Can using an SSD improve performance on PS3?.
It’s impossible to improve your console’s in-game performance, right? All units are the same, so the game experience must be identical on any machine. While this is true for virtually every console game available, PlayStation 3 is unique in that you can upgrade your hard drive with any replacement you want – and that includes top-of-the-line SSD (solid state disc) technology.
SSDs are a huge improvement over conventional mechanical drives because they have no moving parts. Normal HDD discs work when a head moves along the plate on the disc, looking for the file the drive is looking for, then reading it. SSDs are different. Everything is written in flash RAM, and all files are accessed with ultra-low latencies – access to files is usually around 0.1ms.
Previous research has suggested that the benefits of running an SSD on a PS3 are slight to say the least, in fact, Digital Foundry’s PS3 drive improvement guide had a hard time finding any advantages. Load times have been improved on many titles like Gran Turismo 5, and you could cut seconds or even minutes on extended mandatory installations, but there is little evidence that in-game performance is even affected.
Despite our findings, SSD performance videos proliferate on YouTube and most seem to suggest that there are tangible improvements when upgrading.
“Studios are reaching the limits of console performance, and in the face of RAM disruptions, game creators turn to the hard drive to stream content behind the scenes. So faster HDDs can improve game performance. ? ”
So maybe now is the time to reconsider the merits of an SSD improvement – or at least consider the merits of a faster drive. The bottom line is that the PS3 life cycle is maturing. The studios are reaching the limits of the machine’s performance, and in the face of RAM disruptions, game makers turn to the hard drive to read content behind the scenes. Games like Rage by id Software demonstrate how studios are starting to rely on the hard drive extensively, while a plausible theory behind Skyrim’s latency problem is that the studio relied on the hard drive to store data to compensate for RAM problems in the PS3 – a line of thought born out of our conversations with the company when approaching Rimlag: all of our conversations with Bethesda seemed to be about the disc we were using and its status.
So can an SSD really improve in-game performance? We decided to test it over a number of titles. We based our comparisons across three different disks: the standard 60GB HDD from the initial PS3, a hybrid from Seagate, the Momentus XT SSD / 7200rpm, and finally a Samsung PM800 SSD: hardly a top model, but it shouldn’t matter – search time is king here, and some might argue that a 500MB / s pass is irrelevant when your system only has 512MB of RAM in total.
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We added the Seagate hybrid for a couple of reasons. First, we want to equate a disk at 7200rpm (which should give considerably lower search times). Second, PS3 also uses the hard drive as a cache for studios to use as they wish. The hybrid stores the most frequently accessed sectors of the disk in a state of solid memory and our thought was that the disk may well identify this partition and try to make use of it.
Now, let’s see what these discs can do with some PS3 gameplay …
The Mega Textures giants: Rage and Brink
Id Software’s Rage clearly had some intrusive problems in the PS3 version, dropping frequently to sub-HD resolutions and featuring a discouraging texture pop-in. The company’s pioneering mega-texture technology involves separating the scene into a multitude of small graphic elements that are then read from the optical drive and the hard disk. In short, it is really the type of game that should benefit from an upgrade to SSD.
And so it does: here is a video demonstrating how texture storage problems in Rage are radically improved when moving to an SSD. Note that they do not disappear completely as some say – however, in some areas the amount of resolution is quite astonishing. Also check out how the SSD hybrid behaves. Although we are not 100% convinced that SSD memory is being strained here, it nevertheless suggests that there are advantages to be gained by simply switching to a fast disk at 720rpm.
“An improvement to SSD is not going to completely eliminate the texture pop-in problem in Rage, but the improvement over the original PS3 60GB disk is pretty amazing.”
Of course, Rage is not the only game to use mega texture technology. British studio Splash Damage also uses a variation of the same technique on its FPS Brink. On a standard disc, this basically presented the same problems as Rage – low resolution artwork to be read, with full detail textures appearing on the screen with some delay. However, the overall presentation didn’t have as many problems as Rage, and in fact, it easily beat the Xbox 360 version – something that the id game couldn’t. Another key difference with Rage is that Brink uses the disk cache extensively but does not need any installation.
The results in this game were like patches. There was undoubtedly a general improvement with the SSD and hybrid drives, but it was not a truly noticeable increase as it was with Rage. Interestingly, the improvements we saw seemed to be basically the same between the SSD and the hybrid disk.