PS5 SSD speed test: slower drives work

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    If your PS5 is already running out of fast solid-state storage, there is a solution. Sony’s new update for the PS5, fully released on September 14th, allows you to expand your paltry 667GB of usable space by inserting the same M.2 SSD stick that you might find in your laptop or Plug in the desktop PC. My colleague Mitchell has a buying guide for PS5 SSDs that meets all of Sony’s recommendations, for example speeds of at least 5,500 MB / s. However, this might ask you: what about slower SSDs?

    That’s why we tracked down an ADATA XPG Gammix S50 Lite, one of the slowest compatible PCIe Gen4 drives we could find with 3,900 MB / s reads and 3,200 MB / s writes, and put it in a PS5 in August. And this week, Digital Foundry confirmed our results with an even slower 3,200 MB / s SSD. The short version: Today’s games don’t need all the speed.

    Yes, this is a 3900 MB / s drive. Picture by Sean Hollister / The Verge

    We compared the S50 Lite to the PS5’s internal SSD and a Sabrent Rocket 500GB at 5,000MB / s in a series of tests, including load times for games like the early PS5 showcases Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart and Spider-Man: Miles Morales. We also measured the time it takes to back up games on each type of drive and dropped a Seagate external hard drive for comparison, as Sony now allows PS5 games to be archived and PS4 games to be saved from a traditional hard drive to play.

    The judgment? Surprisingly, even the slowest compatible SSD we could find had nearly identical load times to the one included by Sony. Sometimes it’s a second slower, sometimes a second or two faster, but basically it’s a total wash. When I hopped through the dimensions in Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, I saw no noticeable difference to the slowest SSD in gameplay. Cycling through the pocket dimensions was instantaneous, and if there was a slight pause during a boss fight, I saw the same pause on the internal SSD as well.

    PS5 SSD loading times

    game Internal SSD Sabrent missile XPG Gammix S50 Lite External hard drive
    game Internal SSD Sabrent missile XPG Gammix S50 Lite External hard drive
    Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart 14 sec. 14 sec. 15 sec. N / A
    return 30 seconds 30 seconds 31 sec. N / A
    Spider-Man: Miles Morales (PS5) 19 sec. 18 sec. 17 sec. N / A
    FFVII remake (PS5) 10 sec. 10 sec. 10 sec. N / A
    FFVII remake (PS4) 43 sec. 43 sec. 43 sec. 58 sec.
    Yakuza like a dragon (PS5) 31 sec. 32 sec. 32 sec. N / A
    Yakuza like a dragon (PS4) 37 sec. 37 sec. 35 sec. 52 sec.

    Average; measured from the PS5 home screen to active gameplay.

    I also didn’t necessarily see much of a difference between drives when it comes to streaming games back and forth, but there was one big surprise: at least in this beta, it appears that Sony is throttling the writing speed of its own PS5 internal drive. For example, it only took 2:26 to send both PS5 and PS4 copies of Final Fantasy VII Remake to the Sabrent SSD, but 12:47 to get back to the PS5 – more than five times longer.

    On average, I’ve seen write speeds of around 1,100 MB / s when transferring my five test games to one of my add-in M.2 drives, but only about 220 MB / s when sending the same games back to the PS5. Both are far better than the average transfer speeds of 141MB / s I saw sending games to the Seagate HDD and the 97MB / s I saw beaming back – it took over half an hour (Jan. : 24) to transfer the Final Fantasy games’ 176.5 GB back to the internal SSD. But the slower internal SSD write speeds are weird, and Sony didn’t comment on my request.

    At the end of September, Digital Foundry tested an even slower drive: the 256 GB version of Western Digital’s SN750 SE, which can only read 3,200 MB / s. And yet the results were the same. Even with a drive that was only 58 percent of the speeds Sony required, there was virtually no difference in today’s games – and Sony seems to be artificially restricting transfers back to the internal drive for reasons unknown.

    So the big question is, if not today, will game developers fully optimize tomorrow’s games for the incredible speeds a top-notch SSD can afford?

    For example, check out our load times for Final Fantasy VII Remake in our original table above. Regardless of the drive, the PS4 version takes over four times longer to load! It’s the difference between waiting through a loading screen full of gameplay tips to keep you busy and barely loading 10 seconds after exiting the PS5 home screen until you can move Cloud Strife around in your save game to see screen at all. The latter is incredible to watch.

    Also check out our Spider-Man: Miles Morales numbers? The game doesn’t always load as fast as it could. Sometimes you launch the game to see intros from Marvel, Insomniac, and PlayStation Studios that take a full 26 seconds, making the game more than 43 seconds to load in total. But sometimes these are mysteriously bypassed and loaded in over 17 seconds and I couldn’t figure out why. I would love to have a toggle to turn off these intros, and I hope more PS5 games will skip them too.

    Would I buy the slowest PCIe Gen4 SSD I can buy for my PS5? I’m not so sure, because Sony went for its recommended SSD spec for a reason – even if today’s games and today’s PS5 don’t take full advantage, developers may need that extra leeway in the future. You were promised 5,500MB / s to deliver instant game worlds, and I would hate to find out I bought the wrong drive years later.

    Also, there might already be a few moments in Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart where you will notice a difference, says Mike Fitzgerald, Insomniac technical director:

    We also tried some Gen4 M.2 drives that were below spec and found up to 15% slower loading in the areas of the game that put the most stress on the SSD. Not too shabby, but keep an eye on the specs when buying an SSD as our game relies on high quality storage.

    – Mike Fitzgerald (@fitzymj) July 29, 2021

    On the other hand, Microsoft also uses an SSD in its Xbox Series X, but with a sustained raw performance of 2.4 GB / s compared to the listed 5.5 GB / s read speeds of the PS5. Even if developers take advantage of the benefits, it is possible that many next-gen games will never see the full benefit if they specifically target both Xbox and PlayStation instead of PS5. You’ll likely see the most benefit from Sony’s exclusive PlayStation Studios titles, though Square Enix’s fast load times for Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade give me hope for more.

    A list of SSDs that actually meet Sony requirements and recommendations can be found here in our buying guide.

    Update, 2:08 p.m. ET: It made it clear that we tested ratchet and clank gameplay, not just load times, and that the Xbox Series X’s 2.4 GB / s is a sustainable performance metric.

    Update, September 21 at 12:55 p.m. ET: Added testing by Digital Foundry with an even slower 3,200 MB / s drive.

    Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

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