Why are modern game consoles so big and will they ever shrink?

Key takeaways

  • Modern consoles like the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are the size of a PC because they are essentially PCs, using similar components and technology.
  • Sony and Microsoft have prioritized cooling solutions for their consoles to avoid past overheating issues, resulting in larger cooling systems that take up more space.
  • While the future of consoles may involve slight revisions, the latest technology and performance requirements mean consoles will likely continue to be bulky despite being less upgradeable than PCs. Cloud gaming is a potential future, but it’s unlikely to replace consoles anytime soon.

Remember the days when you could neatly fit the latest console into the entertainment unit underneath your TV? The latest game consoles are the size of a Kong compared to those from just a few generations ago. So what happened?

Today’s consoles are pre-built PCs

The reason modern consoles like the Xbox Series are Modern PCs at this point. Although you can build mini PCs that take up less space, the average PC case still takes up a large amount of desk space (or better yet, floor space under your desk).

While older consoles tended to use more custom components, this is not the case with modern consoles. At their core, the PS5 and Series X use custom AMD system-on-a-chip components. This is the same technology that was used to create PC components such as the Ryzen 3000, 4000, and 5000 desktop processors.

One point of difference is the lack of a separate GPU via a removable graphics card. Instead, the PS5 and Series X combine GPU and CPU on the same circuit board. Despite the form factor differences, GPU technology found in Sony and Microsoft machines has been used in AMD’s Radeon RX6000 class of PC graphics cards.

Camouflage Skin on PlayStation 5 with matching controller and headset.
Hannah Stryker / Practical Geek

Other components found in modern consoles and the interfaces used are very reminiscent of modern PC versions. Both use GDDR6 RAM and NVMe SSDs, like you’d find in a modern PC. There’s even a slot to increase storage capacity on the PS5, with a drive that can also be used in a regular PC.

Finally, Sony and Microsoft machines are doing away with external power supplies and integrating the power supply into their designs. These are generally less thirsty than those found on modern PCs, with the Series

Even the Series X form factor mirrors some smaller PC releases, like the Corsair One. And cases like the NZXT H1 let you get the rectangular tower look of the X Series in a DIY build. The PS5 is a bit of an anomaly with its “popped collar” aesthetic, but you could probably gut a dead unit and build something capable inside with a Dremel and serious dedication.

Modern consoles have modern cooling

The more energy a component consumes, the more heat it produces. You can see this by looking at the difference between a console or PC while idle and the same console or PC while playing a demanding 3D game. Components and the power supply generate heat, and this heat must be managed.

Microsoft and Sony have made missteps in the past with subpar cooling. On older machines like the Xbox 360 and the launch model PlayStation 4, heat was a serious problem.

At best, the heat causes unwanted noises similar to those of a jet engine. The PlayStation 4 was particularly bad at this, and the problem only got worse over time as the console filled up with dust, lint, and pet hair (among other things).

Worst case scenario, you end up in a situation where heat causes component failure. The Xbox 360 was plagued with “red ring of death” (RRoD) errors related to thermal power. The solder joints connected to the console’s GPU cracked due to the heating and cooling process that occurred when using the console and then turning it on.

To avoid retreading old ground, Sony and Microsoft have been working hard on the cooling solutions for the PS5 and Series X. In iFixit’s Xbox Series with a graphics card” due to its very efficient cooling. system

Xbox Series
Corbin Davenport / How to Geek

Xbox Series On top of that, Microsoft installed a relatively large 130mm fan inside to move air over the internal components, so the unit acts like a large cooling tunnel.

Although the PS5 doesn’t have a vapor chamber, Sony opted for an even larger heatsink than the one found in Microsoft’s machine. The PS5 is full of copper heat pipes that direct heat away from burned-out components. The PS5’s processor also comes into contact with its cooler using a thin layer of liquid metal. It is one of the most efficient heat conductors, commonly used in high-end PC builds and components.

Modern cooling systems use more metal and bigger fans, which means they take up a lot more space inside consoles.

PlayStation and Xbox probably have a “great” future

We can only guess what the future holds for Microsoft and Sony. But it’s hard to imagine a future where consoles push the boundaries of visual fidelity. And decrease.

A quick look at the PC market suggests that many components are only getting bigger and thirstier. NVIDIA’s RTX 4090 is a comically sized GPU, as large as an Xbox Series plot of power, so it requires a powerful power supply, which means a larger power supply. Of course, the RTX 4090 isn’t a part of most gaming PCs because it’s a product that costs more than three times what you’d spend on an Xbox Series X, which will also increase your electricity bill.

Over time, components shrink. We’ve seen this in reviews of “slim” consoles, the latest of which is the PS5 Slim, which has a total volume reduction of around 30% compared to the launch edition. That said, the PS5 Slim doesn’t match the massive size reduction we’ve seen in previous console reviews. We’re a far cry from 2000’s svelte PS2 Slim revision.

Sony PS5 Slim and digital PS5 Slim

Unlike PCs, consoles cannot be significantly upgraded to improve their performance as they age. Using cutting-edge components that still need to accommodate smaller manufacturing processes means launch consoles are large in size. There’s a lot of noise at launch about the benefits of a new generation of consoles, but the latest and greatest technology usually means sacrificing more of your living room.

There are of course outliers. Nintendo marches to the beat of its own drum, and has done so since the GameCube era. The Nintendo Switch is a hugely popular, yet tiny, hybrid console that completely avoids the “cutting edge” market. Likewise, Valve’s portable SteamDeck has a much lower performance target than most PC gamers are used to, but it’s priced competitively and fills a niche.

But if these consoles aren’t small enough, there’s still a potential end to home consoles.

Could cloud gaming sound the death knell for consoles?

For some, the future of consoles is indeed very limited. You can already buy Samsung TVs with cloud streaming using a Game Pass Ultimate subscription, completely removing the console from your living room.

The real question is whether you trust your internet connection enough to make or break multiplayer and single-player gaming experiences.

Xbox Cloud Gaming on Xbox.com

Cloud gaming is something that almost every console manufacturer has experimented with to some extent. Microsoft’s Game Pass Ultimate streaming option is arguably the most meaty of the bunch, but Sony also relies on streaming to play older titles through the PlayStation Plus Premium tier. Even the Nintendo Switch has a handful of titles that rely on streaming, as the console doesn’t have the horsepower to play them natively.

While it’s certainly possible that streaming will become a formidable force in gaming, it’s hard to see cloud gaming taking over anytime soon, and certainly not until the next generation of consoles arrives.

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