Should Next-Gen Consoles Be Upgradeable? The Pros and Cons

Should Next-Gen Consoles Be Upgradeable? The Pros and Cons

With all the recent discussions of future consoles from Sony and Microsoft, we've decided to tackle one of the most significant questions--should future consoles be upgradeable?

Historically, console add-ons that boosted the performance of the primary unit haven't done well. Sega's Mega-CD and 32x additions to the original Genesis both failed; Nintendo's attempt to boost the performance of the N64 through the use of a RAM expansion pack saw only a limited amount of success. Any attempt to upgrade a system's core performance risks bifurcating the user base and increases the amount of work developers must do to ensure that a game runs smoothly on both original and upgraded systems.


Sega's 32X expansion for the Genesis, shown against an equally popular product

The other reason hardware developers are leery of upgrades is that a number of games rely on very specific hardware characteristics to ensure proper operation. In a PC, swapping a CPU with 256K of L2 for a chip with 512K of L2 is a non-issue assuming proper platform support -- existing software will automatically take advantage of the additional cache. The Xbox 360, on the other hand, allows programmers to lock specific cache blocks and use them for storing data from particular threads. In that case, expanding the amount of L2 cache risks breaking previous games because it changes the range of available cache addresses.

The upgradeable nature of PCs is something we pay for in terms of how effectively programmers are able to use the graphics and CPU hardware they have access to.

On the Other Hand...

The other side of this argument is that the Xbox 360 has been upgraded more effectively than any previous console; current high-end versions ship with more than 10x the storage of the original, as well as support for HDMI and integrated WiFi. The PS3 doesn't entirely qualify -- the current version has the dubious distinction of offering fewer features than it did at launch day. Clearly, however, both Microsoft and Sony are interested in developing peripherals and projects that extend the lifetime of their flagship products.

It would also forestall the decline in comparative visuals. Here's Battlefield 3 on the PC as compared to the PS3: (PS3 on top)


Battlefield 3 - PS3 version



Battlefield 3 - PC version

The PS3 version of the game looks like it's being lit by Spike Lee, with high-powered flood lights just out of view. Textures are minimal; the concrete wall at the left might have been drawn using MS Paint.

The differences between the Xbox 360 version and the PC version of Skyrim are even more stark. The Xbox 360 is on the left; PC on the right.


Click to Enlarge - Xbox 360 - Left, PC - Right

We can only feel sorry for the artists, who labored desperately to make Skryim look like Morrowind; lest they be transferred to the studio handling the motion capture for Rosie O'Donnell's upcoming workout game.

The difference between PCs and the Xbox / PS3 are becoming significant enough to impact buying patterns, and neither MS or Sony are likely to have a console ready for debut before the middle of 2013 at the earliest. Instead of leaping back on the same old bandwagon, a little forward thinking would open up new opportunities. In 2005, there were no external interfaces capable of driving a faster GPU. Today, External PCI-E and Intel's Thunderbolt are both fast enough to drive a discrete GPU, while USB 3.0 could be used to connect high-speed external storage. Microsoft could conceivably design an Xbox 720 that offered WiDi as an option for wireless displays rather than relying on traditional cables.

Building even a modest upgrade path into next-gen consoles could give Microsoft and Sony an even longer cycle and a better chance to recoup initial investments by keeping the platform fresh. Whether or not the companies will do so is an open question.
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Well how about we all switch to PC :D... lol

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From a consumer's viewpoint, certainly. From the viewpoint of the manufacturer, certainly not.,

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I agree with @Inspector! If you are that worried about upgrades just switch to a pc. I would like to see hard drive and ram upgrades only for the consoles, keep the cpu and gpu locked down. The average consumer doesn't want to worry about upgrading their hardware, just look at apple products.

In fact, I really enjoy not having to worry about upgrading my console until a new one is released. I can't afford to upgrade my pc and console.

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Hell NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO , I dont't care about the pros! when the cons are pretty terrible, like inspector said "Well how about we all switch to PC"

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Yeah its not worth it cause simplicity for consumer and consistent gameplay for everyone is the plus. If you want to tweak mod, and upgrade and generally have to worry about system maintenance or have the best looking graphics just go to pc.

But if you want to have a completely worry free, experience. You may have to sacrifice some graphics detail but consoles.

Hear me out different parts and upgrades means different games will run differently so they will have to be on different settings. Which pretty much just turns it into a pc,

Honestly consoles are for people who dont know what dynamic lighting, vsync or tessellation are. Making it more complicated may just push some people away from it.

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Definitely not. Developers aren't going to support it because not all users will upgrade, so why spend resources on essentially creating 2 games to cover the entire consumer base? Yeah it sucks for us PC users when a console generation last so long and we keep getting ports that underwhelm our rigs, but from a console user and developer standpoint it's a really bad idea.

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Defeats the whole purpose of what a console is. Consoles are about being as plug n' play and cheap as possible.

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Upgradadable consoles have been tried before and they've usually failed mainly because the average console feels no need to pay for anything that enhances their console other then controllers and A/V ports. There is no market for an upgradable console mainly because the people don't want one; what I do feel that needs to be done is make a console that is esentially futureproof for a years. This generation of consoles has been going on for much longer 6-7 then anybody expected and the fact that the next gen consoles aren't going to be released for years just seems to drag out the long-needed deaths of the 360 and the PS3.

We have 28nm graphics and 22nm CPU's and more memory then humanly required. If they manage to take that and make something that's at least 2-3x powerful then the current PC's in the market then who knows how long they'd be able to last. Right now PC's are the best when it comes to graphics capabilities and what can be done; there is only so much that can be done with 256MB or 512MBs shared. If we had more memory, newer graphics and powerful CPU's then the sky won't be the limit in terms of what can be done. We can essentially have games that look good, go anywhere and aren't bound by any restrictions.

Additionally, since the newest generation hasn't had much graphical improvements (aside from performance increases.) There would be no definate need to upgrade for a long amount of time and console games would only look and perform marginally worse then their PC counterparts. Unless someone manages to find a way to outdo Battlefield 3, Crysis 2 and Metro 2033 in terms of graphics, the consoles will still be viable and worth alot after their initial purchase. And I don't see someone trying that for a couple of years, so far alot of the games are at their peak when it comes to graphics. Sure, there can be more that can be done but at this point, I'm struggling to figure out what it is; most shading that can be found in animated movies can be done on a PC with a 7970, the special effects and physics can be replicated on a PC with a powerful CPU/GPU; there is just nothing that can't be done with the new technology that we have.

Upgradable consoles may not be worth it but a future proof console is, it may take a long time to get here but once they do it will prove that they're here to stay for a long time. Still, it would be cool if it was manufacturer-upgradable.

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Let console users deal with sub-par graphics and epic loading screen times........serves em right.

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We're not going to see a shift in consoles to make them more upgradable in the future. If anything, we'll see the opposite approach.

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So, just a few thoughts here:

1) The current consoles have been successfully upgraded and sold well. Certain types of upgrades -- more storage space, quieter disc playback, less power consumption -- have all proven popular. The Xbox and PS3 are evolved a great deal -- certainly far more than the PS2 or original Xbox ever did.

2) Claiming that current generation games haven't improved much confuses cause and effect. The overwhelming majority of games target consoles first and foremost. As a result, game developers have had little reason to take advantage of the PC's unique capabilities. The gap between consoles and PCs has grown wide enough, however, that you're starting to see game developers hop on the DX11 bandwagon. Skyrim is a dramatic example of the quality gap.

3) Much of this comes back to how long a life Sony and MS want their consoles to have. If you want a console design that can stretch for 6-8 years, planning for a midlife upgrade option may make good sense.

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Settle down folks! These are different times now! People will upgrade everything, no matter what. There's too much money to be made out of it. The next generation consoles will have to have at least a removable GPU, CPU and SSD for a much needed upgrade, at least once per year. Two years is a long time in the hardware world. Consoles have been blamed since the beginning for slowing things down for game developers. Look how old your two or three year old games look now. Once you have an upgradable console all you have to do is swap a GPU here, a CPU there... and there you go! You won't "have" to upgrade in order to play your old games, or even new ones, you'll be missing some of the fun, but people will look at you and say: "Aw! Aren't we the poor cousin?".

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these so called upgrades to the 360 i really wouldnt call upgrades but more like an add on. like storage, come on... adding storage is extremely easy. u can plug a usb external to a 360 and it will work. an so called upgrade to storage area would be more along the lines of an ssd where the actual loading speed would be noticeable. as for upgrading to an on board wifi, pah really that is not an upgrade! giving the 360 gigabyte network on a CORDED lan card would be more of an upgrade but then again WHY would it need a fast network connection when its limited by the internet connection feeding info it, like streamed movies or on line games. in fact i'm pretty sure that wifi is something that should have been there in the first place. then u come across the fact that WHY does a stand still console that plugs into something that dont do a lot of moving as a TV, beside that if u are using a hard wire connection then there would only be three hole cords coming out of the 360, and why would one need a wifi connection other than the simple fact that u would be saving ONE wire running to the entertainment center. or perhaps when moving into the house or apartment the modem didnt get a very good home or the complex u live in wont let u put holes in the walls.

with the more internal hardware that has been passed up in these so called upgrades, i dont think it would be that hard to make games run on different 360 cpus, they have done it before when games where playable on the first xbox and the 360. to me it sounds like developers are getting more lazy just like the rest of the population making these gaming consoles and the games that are played on them. or maybe the developers are just saying that they cant to be more lazy and not have to work as hard. they are using the terms "I can't" or "it would not be compatible," well i'm sorry if they are right and i'm wrong but if they can make a game run on ps3, 360, and pc then to me that says laziness. for example (and i dont like to point fingers at developers) but if they would take the time and hold up the game once or twice even you might think that the game would work properly or was tested enough, or perhaps game makers and developers are getting too gung ho and are wanting to get their product on the shelves as fast as they can. like the much anticipated Skyrim, VERY good game but it was for the most part unplayable on pc for almost the first month it was out and some how still became one of the most liked games. i'm not one that knows much about making a game so i'm not goin to go into details on the matter.

as for the upgrade able consoles, YES they should have made something that was upgrade able or even released a 360 that had some REAL upgrades not just better cooling and a larger storage. PCs are by far way ahead of any console on the self. when the 360 FIRST came out for 400 dollars, ok i can see that but when they went back and put a weak 250 gb and a built in wifi and marked it back at 400... oh but we cant forget that wonderfull 10 dollar fan that they cut a hole in the top and added a BETTER cooling solution, please that hardly adds up to 400 again. and i really dont want to get into how long the 360 has been around, lets just say i was still way deep in high school and that was the better part of a decade ago, so in other words the 360 is OLDER than the dirt that my new house is built on.

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KWalsh:
with the more internal hardware that has been passed up in these so called upgrades, i dont think it would be that hard to make games run on different 360 cpus, they have done it before when games where playable on the first xbox and the 360. to me it sounds like developers are getting more lazy just like the rest of the population making these gaming consoles and the games that are played on them. or maybe the developers are just saying that they cant to be more lazy and not have to work as hard. they are using the terms "I can't" or "it would not be compatible," well i'm sorry if they are right and i'm wrong but if they can make a game run on ps3, 360, and pc then to me that says laziness. for example (and i dont like to point fingers at developers) but if they would take the time and hold up the game once or twice even you might think that the game would work properly or was tested enough, or perhaps game makers and developers are getting too gung ho and are wanting to get their product on the shelves as fast as they can.

Do note that even though 3 of the top gaming machines have an IBM CPU in them, their architecture is radically different. Each of them have different methods of implementation and not one game can be released on all three unless they have an engine that works on all three. To each system it's own advantage but the entire argument of compatibility is a different one. All of the original Xbox games were coded for x86, when the Xbox 360 came out, it had to rely on Software emulation because x86 is incompatible with PowerPC code. If the next Xbox is to be released then it'll likely use a new architecture or new code, which will likely mean a compatibility layer added to the new Xbox. It'd be nice to upgrade the CPU's but it'd be worrysome because these games that have been coded for the current CPU would not work as well with CPU's involving new instructions and additional cores; it may run worse on the new Xbox rather then the old one, unless there is an architecture that scales to all cores, scales to new instructions and is future-proof then the upgradable CPU isn't possible; not to contradict what I said in my old post.

Developers can be lazy but one thing that is important is that even the most playtested game will surely have a bug here and there that'll ruin the game experience. No matter how much you test it and how much you perfect it, there will always be a flaw; there is no such thing as true perfection when it comes to anything really... Don't assume that it's the developers fault or the manufacturer's fault, they're only part of the problem.

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KWalsh,

Great Wall of poorly punctuated text crits Hot Hardware for 80,000 damage.

HotHardware dies.

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People buy a console to play games because they don't want to spend the money on a new computer. If they make the console upgradeable then the gaming systems and game play would no longer be equal. When you play on a console everyone sees the same thing on their screen so the game play is equal except for internet speed. On my PC I can run a much higher resolution than a person on a PC bought at Wally world, advanage goes to my PC. On a console everyone has the same resolution .

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I agree with many of the posters above, consoles are about simplicity and having multiple upgradable parts get's in the way of this. One the other hand, IF Microsoft and Sony really want every generation to last 8-10 years than I could see that there is certainly some sense to the idea of ONE upgrade mid-life.

So how would this possibly work? Have a removable video card in some kind of 'easy to remove' user-friendly casing. Mid-life they create a "Graphics Upgrade Pack" that includes an expansion card that adds more ram and a new GPU. Honestly, the GPU matters more than the processor most of the time these days. For example, it's the GPU in the PS3 that is really holding it back, not its Cell Processor.

Would this work? Maybe, after all Nintendo had something like this with its N64 (the memory pack that added more RAM, for those that remember it). Of course, such a model might make developers cringe though....

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