In the last generation, PCs had a big advantage over consoles.
The stakes are higher this time around, and the technology is catching up.
There are always PC gamers—like myself—who are eager to point out that our platform of choice offers more power and adaptability than even the newest, shiniest console when it releases.
That’s still true, but something’s different this time around.
PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are more powerful than my two midrange gaming PCs, which would have been unheard of in the PS4 and Xbox One eras.
There is still a significant performance difference between PCs and the current consoles despite the fact that PCs may be bought for a higher price and yet have better performance.
A lack of power was a given when the PlayStation 4 was introduced by Sony, as hardware experts had predicted.
A Radeon HD 7850 or 7870 graphics card costing $140 or $170 at the time, according to AnandTech, would be the GPU equal of a console’s CPU.
At that pricing point, you could easily construct a PC that would outperform both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and many games had poor framerates or reduced visuals compared to PCs of the same caliber.
Even a mid-range PC would give you more raw power to play with, even if that wasn’t true across the board—some notable PC ports had their own flaws.)
Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), the semiconductor company that created the CPUs and graphics chips within Sony and Microsoft’s consoles for the previous two generations, played a role in some of this..
“When the last-generation consoles came, AMD was in horrible health,” says PC World senior editor Brad Chacos.
It was a major bet that didn’t pay off for them because they were still using their outdated Bulldozer architecture.
The Jaguar CPUs in the PS4 and Xbox One were toned-down, power-efficient versions of an already inferior offering. That failure had them playing second fiddle to Intel for years in the PC industry.
A well-built PC, however, was still superior in terms of performance and graphical quality.
For the first time in a decade and a half, AMD is “hitting on all cylinders” this year, with its newest Ryzen 5000 CPUs outperforming Intel across the board.
In contrast to the outdated, nearly tablet-like Jaguar CPUs found in the previous generation’s consoles, the new PS5, and Xbox Series X processors may get considerably closer to the performance of a competent gaming PC.
Processors and graphics chips aren’t the only culprits.
Consoles now feature SSDs, allowing for the lightning-fast loading speeds we’ve grown accustomed to on PCs.
Additionally, SSDs enable faster patch downloads and more responsive fast travel, two features that made prior consoles seem outdated and slow out of the gate.
The current consoles seem a lot like gaming PCs in terms of their graphics capability when everything is said and done.
The top-tier PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles cost $500, while the $400 PS4 and Xbox One consoles were only available in base configuration (post-Kinect removal).
The increased price tag allows the makers to incorporate more powerful technology, but Chacos points out that these consoles are still “amazing deals,” given that PC hardware has been inflated in 2020. (thanks, Covid-19).
In terms of graphical quality, the $500 PS4 may be more expensive than the last generation’s $400 PS4, but the digital PS4 offers the same performance as the last generation’s $400 PS4.
But Sony is giving this reduced pricing in the hope that you would pay more for digital games in the long term, as I would argue.).
But the PC vs. console debate was never simply about sheer power—as I’ve written before, the adaptability of PCs delivers a personalized, tailored-to-you experience that consoles cannot equal.
However, they’re getting closer.
As PCs have utilized the same x86 architecture for decades, the last two generations may now take use of better backward compatibility.
As a result, both the PS5 and Xbox Series X are able to play PS4 and Xbox One games, which means that you have access to a much broader library of compatible games—though it may not be as extensive as the decades of games available on a PC, it’s more enticing than the limited selection of games available on consoles of the past.
Performance options, which enable you to select between graphical quality and faster framerates, are becoming increasingly widespread in console games. PC players have been able to do this since the beginning of time (albeit with more fine-grained control).
Even with limited mouse and keyboard functionality, the PS5 or Xbox Series X may now be tailored to your playstyle more than ever before.
Chacos, on the other hand, isn’t certain that these kinds of characteristics will persuade people to buy their shoes.
Even though he calls them “cherries on top,” he argues that they are unlikely to alter the core value proposition for users who are already committed to a certain platform.
However, he does acknowledge that these additional capabilities create a new dynamic in the game industry.
Graphics, he says, “have reached a particular point where it’s impossible to go much farther in terms of raw pixel count.” He elaborates.
“You won’t notice much of a change if you go from 1080p to 8K.
Ray tracing is being used by Nvidia and other companies to increase the quality of those pixels.”
In the following years, the PC may be able to extend the gap again.
PC hardware iterates so rapidly that new console graphics cards frequently appear weak when they are released whereas new consoles might be a terrific deal.
If next year’s hardware does not include additional pixels, innovations like Nvidia’s DLSS, which improves speed together with ray tracing, might bring significant gains for the PC.
It’s possible, though, that AMD has its own console-compatible tricks up its sleeve that might make this happen.