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Can we build a PS5-level PC for the same $499 price at launch?

With a year to the PS5 release date, and new generations of PC components on the way, prices will be dropping...

Sony PS5 SoC

The Sony PS5 release date is reportedly November 20, 2020 with a launch price of $499 (pending no sudden pricing changes). Now, that’s a lot of money for a console, but not a lot of cash with which to build a gaming PC. How close can we get to the PlayStation 5 specs with today’s PC parts or the unreleased components set to arrive in our machines by the end of the year?

That’s going to be a tall order, considering that Sony will be working on tight margins and high volumes with AMD in terms of the custom CPU and GPU pairing, and it might be tough to bag a set of PC silicon with the same grunt, but we’ll see how close we can get…

It’s also worth mentioning that Microsoft will have its own next-gen console out for the holidays next year, with the Xbox Series X also shipping with relatively familiar – albeit slightly more powerful – AMD CPU and GPU tech. Both consoles are powered by the same AMD hardware, so will it be possible to spec out a PC to take on both of the next-gen consoles without breaking the bank?

The first thing that we need to figure out is what exactly we’re looking at in terms of the specs of the new PlayStation game box. We know it’s going to be powered by AMD custom silicon, but what will the equivalent PC hardware be?

Mark Cerny teased an PS5-equivalent discrete AMD GPU around the same time frame as the PS5’s release date during a deep dive into the system’s specs, so we’re sure to have some PC silicon to match the next-gen console roundabout the same time frame.

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What are the Sony PS5 specs?

The PS5 is set to come with an eight-core CPU rocking the latest AMD Zen 2 processor architecture, the same as you’ll find in today’s Ryzen 7 3700X. Paired with that is a GPU part that sports the RDNA 2 GPU architecture, offering real-time ray tracing support based in the hardware and a heap more optimisations to push it above and beyond today’s RX 5700 XT and below RDNA chips.

Well, it ought to be hardware-accelerate ray tracing, because if Sony tries to do it in software it’s going to end up a hot mess.

With that RDNA 2-based GPU we’re going to see 16GB of GDDR6, but with a new memory architecture for XTREME BANDWIDTHZ.

The Navi-powered RX 5700, with its 36 compute units, comes in at a shade under 8TFLOPS at its boost frequency, while the RX 5700 XT, with 40 CUs, offers 8.2TFLOPs at its base clock speed. The PS5 will be rocking a 36 CU GPU with a variable frequency up to 2.23GHz – a touch more than what’s on offer today from AMD’s discrete Radeon cards.

AMD Radeon RX 5700 specs

The PS5 is also going to come rocking an SSD for the first time in a console, that what has led to some excitable claims about it offering “raw bandwidth higher than any SSD available for PCs.” To be fair that claim was made before the Ryzen 3000 chips launched with a platform capable of running PCIe 4.0 solid state drives, so it’s likely not a claim it can make anymore.

Sony will be using a custom flash controller on a 825GB drive to reach up to 5.5GB/s bandwidth on its miraculous custom SSD, so we’ll have our work cut out trying to match it exactly.

So, how do we get close to the PS5’s tech spec on PC, and stick to a budget? The closest you’ll be able to get in terms of a straight-up system-on-a-chip (SoC), like that which is going to feature in one form or another in both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X, will be the Ryzen 4000 Zen 2-based APUs.

Sadly, even though the Ryzen 4000-series APUs will feature more compute units in their GPU components than in previous generations, that’s still likely to be limited to around 8 CUs. And that will barely net you the same sort of GPU performance as the 10-year-old PS4. There’s also the fact that the graphics architecture is only going to have a scant few Navi features, with the actual chip being more closely linked to Vega.

AMD Ryzen 7 3700X

So, we can forget that… we’re going to need both a graphics card and a processor to match the PS5. Luckily the Ryzen 7 3700X, AMD’s current eight-core, 16-thread Zen 2 chip will be out-dated by the new, supposedly seriously faster, Zen 3 design by the time the new PlayStation rolls around later this next year.

That should mean the 3000-series will have some serious discounts, so you might end up finding the $330 3700X for the same $190 the Ryzen 7 2700X is today.

That will be an overkill CPU in comparison with the PS5, which will have the same essential core configuration but will necessarily run at a lower clock speed (3.5GHz). That fat development chassis isn’t what the eventual PlayStation 5 is going to sit inside, so it’s going to need to be happy chilling inside more thermally constrained environs.

The six-core, 12-thread Ryzen 5 3600 would still give you equivalent gaming performance because of its higher clock speed, and by the end of the  year that could be a $100 chip like the 2600 is today. We’re shaving some cash off the build… but not enough, because getting a GPU that the PS5 is seemingly promising will be tough.

AMD Navi RDNA GPU

If we take the RX 5700 as an equivalent GPU then that’s a $300 card today. Come later this year RDNA 2.0 will be available on the PC too in some form, and hopefully the gen-on-gen performance uplift would have an RX 5700 equivalent on the new ray tracing-capable architecture sitting lower down the GPU price ladder.

Let’s be hugely optimistic and call that a $200 card. Hell, Nvidia could come out with stellar ray tracing and rasterising performance at a better value prospect than the RTX 20-series cards and then AMD might have to be that aggressive on pricing.

Okay, so we have a powerful GPU and CPU combo that optimistically costs us $300.

That leaves us $200 to grab a chassis, PSU, 4K Blu-ray player, a 500GB PCIe 4.0 SSD (cutting it a bit fine), 8GB of DDR4 memory, and an AM4 motherboard. We can forget spending on a Windows license cos the PS5 runs on Linux so we can get that for free, all it’ll cost us is our sanity as we try and manage the vagaries of the terminal and getting Proton to work okay.

Still, even saving on the OS getting all that under $200 is impossible. But, you can forget the 4K Blu-ray player – ‘cos optical media is dead, man – and a PCIe 4.0 SSD is just phallus-waving stuff right now, which means you can get everything else for around the $280 mark, which ain’t bad.

You can grab an Asus B450 for $80, a Corsair 100R chassis for $50, 8GB of Crucial DDR4 for $39, a 500W EVGA PSU for $47, and a 512GB PCIe 3.0 Addlink S70 SSD for just $62.

Addlink S70 SSD

PlayStation 5 PCStation 5
CPU Custom AMD Zen 2 (8-core) AMD Ryzen 5 3600 (6-core)
GPU Custom Navi-based GPU AMD RX 5700 (or equivalent)
Memory 8GB GDDR6 8GB DDR4
Motherboard Some Foxconn crap Asus B450M-A
Chassis Some cheap black slab Corsair 100R (w/ peep hole)
PSU Some basic external brick EVGA 500W
SSD Some 500GB WD PCIe 4.0 thing 512GB Addlink S70 PCIe 3.0
Price $499 $578

Okay, even with my super optimistic future pricing calculations we’re looking at a nearly $600 PC build, with fewer cores than the PS5 and no (pointless) optical disk drive. That does go to show the level of buying power Sony has with the level of sales it can guarantee with a new console. Sony can buy components for a lot less than we can… damn those economies of scale.

The sort of PC that would offer would easily match the PS5 in terms of straight performance, and smash it in terms of super versatility too, but putting together that build would be a lot more effort than dropping some cash on a next-gen console. And you wouldn’t have to drive your blood pressure through the roof trying to learn Linux, either.

Hmm, so basically what I’m saying is that if you need a new gaming machine in Q4 this year, and only have $500 to spend, then you best buy a PS5. Jeez, I am so sacked…

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