Why next-generation consoles matter, even if you’re solely a PC gamer
In less than a week, both Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series consoles will officially launch. While many are looking forward to the release of the next-generation consoles, those who play primarily on PC may be wondering what the fuss is all about.
PCs, after all, are much more versatile than consoles and, more importantly, are much easier to upgrade. With how easy it is to build and customize a PC, it doesn’t take much (outside of a deep wallet) to build a one that beats out both upcoming consoles.
That said, the next-gen consoles are still important for PC gamers. This is because every new console generation sets a baseline for what hardware and features developers aim for—the same hardware and features that soon become necessary for any decent gaming PC soon after the consoles’ release.
Consoles have influenced PCs in the past
Throughout gaming history, PC gaming has been influenced by consoles. Even during the 80s, when massive hardware differences meant that the games on PC were quite different from consoles games, developers still tried their best to copy features and technology from the latter.
One of the more famous examples would be Id Software creating a “port” of Super Mario Bros. 3 just to learn how to do smooth sidescrolling in the PC hardware of the day. Then, there’s how consoles were the first to bring 3D graphics to the masses with fifth-generation consoles such as the original PlayStation and Nintendo 64. The shift to 3D soon led to the development of dedicated 3D graphics cards for PC.
This relationship has developed even more in recent years. The most recent example could is Sony’s PlayStation 3.
In an era when most gaming hardware ran dual-core machines and quad-core was considered overkill, Sony dared to challenge convention by launching what was effectively an eight-core machine. The Cell Broadband Engine powering the PS3 did have one main core, a 3.2 Ghz Power PC-based Power Processing Element (PPE), but it was backed up by 7 more Synergistic Processing Elements (SPE).
It was a clunky implementation of multiple cores to be sure—the SPEs were still controlled by the main PPE—but it was a sign of things to come. More importantly, those developers who mastered the multi-core design (Naughty Dog comes to mind) were able to put out some stunning games.
The shift of both Sony and Microsoft to x68 based consoles and AMD hardware has just pushed this further. AMD’s focus on ever-increasing core counts with its Zen architecture has made multi-core computing the norm and games have adapted to suit. Even if single-threaded performance still tends to be better for games, most of today’s games are optimized to take advantage of multiple cores.
With AMD seemingly taking the lead in in-game performance with Zen 3 while still also powering both next-gen consoles, this trend will likely continue.
The new baseline—high speed SSDs with fast load times
So what new feature in both next-gen consoles will likely be the one that will be part of the new “baseline” moving forward. For anyone following the news around both consoles, it should quite obvious: high-speed SSDs and the fast load times that they bring.
Xbox Series X and S are using SSDs with a transfer rate of 2.4 GB per second (GB/s) compressed or 4.8GB/S uncompressed. The PlayStation 5, on the other hand, is using an even faster custom SSD solution that allowed for transfer speeds of 5.5 GB/s uncompressed and up to 9 GB/s compressed. It also has the option to be upgraded with a PCIe Gen 4 M.2 NVME SSD (Xbox Series will use proprietary NVME SSD based upgrade cards instead).
With developers now creating games with these fast SSDs in mind, it’s very likely that the PC versions of these games will support and eventually require high-speed SSDs as well.
In a way, high-speed flash memory and fast load times are simply a return of something that used to be the standard for consoles. Before the advent of optical disks and latter mechanical hard drives, console games did not really have load times thanks to the use of cartridges. Loading only became standard after consoles moved to CDs, something pioneered on PCs and other home computers during the multimedia fad of the early 90s. (Read: 10 PlayStation exclusives we wish would come to PC)
Now, with high-speed SSDs and fast loading looking to become the standard, gaming is finally regaining something that consoles had all those years ago.