December 5, 2020

Sony Will Optimize PlayStation 5 Speeds Via Fan Controller DLC

Earlier this month, Sony posted an extensive teardown of the PlayStation 5. Now, the engineer...

Earlier this month, Sony posted an extensive teardown of the PlayStation 5. Now, the engineer featured in that video has given an exclusive interview to Japanese website 4Gamer, in which he shared some additional details on how the console functions and what kind of game improvements customers can expect over a game’s lifetime.

One particularly interesting tidbit is that the PlayStation 5 will be able to tweak its own fan speeds on a game-by-game basis. This is likely an outgrowth of Sony’s guarantee that all PlayStation 5’s will perform identically, despite the intrinsic individual variation between SoCs that typically leads to different boost clocks. If you missed Sony’s teardown video, you can see it below:

In the 4Gamer interview, Yasuhiro Otori details some aspects of the PlayStation 5 design that might have slipped under the radar. While discussing the cooling system and thermal sensors built into the system, Otori stated:

Various games will appear in the future, and APU behavior data for each game will be collected. Based on this, there is a plan to proceed with the optimization of fan control.

Calling this type of profile update “DLC” is a bit of cheek on my part, but there’s no rule saying that a company has to charge for DLC, and this is, after-all, game-specific downloadable content that could theoretically impact the overall experience of playing the game depending on just how noisy the fan gets.

The PlayStation 5 has three separate thermal sensors mounted to the mainboard, as well as the integrated network of sensors built into AMD’s APUs. This sensor network is what enables Adaptive Voltage and Frequency Scaling (AVFS), which is a core component of AMD’s overall push towards higher energy efficiency. Unlike Dynamic Voltage and Frequency Scaling, which defines a CPU family’s performance based on the average bins and frequencies the CPU family can reach, AVFS is tuned on a per-chip basis to deliver the best overall performance and power consumption that specific APU can offer.

By combining data from the motherboard as well as the APU, Sony can tweak the PlayStation 5’s fan speed to ensure the system remains adequately cooled. Under very heavy load or sustained high temperatures, the fan is designed to spin up to a higher RPM to keep system temperatures in a safe operating range. The idea that Sony can update fan profiles to keep games running optimally, however, is an interesting one. It suggests that the company might attempt to build an overall usage profile for the PlayStation 5, with the goal of ascertaining how well its models of user testing actually square with what end-users experience.

A few other tidbits from the article that I thought were interesting, though some were also covered in the original teardown video: The liquid metal thermal paste Sony uses is, as expected, incredibly damaging to aluminum, but it apparently is bad for copper, too. Otori notes that while Sony initially used copper for its cooler, the company wound up plating the bottom of the cooler with silver. Apparently, copper, while famed for being non-reactive where gallium is concerned, isn’t quite as non-reactive as Sony wanted. Silver apparently fits the bill, though I genuinely don’t know if tarnishing will be an issue (or if tarnishing would impact the system’s cooling performance). I’m assuming that it won’t, since that’s something Sony could easily investigate.

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The difference between Sony and Microsoft in terms of their approach to clocks remains one of the most interesting low-level differences between the two companies, along with Microsoft’s dual-speed memory bus with its mixture of faster and slower memory. Last time around, Sony won the day with its “It plays games” mantra. This time around, it’s Microsoft promising constant clocks and static performance, while Sony has emphasized the dynamic nature of its console and its ability to clock up and down depending on workload. Both companies have claimed their respective designs are key to delivering next-generation performance. In a few more weeks, we’ll see if they arrived at mostly the same place with different methods, or if one company has an edge over the other.

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