Based in Santa Clara, California, Advanced Micro Devices Inc., known as AMD, is an American company that manufactures semiconductor products. It is also known for developing and marketing computing, graphics, and visualization technologies for businesses and consumers.
Its main products in the past ten years mainly included manufacturing microprocessors, motherboard chipsets, and other PC-related products. Through the years, it slowly established itself as a company to watch out for in the gaming console market.
Today, we are going to cover why Sony and Microsoft chose AMD for their gaming console GPUs.
How it Started: ATI Technologies in 2006
AMD acquired ATI Technologies, a Canadian 3d graphics card company, back in October of 2006. With ATI, they also got access to ArtX, the company behind the Flipper graphics chip used in the Nintendo GameCube game console.
A modified version of the Flipper was also created by ATI (codenamed: Hollywood) and was used for the Nintendo GameCube’s successor – the Wii. Microsoft also contracted the company to design their graphics core, Xenos, which was used in their Xbox 360.
With ATI’s history of designing GPUs (formerly known as VPUs with ATI) for Sony and Microsoft, this acquisition helped AMD’s growth in the gaming console market and helped them establish their name among console manufacturers.
The Current Generation of Consoles
In 2013, AMD revealed that it would power three of the next-generation gaming consoles: Xbox One, Sony PlayStation 4, and the Nintendo Wii U.
Xbox One, developed by Microsoft, shifted back to its original x86 architecture from having a PowerPC-based architecture. It features an AMD Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) and AMD Durango, powered with GCN 1.0, as its GPU. Sony’s PlayStation 4 also shifted its GPU unit from having the complex Cell microarchitecture of its predecessor.
The console also now features an AMD Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) built upon the x86-64-unit architecture.
On the other hand, the Nintendo Wii U used a custom multi-chip module (MCM) consisting of an “Espresso” central processing unit (CPU) and a “Latte” graphics chip. It was also developed by AMD together with IBM and Renesas in cooperation with Nintendo IRD and Nintendo Technology Development.
In 2020, two of the leading gaming console makers in the market announced their upcoming product launches. Microsoft announced that AMD GPUs would power its new Xbox game consoles. In the same year, Sony also stated its choice to run its PlayStation 5 game consoles with AMD GPUs as well.
The new Xbox releases: Xbox Series S and Series X, both launched in November 2020, are both powered by AMD’s Zen 2 CPU, with the Series X running at up to 3.8 GHz while the Series S runs on a slightly slower power. Both consoles are also powered with AMD’s RDNA2 GPU with 20 CUs at 1.55 GHz for 4 TFLOPS, in comparison to the Series X’s 12 TFLOPS.
Sony’s PlayStation 5, also released in November 2020, also featured AMD’s RDNA2 GPU, which is capable of 4k resolution display at up to 120 frames per second.
The new console is also powered by a custom system on a chip (SoC), designed by AMD together with Sony, which integrated a custom 7 nm AMD Zen 2 CPU running with eight cores at up to 3.5 GHz frequency.
Notably, the PS5’s CPU and GPU are both monitored by a special boost system that incorporates AMD’s SmartShift technology that adjusts the frequency of these units based on the current activities in order to target the ideal constant power drawn.
So why AMD?
The challenge for gaming console makers is hitting the right balance of price and performance. Both Sony and Microsoft were looking for a way to increase the number of apps while lowering the cost of software development – this is where AMD has hit the sweet spot.
What ARM, MIPS, and X86’s architecture and ecosystems were not able to do, AMD was able to present a solution. ARM was deemed to not have the right kind of horsepower needed, while MIPS did not have the right size developer ecosystem and horsepower needed to power these new consoles.
Hence, AMD was committed and was able to deliver what Sony and Microsoft required at a decent price point with high performance.
AMD’s Entry into the Streaming Market
Nvidia has been a known competitor of AMD in the graphics card market. Nvidia has been known to be the top choice due to the quality of its hardware, how its cards don’t overheat as much as AMD’s, and overall consumes less power, making it more efficient. Regarding performance and price point, AMD is a clear winner for this one.
AMD offers products with the same performance as Nvidia graphics cards for a lower price point, making the consumer feel like they have spent their money in the best way possible at a lower price.
AMD also makes itself a clear winner when considering a multi-display setup for your streaming. However, Nvidia still has a better understanding of high-end processors and GPUs at a much higher price than AMD.
In March of 2019, AMD announced its winning bid to supply high-performance GPUs to Google’s latest venture going under the code-name “Stadia,” which later proved to be a video game streaming service.
This custom GPU will support Google’s Vulkan and Linux-based cloud gaming platform, which it hopes will bring a long-term collaboration between Google and AMD.
Their Latest Venture Went Handheld
In 2021, Valve revealed the Steam Deck, their latest attempt at competing with other console manufacturers on the market.
Released in December 2021, it’s powered by AMD’s rDNA 2 technology and a Zen 2-based quad-core CPU offering a high-performance portable gaming console that could run triple-A games in 720p either from the internal storage or from a recommended SD card for Steam Deck.
Aside from the Nintendo Switch having an ARM processor, AMD has definitely come a long way in establishing its name in the gaming console market.
With its strong partnerships with today’s leading gaming console makers, who is to say we’ve seen the last of what they can offer in this industry?