Rob Fahey 17:06 07/06/2006
"They've got the wrong end of the stick grasped firmly in both hands."
Senior developers working on PlayStation 3 titles have told GamesIndustry.biz that reports of serious problems with the system's Cell and RSX hardware are "misleading and uninformed."
Earlier this week, technology news site The Inquirer reported that the PS3 was "slow and broken", with a correspondent for the site claiming that massive flaws with the console's hardware mean that it is "hobbled" compared to Microsoft's Xbox 360.
The site based its assertions on a claim that the NVIDIA-designed RSX graphics unit has a slower triangle setup rate than the ATI-designed part in the Xbox 360, and on a slide from Sony's Devstation event a few months back showing the memory access speeds within the console.
However, speaking to GamesIndustry.biz this week, several developers who are familiar with the PS3 hardware have rubbished the claims made by The Inquirer - describing both sets of figures as "entirely meaningless."
Although our sources declined to be named due to the continuing secretive and NDA-laden nature of PlayStation 3 development, they were unanimous in claiming that the figures, while they may well be true, have been grossly misinterpreted.
The contentious triangle setup figure, which The Inquirer claims to be 270 million triangles per second, compared to around 500 million per second in the Xbox, came under fire first.
"It's just a pointless measurement," one programmer told us. "Where's the context? How were these numbers measured? There are loads of different ways you can measure tri performance, and just putting up headline figures like that tells you nothing."
"In fact, the PlayStation 2 had better tri performance than the Xbox, on paper," he continued. "Everyone knows that the Xbox was more powerful at running real games, but if you just wanted to fill a screen with 2D, flat colour, unlit triangles, then the PS2 was much better at that, so it looked great in benchmarks. That just shows how meaningless this measurement is - it's really pointless."
However, particular scorn was heaped upon the claim that the Cell is being "hobbled" by slow memory access - based on a Devstation slide which shows Cell having only 16Mb/s read access to "Local Memory", compared to the 10-25Gb/s access figures for other component and memory types in the PS3.
"They've got the wrong end of the stick grasped firmly in both hands," said another source regarding this claim. "I'm not even sure if they're holding the right stick."
Each developer concurred that the slide in question was referring to local memory on the RSX - the graphics memory, in other words, and not the local memory on the Cell processor which The Inquirer claimed was in question.
"I didn't see that slide at Devstation, but all the numbers add up," one coder said, "and it's a total non-issue. You never, ever need to access that memory from the Cell - I can think of some useful debugging things you might do with that access in the testing stage, but that's about it. In fact, on the PS2 you couldn't access that memory from the CPU at all, and it was never really a problem!"
"I can see a couple of reasons why you might want to use it," another developer told us, "but really, they're pretty obscure, and you could probably do them on the RSX anyway, since it's quite flexible. Besides, if you really need to access video memory from the Cell, you can use the RSX to copy it over into main memory really quickly - it's all there on the slide."
"I doubt a single person in the room batted an eyelid when they showed that slide," continued the first source. "It's exactly what we'd expect, and the bits that we actually need to use to make games are perfectly fast."
While dismissing The Inquirer's claims as entirely spurious - and pointing out that even if they were true, they would be flaws so serious that Sony would simply not be able to release the Cell chip in that state - at least one of our sources admitted that PS3 was taking some time to get used to, but perhaps not as much as some parts of the media have suggested.
"I'd say PS3 was a challenge to work on," he said, "but every new platform takes a while to get used to. Put it like this, I worked on early PS2 games, and those were a real nightmare - we're getting code up and running on PS3 much faster than we did last time around."
"Once people start doing really impressive stuff on PS3 and Xbox 360, they're both going to be much the same [in terms of difficulty]," he concluded. "Sony's giving us better tools this time around - they're still not great at communicating and there are some weird holes in their developer support, but they've learned a lot of lessons from PS2."