SSDs are an enormous upgrade over conventional mechanical drives because they have no moving parts. Normal HDDs work by moving a head across the disk platter, seeking out the file the host unit is asking for, then reading it in. SSDs are different. Everything is written to flash RAM, and every file is accessed with ultra-low latencies – file access is typically in the region of 0.1ms.
Previous research has suggested that the advantages of running an SSD in a PS3 are slight to say the least – indeed, Digital Foundry’s PS3 hard drive upgrade guide struggled to find many advantages. Loading times are improved on many titles such as Gran Turismo 5, and you can shave seconds or even minutes off lengthy mandatory installs, but there’s little evidence that in-game performance is affected at all.
Could a Drive Upgrade Have “Cured” Skyrim PS3 Lag?
We noticed several miracle videos on YouTube that appeared to show that utilising an SSD inside the PlayStation 3 could mitigate the horrific impact of Rimlag – a bizarre phenomenon in which Skyrim players with large saves see game performance drop off a cliff after a certain period of time in-game. We’d been planning this feature for some time so arranged for our test drives to retain the older 2.02 patch. Note that this issue has now been largely resolved.
We utilised the same 65-hour save that we’d used in previous tests, wandering around each of the major towns and cities before fast-travelling to the next. In this way we can typically make the Rimlag issue kick in with a vengeance after about 40 minutes of gameplay. In this three-way comparison video, you can see that a hard drive upgrade makes a huge amount of difference to the overall performance level. The stock 60GB hard drive that came as standard with the launch PS3 didn’t fare particularly well here at all, and while there are still significant frame-rate dips with the hybrid drive and the SSD, we see three distinct tiers of performance.
At £1 per gigabyte (or below, if you shop about), it’s safe to say that SSD prices are still very much on the high side compared to conventional drives. But there’s still an opportunity to get good value. SSD prices are dropping, but the feature set of the drives is also improving in parallel – they’re getting faster and faster, and incorporating new technologies such as TRIM, which aims to constantly maintain performance over time, something the older SSDs didn’t do so well. The PlayStation 3 can’t access ultra-fast SSD speeds. The PS3 can’t stream data quickly enough by virtue of the fact that data needs to be buffered, and RAM is a finite resource on console. The PS3 obviously doesn’t support TRIM either. It’s in the 0.1ms access time that the SSD wins out, and that’s effectively a standard on all makes.
What this means is relatively straightforward: older SSDs are being dumped onto the used market, and because they don’t possess the latest and greatest features, bargains are there to be grabbed. We’d just recommend setting up a boot disc with HDDErase to ensure that the drive resets to factory performance levels and you should be set. The drive we used for this feature is rather old and long in the tooth, doesn’t support TRIM and struggles to top 200MB/s throughput. It’s a dinosaur in SSD terms, but it’s hard to imagine that any newer drive could do better – there are too many bottlenecks on the PS3 to get the most from a fully featured new drive. In short, an SSD upgrade will be expensive, but may not be quite as wallet-damaging as you may think.
Founder of GamertechTV, and EIC, executive editor of GamertechTV Read more from this author