Update: How many FLOPS are in game consoles?

Analyst Opinion – Floating Point Operations Per Second – FLOPS – one of the more obscure processor performance indicators, and one of the oldest ones. Over time, it has been modified with prefixes such as M (mega), G (giga), T (tera) and will soon get a P (peta). “Tera” describes a million millions – one trillion (1012) – which is a whole lot of anything whether it is cycles (Hertz), bytes, dollars, or FLOPS.

Recently I was asked how many TFLOPS are in all the game consoles shipped to date. There are two answers to that question. You can look at it from the perspective of all the game consoles built and you can look at this question with specific consoles in mind.  

Let’s look at the combined TFLOPS rating of all game consoles, which actually provides two answers as well.

If you count central processor FLOPS then you have one answer and if you count the FLOPS potential of the GPU and add it to the CPU’s FLOPS, then you have the second answer. This second version is controversial since the FLOPS of the GPU aren’t used in computations and some therefore claim that the GPU should not be counted as it simply represents a theoretical number. Others argue that GPUs are used in computation – the computation of shader operations. Both sides, however, agree that there isn’t yet a benchmark that can measure this discipline. And therefore I conclude that we shouldn’t use them in evaluating the CPU FLOPS of game consoles.

The following table lists the FLOPS in consoles:

You can read this table in two ways:

1. All of the CPU consoles added up do not hit 1 TFLOPS.
2. All consoles shipped to date add up to 6.0 (CPU) EFLOPS (Exa FLOPS, 1018).

I went through this laborious pedantic and sure to be challenged essay for several reasons:

1. It’s raining here on Mt Tiburon, so I can’t go out and play.
2. I thought it was really interesting to look at how far consoles have progressed
3. I thought it was even more interesting to look at how far PC graphics have progressed – ATI and Nvidia are shipping TFLOPS add-in-boards (AIBs). The next-generation of GPUs coming out in June will be approaching 5 TFLOPS per AIB with dual-GPUs.

Just think of what the game developers and the movie studios can do with this kind of horsepower. Think of the shader operations that will be offered soon. Those of you who know me know Peddie’s first law – in computer graphics, too much is not enough. And although I haven’t made it a law yet, if I did (it would be number three), I’m fond of saying – don’t just watch a movie, be in the movie.

That’s where we are heading to with all these tera and peta FLOPS and I can’t wait to get there, because the next stop after this one is the holodeck.

Update May 26, 8:19 PM EDT:We have received numerous emails and comments voicing doubt over the floating point capability of the RSX GPU in the PS3. While original specs put the GPU at an official 1.8 TFLOPS spec, this number in fact appears to be inflated. At this time, we have no reliable information stating the true floating point performance of the GPU. Some claims put the GPU in the range of the GeForce 7600 chip, which has been rated at 192 GFLOPS. Other claims, including Wikipedia, put the number at 364 GFLOPS. Since the performance of the GPU was just supplemental to this article we have removed this data from the table. Once we have verified the performance with the manufacturer as well as the developer, we will update this article. We regret any confusion the GPU floating point data may have caused. -wg