One of the major advantages we write about in our PS3 vs XBOX 360 coverage that the Playstation 3 has over the XBOX 360 is that you can install just about any standard 2.5″ SATA hard drive into it. This means you can either buy a smaller capacity console at a lower cost and upgrade it to sizes that aren’t even available – 1.0 TB drives are just around $100 right now. Of course this also means that you can install an SSD, which uses the same 2.5″ form factor and SATA connectivity as the laptop drives the PS3 is designed for.
We’ve known this for a long time, of course. But what has changed recently is that for the first time, you can very fast drives with decent capacity for a relatively low price. We will be looking at a few of these drives in the near future, and that review will include the Sandforce SF-2281 powered OCZ Agility 3 120GB, which retails for just around $215 currently. No longer do you have to give up a lot of capacity to get SSD speed on your Playstation 3! But the question is, how much performance can you squeeze out of the console by using a relatively fast SSD? Let’s find out!
Before we get to how the SSD does in the PS3 itself, let’s see how it compares to the drive that comes equipped in the console by default. The newest system I have currently is a 250 GB slim purchased late last year. The hard drive used in this model is a Toshiba MK2555GSX. It’s not the newest – it has been supplanted by a 320 GB drive, which is most likely the exact same drive but in a larger capacity. The specs aren’t spectacular either – it’s a 5400 RPM drive purpose-built for low power consumption and silent operation.
Base Performance in Windows
Let’s see just how much faster the Agility 3 SSD is compared to this 5400 RPM laptop drive in the best environment possible – attached to an Intel P67 Sandy Bridge chipset with AHCI SATA 6.0 Gbps connectivity:
First up is the ATTO Sequential speed test, which bypasses the Windows cache. The results above display the 4MB file transfer test. This should give us an idea on how the drives perform at their absolute peak performance – probably not something you’ll see in real world scenarios however. As you can see, even at its best, the PS3 hard drive can only manage about 70 MB/s read/write while the Agility 3 breaks 500 MB/s. We already know that the PS3 only supports up to SATA 1however, so the Agility 3 would be capped at about 150 MB/s there.
Next let’s look at a real-world based test. AS SSD File Copy Test uses Windows to simply copy files from one part of the drive to the other, giving us a look at performance during simultaneous read and write operations. Three file types are used in this test:
ISO – two large files
Program – many small files
Game – a game folder with various sized files
In this more grounded real-world test, the SSD still easily smacks around the 5400 RPM PS3 drive. This will indicate how the drives will compare during game installs, and loading pre-installed levels.
Next up we’ll compare the drives in a Playstation 3 environment, using actual functons on the console. First let’s find out how long it will take to install a game downloaded from the PSN store. The example shown here is Wipeout HD, courtesy of Sony’s “Welcome Back” program ;) The game file is 1040 MB in size, and the results shown below are in seconds (lower score = better).
This probably wasn’t expected, was it? It looks like PSN game installs are so heavily compressed, the install speed is capped by the PS3’s decompression computation. In this case, the SSD only shaves off about 10 seconds in a nearly 2 minute installation. Nothing to get too excited about. Update: A reader reminded me of something I came across during testing for our upcoming SSD review – the Sandforce controller doesn’t run at peak performance with non-compressible or already-compressed data, so the SSD could be handicapped a bit here. That being said, even at its worst, the Agility 3 should be significantly faster than the stock hard drive (as you’ll see below) so I still believe this low score is due to the PS3 being process-capped in this test.
Next up is installation from a game disc. Most PS3 games require a mandatory install nowadays. This is due to Blu-Ray’s inherent low random access speed; loading levels from the disc would be excruciatingly slow. It should be interesting to see if we are also capped at the Blu-Ray’s sequential transfer speed – if it’s too low, then the SSD won’t buy us much time here either. The same would apply if the files being installs are compressed (which of course it not to be expected, since Blu-Ray can store so much data).
For this test, we’ll be using Gran Turismo 5’s relatively huge 6 GB file install:
That’s more like it! Installing to an SSD cuts the time nearly in half, even though we’re copying from optical media on the PS3’s slow SATA bus.
If you’ve ever done file operations from within the PS3’s XMB, you’d know how slow it can be to delete installed games or game data. For the next test, we’ll simply delete the GT5 install file:
The pure speed of the SSD is really showing well here. A function which would take over 5 minutes on the original hard drive is reduced to under a minute. This of course extends to all other functions that require file manipulation – uninstalling games, loading levels from within games, even exploring the XMB is noticeably faster with an SSD.
One issue that may be of concern is the PS3’s lack of TRIM support. Basically, because of how SSDs work, they become slower and slower and data is written and re-written. Most modern operating systems will support the drive’s “TRIM” functionality, which prevents this from happening. Since the PS3 lacks this ability, the SSD will eventually lose its performance.
However, since the PS3 isn’t writing a ton of data all the time, it may take a long time for this to become noticeable. And it is not likely to get to the point where it is as slow as the default drive. When the drive does become significantly slower, it might be feasible to attach the drive to a Windows system, and run an application such as this one which will force the drive to TRIM its data. You would only need to do this when performance is noticeably reduced.
Some drives, such as the Kingston V100 series, have their own firmware-based TRIM-like functionality. This is independent of the OS, so it would not require manual garbage collection.
We’ve seen people toy around with expensive SSDs in the Playstation 3 before. But until now, it has only really been for experimental purposes. Now I’m not saying that everyone should go out and buy drive which would nearly double the price of the PS3. But if you spend a lot of time gaming, and want to make it a far more enjoyable experience, why not pick up a mainstream SSD for $100-200 and pop it in? I’m sure most people could get away with a 60 GB drive. Even a 32 GB drive would be enough for me personally, as I rarely have more than a few games installed at one time. In that case, Patriot Memory’s $80 Torqx 2 32GB would be a great solution, for example. For a little more than the cost of one game, you could make every game perform significantly better. You’d just have to keep an eye on capacity.