PS5 SSD speed test: slower drives work

If your PS5 is already running out of speedy solid state storage, there’s a fix on the way. Sony’s new beta update for the PS5 allows you to expand your paltry 667GB of usable space by popping in the same sort of M.2 SSD stick you might slip into your laptop or desktop PC. My colleague Mitchell has a PS5 SSD buying guide right here that meets all of Sony’s recommendations, such as speeds of at least 5,500MB/s. That might leave you wondering, though: what about slower SSDs?

That’s why we tracked down an ADATA XPG Gammix S50 Lite, one of the slowest compatible PCIe Gen4 drives we could find at 3,900MB/s reads and 3,200MB/s writes, and stuck it into a PS5, along with another drive.

The PS5 reads 3898.001 megabytes per second in its speed test

Yep, that’s a 3900MB/s drive all right.
Image by Sean Hollister / The Stock Market Pioneer

We compared the S50 Lite against both the PS5’s internal SSD and a 5,000MB/s Sabrent Rocket 500GB in a battery of tests, including load times for games like early PS5 showcases Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart and Spider-Man: Miles Morales. We also measured how long it takes to back up games to each kind of drive, throwing in a Seagate external HDD for comparison, since Sony now allows you to archive PS5 games and play PS4 games from an traditional hard drive.

The verdict? Surprisingly, even the slowest compatible SSD we could find had near-identical load times to the one Sony includes in the box. Sometimes it’s a second slower, sometimes a second or two faster, but basically it’s a total wash. Hopping through dimensions in Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, I saw no appreciable difference with the slowest SSD.

PS5 SSD load times

Game Internal SSD Sabrent Rocket XPG Gammix S50 Lite External HDD
Game Internal SSD Sabrent Rocket XPG Gammix S50 Lite External HDD
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart 14 sec 14 sec 15 sec N/A
Returnal 30 sec 30 sec 31 sec N/A
Spider-Man: Miles Morales (PS5) 19 sec 18 sec 17 sec N/A
FFVII Remake (PS5) 10 sec 10 sec 10 sec N/A
FFVII Remake (PS4) 43 sec 43 sec 43 sec 58 sec
Yakuza Like a Dragon (PS5) 31 sec 32 sec 32 sec N/A
Yakuza Like a Dragon (PS4) 37 sec 37 sec 35 sec 52 sec

Average; measured from PS5 homescreen to active gameplay.

I also didn’t necessarily see a huge difference between the drives when it comes to transferring games back and forth, but there was one big surprise: at least in this beta, it appears that Sony may be throttling the write speed of the PS5’s own internal drive. It took only 2:26 to send both PS5 and PS4 copies of Final Fantasy VII Remake to the Sabrent SSD, for instance, but 12:47 to go back to the PS5 — over five times longer.

On average, I saw write speeds of around 1,100MB/s transferring my five test games to either of my add-in M.2 drives, but just around 220MB/s sending those same games back to the PS5. Both of those are far better than the 141MB/s average transfer speeds I saw sending games to the Seagate HDD and the 97MB/s I saw beaming them back — it took over half an hour (31:24) to transfer the Final Fantasy games’ 176.5GB back to the internal SSD. But the slower internal SSD write speeds are weird, and Sony didn’t have a comment when I asked.

For now, the bigger question is this: will game developers fully optimize their games for the incredible speeds an SSD can afford?

For instance, take a look at our load times for Final Fantasy VII Remake in the chart above. Regardless of drive, the PS4 version takes over four times longer to load! It’s the difference between waiting through a loading screen filled with gameplay tips to keep you occupied, and — at 10 seconds flat from the time you leave the PS5’s home screen to the time you can move Cloud Strife in your save game — barely seeing a loading screen at all. The latter is incredible to behold.

Also, see those Spider-Man: Miles Morales numbers? The game doesn’t always load as quickly as it could. Sometimes, you’ll boot up the game to see Marvel, Insomniac, and PlayStation Studios intros that eat up a whole 26 seconds, making the game take more like 43 seconds to load in total. But other times, it’ll mysteriously bypass those, loading in more like 17 seconds, and I couldn’t figure out why. I’d love to have a toggle to turn off those intros, and here’s hoping more PS5 games skip them as well.

Would I run out and buy the slowest PCIe Gen4 SSD I can buy for my PS5? I’m not so sure, because Sony picked its recommended SSD spec for a reason — even if today’s games and today’s PS5 aren’t taking full advantage, developers may need that additional headroom in the future. They’ve been promised 5,500MB/s to deliver instant game worlds, and I’d hate to find out I bought the wrong drive years down the road.

Plus, there might already be some moments in Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart where you’ll notice a difference, says Insomniac technical director Mike Fitzgerald:

Then again, Microsoft also uses an SSD in its Xbox Series X, but one with less than half the raw performance at 2.4GB/s instead of the PS5’s 5.5GB/s. So even if developers do take advantage, it’s possible many next-gen games never see the full benefit if they’re targeting both Xbox and PlayStation instead of PS5 specifically. You’ll likely see the most benefit from Sony’s exclusive PlayStation Studios titles, though Square Enix’s speedy Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade load times gives me hope for more.

Either way, for a list of SSDs that actually meet Sony’s requirements and recommendations, here’s our buying guide.

Photo by Tom Warren / The Stock Market Pioneer

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