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Fast Load Times: PlayStation 5 Tested With Expansion SSD

PlayStation 5 SSDs
(Image credit: Future)

Thanks to Digital Foundry; we get an early look into PlayStation 5's new 2.0 Firmware update that unlocks all the capabilities of its built-in M.2 NVMe expansion slot, allowing anyone to upgrade their PS5 with up to 4TBs of NVMe storage. Once this update goes live, you will no longer be stuck with the PS5's rather small 650GB internal SSD alone.

For this preview, Digital Foundry tested only one SSD, the 500GB Samsung 980 Pro as it is one of the best SSDs on the market, and obliterates the expansion slot's minimum requirements, detailing a PCIe Gen 4 drive and read speeds of 5500MB/s or greater.

Another requirement is the addition of a built-in heatsink for any NVMe SSD going into the expansion slot as its location is isolated from the PS5's cooling fans preventing any fresh air from entering the M.2 slot. This is quite different from M.2 SSDs mounted to a PC which almost always have passive airflow going over the drives thanks to the PC's chassis fans.

Because the Samsung 980 Pro does not come with a heatsink, Digital Foundry added a custom Aorus copper heatsink to the drive before inserting it into the PS5. But for testing purposes, Digital Foundry also tested the drive without a heatsink to see if there were any measurable performance differences.

The Gen 4 requirement is pretty high but is necessary for PlayStation 5 games to perform well. Most PS5 games rely on streaming assets into the game on the fly, which demands a lot of speed and bandwidth from storage drives.

This is why PS4 backward compatible titles are allowed to run off much slower external storage solutions hooked up to the console via USB, as PS4 games generally load all their assets into system RAM before doing anything else.

To test the drive, Digital Foundry tested Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart which is known to be one of the most storage-intensive games on the PS5 thanks to the game's creative use of portals that allow Rachet to move from one location to another instantly.

Digital Foundry found that the Samsung 980 Pro was able to outperform the PS5's internal storage with fewer FPS dips when going through portals. These FPS dips were incredibly minor, just one to two FPS, but were enough for the 980 Pro to slip ahead of the PS5's built-in SSD, giving it a slight edge.

PS5 Expansion Slot 980 Pro Test Ratchet & Clank

(Image credit: YouTube -- Digital Foundry)

Next, the 980 Pro was tested on a host of PS4 and PS5 games to test game loading times. Overall, the 980 Pro proved to be slightly ahead of the PS5's built-in SSD when loading PS4 backward compatible games like the Witcher 3, Cyberpunk 2077, Final Fantasy XV, and Fallout 4, being a few seconds faster.

PS5 Expansion Slot 980 Pro Test - Cyberpunk 2077

(Image credit: YouTube -- Digital Foundry)

But, with PS5 specific games Digital Foundry tested, performance was found to be identical or worse than the built-in drive. Battlefield V showed loading time performance to be swapped between the two drives with the built-in storage coming out a few seconds faster than the 980 Pro. But for Jedi Fallen Order, loading times were the same between both drives.

Surprisingly, the 980 Pro's performance stacked up very well when ditching a heatsink. Loading times were usually on par with the PS5's built-in SSD, and just a hair slower than the 980 Pro with a heatsink. However, these were just loading times, so we're not sure if the 980 Pro will overheat when actively used in-game.

Digital Foundry finally tested internal game transfers between the two drives, and the results are significantly different for both drives. Moving Cyberpunk 2077, a 100GB game, from the internal SSD to the 980 Pro resulted in a completion time of just 1 minute and 11 seconds. A whopping 1.42 GBps transfer speed.

The results couldn't be more different when moving the same game from the 980 Pro to the internal SSD, which resulted in a transfer time of 7 minutes and 18 seconds. This equates to a transfer speed of just 230 MBps, barely quicker than that of 7200RPM hard drives.

We don't know why moving games to the internal SSD is so much slower, but we suspect it could be a bug with the new firmware as it is still in beta.

Either way, it's good to see Sony now working on enabling the PS5's expansion slot for all consoles, allowing gamers to use more than 600GB of drive space for PS5-exclusive titles without any compromises.