Is it time for a PS4 SSD upgrade?

It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In testing Just Cause 3 on PS4 and Xbox One, we found ourselves slumped in front of our screens, waiting for interminably long load times to finally complete. At its worst, Avalanche’s open world title chalked up a remarkable two minute wait, even with the day one patch installed. Similar to Bloodborne last year, it required later patches to address the issue, but regardless, we had to do something – anything – to mitigate this issue. And as things stand, I’ve gone for the nuclear option: I’ve installed an SSD.

The price of solid state drives has crumbled remarkably in recent years, and today, even a 480GB SSD can be had for around £100 (or £80 in a good sale). For PlayStation 4, upgrading its stock 5400rpm hard drive to something better is a relatively easy process, and in some cases a growing necessity. Loading times are painstakingly long in certain games – notably Just Cause 3 and The Witcher 3, where the stock HDD takes over a minute to start a new game, or load a save.

So, cards on the table: we’ve pitted the PS4’s stock drive against a 480GB Trion 100 SSD from OCZ, and also a hybrid 1TB Seagate SSHD – a 5400rpm mechanical drive backed up with an 8GB cache of SSD-like NAND. The thinking here is that, while solid state technology will trump a mechanical drives every time – and in fact, it comes out first in all six games tested – is it always the best value upgrade for the money? Or does it simply depend on the title at hand?

Involving an SSHD gives us a middle ground between the two technologies. In the case of our test 1TB hybrid drive, we’re getting double the capacity at a lower price point overall. The hybrid’s combination of a mechanical drive with a solid state cache has benefits for PS4, boosting loading times across all games while sidestepping the need to constantly juggle game installs. The downside? It always falls short of a full-blown SSD, where data is read and written directly to flash memory, rather than locating data on a spinning platter.

To the tests, then. But before we kick off, it’s worth noting that in-game performance is generally unaffected by storage upgrades. Frame-rates are identical from what we’ve tested, while object draw distances remain fixed in place, regardless of the drive – only Trials Fusion’s virtual texturing tech tends to see any genuine improvement. Last-gen machines were a different beast of course, with software at the mercy of streaming from disc or a partial HDD install, incurring asset pop-in. But today, it’s far simpler. In other words, all eyes are on how SSD and SSHDs benefit loading times, and what that means for the playing experience.