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The Xbox One’s game performance: Raw horsepower won’t be the only factor

Based on the limited information currently available, it’s widely believed that the PlayStation 4 will be a more powerful machine than the Xbox One. While it’s true that the PS4 will benefit from a superior GPU and super-fast unified GDDR5 RAM, Microsoft believes that the performance difference will end up being negligible.

With some interesting workarounds built into the Xbox One hardware, and the brutal realities of game development, Microsoft might just be right. After all, horsepower isn’t the only factor in game performance.

In a recent post on NeoGAF, Microsoft’s Albert Penello defended the Xbox One’s hardware. In the post, Penello contends that “the performance delta between the two platforms is not as great as the raw numbers lead the average consumer to believe.” While the PS4 does seem noticeably more powerful on paper, Microsoft apparently still has some secrets up its sleeves. We won’t know all of the details about the hardware until November, so we can only take Penello on his word for now.

On Reddit, Microsoft’s Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb voiced his support of Penello’s claims. With aplomb, Hryb says that he is “very much looking forward to the next few months (and beyond) as the truth comes out.”

Despite the drama surrounding the Xbox U-turn fiasco, Microsoft seems very confident in its upcoming product. However, the Xbox One’s specs have continued to creep up from initial expectations, so it seems as if the Xbox team is well aware of the negative public perception the Xbox One’s internals are currently facing.

Penello also takes a moment to point out the importance of software engineering, and squeezing out performance with thorough platform-specific optimisations. Clever coding is no substitute for speedy hardware, but he does make an excellent point here. While taking a jab at Sony for over-promising with the Cell and Emotion Engine platforms, Penello effectively highlights the importance of proper optimisation. Even though the PS3 was a powerhouse in its heyday, many third-party titles actually performed substantially better on the Xbox 360. The Cell architecture is considered difficult to work with, so many games never received the optimisation they so desperately needed on the PS3.

Keep in mind, this generation will be noticeably different from the preceding one. The PS4 and Xbox One are using very similar AMD APUs, so direct comparisons will be easier to make. While porting between the PC, PS4, and Xbox One will by no means be push-button, the core similarities are a huge benefit. Instead of fighting to get a game running on a different architecture, developers will be able to spend their time optimising for quirky features like the Xbox One’s 32MB of ESRAM. Now it’s only a matter of time before we get to see if the PS4’s beefier internals will actually make any noticeable difference in the real world.