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Due next year, a few details have been revealed about Sony’s next-generation console. The PlayStation 5 specs are:
- A third-generation AMD Ryzen CPU with eight cores
- A custom GPU built on AMD’s Radeon Navi family, with support for 8K, ray tracing and immersive 3D audio
- Due to hardware similarities, backwards compatibility with the PS4
- An SSD, rather than the usual mechanical drive, with loading times “ten times faster” than the PS4 Pro, when loading complex scenes
It’s that last item that I want to draw out. Sony used a comparison of loading times in a video demonstration, again against a PS4 Pro:
Is this a fair comparison?
To answer this, we first need to look at the technology involved here.
The PlayStation 4 ships with a mechanical drive connected to an ageing SATA 2 interface – these communicate at a rate of 3 Gbits/sec. Now, we’ll assume the PS5, coming with an SSD, has SATA 3 – these have a speed of 6 Gbits/sec or twice as fast.
But, here’s the thing – the PS4 Pro has a SATA 3 interface, too. It just happens to have a mechanical drive. So next, let’s discuss the general speed differences between a mechanical drive and an SSD.
Mechanical drive vs SSD
According to the excellent iFixit site, the PS4 Pro comes with a 2.5in HGST drive (A.K.A. a Western Digital Travelstar 5K1000). Now, it appears there are two models of this drive, each with the same model number, but one is SATA 2 and one is SATA 3 – the PS4 Pro appears to have the SATA 2 version installed. Independent tests suggest read speeds of around 108 Mbits/sec.
In comparison, if we pick a relatively run-of-the-mill SSD (in this case a 1TB Crucial MX500), then read speeds are now around 540 Mbits/sec – exactly five times quicker than the PS4 Pro drive. Now, there are faster drives around but it’s unlikely that Sony will bump up the cost of any console any more than it needs to – the drive in the PS5 is likely to be something very similar to this.
What we’ve learnt here is that the PS4 Pro could be quicker at loading game – it’s the choice of hard drive that makes it as slow as it currently is. Whip out the default drive and put in a reasonably priced SSD and you’ll instantly boost load times by around five times.
How is the PS5 twice as quick as that? There are various technologies, both software and hardware, that Sony may be employing, including additional caching, for example. But it’s also worth noting Sony’s choice of wording, that it’s only this quick when loading “complex scenes”. This would suggest that the extra speed is actually down to the CPU and/or GPU enhancements. So, although a new drive won’t boost PS4 load times by ten times, it will get them a lot closer to what Sony is promising for the PS5.
And that leads us back to the original question – is this a fair comparison?
Without a PS5 to test, we have to assume that it’s an accurate comparison. But it really needs footnoting that this is based on the default configuration of both machines and not what they’re capable of. However, comparing a PS4 Pro and PS5, both with SSDs, and showing the latter to be only twice as quick at loading doesn’t seem quite so impressive. And Sony want to impress shareholders and potential buyers alike.
From what we’ve learnt, the following statements seem to be the most likely scenario and better reflect the capabilities of the new machine:
- The PS5 is around twice as quick at loading complex scenes in games than a PS4 Pro with an SSD
- Standard loading times (starting a game, for example) probably take around the same amount of time
- If you use the default drives, complex scenes are ten times quicker at loading on a PS5
- Standard loading times in this set-up are probably five times as quick
Meantime, if you’re looking at the PS5 demonstrations with envy and have a PS4 Pro without an SSD, you can quash that red mist with a quick and easy drive update.
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