What Makes the PlayStation 5 SSD Unique?

Everyone is talking about the PS5 SSD, but what really makes it so special?

PlayStation 5
Photo: Sony

The potential of the PS5 SSD has been one of the console’s biggest talking points ever since Sony confirmed that the device will take advantage of one of the biggest hardware advancements to hit the mass market in the last decade. PS5 developers everywhere have been praising the PS5 SSD, and the most adamant PS5 fans will quickly tell you about all the wonderful things the console’s SSD will finally make possible.

All of that hype may leave you with the simple question: “What makes the PS5 SSD unique?”

That’s a more than fair question that’s complicated somewhat by the fact that we haven’t gotten the chance to spend a significant amount of time with the PS5’s SSD and a lineup of next-gen games. However, if you’re wondering just what it is about the PS5’s SSD that not only makes it better than the PS4’s storage options but potentially more powerful than the Xbox Series X’ SSD, then we can begin to answer that question by breaking down the PS5 SSD’s various advancements over what has come before and what else is out there.

What Makes the PS5 SSD Faster Than the PS4’s HDD?

The quick answer to that question is “everything,” but if you’re looking for a more detailed response, then it has to start with the advantages that even the simplest SSDs offer in comparison to even the best HDDs.

Ad – content continues below

SSDs are like HDDs except for the fact that they replace the moving parts of HDDs with electrical and flash components that can perform essential writing functions significantly faster. That’s an incredibly basic explanation of the differences, but what you really need to know about is the pure speed advantages that the PS5’s SSD offers over the PS4’s storage solution.

Early tests and data released by Sony suggest that the PS5’s SSD will be able to load 2GB of data in 0.27 seconds whereas the PS4 took 20 seconds to load 1GB of data. That will lead to faster load times in games (one of the biggest selling points of an SSD), but that’s really only the start of the advantages you’ll notice when comparing PS4 games to PS5 titles. For instance, the PS5’s reported 5.5GB/s raw bandwidth and reportedly “instantaneous” seek time (which represent significant improvements over the PS4’s 50-100MB/s bandwidth and 2-50 millisecond seek time) could fundamentally change how developers approach the design of modern titles.

Before we get into that, though, there’s one more key component of the PS5 SSD you need to know about.

Why is the PS5’s NVME SSD Faster Than Standard SSDs?

The PS5 not only features an SSD (which, again, are immediate and significant improvements over HDDs) but it features a top-of-the-line example of an NVME SSD.

NVME SSDs utilize PCIe sockets over the SATA connection used by early SSD models and older HDD models. Again, we won’t dive too much into the dry specifics, but your takeaway as a gamer should be that NVME SSDs are not only able to transfer data faster by abandoning the somewhat outdated SATA middleman but are designed to work more directly with a hardware’s CPU and other core performance components.

That piece of information allows us to more effectively answer the question we posed at the start of this article.

Ad – content continues below

What Makes the PS5 SSD Unique?

Again, it’s difficult to answer this question in-depth without getting our hands on a PS5, a lineup of next-gen titles, and a full team of technical experts, but the basic elements that set the PS5’s SSD apart have already been established.

First off, the PS5’s SSD is fast even by high-end modern standards. One-to-one comparisons in this arena are somewhat tricky and potentially misleading, but early reports indicate that the PS5’s 5.5GB per-second bandwidth essentially doubles the Xbox Series X’s 2.4GB per second speed. “Twice as powerful” isn’t an entirely accurate statement, but the point is that the PS5 SSD is lightning fast from a pure hardware perspective.

While that’s what makes the PS5’s SSD powerful, what makes it unique is the way that Sony integrated it into the console’s architecture. You can essentially buy an NVME SSD for your PC that’s roughly as fast as the one in the PS5 (at least on paper), but the PS5 SSD utilizes custom components such as a 12 channel flash controller that is designed to limit the impact of the bottleneck problems that hinder the potential of even the best modern SSDs. Sony’s hope is that the efficient design of their SSD will limit the workload of the hardware’s RAM and CPU and allow the PS5’s processor to focus on reducing lag in your games rather than constantly needing to babysit basic data transfers.

That’s where things really get interesting. Assuming Sony isn’t overhyping the functionality of the PS5’s custom SSD (and even they admit that there is still work to be done in terms of optimization) then the PS5 SSD will maximize the functionality of the console’s CPU and RAM in such a way that allows developers to change how they approach core design concepts. Namely, the PS5’s SSD could not only reduce load times but impact how data is presented to you from a visual standpoint. That means you could play an Elder Scrolls game (assuming The Elder Scrolls 6 comes to PS5) where dungeon activity functions regardless of whether you’ve actively loaded the dungeon or a GTA game where you can see clear across the city and look into nearly every home. All of that would be made possible by the ways that the PS5 SSD is designed to maximize data transfer speed while asking less of the rest of the console.

As exciting as that is, we have to emphasize that the things that make the PS5’s SSD unique in an exciting way also potentially hinder its reach. Because the PS5 SSD is designed to take advantage of the rest of the system’s architecture, that means that third-party developers could need to develop the PS5 versions of their games slightly differently in order to utilize the console’s resource management compatibilities. It’s already been suggested that some third-party developers likely won’t do that, meaning that the difference between Xbox Series X load times in a game like Madden and PS5 load times in the same game probably won’t be too far apart.

However, first-party developers who are able to take advantage of the PS5’s architecture (which is anchored by its unique SSD) when developing next-gen exclusives may just be the ones to show us what happens when you not only develop a game knowing that everyone who plays it will have access to an SSD but knowing that they’ll be able to access a very powerful SSD that is designed to run those games as optimally as possible.

Ad – content continues below