Recent PlayStation 5 mock-ups look pretty nice, but they might be totally off the mark. Sony's next-gen PS5 could look radically different than anything we've seen so far.
Photo: Brian C. Worton
Like the Xbox Series X, the PlayStation 5 will require a pretty substantial cooling solution. PS5 architect Mark Cerny says we'll be pretty happy with the console's cooling and that the system's SoC was built from the ground up with proper heat dissipation in mind (the Navi GPU's and Zen 2 CPU's power draw was adjusted to maintain proper cooling).
Cerny also says the PS5 will require a 'noticably larger' fan and power supply, which should transform the overall case design. How Sony designs this array--which is described as a lavish and more expensive option--will dictate the shape of the system itself. Sony has yet to reveal specifics on the PS5's cooling or fan setup, but the Xbox Series X conversely uses a 130mm exhaust fan to pull air from the bottom up in a kind of vortex of airflow alongside a vapor chamber APU cooler. But also remember power is handled differently between the two systems: Xbox SX locks the CPU and GPU frequencies, whereas the PS5 has variable frequencies.
The recent PS5 mock-ups are built on the PS4 Pro shape, and I think this is a mistake. This design doesn't really account for the new cooling setup. The mock-ups do combine the V-shaped ventilation found in the PS5 devkit, but these kits were designed to be stackable as well as belt out serious heat, and weren't using finalized SoCs (and probably not finalized cooling, either).
Ultimately the point is: The flat design may not accommodate the new cooling system. That design worked for the PS4 and the PS4 Pro, but the upgraded Pro's fan got quite loud and could get pretty zesty (due to the fluctuating power flow of the PSU).
Mark Cerny hints these things have been adjusted with the PlayStation 5. Not only has the APU been adjusted to use a constant of power and mitigate any huge fan ramp-ups, but the next-gen PS5 may utilize a bigger power supply to deliver more electrical output and a bigger fan to keep the system cool while under intense workloads.
Left: The Xbox Series X's intake/exhaust airflow scheme, Right: The Xbox Series X's massive customized 130mm fan (Credit: Austin Evans)
"PlayStation 5 is especially challenging because the CPU supports 256-bit native instructions that consume a lot of power. These are great here and there, but presumably only minimally used...or are they?
"If we plan for major 256-bit instruction usage, we need to set the CPU clock substantially lower or noticably increase the size of the power supply and fan.
"So, after much discussion, we decided to go with a very different direction on PlayStation 5," Cerny said in the presentation.
"Then we went with a variable frequency strategy with PlayStation 5. Which is to say we continuously run the GPU and CPU in boost mode. We supply a generous amount of electrical power, and then increase the frequency of GPU and CPU until they reach the capabilities of the system's cooling solution.
"It's a completely different paradigm. Rather than running constant frequency, and letting power vary based on the workload, we run at essentially constant power and let the frequency vary based on the workload."
Sony has made some noticable adjustments with different PS4 Pro models that could be practice for the PlayStation 5. (Left: old model, Right: newer 7200 PS4 Pro model)
The PS5 Pro was an iterative PS4 hardware refresh that packed in a new GPU, but it wasn't a fully-fledged next-gen console. Sony hasn't created a true power-leaping console until the PS5, and it didn't have the practice Microsoft had with its Xbox Series X. The PS4 Pro's beefy Nidec fan setup may not be enough for the PS5 and Sony may have had to re-think cooling and case design.
The PS4 Pro's cooling system pulls air from the sides and exhausts them from the back, and this airflow stream dictates the entire design of the system. A top panel above the PS4 Pro's fan creates suction to pressurize the intake air and force it through the heat sink. Hot air is then exhausted out the back vents.
This setup works for the PS4 family, which used a Jaguar-based SoC and a slower HDD, but what about the PS5? Could the power adjustments be enough for the system's high-end 7nm Zen 2 CPU and Navi GPU-outfitted SoC and PCIe 4.0 SSD? Possibly, but we still think the case design will be different than a flat box.
Are we worried about the PlayStation 5's cooling? No. Reports say the system may be overheating, but on closer inspection, this looks very overblown. Cerny affirms that gamers will be impressed by the PS5's cooling, hinting a new design has been created.
"As for details of the cooling solution, we're saving them for our teardown. I think you'll be quite happy with what the engineering team came up with," Cerny said in the tech talk.
Will the PlayStation 5 be a tower like the Xbox Series X? Maybe. It's more likely the console will have an interesting and striking design. Will it still retain adequate cooling even shaped like a flat-ish PS4 Pro? Possibly. It's possible the power adjustments are enough to keep the more slim form factor, but I don't think it's likely, especially when native 4K gaming starts to generate workload heat.
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