Sony’s chief system architect Mark Cerny has given a “deep dive” of the PS5 console hardware for developers at the PS5 event in 2020.
The PS5’s base hardware features a custom eight-core AMD Zen 2 CPU clocked at 3.5GHz along with a custom GPU based on AMD’s RDNA 2 architecture which promises 10.28 teraflops and 36 compute units clocked at 2.23GHz. The processors are accompanied by 16GB of GDDR6 RAM and a custom 825GB SSD. It also comes with 667GB of usable storage but we are now seeing methods being introduced to stretch this memory out much further.
Cerny spoke to over one hundred developers in his search to construct a console which addresses any bottlenecks they found while building games for the PlayStation 4.
One of the focal problems developers told Cerny they faced was bottlenecks relating to the use of traditional hard drives. In 2019, the PS4 switched to using a SSD which sped-up performance but, with the PS5, Sony is going all-in with a custom SSD.
On the PlayStation 4, game developers would often try to distract gamers from loading with scenes like Spider-Man riding the subway train in the 2018 game. “Fast travel” in games was rarely actually fast and breaks from an immersive experience.
With the PlayStation 5, developers may have to purposefully slow transition times down. Using Spider-Man as an example, a previous demo showed the game loading levels in around eight seconds on PS4. On PS5, that loading happens in less than a second.
Developers also told Cerny they want support for the Oodle Kraken compression algorithm created by RAD Game Tools. The PS4 used Zlib as its compression format, which the PS5 is also using, but the new console will also support Kraken which Cerny called “Zlib’s smarter cousin”.
A custom decompressor has been built into the PlayStation 5’s I/O unit capable of handling over 5GB of Kraken input format per second. After decompression, that becomes around eight or nine gigabytes. The I/O unit itself, however, is capable of outputting as much as 22GB/s if the data compressed well.
We are now witnessing the benefits of Kraken in action – and the results are pretty impressive. Games like Control: Ultimate Edition, which weighs in at 42.5GB on Xbox Series X, but only 25.79GB on PS5. Another game, Subnautica, takes up 14GB of space on PS4 but its re-release on PS5 only requires 3.5GB.
While large file sizes remain a particular problem on PS5, partly due to the fact the internal M.2 drive slot is still locked until Sony releases a system update, we’re hopeful that the PS5 will continue to harness the power of its compression technology. Game file sizes have grown exponentially in recent years, with titles like Call of Duty being notable offenders for hogging hard drive space, to the point where you may not have room for anything else.
Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War continues the trend from the last game in the series, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, with ridiculously gargantuan file sizes that will rapidly consume the Playstation 5’s SSD available storage. This is likely due to the number of game modes the installment has, as well as taking into account the game’s upgraded graphics. The game currently clocks in at a whopping 225.3 GB minimum which may change as updates and fixes come from Activision.
Luckily, a system update allowing users to store PlayStation 5 games on external drives went live in April. Games will still need to be transferred on the internal SSD in order to play them, but at least there is a bit more flexibility when it comes to using the storage economically. Nobody knows when Sony will unlock the internal M.2 drive for gamers or which type of storage will be compatible but nevertheless, small game file sizes are very much welcome and there is some optimism amongst developers on Kraken’s future evolution.
With the optimism amongst said developers, a lot is still unknown about Sony’s new compression technology, are all games supported? And if so, does this extend to PS4 games or older? We are not able to answer that as of now.
Usually, compression technology never required game developers to optimize for compression, so technically all games running on the PlayStation 5s built in SSD should support Kraken
Hopefully, PS5’s Kraken compression will expand to the console’s second M.2 SSD slot, once Sony unlocks it. We could also see Kraken coming to external USB drives, but that could be wishing for too much.
It’s great to see such massive advances in compression technology in an era where games are doubling in size every three to four years. Hopefully it means people can upgrade their storage a bit less often and keep more games on their systems.