SSD Or Hard Drive? Upgrading Your PlayStation 4's Storage

Benchmarking Hard Drive Upgrades

The days of firing up your console and jumping straight into a game are gone. Now, you have to power up, boot to the operating system, and then start navigating around (sounds a lot like your computer, right?). Fortunately, that makes boot time a great point of comparison for wildly disparate storage devices.

Sony equips the PS4 with a fairly slow stock hard drive. Boot times improve by 23% with Kingston's SSD installed, 15% with Seagate's SSHD plugged in, and even 9% when we upgrade to a 1 TB Western Digital Scorpio Blue we had lying around.

Despite the percentages, though, we're only looking at a five-second boost, tops, which isn't a huge number.

Next, we go for a couple of game installs, which is a mandatory process for any disc-based title. 

In most cases, storage technology makes absolutely no difference, since you're constrained by the read performance of the Blu-ray drive. If you're hoping start playing sooner with a hard drive upgrade, you'll be disappointed.

Loading a game from the PlayStation 4's UI to the title screen is mildly faster with Kingston's E50 SSD installed, compared to the stock Spinpoint M8 500 GB. The same goes for Seagate's SSHD. But in absolute terms, the experience is imperceptibly similar. 

The Western Digital drive, in fact, ends up being a bit slower, though again, not by an amount you'd notice. It's really only worth upgrading for more capacity, in this case.

Despite those tiny performance differences, you're still stuck watching several splash screens before you can get into the game. Let us skip over all of that, Sony, and we'll be happy.

The biggest gains comes from loading an existing game save, which might be what you end up doing most often anyway.

For this test, I used a save point in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag with a few hours of gameplay ahead of it (in Tulum, in case you're interested). Kingston's E50 SSD and Seagate's SSHD perform identically, improving performance compared to the stock Samsung Spinpoint M8 by 33%. I'm not certain that's worth losing capacity in the case of the SSD, but Seagate gives you the bump up in speed and capacity.

Unfortunately, our two-year-old Scorpio Blue turns out to be slower. It turns out that not every upgrade is good for more performance.

Over time, Seagate's solid-state hybrid drive design is supposed to cache hot data (the stuff accessed most frequently) in its 8 GB of MLC flash. In order to better gauge whether the previous chart's performance was truly representative of the SSHD incorporating our save game data into cache, we ran an extended test of this technology.

Loading the same game file 10 times, restarting the PlayStation 4 after each run, we see performance varying significantly. Even the worst run is faster than Sony's stock mechanical drive. However, I wouldn't say it's clear that SSD-like behavior is to thank.

To ensure that Sony's Blu-ray disc check process wasn't adding variance to a benchmark that should have only gotten faster, we purchased a digital copy of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag on the Playstation Network and ran the test 10 more times. The results proved fairly similar.

The first three runs demonstrated quite a bit of difference, favoring the disc-based installation. But the repetitions after turned out to be quite even.

  • vertexx
    Thanks for the article. I like the trend of the work you guys are doing, although this one really reminds me why I won't be buying one of the new consoles.

    It seems rather shortsighted for Sony to not anticipate users wanting to take advantage of SSD tech. In fact they could have made more $ by offering an upgraded product with an SSD already incorporated (assuming they fixed whataver is causing the negligible difference in performance). Perhaps a few tweaks to the OS through a software update will allow the SSD to make a bigger difference.

    It seems that something will need to be done if they hope to have the longevity of the previous generation of consoles.
  • blackmagnum
    If you can wait a few more seconds for the hard-drive to load, then why not keep the hard-drive... but who are we if not ENTHUSIASTS!
  • Brad Smithee
    Eventually see 9.5mm 2TB drives? What about the Samsung M9T? Although difficult to find OEM, you can pull it from a Seagate Backup Plus Slim for about $110 (as of writing). Granted some users have had HDMI handshake bootup issues, they seem resolvable by extended power button presses.
  • wtfxxxgp
    Interesting concept and nice try Toms. I enjoyed this little read over lunch. I'm not a console fan but I admit that there are times when i wish I could just sit on my couch and play on my TV instead of a piddly little 24". The funny bit is, I only feel this way when I'm actually ON the couch, never when I'm sitting enjoying the beast that blows PS4 away.
  • Lasher13
    Guys no, these Seagate SSHD's are crap. Testing it further, yes it cuts down on load times, the boot cycle, and game installations. But game performance is hindered by a random stutter at random periods during gameplay when the disc refreshes its 8GB's of flash memory. If you don't find a random stutter annoying fine get it. But If you really want performance get an SSD. If you want space stick with a mechanical drive.
  • AndrewJacksonZA
    Did you put a SSHD in your PS4 Lasher13?
  • AK B
    Interesting article, BUT: laying around ---> lying around.
  • CaedenV
    This is why I am sticking with PC gaming. I loved consoles back in the day where you just plugged it in, fed it a disc/cartridge and started playing. But last gen they essentially became crappy computers, so I preferred my nice computer to owning a crappy one. This gen they are still crappy computers with all of the issues that computers have, but without the flexibility or usefulness of one... so again I will stick with my PC.There was a chance that I would pick up a PS4 to get my Final Fantasy fix, but now it looks like they are committed to releasing all titles on the PC, so there went my only real motive to pick up a console.
  • tuanies
    Eventually see 9.5mm 2TB drives? What about the Samsung M9T? Although difficult to find OEM, you can pull it from a Seagate Backup Plus Slim for about $110 (as of writing). Granted some users have had HDMI handshake bootup issues, they seem resolvable by extended power button presses.
    I did not know this. Interesting bit of information.
    Interesting article, BUT: laying around ---> lying around.
    Fixed, thanks for spotting the error.
  • syrious1
    This is an interesting concept. You are right sony would have benefitted by adding SSD's as an upgrade, but I have a feeling those console guys are not going to drop added money to make it boot faster, especially since the extra controller, headset, etc cost an additional arm and a leg. PC gaming is where its at, the system runs better, lasts longer, and can be serviced by the user when needed. Also with steambox coming there is really no need to drop money on a console that will be outdated in 2 years.