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PS4 vs. PS5

The Sony PlayStation 5 has been on the market for a few years now — and although it may not be the world’s fastest console, it’s a significant upgrade over the PlayStation 4. With a whole new architecture, superior resolution support, and faster storage thanks to the SSD, the PS5 console is better than the PS4 in almost every way.

From specs to design details to its expected game lineup, we know everything there is to know about the next-generation console. There’s a lot to talk about here, so let’s waste no time in comparing PS4 vs. PS5.

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PS5 vs. PS4 vs. PS4 Pro specs

Even a cursory glance at the specs of the PS5 shows that it’s in a different league than the PS4 (and even the PS4 Pro). Sony has improved the capabilities of its platform in every way, adding more efficient storage, faster compute parts, support for larger capacity disks, and support for higher resolutions. We know there are two versions of the PS5 — the Standard Edition and Digital Edition — both of which will offer the same specs (with the exception of the omission of a disc drive with the Digital Edition).

PlayStation 5 PlayStation 4 PlayStation 4 Pro
CPU 8-core, 16 thread, up to 3.5Ghz
(variable frequency)
8 Jaguar Cores, 1.6GHz 8 Jaguar Cores, 2.1GHz
GPU 36 CUs at 2.23GHz, 10.3 TFLOPs
(variable frequency)
18 CUs at 800MHz, 1.84 TFLOPS 36 CUs at 911Mhz, 4.2 TFLOPS
Internal Storage Custom 825GB SSD 500GB, 1TB HDD 1TB HDD
External Storage NVMe SSD slot, USB HDD 2.5-inch HDD, USB HDD 2.5-inch HDD, USB HDD
Optical Drive Ultra HD Blu-ray Blu-ray Blu-ray
Video Output 4K at 120Hz, 8K 1080p 4K

We’ll get into the specifics of most of these specs throughout this comparison. As a general note, though, it’s important to consider the context of these specs. The PS5 is a much newer console built on a different architecture, and because of that, some of the specs shouldn’t be directly compared.

For example, the PS5 and PS4 Pro have the same number of compute units (CU), but the PS5’s CUs have a much higher transistor density, making them more powerful than the PS4 Pro’s CUs. That said, other specs can be directly compared. The PS5 has a strictly better optical drive and resolution support, for example.

PS4 vs. PS5 graphics

Graphic of the PS5 chip.
(Credit: Sony) Image used with permission by copyright holder

The PS4 and PS5 are both based on custom AMD Radeon chips, though the latter packs a lot more of a punch. Sony is boasting twice the number of CUs on the PS5 as well as significantly higher clock speed. However, the biggest difference between the two comes with the ever-important TFLOPs.

“Teraflops” is a hot term for console developers, and for good reason. Although TFLOPS aren’t holistically indicative of performance, it’s a solid number to refer to when making comparisons. The PS4, with its 18 CUs running at 800MHz, clocks in at 1.84 TFLOPS, meaning it can handle 1.84 trillion floating-point operations per second. By contrast, the PS5’s GPU is rated for 10.3 TFLOPs.

Referring to that single number, the PS5’s GPU is roughly eight times more powerful than the PS4 and two and a half times more powerful than the PS4 Pro. Sony is able to achieve such high performance because of the PS5’s 36 CUs and higher clock speed. Over the PS4, the PS5’s cores run at 2.23GHz with variable frequency.

While a higher clock speed is expected, we’re more interested in variable frequency. Speed is capped at 2.23GHz, though it will lower based on what’s required of the GPU. Locked at 800MHz, the PS4 varies power based on the workload to meet the clock speed. More demanding games require more power, but the speed is always 800MHz.

For the next generation, power is the constant and clock speed is the variable. In the PS5 technical reveal, system architect Mark Cerny explained why this was the case, stating that a graphics core with 36 CUs running at 1GHz would produce the same number of TFLOPs as a 48 CU core running at 750MHz — 4.6 TFLOPS — but gaming performance would not be equal.

The general idea is that higher clock speed is better, not more CUs, as the extra, slower units wouldn’t have enough computing work to pull their weight. By allowing variable frequency, the PS5’s GPU can achieve much higher clock speeds than expected, so long as the higher frequency can be supported by the system’s power budget.

So far, we’ve compared PS4 vs. PS5 graphics on raw numbers, but that doesn’t take into account the latter system’s more modern architecture. Each of the PS5’s CUs has roughly 60 percent more transistors than a PS4 CU. As Cerny pointed out in his presentation, that means the 36 CUs of the PS5 equal the same performance as 58 PS4 CUs.

In short, the graphical capabilities of the PS5 are massively more impressive than the PS4. The PS5’s GPU will have more cores, and those cores will be faster and more efficient.

PS4 vs. PS5 resolution

A Sony PlayStation 4 Pro and controller.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The PS5’s increased graphical fidelity is, presumably, to push games to resolutions never seen before. For output, the PS5 supports 4K at 120Hz and 8K, both with a variable refresh rate as determined by HDMI 2.1. By contrast, the base PS4 can output at 1080p, often decreasing resolution in-game based on power consumption, and the PS4 Pro can output at 4K.

Sony including an HDMI 2.1 output is very forward-thinking, even if most TVs don’t include an HDMI 2.1 port quite yet. The new standard supports higher resolutions and frame rates, but those upper limits won’t matter for years, or even decades. More important to gaming, HDMI 2.1 supports a variable refresh rate, which will prevent screen tearing.

Going into the current console generation, we suspect resolution will be a key marketing point, as Microsoft and Sony already have pushed that their consoles are capable of 8K resolutions. Although this is true — and exciting, even — that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be playing games at 8K.

8K displays will likely become more common towards the end of the PS5’s life cycle. For now, the focus is on 4K. The big deal with the PS5 is support for 120Hz displays, as there’s already a slew of TVs and monitors that support 4K and higher refresh rates. Assuming the GPU has the horsepower to push 60 frames per second and above, you should be able to take advantage of a high refresh rate TV with the PS5.

PS4 vs. PS5 price

It’s the dawn of a new generation.

As #PS5 begins to launch around the world, a message from PlayStation President & CEO Jim Ryan:

— PlayStation (@PlayStation) November 12, 2020

With the massively improved specs and the implementation of the SSD, it makes sense that the PS5 will be more expensive than the PS4. The Standard Edition will cost $499.99, while the Digital Edition will set you back $399.99. Given the PS5’s speed and the fact that it’ll play 99% of your PS4 games, the value is absolutely there. You effectively would have no need for a PS4 once you get a PS5.

Interestingly, the PS4 isn’t much less expensive than the PS5. You can currently grab a 1TB PS4 Slim model for around $299.99, and a 1TB PS4 Pro for $399.99. At that point, you might as well grab a PS5, since it will do nearly everything the PS4 does — but better. It’s surprising to see such a minor price difference between the two, but with the current landscape of video games, console manufacturers must remain competitive with their prices.

PS4 vs. PS5 storage

PS5 Storage info graphic.
(Credit: Sony) Image used with permission by copyright holder

The PS5 isn’t seeing an upgrade in storage capacity over the PS4, or at least, over the PS4 Pro. If you’re still holding onto an original PS4, you’ll see slightly more storage, with the base PS4 model sporting 500GB of storage and the PS5 shipping with 825GB. Those with a later PS4 model or the Pro are actually seeing a decrease in capacity, losing about 175GB of space.

Performance is the key difference. The PS5 includes a custom SSD with a raw read bandwidth of 5.5GB/s. Sony’s new storage medium is built specifically for the PS5, allowing it to more effectively communicate with the PS5’s architecture. That’s why the 825GB capacity may seem a bit strange at first.

Even an off-the-shelf SSD would perform much faster than the PS4’s hard drive, with the older system rocking a 5400RPM mechanical disk. Beyond the performance benefit from flash-based storage, the PS5 also has a new SSD controller. This controller supports hardware decompression for ZLIB, but more importantly, Oodle Kraken.

Kraken is a newer compression and decompression algorithm from RAD Game Tools, which can compress files smaller than ZLIB, as well as decompress them faster. In practice, that means game files can be read from the flash modules, decompressed, and fed to the system much faster on the PS5 than on the PS4.

Current PS4 users already have benefited from efficient decompression, as recent games like Marvel’s Spider-Man and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order render based on what the player can actively see, loading extraneous data out from the game world. Up to this point, developers were forced to leave at least some assets in the game world, as the PS4’s hard drive isn’t fast enough to deliver the necessary data in time (think texture pop-in).

PS5 SSD custom flash infographic.
(Credit: Sony) Image used with permission by copyright holder

Games will load faster with the new SSD, that’s apparent, but developers also have more freedom in how they display assets. Because the PS5’s storage is as fast as it is, game files can be read from the storage device and delivered to the system within milliseconds, opening up far more possibilities in how game assets are displayed.

The biggest bottleneck is capacity, which thankfully, the PS5 has a solution for. Like PS4, you’ll be able to upgrade the storage of your PS5 with off-the-shelf parts. Instead of chucking in a 2.5-inch hard drive, though — you can learn how to do that here — you’ll be inserting an NVMe SSD.

Compared to the PS4, you’ll see a significant performance boost with a PCI-e NVMe SSD over a 2.5-inch mechanical drive and even standard SATA SSDs. That said, the open nature of the PS4’s medium isn’t present with the PS5; you’ll need to wait until PCI-e 4.0-based drives hit the market before expanding the PS5’s capacity.

PS4 vs. PS5 games

A knight and demon in Demon's Souls Remake.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The PS4 has a long list of excellent exclusive games, including Bloodborne, God of War, Until Dawn, Uncharted 4, and more. Thankfully, you’ll still be able to play those games on your PS5 (more on that in a minute) — and in most cases, they’ll run and look better on the new machine. That’s the great thing about the new system. With backward compatibility in mind, all of your old PS4 games will still work on PS5.

But of course, the real reason to get a PS5 is for the games and there will be no shortage this fall. Standouts include Demon’s Souls, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Horizon Forbidden West, and God of War Ragnarok. But the list of games doesn’t stop there, as the list keeps growing.

Backward compatibility

Kratos and Atreus on a boat.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Although the PS4 has a developed list of high-quality exclusives, that doesn’t mean you should sleep on Sony’s new console. In an official PlayStation Blog post, Senior Vice President of Platform Planning Hideaki Nishino explained how backward compatibility between PS4 and PS5 will work. Nishino started by saying “more than 99 percent of the 4000+ games available on PS4 will be playable on PS5,” and we now know how it’ll work.

PS5 will be backward compatible with PS4, PSVR, and games available through PS Now and PS Plus, with very few exceptions.

Surprisingly, there are only 10 games that will not be backward compatible with PS5. The list is as follows:

  • DWVR
  • Afro Samurai 2 Revenge of Kuma Volume One
  • TT Isle of Man — Ride on the Edge 2
  • Just Deal With It!
  • Shadow Complex Remastered
  • Robinson: The Journey
  • We Sing
  • Hitman Go: Definitive Edition
  • Shadwen
  • Joe’s Diner

Unfortunately, backward compatibility starts and stops with PS4 games. PS1, PS2, and PS3 games are not backward compatible, though you can download and stream select titles via PlayStation Extra and Premium.

In addition to new games, the PS5 also supports larger games than the PS4. Both the PS4 and the PS4 Pro have a standard Blu-ray drive. Blu-ray discs can store up to 25GB of data on a single layer, and although up to six layers are possible, the vast majority of Blu-ray discs don’t exceed two layers.

The PS5 ships with an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive, much like the Xbox One X. In addition to playing UHD movies off a disc, the new optical drive bay can take advantage of the capacities offered by Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. Currently, UHD Blu-rays support three capacities: 50GB and 66GB with two layers, and 100GB with three layers. Unlike standard Blu-rays, the higher capacities should be present in games.

PS4’s DualShock 4 vs. PS5’s DualSense

Geoff Keighley holding a dualsense controller.
The Game Awards creator and host, Geoff Keighley Image used with permission by copyright holder

Aside from the vast differences between the two machines, the PS5 will offer a new take on the PlayStation 4 controller — dropping the DualShock moniker entirely. Instead, the PS5 will come with the DualSense, a controller that is designed to feature better battery life, adaptive triggers, and most impressively, haptic feedback. The idea with adaptive triggers is to offer varying degrees of resistance depending on what you’re doing in-game. For example, firing a bow will feel wildly different than firing an automatic machine gun, which will feel different from a shotgun.

The varying amount of tension is meant to make the player feel more immersed. Haptic feedback works similarly, but with the controllers’ vibration. Dynamic vibrations will be used to depict different surfaces or even showcase recoil with weapons. It will be up to the developer to design with adaptive triggers and haptic feedback in mind, so we hope games on PS5 will continue to include support for it. Based on early previews of the PS5, the DualSense seems to be the shining star.

Despite that, the DualSense and DualShock 4 have many similar features. Each offers the expected identical button layouts. One difference is that the Create button has recently replaced the Share button, which allows users to live stream games and share screenshots and videos with other users. You can still enjoy the fantastic built-in mic and headset jack, as well as a cool, integrated speaker, motion sensor, and handy touchpad. 

PS4 vs. PS5 editions

PS5 Consoles side by side.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

As previously mentioned, you have options when you decide to buy a PS5. One version is disk-compatible, while the other can store digital game copies that are bought online. The model you choose ultimately comes down to your individual preferences — disk or digital. We analyzed the systems during the reveal and noticed that the controllers match the color scheme and design style. The next-gen console features white and black colors along with a small curve in the middle. Since it lacks a built-in disk drive, the Digital Edition is slightly shorter, smaller, and features a more modern design. 

The two-versioned PS5 differs greatly from the 2013 PS4, which offered only one hard drive system. Through the years, we’ve watched other models release such as the PS4 Pro and the PS4 Slim; however, those came much later. We predict that we’ll see another Sony-manufactured generation soon, which will consist of a compact and increasingly powerful model of the PS5.

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Jesse Lennox
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