Brace yourself. Sony’s PlayStation 5 is going to be expensive

The next console generation will be here soon. Sony’s PlayStation 5 will face off against a new Xbox that’s expected to be detailed at E3 2019 and rumored Nintendo Switch variations that will add more power or more portability, your preference. Sony gave Wired a sneak peek at its efforts in an exclusive interview. The details map out a promising console that puts target hardcore gamers in its crosshairs — but also gives me reason to think Sony’s latest and greatest will carry an intimidating price tag.

Big upgrade

Wired’s interview with Mark Cerny reveals the PlayStation 5 will use a third-generation AMD Ryzen processor. That represents a potentially massive leap and, I think, is the most meaningful upgrade in the entire system.

The PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro, as a reminder, use eight-core AMD Jaguar hardware. The Jaguar microarchitecture wasn’t even cutting-edge at the time the original PS4 was released. It’s a “low-power” architecture designed with efficiency in mind that only appeared in the most inexpensive laptops and desktops.

Anandtech reviewed the AMD Athlon 5350, a processor with four Jaguar cores, back in 2014. That review found the Athlon 5350 didn’t perform well in most benchmarks, even when compared to affordable processors like an Intel Core i3-2100 or AMD FX-4300. While the PS4 did offer eight cores, offsetting Jaguar’s very low per-core performance, it’s fair to say the original PS4’s processor was anemic compared to PC desktops available at launch.

AMD CEO Lisa Ku
AMD CEO Lisa Ku AMD

The PS5 is a different story. Wired didn’t learn the exact core count of the processor, but even a lowball number (like, say, four) would mark a huge uptick in relative power for the new console. Third-gen Ryzen is a new, mainstream processor line based on a new, mainstream architecture designed with mid-range and high-end desktop PCs in mind.

It’s the same story for the GPU, which is based on AMD’s Radeon Navi and will include ray tracing support. This is cutting-edge hardware. AMD doesn’t sell any Navi-based cards yet, though they’re expected to arrive in the latter half of 2019.

The PS4 launched with an AMD Radeon GPU based on Graphics Core Next 2.0. GCN 2.0 was relatively new at the time, having arrived in PC graphics cards only a few months earlier. However, the chip’s quoted raw compute power of 1.84 TFLOPs was entry-level and well behind the best PC video cards.

Sony hasn’t revealed the headline compute power figure for the PS5, so it’s hard to say how the Navi-based GPU will rate there. Still, the PS5 seems positioned to pack more impress hardware at release than did the PS4 or PS4 Pro.

Big price

What will that mean for your wallet?

Sony’s original PS4 was estimated to cost $381 to build. The integrated processor, which included both the CPU and the GPU on a single chip, was estimated to price at $188. Sony’s PS4 pro was less expensive to build, with an estimated cost of about $317. While the PS4 Pro upgraded the GPU, most of its hardware was similar to previous models and less expensive as a result.

Speculating on the price of the PS5’s integrated processor is difficult, but I think a ballpark estimate of $300 is likely. Remember, we’re talking about a powerful CPU and GPU, as well as the system memory, all rolled into one chip.

The hard drive will also add to the price. Sony says it’ll switch to solid state storage for the PS5. It’s a good call as long load times are a major complaint from all console owners, but also likely to add cost. Stuffing a mechanical drive in the original PlayStation 4 was estimated to cost Sony $37. A decent 256GB solid state drive would probably cost Sony the same, but that likely wouldn’t be enough storage. A 512GB solid state drive would probably set Sony back about $60.

Working back from the original PlayStation 4,  that system’s cost minus the integrated processor and hard drive was $156. If the updated pricing for the integrated processor and hard drive as substituted in, that puts Sony’s total estimated cost for the PlayStation 5 at $516.

There are a few wildcards that might increase or decrease that figure. Cerny told Wired that the PS5 will be backwards-compatible but didn’t say to what extent. Leaning heavily on the existing PS4 architecture could shave costs by continuing to use existing solutions whenever possible. However, the interview also mentioned a custom 3D audio unit. Depending on how custom it really is, and what it does, it could drive up costs further.

Watch out for hard drive shenanigans

Transitioning to a solid-state drive could drastically improve load times. It’ll also help open-world games, which sometimes struggle to pull data off the drive when players are moving across the game world. These are necessary improvements, but gamers should be wary of what they’ll mean for pricing.

The higher price of solid-state drives remains a pain point for device makers, who of course want to offer a device at the lowest price possible. That often leads to a compromised, entry-level version that has a small SSD at a low entry-level price.

samsung 970 evo ssd review onkybrd 3

Every company plays this game. The base MSRP of the Apple MacBook Air is $1,199, but it comes with a tiny 128GB SSD. You’ll pay $1,399 for the 256GB model. The Google Pixel 3 starts at $800, but only has 64GB of space. The 128GB version is $100 more.

Sony will face the same issue with the PS5. It might offer an entry-level version with 256GB of space – but most gamers know that’s only enough for a few games. The model most people want will have a 512GB drive and will be more expensive. Want the 1TB model? Expect to pay at least $100, perhaps even $200, on top of that.

Offering a slim-storage model is a tactic Sony could use to hit a lower than expected price point while maintaining a higher price for the version most people buy. I’ll be surprised if Sony doesn’t go this route.

Best guess? The PlayStation 5 will be $500

My best guess, based on the information known so far, the price of past PS4 and PS4 Pro models, and the price of new components planned for the PS5, is a retail price of $500. This assumes it will have a 512GB solid state drive.

A price of $500 would be higher than any PS4, but Sony’s first comments on the PS5 suggest the company is taking a premium approach to the console. It’s also possible – even likely, I think – that PS4 consoles continue to be sold for several years as an entry-level option.

The high price might be offset by a base model with a 256GB solid state drive, perhaps priced at $450. On the flip side, Sony could end up pricing a 1TB model – the one serious gamers will want – at $600.

These prices might seem disappointing given the modest initial pricing of Sony’s PlayStation 4, but I think they make sense. Sony’s success over the last five years has entrenched the brand’s reputation for high-quality games, including exclusives. The PS4’s price only slid by $100 over five years, and the PS4 Pro still regularly sells at its original $400, for a simple reason. The PS4 is the best console in the eyes of most gamers.

Sony seems set to continue that with the PS5. It will be a powerful console, with support for 8K televisions, PSVR, and 3D audio, that promises the best gaming experience for your living room. That’s why it’s likely to squeeze you for $500.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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