Sony recently enabled the PS5 SSD expansion slot in the most recent PS5 system software beta, along with releasing a spec list so that users can find potential storage options for themselves. A number of SSD manufacturers have already confirmed or revealed PS5-compatible SSDs, many with read/write speeds that exceed Sony’s own 5,500MB/s recommendation. However, what would putting a slower SSD in the expansion bay do? Would the PS5 even allow it, and if so, would it impact performance of games designed for the higher speeds of the internal SSD? The Verge’s Sean Hollister set out to find out, and it turns out, slower SSDs appear to function just fine with the PS5.
Hollister’s test landed on the ADATA XPG Gammix S50 Lite, one of the slowest PCIe Gen4 drives that still meets other compatibility requirements—in this case, being the proper size to fit in the narrow expansion bay on the console. The XPG Gammix S50 Lite reads at 3,900MB/s and writes at 3,200MB/s, notably lower than the internal PS5 SSD and under Sony’s recommended specs.
To run his tests, they used the internal PS5 SSD as a control, got a 5,000MB/s Sabrent Rocket 500GB SSD to get a baseline for the expansion bay, and then of course used the slower XPG Gammix S50 Lite. Ultimately, testing through a variety of games—such as Returnal, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Final Fantasy VII Remake, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon—showed that there was little to no difference in loading times from startup to gameplay whether they were using the internal SSD, the faster expansion, or the slower-than-recommended ADATA SSD. Differences were a matter of one second slower, two at the most. And in some cases, the ADATA even performed faster.
Likewise, they tested transferring games among different drives and didn’t notice any drastic differences. However, The Verge notes “it appears that Sony may be throttling the write speed of the PS5’s own internal drive.” When looking at the transfer speeds to the SSDs, it appears to take more than five times as long to send games to the internal PS5 SSD as it does to the expansion drive. “It took only 2:26 to send both PS5 and PS4 copies of Final Fantasy VII Remake to the Sabrent SSD, for instance, but 12:47 to go back to the PS5 — over five times longer.” Sony didn’t have a comment when The Verge reached out to ask about it.
However, people likely won’t be transferring games all that often, so the actual gameplay performance is the more important part here, including next-gen specific optimizations. The Verge notes that Intergrade, the PS5 optimized version of Final Fantasy VII Remake was impressively fast, going from PS5 home screen to gameplay in under 10 seconds no matter which drive was used. The PS4 version, in comparison, takes over 40 seconds, even on the SSDs (and even longer from an external HDD).
Hollister also noticed a bizarre observation in his tests with Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. In some cases, the game would boot up with the logos first, creating an extra unskippable loading time of 26 seconds. Other times, however, the game skipped the boot logos and went directly to the main menu. Hollister was unable to come to a firm conclusion on what created this discrepancy.
However, Hollister concludes with a caveat that the higher speed specs from Sony could be futureproofing. While PS5 games right now may not take full advantage of it, they could require that extra speed in a few years. Naughty Dog’s next game may not perform as admirably on a slower SSD expansion once they’ve had a chance to really push the console to its limits. In fact, Ratchet & Clank may already show some instances of slowdown where performance takes a hit:
We tried some below-spec Gen4 M.2 drives as well and saw up to 15% slower loading in the most SSD-stressing areas of the game. Not too shabby, but keep a close eye on technical specs if you’re making an SSD purchase, as our game does rely on high-quality storage.
— Mike Fitzgerald (@fitzymj) July 29, 2021
So while the PS5 will apparently let you use an SSD that is below-spec, it’s not recommended, and may not be a good investment long term. This will probably only apply to PS5 exclusives and first-party games that are optimized for the higher speeds, however. The Xbox Series X SSD caps out at 2.4GB/s, (2,400MB/s), which means third-party multiplatform benchmarks fall well below the PS5’s baseline.
What’s the benefit of using a slower drive then? Well for one, it’s a lot cheaper right now. The 2TB version of the tested XPG Gammix S50 Lite is only $269.99, whereas the same size Seagate FireCuda 530 with faster speeds of 7.3 GB/s read and 6.9 GB/s write is set to be priced at $569.99 (with heatsink). It should also be accounted for that the PS5 system software is currently in beta, and things are subject to change in the final release.[Source: The Verge]
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