I’ve been wondering about this for a while. How much do you have to spend to get a PC better than a PS4? Even then how will the two experiences compare? A quick look at Digital Foundry shows that their 2012 £300 PC is hopelessly outgunned by a PS4 but a couple of tweaks to it would bring it up to scratch in hardware terms…..
Digital Foundry £300 PC spec:
CPU: Intel Pentium G840 at 2.8GHz – £54.83
Graphics Core: MSI Radeon HD 6770 – £69.90
Motherboard: ASRock H61M-VS – £34.03
RAM: Crucial Ballistix 2x 4GB RAM – £32.99
Hard Drive: 500GB Seagate Spinpoint F3 – £55.00
Optical Drive: Samsung SH-222BB DVD Rewriter – £12.98
Power Supply: Corsair 430W V2 CX Series – £36.40
Case: Casecom MA-1199 mATX – £16.64
These prices are about a year out of date but they are still in the ballpark. The Intel Pentium Chip may seem weak but it’s actually about the same, or better, performing than the PS4s octo-core CPU. In any case you can now swap that for a newer IvyBridge or Haswell one for about the same price for a performance boost. The real problem with this spec is the GPU which is hopelessly outgunned by the PS4. To get above the 1152 GCN shaders and access to 8GB of GDDR5 in the PS4 we are going to have to splurge on a 4GB Sapphire R9 270X card at around £170 and a better PSU to feed it. That, along with 8GB of ram on the motherboard should cope with most everything but we are now looking at a tower that’s costing around £450 and it doesn’t have an OS or a Controller or even a mouse and keyboard which are still necessary on the PC. Until Steam OS comes to fruition in maybe 2 or 3 years we are still looking at a 64-bit Windows OS and along with a mouse and keyboard and a wireless Xbox 360 controller that’ll take our total price up to around £550 or £650 if you really want to upgrade that Pentium to an i5 just to be safe.
Suddenly the PS4 is looking like a svelt, power-efficient bargain. Even more of a bargain if you take the view that a hardware equivalent PC can’t actually match an integrated box with the abstraction penalties of programming for Windows and Direct X. I have never seen any good solid information on this but it seems likely to me that it is maybe possible to get double or more the performance from a console compared to an equivalent PC because of these issues. A few games of GT5 or Uncharted 3 on the PS3 or Forza 4 on the 360 might convince you of this although, in reality, most games are cross platform and don’t extract that level of performance out of the systems. Certainly I don’t expect to see that kind of expertise show up on PS4 for a few years. Maybe when AMDs Mantle patch for Battlefield 4 shows up we’ll get an idea of what penalty DirectX really puts on a system.
So my conclusion after this little thought experiment is that if you think you could build a PC better than a PS4 then you absolutely can but you can’t do it for anything like the same price. Not this year. Probably not next year either. Maybe in two years it would be possible but by then the PS4 will be cheaper with a bigger HD too. There are other considerations too. The Playstation Plus program is awesome value (Especially if you have a PS3 or Vita too) and there’s nothing like that available on the PC and just the seamless, integrated, pick up and play experience of console play has not yet been matched on the PC.
All of these points can and will change over time but for the moment I will keep my PS3 and get a PS4 and keep an eye on developments in the PC world. It is possible that if Steam OS works then this could be my last console. Time will tell.