“PC Master Race”. It’s a term you hear all too often, constantly implying that gaming on a PC is superior to gaming on the console. For racing titles, it seems like the most realistic experiences are only to be had on the PC. While there are solid definitely racing games for the Xbox and Playstation, they simply can not come close at all to the level of fidelity and realism of a PC racing title. However, why is that? Why aren’t we seeing bleeding edge simulation on the home consoles?
Last Generation’s Consoles Were Cutting Edge
To start looking at this comparison, we should look at what powered the PREVIOUS generation. Flash back to 2005, the release of the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 4. 12 years ago, most computers were still running dual-core 32-bit CPU processors, and 512MB of Video RAM was “High End”. 1GB of RAM also considered cutting edge at the time.
Enter the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The Xbox 360 was a Holiday 2005 release, with the PS3 releasing around a year later, and they featured specs on par with a modern gaming PC of the time. Both consoles featured multi-core processors clocked at over 3 GHz, and enough power to compare to a reasonable gaming PC at the time.
Look at the “Cutting Edge Racing Simulator” from 2005, rFactor. These were the minimum specs at the time:
- 1.0 GHz processor
- Windows 98 SE, ME, 2000, XP, XP 64-bit (will not run in Windows 95 or Windows 98 first edition)
- 256 MB RAM
- Geforce 3 or Radeon 8500
- 64 MB video RAM
- DirectX 9.0c
- 1.1 GB of hard drive space for installation
Theoretically, an Xbox 360 or PS3 could EASILY play that title. Since the PS3 and Xbox 360 had reasonable performance on all fronts to a modern gaming PC, namely in the processor’s side, it could actually handle titles like this.
Modern Consoles Struggle in the CPU Department
When the new consoles were announced in 2013, the big buzz was definitely about the graphics. While the Xbox 360 used only 512 megabytes of RAM to allocate between system and graphics, the Xbox One bumped that number up to 8 Gigabytes. The Playstation 4 featured a similar jump, but featured high speed GDDR5 RAM. Those were astounding leaps, and resulted in gorgeous games.
However, the CPU department seemed to have a weird step. The Xbox 360 used a 3-core/6-thread processor, and the Playstation 3 used a 7-core configuration on its Cell Processor. Both system’s CPUs were clocked at 3.2 GHz.
Jump forward to the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, and now both systems have upgraded to 8-Core 64-bit units, which is great! What’s not so great… is that both systems featured clock speeds of under 2.0 GHz. The CPU on the PS4 and Xbox One were based on AMD’s Jaguar architecture, which was intended for mobile device usage. The units were modified for console use, and they work acceptably. However, the CPU on the console definitely serves as a bottleneck, especially when factoring in the fidelity of the graphics.
Two examples that apply to us are Assetto Corsa and Project CARS. Digital Foundry did some excellent videos showing off the performance in the sims, and you can clearly tell that there is a bottleneck in the CPU, which keeps the titles from achieving the stable 60 Frames per Second that is seen as a “minimum” for Sim Racing performance.
Test under similar conditions with a standard PC CPU and a similar graphics card to the PS4 or Xbox One, and you’d likely get far above 60 Frames per Second. That shows that the CPU is clearly the bottleneck on the consoles, and leads to the performance decreases.
Unfortunately, the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X does use the same architecture for the processors, but fortunately the processors have seen considerable bumps in the performance. However, the titles STILL struggle to hit a consistent 60 Frames per Second at 1080p, which is disappointing.
In addition, because there is limited CPU power in consoles, we aren’t seeing console titles at the level of fidelity, compared to the high end PC titles. Look at Gran Turismo Sport and Forza Motorsport. While we are seeing considerable improvements on both titles towards the simulation side, we aren’t seeing CPU-heavy features such as dynamic tire wear, tracks rubbering in, and other factors.
Is there hope for console sims in the future?
I definitely believe there is hope for sim racing to work well in future generations of console sims in the future. Due to rumors of the next generation of consoles, we could see them working on Ryzen technology. If we get a higher performance CPU to achieve a better balance between processing power and GPU power, that may be a great incentive for bringing racing titles over to consoles in the next generation.