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Now that the PlayStation 5 officially supports third-party storage devices, the review community has gotten to work evaluating performance and compatibility. Sony’s decision to support a wide range of storage products on the PS5 is something of an about-face for the company. In the past, Sony has often used its electronics and console divisions strategically to drive a standard into the mass market or to create a market for a given type of storage.
Supporting a wide range of SSDs means it’s possible that some drives won’t work well. Sony themselves alluded to this in an FAQ when they warned against using drives that rely on Host Memory Buffer (HMB). While higher-end SSDs tend to use DRAM caches and lower-end drives may have no cache at all, there’s an intermediate method of caching data in which part of the system memory is used to cache for the SSD. There don’t appear to be many PCIe 4.0 HMB drives in-market yet, but the reports coming back suggest the PS5 plays nicely with a lot of different storage products, including some that offer maximum transfer speeds well below what the PS5 officially requires.
Eurogamer recently put the WD SN 750 and SN 850 through their paces relative to the PlayStation 5. The SN 750 doesn’t even come close to meeting the PS5’s recommended 5500MB/s sequential read bandwidth requirement, topping out at just — “just” — 3200MB/s. This is just 58 percent of what Sony specifies and should be more than enough to see problems in-game.
Those problems, thankfully, don’t seem to exist. According to Eurogamer’s latest testing, even the SN750 kept pace with Sony’s internal SSD ably enough.
Things are a little different in the game copying tests, however. Here, the 250GB SN750 sometimes took 3-9 minutes to copy game files while the SN850 and the PS5’s internal hard drive finished the same workloads in 1-3 minutes. The discrepancy was not universal — some games copied equally quickly to both platforms — and the file copies completed correctly in all cases.
Can You Get By With a Cheaper SSD?
Considering how rare it is to buy a console at MSRP these days, anyone who gets their hands on a PlayStation 5 may not feel like spending top dollar on storage on top of that. Can you get away with a less expensive drive on the PlayStation 5?
So far, it looks like the answer is a nuanced yes. Specifically: Don’t spend any money you can’t afford to spend twice. It is possible that future titles will push the PlayStation 5’s storage system more aggressively. Sony built the system around a guaranteed level of performance and developers will probably find ways to take advantage of that performance as time goes by. It’s not necessarily surprising that we don’t see games pushing the boundaries of what the PlayStation 5’s storage array can do. It’s not if we ever will.
There have been times in the past when one console’s more limited capabilities in a given area kept another system from taking full advantage of its own strengths. Microsoft’s Xbox Series X only offers about half the theoretical storage bandwidth of the PS5, which means developers who aren’t working on Sony exclusives may target the lower-end specification in most cases.
On the other hand, it’s still the early days of this generation and game developers always get better at tapping a system’s resources over time. It would be a mistake to assume that the handful of next-generation games represent the final word on what the PS5 can do. There may come a day when the SN750 or any drive that follows is not fast enough to keep up with a given in-game workload.
In that situation, you’ll have one of two options: Free up space on your Sony-installed drive and drop the game there instead, shifting a different purchase to your own SSD, or replacing the SSD inside your console with one that meets spec. Provided you’re willing to take the risk on needing to swap it out at some point down the line, there doesn’t seem to be a short-term risk to trying a lower-cost drive now.
Readers who don’t feel like living dangerously should stick with drives that meet Sony’s official standards.