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PS3 hardware slow and broken

In words and pictures
Mon Jun 05 2006, 04:35
AFTER BREAKING THE news to me about PS3 RSX speeds earlier on the flight to Japan, my row-mate said 'if you think that's interesting, wait till you see this. Cell is hurting, badly'.

For those of you that believe in religions with karmic tendencies, scoops like this meant one of two things, the wings of the plane are about to fall off and I am going to die in a fiery ball, or worse yet, the movie selection will be worrisome. Cell memory access appears to be broken, RSX has half the triangle setup rate of the ATI chip in XBox360, and the true horror, Big Momma's House 2 and a Queen Latifa movie.

With the movie selection still making my brain throb from the glances I caught, I furiously took notes on what the source was saying. He started out saying that the RSX can only write about half as much vertex data as it can fetch, not an ideal situation by any stretch, but survivable.

Then came the horrible news, RSX appears to be limited to setting up 275 Million triangles/second, anemic compared to the 500+ million in XBox360. When asked about this apparent thumping dished out by MS, the reply from one notable ISV relations boffin was a terse 'What a Piece of Junk'. Talk about a steak in the heart.

Half the triangle setup capability in the PS3, could things get worse? Yes, far far worse, how about another disparity of three orders of magnitude? No, I am not joking, looking at Sony's own figures, Cell appears to be pretty badly broken.


For main memory, it looks like Cell has about 25GBps of main memory bandwidth, and RSX is about 15-20GBps. Achievable bandwidth is between about two thirds of that and nearly 100%, clearly the elves in the caves surrounding Rambus central did something right with XDR. That is the happy news.

For local memory, the measured vs theoretical bandwidth is missing, I wonder why? RSX is at a solid 22.4GBps for both read and write, good job there green team. Then comes the blue team with Cell. Local memory write is about 4GBps, 40% of the next slowest bandwidth there. Then comes the bomb from hell, the Cell local memory read bandwidth is a stunning 16MBps, note that is a capital M to connote Mega vs a capital G to connote Giga. This is a three order of magnitude oopsie, and it is an oopsie, as Sony put it "(no, this isn't a typo...)".

If you can write at 250x the read speed, it makes Cell local memory just about useless. That means you do all your work out of main memory, and the whole point of local is, well, pointless. This can lead to contention issues for the main memory bus, and all sorts of nightmarish to debug performance problems. Basically, if this Sony presentation to PS3 devs shown to us is correct, it looks like PS3 will be hobbled in a serious way.

The next slide goes on to say "Don't read from local memory, but write to main memory with RSX(tm) and read it from there instead", and repeats the table numbers. This is very very bad. The number of times the presentation goes on to say that it is correct, and the lack of anything like "this will be fixed by production steppings, so take measures X, Y and Z" say to me that it is not a fixable snafu. Remember at E3 when I said that the PS3 demos there were object sparse? Any guesses why?

Someone screwed up so badly it looks like it will relegate the console to second place behind the 360. All the devs I talked to were lukewarm on the 360 architecture but universally negative on the PS3. Revelations like this go a long way to explain why you keep hearing about simmering problems from the Sony devs.

You end up with a console with half the triangle setup rate of the 360, a crippled CPU that is a bitch to program, and tools that are atrocious compared to the 360. To make matters worse, you have an arrogant set of execs telling us that twice the price is worth it for half the power, a year late. If it isn't already too late, Sony had better do something about this recto-cranial inversion or it may very well sink the console. µ


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