The PS4 ships with a reasonably-sized 500GB hard drive, but it’s quite lackluster in terms of speed. The drive only spins at 5400 RPM, but it can be easily upgraded to a better drive — say, a 7200 RPM hard drive — without voiding your warranty. But why stop there? What happens when the default drive is replaced with a solid state drive or a hybrid drive? The real-world tests are in, and the results are actually quite surprising.
The good folks over at Tested compared the default drive, a hybrid drive, and an SSD with a number of different tasks on the PS4. Across the board, the SSD out-performed the default drive, but the results were shockingly close. As it turns out, the HHD performs nearly as well as the SSD, but at a fraction of the price.
Booting up with the standard drive, it takes just under 26 seconds to reach the PS4′s UI. The hybrid drive drops that to 20.3 seconds, and the SSD shaves it down to 19.5 seconds. With the digital-only version of Killzone, the standard drive takes about 60 seconds to load up a map. In comparison, the hybrid drive only needs 42 seconds, and the SSD smokes the competition at only 39 seconds. While loading the disc-based version of Knack (already installed), the HDD took just under 40 seconds. On the other hand, the HHD and SSD are only a fraction of a second apart in the range of about 34 seconds.
Okay, we’re dealing with a few seconds one way or the other. Why does it matter? Simply put, this performance gap adds up over time. If you spend a few hours playing a game in a single sitting, you could potentially hit dozens of load screens. While a few extra seconds on a single load doesn’t make much of a difference, it really drags down the entire experience in the long run.
The hybrid drives are a special case here, mind you. They still use spinning platters, but the drive “intelligently” caches recent and frequently used data onto a relatively small portion of flash storage. Depending on the specific implementation, the results could potentially vary wildly. In these tests, the HHD seems absurdly fast, suggesting Tested had already loaded each game a few times, to get the flash storage primed for action. Each drive manufacturer uses its own secret sauce to decide what data stays on the flash portion of the drive, so your milage may vary. If you’re pulling data from the platters — such as loading a new game or app for the first time — you still have the same wait as a standard drive.
I decided to stick with a traditional 7200 RPM drive for my PS4, and I’ve been happy with the results so far. I’ve yet to see the hard data regarding PS4 load times with a faster spinning drive, but the additional storage space on my 1TB drive alone was worth the $ 88 expense, especially as I’ve decided that I will eschew game discs with my PS4 and go all-digital instead.