NVIDIA's Tamasi: Consoles will never have better graphics than PC

Power budgets and extended lifecycles leave machines behind

NVIDIA's Senior Vice President of Content and Technology, Tony Tamasi, has said that he believes the days of consoles offering a better graphical fidelity are over - warning that even once the new generation lands in the hands of consumers, the best place to play will still be on PC.

Now, considering that NVIDIA's arch rival AMD won the contracts to provide GPUs for both the Xbox One and the PS4, you might think that Tamasi has something of an axe to grind on the subject. However, he's happy to give the nod to the important R&D done by AMD during the explanation of his argument, as laid out to Australia's PC Power Play.

"It's no longer possible for a console to be a better or more capable graphics platform than the PC," Tamasi opens. "I'll tell you why. In the past, certainly with the first PlayStation and PS2, in that era there weren't really good graphics on the PC. Around the time of the PS2 is when 3D really started coming to the PC, but before that time 3D was the domain of Silicon Graphics and other 3D workstations. Sony, Sega or Nintendo could invest in bringing 3D graphics to a consumer platform. In fact, the PS2 was faster than a PC.

"By the time of the Xbox 360 and PS3, the consoles were on par with the PC. If you look inside those boxes, they're both powered by graphics technology by AMD or NVIDIA, because by that time all the graphics innovation was being done by PC graphics companies. NVIDIA spends 1.5 billion US dollars per year on research and development in graphics, every year, and in the course of a console's lifecycle we'll spend over 10 billion dollars into graphics research. Sony and Microsoft simply can't afford to spend that kind of money. They just don't have the investment capacity to match the PC guys; we can do it thanks to economy of scale, as we sell hundreds of millions of chips, year after year.

"NVIDIA spends 1.5 billion US dollars per year on research and development in graphics, every year, and in the course of a console's lifecycle we'll spend over 10 billion dollars into graphics research"

"The second factor is that everything is limited by power these days. If you want to go faster, you need a more efficient design or a bigger power supply. The laws of physics dictate that the amount of performance you're going to get from graphics is a function of the efficiency of the architecture, and how much power budget you're willing to give it. The most efficient architectures are from NVIDIA and AMD, and you're not going to get anything that is significantly more power efficient in a console, as it's using the same core technology. Yet the consoles have power budgets of only 200 or 300 Watts, so they can put them in the living room, using small fans for cooling, yet run quietly and cool. And that's always going to be less capable than a PC, where we spend 250W just on the GPU. There's no way a 200W Xbox is going to be beat a 1000W PC."

Asked why the Xbox 360 and the PS3 managed to establish some parity with PC releases during the first few years of the last cycle, Tamasi explains that rapid iteration has enabled PC tech to progress much more rapidly, using the resources at hand to provide a better experience.

"If you wind back the clock, a high-end graphics card at that time was maybe 75W or 100W max," he says, referring to the launch of the last round of consoles in 2005/2006. "We weren't building chips that were on the most advanced semiconductor process and were billions of transistors. Now we're building GPUs at the limits of what's possible with fabrication techniques. Nobody can build anything bigger or more powerful than what is in the PC at the moment. It just is not possible, but that wasn't the case in the last generation of consoles. Taken to the theoretical limits, the best any console could ever do would be to ship a console that is equal to the best PC at that time. But then a year later it's going to be slower, and it still wouldn't be possible due to the power limits.

"There's been a shift here, the R&D budgets required to build the PC's level of graphics are enormous, there are only a few companies that can do it. The technology that we're applying to PC graphics is literally state of the art, at the limits of semiconductor technology. That's why I don't think it's possible any more to have a console that can outperform the PC."

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Latest comments (28)

Obvious stated?
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
The laws of physics dictate that the amount of performance you're going to get from graphics is a function of the efficiency of the architecture, and how much power budget you're willing to give it.
That quote is for all persons out there comparing a new mobile platform with a six year old console design. Battery vs. wall socket, go.
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Show all comments (28)
Lindsay Cox Games Programmer, Mediatonic8 years ago
Cool, but an experience isn't all about the graphics
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It should be interesting to see how PC graphics will evolve over the next few years, no longer being held back by cross-platform development with 8 year old hardware. The performance gap that is present today could never be utilized much except for better image quality and some rather insignificant bells and whistles here and there. We'll be able to approach movie quality CG in quite a few areas in the coming years.
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Oscar Escamilla Perez Game Designer 8 years ago
Of course PCs will always have more potential power, and a few games may use that available power, but somehow closed hardware architecture tends to produce incredible results that we usually don't see on the PC market at that same power level, specially from first party titles. Consoles remain for a few years, allowing first party developers to extract all the performance from that hardware build.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd8 years ago
In other news, gravity still functions today.
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up8 years ago
Indeed. As the wife keeps telling me, its not size that matters its what you do with it.


Edited 1 times. Last edit by Sandy Lobban on 25th September 2013 2:07pm

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@Oscar Yup, just look at GTA 5 for a supreme example of that law in practice. It's hard to imagine what a PC could do better with that game world other than higher res/fps.
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Julian Williams Founder, WIZDISH Ltd.8 years ago
Many articles use this argument to predict the end of consoles but they offer a lot of advantages. If you take everything into account including ease of use, cheating, malware, unequal specs., maintenance, community, price and all the other factors I'm not convinced this will be the last console generation.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
It's interesting to view this both in regards to the specs of the new-gen, and the impending SteamBox announcement. No, graphics aren't everything, and, yes, there could well be another console generation after this coming one. But I think console makers will shift entirely-away from newer-and-better CPU/GPU combinations, and instead focus all their efforts (both financial and man-power) on both first-party software and controller design.
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Jean-Marc Wellers Assistant Online Services, Ubisoft8 years ago
For sure, each one and other have strengths and weaknesses.
But it is a fact that power, graphics etc etc on PC will now and forever be the bests.

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Pete Thompson Editor 8 years ago
Thanks for stating the obvious Mr Tamasi...

I'd rather pay 300-400 for a console and have it last 5-10 years+ than 300-400 on a graphics card and know it will out of date a month after I've bought it... :-)

@Klaus: Spot on..!

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Pete Thompson on 25th September 2013 6:09pm

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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 8 years ago
To be blunt, NVIDIA is really mad that they failed to find a console partner this generation, locking them out the 200 millionish console chipsets (and possibly a heck of a lot more than that) that AMD is going to be making. So they've partnered up with Valve's questionable at best Steambox, and are now piling on hoping to further cement their brand loyalty among hardcore PC master race gamers. It's not a bad plan, but their new hardcore drivers better be amazingly better under SteamOS, because every coder in the known universe is going to be speaking AMD for the 95% of copies that will be played on their hardware. I wish them all the luck in the world, because they're going to need it to move beyond their current base in any significant fashion (which still makes them a very successful company mind you)
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
So they've partnered up with Valve's questionable at best Steambox
Could be a rebound but then again, to offer an alternative view, the potential could be even greater than that of the current generation consoles if many manufacturers adopt this model.

Nvidia claimed there wasn't enough money on the table but I think it was a little lie and that their chipsets just didn't fit with Sony or Microsoft's strategy i.e. no APU.

That said, Nvidia's discrete GPUs could be a nice match here and I don't think we have to worry about drivers as much as some would suggest. "The way its meant to be played" has room to grow on SteamOS, as do the GPU solutions themselves.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 25th September 2013 7:48pm

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Chris Wray Freelance 8 years ago
I am for the most part a 'PC Gamer' for lack of better term. Actually, there is a better term, a PC enthusiast. I built my first PC when I was 17 and I've built two since then, my current one at Christmas last year.

Of course being a fan of the industry and the products I have the consoles. The PC has it's significant advantages, these being the use as an entertainment hub and the obvious power that can be used. The PC has free access to whatever you need whereas both the PS4 and Xbox One will charge you for certain aspects. When it comes to film watching and such as that, it will be down to the person. As for the power, regardless of such as Microsoft stating that the Xbox One will be a generation ahead of a high end PC, something quite impossible and simple marketing blurbs, we all know the facts.

On the other hand the consoles have the ease of use advantage. The safety in knowledge that you will never have to upgrade to play a game as they are made for that set system. It's a comfortable and easy tradeoff at times.

The problem I have with anything is that the systems are still designed around different things. Consoles will always be for the simplicity and ease of use while getting a decent to good performance. PC's are for people who want more. More power, more functionality, whichever. Comparisons between a console and PC are inevitable between fans but it makes me cringe when companies start getting involved. Microsoft made bewildering and farcical claims about the Xbox One which then brought nVIDIA in to defend something that didn't need defending.

What also irritates me are the simplistic views on cost. A console does have a set cost and will last for however long it lasts, but you see little gain in performance. Spend maybe 30% more on a PC and that will last an equal length of time and actually absorb some of the gains over time. A PC no longer has a prohibitive cost if you are willing to research, put in the effort and build it yourself. For 600 today I could build you a PC that will out perform the PS4 and Xbox One and will be future proof for at least 5 years.

Pete: Yes, parts go out of date nearly as soon as you buy them but by that logic the consoles are at least eighteen months out of date when you buy them. They still basically run on the same parts as a PC. Also, it's not quite like you need to upgrade to the new graphics card as soon as it's out as gains are rather negligible from one step to the next.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Chris Wray on 25th September 2013 8:04pm

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
*Sigh* Buying games for graphics first means some folks have probably had a closet FULL of crap PC games in the past and now have a HDD ful of crap PC games they though looked AWESOME when run on that overclocked setup (until they picked up that mouse and tried to play). Me, I like the simplicity of consoles for their pop in and play (well, now INSTALL and play, ugh), but I have also learned to appreciate PC games for things other than every map being bumped and such...
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 8 years ago
"That's why I don't think it's possible any more to have a console that can outperform the PC."
I'm pretty sure that a Wii couldn't outperform any PC's(or most notebooks) when it launched and yet that didn't stop it from selling more than 100 million units. PC's have always outperformed consoles, especially after launch. But to many people that never really mattered and I don't see that sentiment changing anytime soon.
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Kevin Strange Developer Relations Account Manager, AMD8 years ago
Johan Andersson from EA DICE and AMD announce Mantle :-) how very exciting!
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
Mmmm... But it's further fragmentation of the GPU market, since it only works on AMD, right? Given Valve are trying to be more open and inclusive, it's sad to see such innovation being single-manufacturer oriented. Oh, yes, it's a business and-all, but still...

Better-late-than-never edit:
We've been told at the GPU14 Tech Day event that the Mantle API is open, so theoretically Nvidia could purpose the technology in their GPUs. It should also make cross-development between PC and console games a lot easier, and also more incredible for those with a high-performance AMD GPU.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 26th September 2013 5:32pm

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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany8 years ago
Thanks, we know. But a costumer chooses a console over a PC for two main reasons: confort/preference and the guarantee that, those 400-500 were invested in a machine that will be able to play games that will be released 8 to 10 years ahead.

No real gamer actually cares about the graphics as much as the experience itself.
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Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital8 years ago
Ok, I will go against the crowd here, just for the hell of it.

After being a console guy for like 15 years, I recently built a high-end gaming PC and I love it. Just the simple fact that any game can run at 1080p, 60fps and some decent anti-aliasing and tessellation actually adds a lot to the experience. Going back from Metro 2033 to GTA V on PS3 was almost painful, with its jagged edges everywhere and below-30 FPS (I still had infinitely more fun with GTA V, but it if actually looked better, I wouldn't complain).

I will still remain a console guy, but PC really is a platform for the enthusiasts who require the best of best, consoles for the who require convenience. Nothing wrong with that.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
Yeah... well how much does a gaming PC cost. I also have to replace it more often. I find that within 3 or 5 years they start showing their age. So taking these things into consideration.... Consoles offer a good balance between value and money. They may not have better graphics, but they are good enough and many times offer minimal or negligable differance in graphical performance.
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Donald Dalley Freelance writer 8 years ago
It's all relative, anyway. Besides, the graphics are so good on just about anything recent now, from phones on up, who really cares?
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Michael Vandendriessche Studying Computer Science, K.U. Leuven8 years ago
As far as I know, the bets pc's have always been better than the newest consoles.
A cheap pc barely able to run games on low settings is still more expensive than the newest high-end gameconsole.

As Rick said, the difference is negligible (Unless if you are a hardcore graphics fanatic).
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago

People forget, it's not just about how pretty something is, but how smooth.
The target this time is 30fps for both platforms, and it holds at that point for most areas. Overall the PS3 puts out the lower frame-rate for synchronised in-engine cut-scenes, typically by a matter of two frames-per-second and rarely much more. Curiously, the 360 version is the only one of the two to drive upwards from the 30fps target on occasion - far from being ideal, this produces a judder effect due to the frame-rate no longer operating as a multiple of the 60Hz output signal. Regardless, the readings for both consoles stick together like glue during dips below the line, with each going as low as 20fps.

Meanwhile, on PC, the de-facto gaming standard for frames-per-second is 60 (not that developers always optimize their games to hit that).
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
@Morville: Sure, 60 fps is a standard for PC... but only PC's that can run games. At least on consoles, even the most boneheaded consumer KNOWS any game they buy will play on that game system. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a comments section on any digital service or certain PC game message boards FILLED with people complaining a game they bought or want to buy won't run on that bargain PC they picked up at a Wal-Mart or some other big box store. Or if they own an older PC that isn't compatible because it needs new Direct X drivers or a new OS or something else they never considered.

Of course, in an optimal world, more people would make that PC upkeep a regular thing. On the other hand, the average Joe or Jane who can't always upgrade or doesn't read that fine print will always trip somewhere along the line...
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
Well, that's another the thing... If publishers/developers actually cared enough to optimize for PC, and factored that into their release schedule, not only could a lot more games hit 60fps, but a lot of games would have decent low/medium/high settings which affected quality of game. It's actually surprising how badly some games cock that up.

It does really make me glad of Valve's plan, actually, since they can streamline a lot of things for the end consumer, like updating drivers. At that point, with standard gaming PC retail specs and a standard controller, I think the PC consumer will be less aggrieved about things which are their own fault; and that in turn makes their complaints to publishers/developers more relevant.
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