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PS3 hard drive improvement guide

PS3 hard drive improvement guide

It is the right price. With 500GB external drives now at around £ 40 (+ – 47 ??), there has never been a better time to improve your PlayStation 3’s storage capacities.

In particular for owners of old consoles, improving is quickly becoming an essential requirement: the launch of games like Gran Turismo 5 and Mass Effect 2 reinforce that long and mandatory installations will not disappear anytime soon. In addition, downloadable content, including full games and HD movies, also places demands on the space you have available on your console.

The PlayStation 3 is designed to run with 2.5 inch 9.5mm thick SATA hard drives ?? the exact same models found on most modern notebook computers. Since SATA is effectively an open standard, you can equip your PS3 with any device that uses this interface: if you want to be a little insane, you can even connect hard drives externally and have about 2TB of storage. Xbox 360 uses the same drive standard, but improvement options are limited as Microsoft has restricted compatibility with the specific hard drives it licenses.

For PS3 owners looking for a new disc, there are performance considerations to take into account when making a purchase decision. We recently saw how GT5 ninjas improved their PS3s with ultra-fast Solid State Storage (SSD) disks to reduce load times, to give just one example.

During this article, we will cover a number of different angles to improve the hard drive. We will target a cheap 500GB hard drive and test it, and we will also look at various disk technologies and test them directly to see if a special price translates into any performance advantage while installing or even playing.

Finally, we will investigate the causes of long installations and load times. Have you ever wondered why Devil May Cry 4 takes 25 minutes to install, when Bioshock copies the same amount of data in just ten? In this article you will find out why.

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How Hard Drives Work: The Basics

First, a quick introduction to hard drive technology. Traditionally, hard drives are defined by two factors according to the base specification: disk speed ?? usually 5400rpm or 7200rpm- and amount of onboard cache: everything from 8MB to 64MB on the latest portable disks). However, there are several other factors that are of equal, if not greater, importance.

A 5400rpm disc with 500GB runs at the same speed as the launch PS3’s 60GB base disc. However, the data is packaged on the disk plate, it physically reads more data per rotation. Larger hard drives also use more than one plate ?? something up to four on a 1TB disk. Therefore, in an ideal world you will want a disc that has as few plates as possible, with as much capacity as you can, to have the disc faster.

The other physical reality of hard drives is that once the disk head moves into the inner part of the plate, the amount of area on the disk is smaller, so it reads less data per rotation. In very basic terms, the more data you put on your hard drive, the slower it becomes. Any performance test has to take this into account since simple benchmarking on a completely empty disk in no way gives an indication of what the disk is like in general.

The final factor is the search time. This is the time it takes for the disk’s read or write heads to move from one file on one part of the disk to another on another part of the disk. When you have Gran Turismo 5 installing more than 40,000 individual files to your hard drive, this is of crucial importance.

What’s on your PS3 now?

There has been a wide range of different PlayStation 3 models over the years and traditionally Sony has been a particular supplier of hard drives by model. It may be the case that the choice of the disc is dictated entirely by the agreements that Sony can arrange with a particular supplier, as opposed to any real consideration of how good the disc itself really is.

One creator in particular we spoke to who uses the hard drive extensively to cache game data in his acclaimed open-world game told us, unofficially, how the 40GB disk’s performance level was significantly worse than the of the 60GB launch model, requiring the code to be rewritten to handle the weakest output signal.

A quick look at the discs used by Sony reveals a great degree of variety in disc specifications. The poor performance of the 40GB disk gets attention here just for the sake of basic statistics ?? not only are the data packed less densely on the platter, but the onboard cache of the disk is also a painful 2MB: the 60GB launch model disk had four times as much. Search time ?? a crucial element in the performance of a hard drive ?? it is also poor.

Based on what we know about the raw specs of the discs, the simple act of switching to a higher density disc should, in theory, give you an increase in performance.

The question is how much more performance can be gained by paying for a more expensive premium disc? In the four years since the PS3 was launched, will the HDD technology be so advanced that even a cheap HDD will surpass the performance of your original HDD?

Discs and test methods

While the SATA interface within the PS3 remains a constant, hard drive technology has improved dramatically over the years with disk vendors offering a range of models with significantly different performance levels. In our tests we included the original 60GB PS3 hard drive, along with these carefully chosen alternatives:

Therefore, an interesting range of discs is tested encompassing a range of levels of specifications and technologies, while the inclusion of original PS3 discs gives us a strong indication of the type of performance increase we can expect, if any.

When testing these discs we covered the process of installing game data from the Blu-ray drive and still using Gran Turismo 5 and Bioshock ?? two games with giant load times ?? to assess improvements in in-game performance.