Xbox boss on the phyiscs of the PlayStation 5’s design

Xbox boss on the phyiscs of the PlayStation 5’s design

When designing the look of a video game console, engineers must account for a number of important variables. Chief among these is heat, and it sounds like that was an even bigger issue for the upcoming generation of consoles: the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Xbox boss Phil Spencer spoke on that point during an Animal Talking with Gary Whitta interview yesterday.


During that discussion, Whitta asked Spencer (all inside Animal Crossing, Nintendo’s hit game) for his thoughts about the PS5’s external look. Spencer indicated that he seemed to sympathize with Sony’s engineers because he understands the difficulties of working with the hardware in the PlayStation 5. Microsoft and Sony are both using AMD components in their next-gen consoles.


“It’s hard because I know the physics that we’re both dealing with when it comes to these consoles,” Spencer told Whita. “And cooling these consoles — the power, the energy use — that presents real challenges this generation. We’re talking about consoles — with the CPU and GPU — that are real powerful computers, effectively.”


Spencer’s point is that both systems likely had to work backward from dealing with an intense thermal output. He said that was explicitly the case when it came to the Xbox Series X.


“We chose our design because we wanted a large fan that we could spin a little more slowly so we’re not making noise,” said Spencer. “We wanted a very quiet console, so noise was something that we focused on. So we built a form-follow-function design so that we could draw a lot of air with a big fan spinning a little bit slower so we didn’t get those high-pitched whining sounds that sometimes consoles can make.”


PlayStation 5 may deal with even more heat


Sony has likewise indicated that it is concerned about producing a quiet console. That was likely an even bigger challenge for the PlayStation 5 because Sony and AMD turned up the clock speeds on the GPU. While Xbox Series X has 52 compute units running at 1.825 GHz, the PS5 is going with 36 CUs that can rev up to as high as 2.23GHz. Those are extremely fast speeds for a GPU, and it’s likely that this is going to produce a lot more heat off of the processor.


Spencer acknowledged this.


“So knowing that the PlayStation 5 is running at higher clocks, it just creates more [heat],” he said. “But that’s not a Sony problem.”


This is one of the reason the PS5 is gigantic compared to most other consoles. It’s also likely why the disc drive is off to the side (just like it is on the Xbox Series X).


Above: PlayStation 5 is a behemoth for a reason.

Image Credit: Reddit user u/GREB07


If the higher clocks on the PS5 GPU are producing extra heat, then the system needs a central pillar of space to push in a lot of fresh air. This is an equally viable solution to what Microsoft did, which is to make a box that can hold a single larger fan.


Spencer says he’s a fan of what Sony came up with.


“I like the design of what they did,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what the teams do at PlayStation. But they’re running their box differently than we are, and it creates unique design challenges in how you keep these things cool. That’s a problem for both of us, so that’s not a shock. And they took an approach that is different than what we did.”