PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Understanding CPU & GPU frequencies

The two upcoming consoles approach CPU and GPU frequencies a bit differently. We dive into how the new consoles will operate and what it could mean for future games on each platform.


The run-up to the launch of a new console generation is always one of the most exciting parts of being a video game enthusiast. New hardware generations always bring massive advancements in visual fidelity and immersion, as well as new gameplay possibilities. Both Microsoft and Sony are expected to launch their ninth-generation console sometime near the end of this year and both companies have now begun offering official statements on the technical specifications of these new machines. Every console manufacturer likes to brag that it will offer the most advanced product on the market, but history has shown us that having the most horsepower under the hood is no guarantee of success, otherwise, the Nintendo Wii would not be the clear winner of the seventh console generation with over 100 million units sold.

Much like the eighth-generation consoles, the Xbox Series X and PS5 will make use of hardware that is very similar in design, each with their own custom tweaks to processor operating speeds, thermal management, and development software interfaces. The Xbox One and PS4 made use of AMD APUs based on its Jaguar core architecture. These chips were originally designed for low-power operation, leading to a smaller generational leap in power over the preceding Xbox 360 and PS3, but developers still managed to get fantastic results from game software. This time around, both Sony and Microsoft are shooting for the stars, with each company planning massively powerful boxes capable of a visual fidelity leap that could be as significant as we saw during the birth of 3D games.

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: CPU & GPU specs

PS5 CPU & GPU Specs

CPU: 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.5GHz (variable frequency, with SMT)

GPU: 10.28 TFLOPs, 36 CUs at 2.23GHz (variable frequency)

Xbox Series X CPU & GPU Specs

CPU: 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.8GHz (3.6GHz with SMT)

GPU: 12.16 TFLOPs, 52 CUs at 1.825GHz

What do the differences in CPU and GPU frequencies mean?

When Microsoft took the wraps off the Xbox Series X last month, they made a specific point hammer home the fact that the new console would operate at a fixed frequency on both the CPU and GPU. This is typically how most console hardware has operated in the past, so the extra focus seemed a bit odd at the time. After the Sony PS5 presentation from Mark Cerny on March 18, the Microsoft sales presentation made much more sense. 

While the PS5 essentially uses the same CPU as the Xbox Series X, Sony indicated that the chip would run at variable frequencies that will be regulated by the console itself and are directly tied into total system power use. The PS5 GPU will also have a variable frequency operation, with the ability to run at a higher frequency than the Xbox Series X in certain situations and as long as the console did not exceed its defined power limit. This will allow the PS5’s GPU to compete with the Series X GPU despite having sixteen less compute units. 

Compute units in the GPU are analogous to CPU cores and contain shader processors and other components that do the heavy lifting on the graphics side of things. All other things being equal, a console with more compute units would be faster, so the PS5’s GPU splits the difference by having its compute units potentially run much faster than the Series X. 

As mentioned above, variable frequencies are not exactly the norm for console hardware, as one of a console’s touted benefits over non-fixed platforms like PC is that developers will know exactly what hardware is on-hand and at what speeds it will be operating. Variable frequency CPUs and GPUs are common in the PC world and are often directly regulated by thermal limits. This is where terms like CPU and GPU boost come from. Sony says that the PS5 will dynamically alter CPU and GPU frequency on-the-fly without the need for developer worry, but this approach could possibly introduce additional complexity to the development process versus the Xbox Series X. It is not surprising that Microsoft made it a point to boast about its fixed frequencies as a potential easing of pain for studios.

Ultimately, the Series X and PS5 still share the same basic CPU and GPU architecture, so there will likely be minimal differences in power available to developers when it comes to multiplatform games. Like every console generation, first-party studios always seem to wrangle every last drop of juice out of the hardware’s respective designs, so it would not be surprising to see Naughty Dog or Insomniac obtain gains with the variable frequencies of the PS5 that multi-platform development teams are unable to realize.

Stay tuned to Shacknews as we will continue to take a closer look at the differences between the new consoles. Which console seems the most impressive to you so far? Let us know in the comments below.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

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