- PlayStation 3


PS3 Hardware Crippled by Slow Memory?
If true, Sony's in a lot more trouble than it would seem.
By Jared Black 06/05/2006 10:11:04 PST
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According to a story at The Inquirer, thanks primarily to slow read speeds on the Cell processor, the PlayStation 3 is in reality only capable of pushing 1/2 of the number of polygons as the Xbox 360.  The story cites slides given to developers, which seem to indicate that the Cell processor can only read its local memory at a microscopic 16MB/s, versus multiple GB/s for the Cell's write speed and the RSX chip's read/write speed to main memory.

If the story is true (and The Inquirer assessed it accurately), that would mean that the Cell processor's local memory is pretty much useless.  Supposedly another slide even tells developers not to use the memory, saying: "Don't read from local memory, but write to main memory with RSX(tm) and read it from there instead."  The RSX is of course the custom GPU (graphics processing unit) being supplied by Nvidia, so this would naturally put additional work on the graphics chip.

We have a hard time believing that this means gloom and doom for the console, however.  Traditionally CPUs have had little on-board memory at all, and indeed every spec sheet we've seen indicates a mere 256KB SRAM (x7, one per SPE) of local memory for the Cell processor in the first place.  With so little local memory to read from, a read speed of 16MB/s (at least 62 times the size of the entire thing) seems sufficient to us (although we'll admit to not being hardware gurus).  It's also pretty hard to swallow the fact that Sony, IBM, and Toshiba (all working on the Cell processor in unison) would've all missed an obvious crippling feature such as this, if indeed it does cripple the hardware as the story indicates.

Even if the story is accurate, this shouldn't be taken as an indication that the PS3 is doomed to be outperformed by the Xbox 360.  Raw polygon-pushing power isn't the sole determination of a console's true capability, as it's just as much about what the hardware can do with those polygons.  Finally, the industry's history is littered with examples of hardware that had a "crippling" feature in one way or another, yet still managed to perform really well as developers found ways to compensate for it (ex: the PS2's mere 4MB of video RAM).

Nevertheless, if accurate this is a fairly serious knock against the PS3's overall value, particularly given the high price of the console to consumers, and the extra investment needed by developers to come to terms with Sony's complex development environment.

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