July 11, 2008 // 7:29 pm
- We're going to have to say this, so just bear with us for a second, and be aware that we mean it in the best possible sense. We don't want to indulge in any pointless console wars, and we certainly don't want to be tarred with the inevitable fanboy brush.
Okay... deep breath. The PS3 is kinda broken.
Now we don't mean that the PS3 will 'red ring' at any given opportunity, and we're not suggesting it's a console destined for the scrapheap - quite the opposite. When we say the PS3 is broken, we say it with the best of intentions, with a barely contained frustration towards a machine that, in its current state, will never fulfil its full potential.
We're talking of course about processing bottlenecks, and the PS3 has a tonne of them.
The first major bottleneck is a result of the Blu ray drive. Although Blu-ray has traditionally been seen as the major selling point of the PS3 (and to a certain extent it is) at this early stage the transfer speeds are insufficient to match the fastest DVD drives, hence the constant need to install games to the hard drive. So essentially the benefits of having huge storage space are rendered impotent by the need to install games - if the game needs to install then why are discs with a larger capacity even necessary in the first place?
The second major bottleneck is with regards to the overall architecture of the PS3 itself. Most gamers are aware that the PS3's cell processor is ridiculously fast in terms of sheer horsepower, however this means nothing without the ability to stream the information at the rate required for HD gaming. With only 256MB of system RAM, the PS3 struggles compared to the Xbox 360's more capable 512MB, hence the struggling frame-rates, and number of other issues multi-format games are laboured with on the PS3.
But the PS3 has 256MB of video RAM you might say to back up the 256MB of system RAM. Doesn't that compensate? That equals the 512MB, right? Well kinda, but the RAM in question is Video RAM specifically, which can only be distributed towards powering specific aspects of a game. It's not as flexible or as efficient as having a huge chunk of RAM that can be used wherever, whenever for whatever.
A good example of how this works in action can be seen in GTA IV: the Xbox 360 version had a tighter frame-rate, and full 720p resolution, whilst the PS3 had less pop-in and slightly more refined graphical effects. And this was from a developer smart enough to code to each console's strength - others haven't been so successful, resulting in sluggish frame-rates, and jaggies galore. So far, so pedestrian - you might possibly know this info already, especially if you have even a rudimentary understanding of how consoles work. But what if there was a solution.
So now we get to the big question: would you buy a RAM expansion pack for the PlayStation 3? 256MB in this day and age would be relatively cheap (512MB will cost you less that $20) and could even be bundled with a high profile exclusive for almost no added cost. This would be a simple, yet affordable, solution to the PS3's extensive bottlenecking.
It was only a couple of generations ago that we were asked to do the same thing with the N64, with an expansion pack bundled with Donkey Kong 64, and certain aspects of Perfect Dark remaining unplayable without the pack. Had Sony bundled a RAM expansion pack with a high profile exclusive like MGS4, for example, very few gamers would have complained about shelling out an extra $10 bucks for an experience that could have obliterated anything seen on the Xbox 360.
In fact talking of the Xbox 360, Gears of War developer Epic Games was actually responsible for the console's additional RAM. After showing Microsoft what Gears looked like with 256 MB of RAM, they petitioned for extra by showing MS what a quantum leap the game would make if they doubled the RAM. Had Kojima pulled the same stunt with MGS4 the console war may have already been over? We sense a real missed opportunity here - will it be too late if Polyphony Digital or Square Enix would push the same demand for Gran Turismo 5 and Final Fantasy XIII respectively?
Ultimately, at this stage, a RAM expansion seems inevitable. With the PS3 already struggling to compete with the Xbox 360, Sony's promise of the PS3's 10 year lifespan already seems laughable - but with an extra injection of RAM, the gap between the PS3 and its competitors would be more than tangible, allowing the console to fulfil it's lofty potential, becoming the stellar, high end product we were initially promised all those years ago.