games on the ps3 will simply start looking better and better now that sonys exclusives are been develop some what (proper) look at killzone2 and uncharted2 and tell me if the rsx is an issue for sonys titles the answer to that is no. i own an 360×2 and their titles are overrated with the exception of gears2, and if am not mistaken is close to 360 limits.

  12. to slim jim:

    mgs4 has no choppy framerate but ninja2.gears2 and severals 360 titles as well thats fanboy talk every game has weakness but what makes the game perfect is you if mgs4 is not good for you thats cool but that your opinion but the one thing mgs4 has flawless framerate

  13. Welcome to 2009, where KillZone 2 has better graphics then any other 360 game, like the Gears of War 2 game as a good example.

    And thats not it.

    The ATi guy said at the Edge article (2005) that 360 would win in the long run. Well what else could he say about his own product..?

    Its not over yet.

    While x360 had its peak with Gears of War 2, Ps3 has games like God of War 3, Gran Turismo 5 and Uncharted 2 to prove that it can be as good as a brand new powerful 2009/2010 gaming pc.

  14. I play on every next gen console. And one thing i learned is that PS does not keep their word as MS.
    And if MS says GoW2 is not their PEAK then you should believe them. As for PS3 always promising games and then changing the release date. GT5, GT5 on PS3 as a GT fan i am starting to think its going to be a PS4 game.
    I love killzone 2 but the game is overrated. Its far from getting the stature of CoD4 online (X-box live). AND it is far from a thread for HALO3 even with better graphics. Plus the reason why PS3 fan boys hate Halo is because they can’t buy it on PS3. So as one who owns AND plays with every next gen console i can say that even with KZ2 the X360 is the better console. especially for online gaming. I still like my PS3 but let’s face it X360 RULES.

  15. I own both the 360 and ps3 They are both great systems but the ps3 i think has really great exclusives compared with the 360 like Kz2 MGS4 Resistance 2 motorstorm and socom they are amazing games. While the xbox has gears of war Really fun cause of the gore and halo it was best on the original xbox. the 360 controller i thinks superior. Also there is a Game MAG it has over 256 people one game look it up thats a ps3 exclusive!!!!!!!!!!!! But i think they are both Amazing systems i know 360 has more sales than the ps3 but the Ps3 wins and is worth the extra money!! Ps3 is AMAZING and Xbox is AWESOME but not as great

  16. Also what happened with the wii i got it played it first week that was it LOL

  17. Here’s a real world example. Tekken 6, a game soon to be released in October 27, 2009 that was originally a Playstation exclusive franchise that later became cross-platformed with the Xbox 360.

    Namco originally made Tekken 6 under PS3 architecture, which is what the current arcade machines are currently running on. Yet, when it was ported over to Xbox360, the graphics (in terms of HD resolution) are showing 720p resolution or higher while the PS3 version is showing a pitiful 1024×576 resolutions.


    While I am a huge Tekken fan, following the series since Tekken Tag for the PS2, and a current owner of the PS3, you MUST admit that the GPU on the Xbox 360 is probably superior to that of PS3.

    Read this for the actual findings. I am not pulling this out of my ass or anything.


  18. The only reason games look crappier on the PS3 than the 360 is because of the developers. Now that dedicated developers from the likes of Naughty Dog and Guerilla games have put the effort into developing for the PS3’s SPUs and GPU it is getting to its full potential while the 360 has nowhere to go because it is maxed out.
    The PS3 is a more powerful system and it is only just started to show it this year.
    Plus the PS3 system has alot of free stuff on its network, I especially like the huge VidZone music video service Sony is paying for. And the free online gameplay and downloads. And Home. Oh, and Blu-ray.

  19. Overall I think that the better console is the PS3 – why – because the GPU, while not as powerful as the 360’s GPU, is not the only thing contributing to the graphics output. If done correctly the RSX in the PS3 will only be processing what is happening on the screen and the CELL will be handling all of the triangles which are not currently being displayed and are behind the camera or otherwise. Sadly very few of the cross platform games appear to do this. On the 360 the GPU has to process everything around the camera because the CPU in the 360 is physically incapable of doing this because it is a normal CPU – unlike the cell.

    according to the numbers – in raw power the PS3 is approximately twice as powerful as the 360 – and this power will eventually come to the gamers as Sony, Nvidia, and IBM slowly work on modifying their software compilers to squeeze more of the potential out of the system.

    even after saying this I am looking forward to the next generation and am hoping that Intel really does make the GPU – as it would be the best.

    Or is the 360 the better system because it is so much more popular meaning that developers don’t want to spend as much money on the PS3 because no-one owns a PS3

  20. It’s all about the combination of the PS3 GPU PLUS the Cell processor.

    When you combine the two, you get something totally different than what we’re used to seeing. It took sometime for developers to learn but take a look at UC2 and God of War 3 on the ps3… The x360 will never see games like those in it’s entire life…

    Look at the “new” MLAA wait to Anti-Aliasing… I believe it is only possible on the ps3 right now. it’s not even possible on regular Intel/AMD pc’s atm lol.

Comments are closed.