After nearly a year of questions and confusion, PlayStation 5 owners can finally add to the console’s very high-end storage via Sony’s latest firmware update—which is leading to many tests in the wild over the past week. Arguably the biggest test yet has resulting in some potentially great news: you don’t need to overspend on compatible SSDs as many had previously feared.
We’ve pointed to Digital Foundry’s coverage of PS5 storage and performance in the past, and founder Richard Leadbetter returned to the topic on Tuesday to confirm that any compatible PS5 drive will deliver apparently identical performance when running native titles for the console (and backwards compatible ones, too).
In order to upgrade the PS5’s storage capacity, the minimum requirements for a compatible drive are that it must be NVME M.2 format and PCIe 4.0 speed rated, as well as meeting certain dimensional and technical requirements to slot into the console’s storage expansion bay. Beyond those requirements, compatible SSDs have a significant range of storage amounts (as low as 256GB) and speed ratings (in terms of both sequential and random read/write operations, which can significantly impact general-purpose performance on an average computer).
A much cheaper solution?
Though Sony recommends any PS5 compatible SSD have a sequential read speed of at least 5,500MB/s, Digital Foundry has discovered that the lowest-spec drive currently available—the 3,200 MB/s, 250GB Western Digital SN 750 SE—performed just as well in a series of in-game loading and performance tests as either the console’s internal drive or Western Digital’s beefier 7,000MB/s, 1TB model SN 850. With the 250GB SN 750 SE’s current price going for about $55, the price difference over the $200 SN 850 is a big leap.
To put the PS5’s memory through its paces, Leadbetter primarily used Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart as a benchmark. The game is considered the most memory-heavy on PS5, with instant loads of entirely new worlds, a current-gen perk that benefits from higher-speed storage. Surprisingly, he found that in-game performance effects on frame rate during its most taxing scenes was indistinguishable between the underpowered SN 750 SE, Sony’s internal drive, and the SN 850—with a variance of “literally single-frame” between each drive’s performance. In other words, the most underpowered SSD didn’t result in any additional frame-rate hitches in gameplay.
Loading times: Practically identical
The SN 750 SE performed almost as well in load-time tests in Rift Apart. Cold launching the game from the PS5’s dashboard, the cheaper SSD had a difference in start-to-main-menu loading of between two to three seconds, with the PS5’s internal drive loading at seven seconds, the SN 850 coming in at just over eight seconds, and the SN 750 taking almost 10 seconds.
Digital Foundry also conducted multiple direct comparisons of loading differences jumping between a number of save files. It found that, for in-game loading, no drive had more than a split-second difference, with each drive taking roughly 1.5 to two seconds to load each save state. Additional loading tests with Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut yielded similar results.
Tests copying PS5 games from the console’s internal drive were dismal—the apparent drawback of using a cheaper model SSD. Here, the SN 850 far outclassed the SN 750 SE. The 60GB Ghost of Tsushima copied to the higher-end drive in only 49 seconds compared to seven minutes using the SN 750 SE, while Marvel’s Avengers, a 96GB install, transferred over in 1 minute 17 seconds using the SN 850 versus 3 minutes 26 seconds with the underpowered drive. (Also worth noting: the $55 250GB SN 750 SE doesn’t include a heatsink, meaning you have to install one yourself.)
Moving PS4 and PS5 games back to the PS5’s internal drive was also much slower, with the backwards-compatible Cyberpunk 2077 on PS4 and PS5’s Avengers taking around seven minutes to transfer back. Leadbetter chalked that up to what appeared to be an unknown bottleneck somewhere behind the scenes.
The history of using PC-compatible hardware for storage dates back to 2004, when the Nintendo DS launched with storage compatibility for standard SD cards. Sony’s record of adding upgradable storage solutions to its consoles dates back to the PS3, which was compatible with standard platter-based and solid state drives. In 2017, the company added external storage options of up to 8TB via USB to the PS4, eliminating the need to open up the console to install a larger-capacity internal drive.
Microsoft has also made drive performance a priority this generation with the Xbox Series X’s so-called velocity architecture, which the company pledged would make “100 GB of game assets to be instantly accessible to the developer” through the console’s m.2 PCIe 4.0 SSD, as well as reducing input lag. For now, Xbox owners looking for a cheaper solution over Seagate’s expensive proprietary memory card—currently only available in a $220, 1TB size—are stuck attempting this hack.
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