Consoul's Blog Consoul Games: Unlocking PSP's future

Friday, April 08, 2005

Unlocking PSP's future

The general perception of PSP games right now is that they look pretty good. Pretty damn good. You probably wouldn't be surprised if I told you that PSP games are going to look considerably better in the future. It stands to reason that over time, games look better and better across a console's lifespan as developers become more accustomed to the hardware and learn to exploit it more effectively. The first-generation games might put just as much strain on the system as the late-generation games, but the tangible improvements come from much more efficient coding. The console's capabilities don't improve, only the software does. Such is the case with all consoles.

What if I told you that PSP was different? What if I told you that as well as enjoying the benefits of steadily improving software development, the PSP would, at some stage in the future (and without any modification), become capable of a hardware performance increase of fifty percent? That would be somewhat more surprising, wouldn't it?

Well, that's what I'm telling you. At this year's busy GDC (Game Developers Conference) in San Francisco, lots of companies gave lots of presentations. On Friday the 11th of March, between midday and 1pm, Sony Computer Entertainment America staged four different presentations simultaneously. Mark DeLoura, SCEA's manager of developer relations, delivered one of them: a rather dry and technical presentation called "PSP Advanced Software Overview". It seems that with so many talks vying for attention, this particular presentation may have slipped under the radar of the mainstream gaming press. What was revealed in that presentation however, is very significant.

DeLoura explained that the PSP's CPU and bus have software-configurable clockspeeds. The CPU core is currently locked to a maximum clockspeed of 222MHz, and the bus (typically operating at half the CPU speed) is locked to a top speed of 111Mhz. The GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) operates at bus speed, in other words, up to the 111MHz cap. The advantage of having configurable clockspeeds in a portable device is that power consumption can be controlled by adjusting the clockspeed to the demands of the software at any given moment. When the PSP is rendering complex in-game graphics at around 222MHz it will necessarily chew up more power than it would need to when displaying a simple menu screen running at say 5MHz.

The hardware specifications of the PSP were released last year. Since then it's been known that the PSP CPU's top clockspeed is 333MHz and the bus and GPU's top speed is 166MHz. See what's going on? Sony have deliberately locked the PSP's operating speed at exactly two-thirds of it's actual potential. They have an extra fifty percent of it's current performance ability simply waiting in reserve to be unleashed at a later date.

As I pointed out in my PSP Lowdown back in January, the graphical performance exhibited in PSP's launch titles looks like it's somewhere between PSone and PS2 standard. Now I understand why. The PS2's Emotion Engine (CPU) runs at 294.912MHz and it's Graphics Synthesizer (GPU) runs at 147.456MHz. While the PSP is clearly a more powerful device on paper, it's currently being restricted to a sub-PS2 standard of performance.

Of course, this begs the question: why? Why would Sony choose to cripple their own hardware? Well, the most obvious answer is that they needed to maintain an acceptable battery life. In the lead up to PSP's debut, it's battery duration was often quoted as it's single biggest potential problem. Had they launched the PSP with games running at a fully unlocked 333Mhz, the battery could have been dead in less than two hours. That just wouldn't do. Through capping the PSP's clockspeed (and enforcing other power-saving guidelines) Sony have achieved a respectable 4-6 hours of gameplay from a single charge. It now seems apparent that Sony have actually delivered a portable console whose capabilities are too advanced for current battery technology. Once that technology improves, it seems inevitable that Sony will release a higher capacity battery and unlock PSP's full potential.

The current performance cap may have other benefits in the long run. Rather than letting developers wastefully chew up the whole of PSP's hardware capability from the get-go with inefficient code, the restrictions essentially force them to code more efficiently from the beginning. Consequently, when the ceiling is eventually lifted, the developers will be ready to put the extra power to good use.

It has been theorized that the clockspeed cap is in the PSP's firmware, and will be removed by a firmware update. A developer at the gaming-age forums recently disclosed that this isn't the case. The restriction is actually being imposed at the game development stage, by way of limits in Sony's PSP libraries. The PSP devkits allow developers to constantly modify the CPU clockspeed settings from anywhere between 1 and 333MHz (or 0.5-166Mhz for the GPU and bus), but the current software libraries simply won't go above 222MHz (or 111Mhz for GPU and bus).

Initially restricting certain features of a console is not as uncommon as you might expect. As an example, the PS2 was restricted from displaying progressive scan for many years, though usually such restrictions are handled by the TRC process, not by a software restriction. The TRC (Technical Requirement Check) is the console manufacturer's checklist that games must pass before being published. Any developers who try to hack the current PSP libraries to exceed the clockspeed limits will undoubtedly have their games rejected at the TRC stage. Sony probably felt it would be easier to simply restrict the libraries than to ask the developers politely not to go above 222Mhz, and have to later issue a wave of TRC rejections. Sony will provide developers with new software libraries when they are ready to remove the restrictions. Games developed after that will be free to exploit all of the PSP's processing power. Ridge Racers' associate producer Hideo Teramoto recently confirmed in an Edge magazine interview that unlike the underclocked Ridge Racers, Namco will release PSP games in future that run at 333MHz.

When the time comes, consumers won't need to do anything. No firmware update should be required. Old games won't run any faster than they ever did, because the restrictions are in the game software, not in the PSP itself. The new games will simply push PSPs harder than ever before. Sony will have much improved high-capacity batteries on the market by then, but you won't actually need to buy one. The latest and greatest games will run on your old battery. Of course, the speed at which they'll drain your old battery should be incentive enough for you to rush out and buy a new one.

The tangible difference in the games should be very noticeable. Example: Right now, the PSP has a maximum fillrate of 444 Mpixels/sec. After the restrictions are lifted that will become 664 Mpixels/sec. Games will be able to feature more complex models with higher polygon-counts, more fluid frame-rates, better physics, you name it. We are talking about an across-the-board fifty percent performance increase after all. PSP's hardware supremacy over the PS2 should become evident. It's even possible that when the new battery is released, the PSP's fourth screen brightness setting (uber-blinding strength; currently only selectable when the PSP is plugged into mains power), will be available all the time.
PSP's future certainly looks bright.

60 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article.

Very informative and another reason to back the PSP. It might take some time for some great titles to be released, but it looks like Sony might have kept their ace up their sleeve.

6:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heh, not really related, but I remember the time when I played Floating Runner for PS1, and right afterwards I played Chrono Cross where Serge and the the others were about to fight the Time Devourer.

To all Sony bashers, just wait. The computer wasn't developed in a single day, but we're running not on vacuum tubes now.

Props to Sony.

1:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ipod batteries have doubled their usage time since the first generation haven't they? I'd say that's something to go by. I agree, the psp batteries will almost certainly have a higher capacity in years to come...

6:02 pm  
Anonymous Mat Kelleher said...

Great Blog Rob.

I'm a regular reader from now on.
And in reference to your earlier article about the Great Soul Edge Tournament: I was robbed.

When is the rematch?

4:35 pm  
Blogger Koss said...

Awesome! So the PSP is underclocked...

I diffently am a hooked reader now, thanks!

11:58 pm  
Blogger ChAoS said...

The PSP's underclocking is a seemingly unexplored issue on most PSP sites, finally it's getting some publicity thanks to Consoul, great work.

P.S - My Monkeys won the fight

10:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

About that comment on the improvement of iPod batteries...

Note that most of the power improvements were in the hardware, through use of lower power chipsets and other components as well as higher capacity batteries.

Not that lithium-ion battery technology hadn't improved some between first and fourth generation iPods, but certainly not enough to go two-fold in available juice.

11:08 pm  
Anonymous Noah said...

My theory would be that they'd wait til PS3 comes out, in order to avoid trouncing their current bread-and-butter console. After all, who at Sony would want it announced that PS2 is THAT behind the times.

Once PS3 comes out though, there's no reason not to hit the gas... any negative press would then be avoided.

12:22 am  
Anonymous Martez said...

Great read. Seems like Sony's holding onto this for two reasons; when a better battery becomes available, and possibly a graphical trump card for when the new Game Boy hits? Nintendo's actually got competition in the handheld market now, and I'm very interested in what they do with the next Game Boy in response to the undeniable sex that is the PSP.

12:55 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With Toshiba's new rechargable battery and other advances in batteries coming out next year it won't be long. I wouldn't mind a 2 or 3 hour battery life if I could just recharge it in 3 minutes.

http://www.toshiba.co.jp/about/press/2005_03/pr2901.htm

1:33 am  
Blogger aifjafioioj said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:51 am  
Blogger aifjafioioj said...

So...that's how Sony will make the $$$ off optional PSP enhancements. Thanks, great work. The next Game Boy will not have a battery life problem, and will be like a portable Gamecube [I hope my theories are correct], I'm hoping the proposed title "Nintendo Evolution" or "Game Boy Evolution" sticks, the Evolution to complement the Revolution.

Sorry, for the double post.

1:53 am  
Blogger Leerie said...

I read on a site somewhere, that the new battery technology being developed by sony and motorola or something like that, will allow cellphones to operate for weeks at a time instead o

2:23 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take a look at PS2 games that were released back in early 2000 compared to ones now and tell me which ones have pushed the system to it's limites. GT Series and even GTA all
show great improvements in graphics with time.

2:34 am  
Blogger Leerie said...

days or hours at a time.

2:37 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really nice work. Congratulations.

I heard about the 222MHz limit, but I
thought it was a firmware-based one.
And I did not even know that the same
restructions were applied to the bus and
the GPU.

This is really exciting. I am willing to
see the real potential of the PSP.

3:07 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that this might not be a rosy path to be followed. It's entirely possible that there's a bug in hardware that only shows up at the higher clockspeeds and they're artificially keeping it low to avoid hitting it. It wouldn't be the first time consoles have shipped with hardwaqre bugs

3:34 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well it strikes me that this is retarded. As soon as the PSP was released, a number of 3rd party developers released portable battery options to extend the battery life--ie Max's second 1800mAh battery, or Pelican's PowerBrick. I bought the power brick and have used it several times, and since I can recharge the PSP twice on a single 'brick charge, my battery life is now effectively 12-18 hours. GIMME THE SPEED NOW!!! ;)

What game developers REALLY should do, since they are in control of the clock speed, is to give me control of the clock speed in the OPTIONS menu of every game. If I'm okay with sacrificing battery life, I should have the option of upping the clock speed to max.

4:57 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It occurred to me that maybe one of the reasons sony is not letting the CPU be maxed is that it would effectivly be more powerful than their home console the PS2. Maybe they will wait till the release of the ps3 to up things into the next generation without having to produce a whole new handheld unit.

5:39 am  
Anonymous heistgonewrong said...

Nice detective work,

Just to iterate, these are the most likely reasons for Sony to limit the clock speeds:

PS2: It'll kick the PS2's ass (although I don't know why that's a problem, wouldn't it just pursuade more people to buy a PSP?)

Nintendo: Inevitability, Nintendo will bring out their next hand-held, Sony needs some leverage on this considering reports that they will NOT be releasing an updated/more features version of the PSP.

Battery Life: we're all plagued with the semi-crummy batter life, I thought charging my devices once a day was limited to my notebook... I was wrong. Sony can't rely on 3rd party manufacturers to get the high power batteries out, so they're making us wait.

5:54 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was an article (in Times I think) a few weeks back that said Sony has ALREADY developed a new high density battery that has around 50% greater capacity and will go on market in Fall. This isn't just a higher capacity battery in sense of say a 1800mA versus 2300mA, it is one which has 50% longer duration for same stats. Hard to explain without article but it is new tech. Panasonic too has some new tech for batteries.
Batteries are one of those areas where there haven't been signifcant advances in like 15+years so they are about due.

2:14 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Silicon chips are tested to perform at a specified minimum clock speed. To lower the speed reduces cost as the quality assurance discards less chips. If this is the case then a future unlock could leave unlucky PSP owners with no speed boost, akin to overclocking, it's a roll of the dice.

3:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do agree that the PSP is lovely piece of technology..and the screen is perfect (oops..I said perfect).. Until the UMD disk us unlocked and the "FULL" potential of the machine is available to the end user..we still have nothing but a handheld toy.. It is unfortunate for the user that it isn't a software problem at this point, but a hardware problem. The UMD isn't available and no external addon reader/writer is on the market. When Sony cuts loose with one of those the PSP will see it's full potential. (BTW..I know this was a battery-clock speed article..but that shows that the investment in the UMD reader wound't be fleeting and the PSP will be around for awhile..)

10:41 pm  
Anonymous dude8604 said...

In response to:
"Silicon chips are tested to perform at a specified minimum clock speed. To lower the speed reduces cost as the quality assurance discards less chips. If this is the case then a future unlock could leave unlucky PSP owners with no speed boost, akin to overclocking, it's a roll of the dice."

Does this mean that the defective CPU's could be damaged by running at higher clock speeds? This means that those of us who buy a PSP over a year before the clockspeed limit removal will end up with unusable PSP's and no way to fix them, as our warranties will have expired. We all know that with the way Sony has responded to the dead pixel issue this could be a real problem. Hopefully that isn't why they have imposed the limit.

8:42 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Old news.

This was posted back on March 23rd at http://www.psphacks.net/content/view/117/2/

Jeez..

1:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At least this article explains the whole deal. The PSPhacks newsbit went into no detail, other than to suggest that the limitation was in the firmware, which it isn't.

2:33 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

As much as i hate sony,well sorry they are not a smart company...im just waiting for the next "GameBoy" Nintendo is gonna rock the socks of anyone trying to take a market share out of the hand held industry....Nintendo for life

4:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If what he says is true sony is just waiting to unlock the psp's true potential. I recently picked myself up a psp. I would have to say it is the best piece of sony magic it is the best thing u could ever hold. IT makes you just cring thinking about the 4.3 widescreen lcd display. And the 4 speaker soround sound effect. the thing that scared me though is i bought it two weeks ago and it seems like it is getting slower or something. i dont know it could be my imagination i am not sure. but on the other side of things namco hasn't released a date on tales of phantasia. if anyone knows please reply soon please. i have played two games one being darkstalkers, this is the weakest game ever and two being untold legends this game is so so i like alot. i love the memory card 1gb.

1:04 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It shouldn't take long.
http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS/1108634355.html
The eventuality is though that hopefully more games, software will become available. Unfortunately, due to FCC/SEC regulations and of course greed Wifi ISP's are holding back PSP's WIFI capabilities. While Korea will have it at launch.

11:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your background pattern and use of white text on a dark background is extremely hard to read.

9:23 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^
the kid above is retarded/blind if he can't read this
light on dark should be extremely easy to read...
thanks for the article... its pretty cool that you go into detail...

11:22 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

THIS is great, it makes me want to get a PSP so much more now, just to know that the Jiz Worthy Graphics now are going to 2 times better or 50% blow my mind...

11:30 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hh

11:30 am  
Anonymous Robocop said...

A great news for PSP owners. I hope that the PSP scene will make quickly some software
patch. Time will tell.

6:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the best news a PSP owner can get. The memory has also be held back to 8MB instead of the 32MB. Can't wait for Sony to up the numbers of all the following.

1:16 am  
Blogger LeViaTaN said...

well well, I think that the PSP at full power (333MHz) it's a little worst than a PS2, why??
The emotion engine is a MIPS R5900 (MIPS IV) and the PSP has a MIPS R4000 (MIPS III) it's a family below... Say that the MHz are all in a processor is nonesense. Everebody knows that a Pentium at 75MHz (without bug :p) has better perfomance than a 486 at 100MHz

3:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article, I'm very excited about the future of the psp now. I'm so glad I waited for this thing and didn't waste my money on ds or the engage or the damn IPOD.

10:16 am  
Anonymous David Russell said...

The PSP's battery is already down to 1.5 hours (in perspective, thats a tenth of the iPod battery, which is universally accepted as garbgage) for some applications, so putting the processor speed up would probably give you long enough to see the opening credits and perhaps even choose a level to play, but little else. And before anyone accuses me of being a sony-basher, I have a PS1 and PS2, and refuse to buy an Xbox out of loyalty to the latter.

8:04 pm  
Blogger Emil said...

just thought id let u know that ur site has been linked from gamespot

http://www.gamespot.com/news/2005/04/22/news_6122804.html

so u'll be getting a shit load more hits now lol.

3:38 pm  
Anonymous Boom said...

Yeah, okay. I'll believe when I see it.

As of now PSP has complete CRAP coming out for it from here on out. Unless a bunch of awesome games are shown at E3, there is little hope for. And I own both PSP and DS, so don't even try to label me as a fanboy.

As of now, DS has an incredible future lineup of games, while PSP has nothing. If Sony doesn't change that at E3, they're in trouble.

1:49 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suprisingly, I think the "DS has better games coming up" is a view point.
It all depends on whether you want to make rehashes, or play Coded Arms at a level of gameplay far superior.
I love nintendo, but they really need a new system fast.
And while the emotion engine may be lower, I do not believe any of you hit on another specific point.
The PS2 uses software Anti-Aliasing.
The PSP has it built in, which levels more processor for the actual game. So the PSP is still almost as fast even with the lockdown at 222 mhz.

5:42 am  
Blogger Thomas said...

Hopefully it's all true.

7:29 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I reckon the PSP is a "water test" for the PSP 2. Reading this story furthers my suspicions of that.

A handheld is seen as more of a toy than a console, people would be keen to buy a new version of this than a new console for the home.

Taking an Ipod viewpoint, (irrelevant of battery life) people would buy a new version because it gave them more music. People would buy a PSP 2 if Sony turned around and said "MUCH better graphics and MUCH more battery life".

If people are clambering for the PSP - they'll go crazy for the PSP 2 with all the new additions.

It makes perfect sense.

9:54 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's very interesting to see the rendering and the graphics of this device, also, the wireless connection is an advantage over other devices such as an iPOD. The thing is.

Stop wanting always to know everything of everything, because you are losing the surprises that Sony Has for a customer who bought this product.

2:37 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I own both a PSP and a DS, and I must say that my DS makes a good paperweight. I love Nintendo, I actually make a living off of them, but all the crap they've been releasing just seems like bells and whistles, or one big gimmick. Who cares about a touch screen? It seems Nintendo dramatically reduces the "fun factor" of many games just to show off their new tech, which isn't even that fun or cool to use anyway. Seeing what Nintendo says about the Revolution scares me even more. They say it isn't going to be a "video game console" in the normal sense but something different, appealing to all people. Garbage. Last time Nintendo did that, Sony beat the crap out of them. I won't even comment on the UMD having SEVENTEEN TIMES as much space as the DS cards. PSP is what to have from here on in, and I wouldn't invest in a similarly priced DS; it's not worth the money.

11:17 am  
Anonymous Squidge said...

The PSP is an exellent little device, the fact that the CPU is locked just says they are SO confident in its power they dont need to run at full speed. And as for every one who wants the full power and dont care for battery life, whats the point? Untill the new games actually take advantage of it your current ones wont go any faster. So all it would do is drain the battery and you wouldnt notice a performance boost.
Also whats with all these people who are dead set on nintendo?
Nintendo is dying, they are going to revert to only making software. as for the DS...IT SUCKS. all it is is two SPs glued together with a fancy screen. the screen is a gimick to sell units and if you actually have one i bet you dont use the screen as often as was advertised. its much simpler to use the buttons and thats another thing, even those suck.

2:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To all those hoping the New gameboy will be cool, it's nothing new, just a smaller GBA SP it's called Gameboy micro it doesn't play new games just GBA games
heres a few links
http://www.engadget.com/entry/1234000520043660/
http://gameboy.ign.com/articles/615/615160p1.html

3:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. CPU's are tested at full speed when they leave a factory.. if a cpu is rated for 333mhz then it will work at 333mhz even if underclocked.

2. Size of media doesnt matter so much as compression couldnt be used.. more compression means greater load times though (resident evil 2 for n64 anyone?)

3. Id like to see the webbrowser and stuff soon.. seriously I consider buying wipeout just for the browser.. isnt that sad

Ohh and its 2am here so yes my spelling and punctuation suck.. bite me xD

5:34 pm  
Anonymous Yum9me said...

Now that Sony have made a better battery, i hope hope that we can see the speeds to go up.

5:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have a psp with an X2 battery and use an iso launcher running all my games @ 333. games such as burnout run much smoother then with it at 222 or 233. it seems that sony have told ea to make the game just about run at 222 but slow

1:56 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haha, the DS will rape the PSP. The DS has original, exclusive, high quality games, present and future. The PSP had a couple of good games at launch, and now it's future looks bleak. It's current games are full of watered down console ports, rehashes and sports games, and the future is the same. I'd sell it now people while you can make money on it, it'll have died out in about a year and it won't be worth as much.

6:42 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DS rape the PSP... yeah right... as for no original games... tell that to the guys that developed Gripshift... :)

But seriously what it actually needs is 802.11g... :)

1:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DS = Dumb S**t

The DS only lives because it is backwards compatible with GBA.

Theres a limit to how complex "touch screen" games can get, especially on such a small screen. You can only get a certain level of precision.

And what the hell is with FPS games using the stylus?

I can't stand games like Sonic Rush, where if Sonic goes up above the bottom screen, he appears on the top. I don't want to have to glance between screens!!!!

12:42 am  
Blogger cindy said...

waz up pspgams love to play.

7:58 am  
Blogger cindy said...

hi waz up just got a new psp .to looking to download something. psp is better then ps1.

8:03 am  
Blogger cindy said...

i hope they come out

8:06 am  
Blogger cindy said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:07 am  
Blogger cindy said...

just got psp and new games. you can down load moves.

8:09 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AWESOME ARTICLE! MY SEVEN YEAR OLD LOVES HER GBA BUT I PREFER THE REAL DEAL...PSP RULES!

11:08 am  
Anonymous Kevin said...

When you run ISO's or Emulators you can adjust the clockspeed at 333MHz but the problem was with many people that after a few hours of play it would get warm and eventually overheat thus having a "fried" psp. This isn't confirmed by Sony and some people never had any problems with it. However, I think sony is doing wisely to keep it underclocked for now..

11:53 pm  

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