PS4 processor changes let future games get a performance boost

Posted Nov 29, 2015 by James Walker
Sony has quietly rolled out an update to its PlayStation 4 software development kit that will give game creators access to more of the processor's power, should it be required. It opens the door to more graphically intense games next year.
The Sony PlayStation 4
The Sony PlayStation 4
The important change was discovered this week. NeoGAF users noticed an interesting entry in the changelog for the latest version of Sony's PS4 SDK, released earlier this month. One of the revisions listed "allows access to the newly unlocked 7th core [of the processor]."
Game developers now have seven cores to work with when building for the PlayStation 4, compared with the six that have been unlocked up until now. This gives them more freedom to create demanding experiences that wouldn't run stably when only given six cores to use.
The PlayStation 4's custom-design AMD processor has eight cores but two have always been reserved for use by the console's operating system, ensuring features like messaging and screenshots always work reliably while playing a game. Developers now have access to one of those reserved cores though, implying some of the PS4's features may be limited to facilitate this performance boost. It isn't clear what the trade-off is when a game chooses to use the seventh core.
Sony is not the first console manufacturer to do this. The core unlock seems to have been made specifically so it can continue to command a performance lead over Microsoft's Xbox One.
The Xbox One also uses a custom-design, AMD-built eight-core processor but decisions made by Microsoft in its design process mean the PS4 has always been able to outperform it. In a bid to close the gap, Microsoft announced it was unlocking the seventh core of the Xbox One almost a year ago.
Games that use the seventh core exhibit performance much closer to that of the PS4 as they have more of the processor to work with. This means the OS loses some of its power though so Kinect voice commands and camera functionality are disabled while playing a game that runs on seven cores.
Sony has likely unlocked the seventh core of the PS4 so it can leap-frog the performance of the Xbox One again. As the console was comfortably more powerful than the Xbox One when they both ran on six cores, it's logical to assume the gap in performance will increase once again now they both have seven cores available to game developers.
Current PlayStation 4 owners won't be seeing any immediate effects of this change. The difference will be noticed in the future when game developers choose to offload portions of their game's computing work to the seventh core, using more of the processor to facilitate even more powerful gaming experiences.