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The Escapist Show: Putting a SSD in a PS3

By Shamus
on Saturday Aug 8, 2009
Filed under:


I paused halfway through this movie, which talks about replacing the built-in PS3 hard drive with solid-state memory. Here is what I had to say at that point:

I’ve been hard on the PS3. Overpriced, hard to program, small library, etc etc etc. I was dubious of their claim that this would be a “ten year” console. It’s too hard to predict the future like that.

Instead of looking forward ten years, let’s look back to ten years before the PS3 came out. Imagine if someone had sat down in 1996 and designed a “gaming PC” that would still be relevant in 2006. It would have been impossible. They would have built some sort of souped-up version of a PC based on existing technology. No DVD drive. The graphics bus would have been AGP. The display would have been 16 bit. It would basically be a VooDoo chipset of some variety with a “ton” of memory. The designer of the ten-year PC wouldn’t have been able to allow for the move to 32 bit color, PCI busses, or vertex shaders. The machine would have been obsolete by 2002 no matter how much memory or CPU power it had been granted.

But I have to give Sony credit: They made the PS3 flexible enough that parts of the machine can be swapped out easily and without even voiding the warranty. With nothing more than a screwdriver you can take leaps forward and get more out of the machine, giving you access to technology that wasn’t feasible or affordable when the PS3 was conceived. Maybe the difficulty of the machine is the price we pay for this kind of flexibility.

And here is what I have to say after actually getting around to watching the end:

ZERO? NO IMPROVEMENT? This is your “ten year” console, Sony?

Now, there are plenty of reasons why this would be the case. As they mention in the video, the console might deliberately throttle incoming data because it’s easier to code for a system if the hardware is very predictable. But we’ve already established that the PS3 is not an easy platform to develop for. If the Xbox 360 throttled incoming HD data I would understand it as a reasonable development shortcut. But the 360 doesn’t have delusions of still being relevant in 2015. Sony does.

Expensive. Small library. Hard to program. And immunized against technological advances.

And by the way: One minute loading screens in Killzone 2? How is this thing supposed to keep up in 2016 when it seems to be struggling already?


Comments (43)

  1. Magnus says:

    I get the same feeling about Sony now, as I did about Sega before they fell out of the console market.

    Thankfully for Sega, they had games production/publishing and arcades to fall back on.

    Perhaps sony will go back to other areas of consumer electronics, and just be thankful that they killed off HD-DVD with their Blu-Ray.

  2. Jabor says:

    Presumably if there’s an artificial throttle imposed on data throughput, it would be removable with a firmware patch of some kind.

    Sort of like overclocking a desktop machine – make it run faster, at the expense of potentially breaking compatibility with some things.

  3. Carra says:

    They really said that this machine would last for 10 years? Incredible.

    The machine isn’t even three years old and it’s already getting beaten by top end pcs. Let alone in ten years.

  4. Peter H. Coffin says:

    Consistant user experience seems pretty likely, but there’s another factor to consider: The Blu-Ray drive. How much of the data during those load times is actually coming off the HDD and how much is coming from the BRD? What’s actually stored on the HDD? Are there license limits on how much HHD a single title can suck up?

  5. scragar says:

    I have heard that replacing the hard drive can speed up performance if you’re running yellow dog on the PS3(Which came about on a forum discussing the use of swap on said distro on a PS3), which leads me to suspect that it’s actually a firmware based limit.

    I just hope a future version of this firmware can give you an option or two to change these limits or turn off those limits. Otherwise it’s going to be a complete failure in future.

  6. Nyaz says:

    Is there a maximum size to the harddrive that can be put in the PS3?
    Because honestly, considering the amount one game sometimes tries to install onto the harddrive and then the standard size is… uh… what is it, 80 gigs? That’s just horrid in case you want to have more than, say, 10 games. If you can pump that up to a terabyte, things get more interesting.

    (Still, NO CHANGE? Sooooonyyyyyyy, what the hell)

  7. Zerotime says:

    Given that we’re only now getting desktop OS’ optimised for SSDs, it’s hardly surprising that the PS3 – based around a conventional HDD – isn’t optimised for use with SSDs.

  8. eri says:

    Apparently, the biggest limiting factor is the Blu-ray drive, not the hard disk drive. Blu-ray has extremely low read and write speeds (about 1-2x I believe), which is why disc-streaming technology doesn’t work too well on the PS3. Some developers have got away without requiring installs, but most have not. The reason there is no improvement in load times of games, I’m getting the impression, is because the hard disk drive has to wait for the Blu-ray drive, no matter how fast it is. Of course, a deliberate throttling isn’t out of the question either; the last thing Sony wants is their games to have variable system requirements. The entire point of a console is that it is “pick up and play”, and everyone gets a similar experience. Having upgradeable hardware with significant improvements to performance kind of defeats that.

    Also, The Escapist’s testing methodology was rather flawed. They installed some games during their testing, but since all the data has to be streamed from the disc, and the Blu-ray drive is going to be significantly slower than any hard drive in there, there’s no way you’d see an improvement anyway. If your Blu-ray drive is stuck dumping 1 MB/s and your hard drive can write at 80 MB/s, well, it’s not too hard to see why a hard drive with 150 MB/s writes wouldn’t be much improvement. They should have tried testing some download-only tites that are stored entirely on the hard drive, because I think there’s a chance you’d see an improvement there.

  9. eri says:

    As for the whole “ten year lifespan” thing: it’s bullshit. The consoles these days can barely churn out acceptable image quality at 720p resolutions while maintaining playable framerates – nearly all games that are praised for their graphics run at sub-HD resolutions, or have serious framerate issues that tend to get ignored. Just because your console is capable of decent-looking games at resolutions that PCs have been doing for the last decade doesn’t mean that you should claim you are the “HD generation”. Developers are really pushing the consoles as far as they can go these days, and while sure, some miracle teams can probably just keep going (like Criterion with Black, last generation), most developers do not have the time or money to pour into R&D to support ancient hardware.

    The advantage of a new console every five years is that you can take advantage of the new power immediately available to you with pretty good results, and then when things get more competitive, there’s still enough room above to improve without needing ten John Carmacks working for you. Furthermore, you simply cannot downplay the marketing potential of a new console. Sony can claim 10-year life cycles all they want to, but you can be damn sure they’ll be showing off the PS4 within the next year or two. I’d much sooner claim that the PS2 will have a 20-year life cycle than I would claim that the PS3 will have a 10-year life cycle.

  10. Chris says:

    The first DVD players were available in 1996, so a console designed in 1996 that aimed to be a 10-year deal would have definitely had a DVD drive. And it would have been really expensive.

  11. BarGamer says:

    This is why computers of the future will involve nanobots, or some crazy OS that only loosely depends on the physical limitations of this universe. :D

  12. Trianglehead says:

    “Don’t do this.” Hah. The IT guy cracked me up.

  13. Andrew F. says:

    I’m puzzled as to why limiting the HD read/write speed would make the developers’ jobs any easier. I certainly don’t have any difficulty running games that were developed long before the advent of SSDs on my SSD-equipped PC. SSDs use the same SATA standard as regular hard drives and are meant to be drop-in replacements; do developers really have to worry that users might run their software on faster, more advanced hardware than it was developed on?

    The only issue I can see is the possibility of non-throttled SSD PS3s becoming so commonplace that games are developed for SSD read/write speeds and PS3s with platter-based hard drives get left in the dust. That doesn’t seem very likely, though. It might behoove Sony to add firmware support for the TRIM command and other SSD-related optimizations in the future, but I can’t see any reason for them to artificially handicap SSDs right now.

    Kudos to Sony for at least allowing their customers to install an off-the-shelf drive in the PS3, though. Sure beats Microsoft’s charging $150 for their proprietary 120GB drive.

    • Shamus says:

      Andrew F. “do developers really have to worry that users might run their software on faster, more advanced hardware than it was developed on?”

      Constantly. Not just the CPU running fast, but input, output, framerate, all kinds of things. It’s one of the things that make PC development so much more challenging. You can’t take ANYTHING for granted.

  14. Factoid says:

    Meh…I don’t think Sony really had to do anything to make room for something like an SSD. They are essentially identical to a standard HDD as far as the console is concerned. It uses identical cabling and access commands. Any system that takes a SATA hard drive can take an SSD more or less.

    Sony was, to their credit, generous in not locking their hardware to particular models of hard drives, not making you use a specific type, size, etc…like microsoft did.

    Microsoft could do the exact same thing, but they are all about selling you an overpriced upgrade hard drive. I’m sure I’ll need one of those soon because my original 20GB drive is getting pretty full. Kinda sucks because I should really just be able to buy a 75$ 250GB drive from anywhere I want.

  15. Mayhem says:

    This reminds me of the years when CD-Rom drives were upping the speeds to 32x, 52x, Speed-of-Soundx. You can spin that disc as fast as you want, but the electronic data feed isn’t going to be any faster. You can’t put out faster than you can take in. The SSD might be relevant when the hardware advances enough to increase the data flow fast enough for it to take advantage of the technology, but by then, you might as well buy the newest console for the money you will put into the upgrades. In the end, you’d just end up with a $400 PS3 case with brand new internals that cost 3 times as much.

  16. ehlijen says:

    Correct me please, but I thought PCI graphics cards had been around before AGP cards? Am I remembering wrong? Did PCI recieve some upgrade afterwards? Or did I just misunderstand your statement?

    On the speed increase thing: When I learned programming with Qbasic, the only way of timing animations I was familiar with were waiting loops (‘do nothing’ instructions repeated a specific number of times to make sure the CPU wouldn’t get around to refreshing the screen until the viewer had time to see the image). Those things had to be custom calibrated for each and every CPU to time properly or the animation would be too slow or too fast. Programming languages have advanced far past that point (even back then, I just didn’t know them), but it serves to show what hardware improvements can do to programs.

  17. Otters34 says:

    About the loading:

    If I remember right, loading times are decided by how well the program’s made to unpack itself, not by how much the machine can lift and carry and reduce potential infection of the foot-and-mouth virus.

  18. Nico says:


    PCI cards have been around at the same time as AGP – what people are referring to is PCI-Express; these cards use a different type of architecture and allow data to be transferred much more quickly between the motherboard and video card.

  19. Alrenous says:

    You could definitely build a ten-year machine. It would just cost about $32 grand a unit.

    $500 – expensive console or really cheap PC.

    Moore’s law essentially means that computer power halves in cost every 18 months.

    Cut the time down to nine years to be generous, plus it makes exactly six doubling periods.

    $500 in (year+9) would be $32k of hardware today. Add some fudge factors for the costs of flexibility…and…

    I hope that statement is a marketing stunt by Sony, because even a back of the envelope calculation shows it to be insane. Don’t forget the absurd R&D costs, as well.

    Actually, if I were really being generous, I’d say that they tried to build the PS3 to be good enough they’d be able to skip the PS4, to have it last through two of the five-year console generation cycles. Those extra five years still quadruple the price, minimum. Unless they were planning on having the PS4 cost $150…

  20. ehlijen says:

    Nico: Ta, that explains it.

    Alrenous: That’s assuming that all the technology is arleady available today. Mostly because not all techology improvements are predictable. If you’d made this $32k machine 3 years ago, would you have included HDDVD or Blu Ray?
    If consoles were still completely independent, unconnected machines with a single purpose, it could work. But the trend to add functions beyond single player gaming requires more than just power. It also needs compatibility and making a machine that’ll still be compatible with everything in 10 years and as powerful as regular machines in the future. And that’s more a guessing game than an engineering feat.

  21. Jabor says:

    do developers really have to worry that users might run their software on faster, more advanced hardware than it was developed on?

    Try playing an early-days PC game without throttling. They’re usually unplayably-fast, because the developers used a “known” speed (the CPU’s clock rate) to determine how fast the game should progress. This is the same reason that the “turbo” switch was included on faster models back then – to slow the computer down so it could play those games properly.

    It’s not too hard to imagine a console developer stipulating that “such-and-such event should fire as soon as we’ve loaded all the data for it”.

  22. Christian Groff says:

    I don’t care if I can’t play any good games on it. The only games I want to play on it are Little Big Planet and Disgaea 3, with all their downloadable content. If they can satisfy me with that, then I’m satisfied.

    No, what’s really p****s me off is Spore’s expansion. If their new content can’t even deliver because the game won’t download the freaking items and creatures needed to run it, then the patch makes the quick-play option impossible to reach, Maxis is in deep trouble…

  23. Kdansky says:

    Even though I pretty much suspected a “not that much faster” result, 0% improvement is suprising. SSDs are overrated in the media for a couple reasons: They do have faster random access times than disks and are cool right now. Sequential access (where you just read a lot of data from A to Z) is still faster on old disks, or at least not worse. The problem comes with software or controllers: Since everyone writing access code assumes that sequential access will happen, everything is optimized for it. This starts with B-trees (datastructures which are good on disks and bad in RAM, but since your disk is 1000 times slower than your RAM, that’s totally fine) and ends with caching (read all data, no matter if you actually need it).

    The PS3 probably agressively caches from the disk, which means that any gain the SSD could produce (by not caching) quickly gets lost.

    Still, the exact same time seems to point to a bottleneck somewhere completely different, or else there would be *some* variance.

  24. LintMan says:

    I don’t have a PS3, so I’m not sure: Does the PS3 fully install its games to the hard drive? I kinda thought that they actually loaded/played right off the blu-ray. I seem to recall reading Tycho complaining about that inability to play off hd (compared to an xbox, which can).

    Is it accessing the blu-ray at all during the load screens? If it’s pulling even just pieces of the game off the blu-ray, that could negate any benefit from the faster hard disk. In that case, the only time you would see a benefit is in saving your game and restoring saves. (Or playing any downloadable games, I suppose).

    Yeah, that would be the best test for this, if those guys had tried benchmarking some downloadable games (PS3 has those, doesn’t it?) or at least timing the save/load times. That would remove the potential blu-ray factor.

    I really can’t see Sony intentionally throttling the hard disk transfer rate just for the added consistency – it wouldn’t really buy them anything… most hd accesses are going to be during loading screens where it would only help, and if they are streaming media in from the hd during gameplay, they really have to have a better way to keep the playback consistent without relying on the hd access rate to do it. Because even if they cap the speed, the access times can vary because of where/how the file is located on the disk. A highly fragmented file will load slower than a sequential one.

    But it’s possible Sony skimped on the IO hardware, ie: a slow disk controller or peripheral IO bus on its processor could be a bottleneck. I just did some googling on this and found this page:
    SATA 300 on PS3?

    The first guy’s answer states my thought about the PS3 games loading from blu-ray. The last reply states that the PS3 only supports SATA 150. (I believe all the SSD drives are SATA 300). So there you go, I guess.

  25. Zelos says:

    I think the PS3 uses an encrypted volume to store all its data, the speed bottleneck is the decryption of the data when reading/writing.

  26. JKjoker says:

    i dont think its deliberate, its probably a hardware bottleneck somewhere, most likely drm-encryption related (like Zelos said)

  27. Ell Jay says:

    The first thing that comes to my mind when I see “SSD” isn’t “solid state memory,” but rather “Super Star Destroyer.” I’m not sure if that makes me more or LESS nerdy.

  28. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Whats the deal with console load times anyway?Wasnt the consoles main selling point that you can just put the game in and play?No instalation,no load time,nothing.Now,its just a limited computer(that costs as much as a regular,non limited,easilly updatable one).

  29. Nathan says:

    You know, Sony made that claim not because the PS3 was designed to be upgradable and top of the line for 10 years, but because it was the successor to the PS2, which has already nearly had a 10 year life cycle as one of the most important consoles in the world.

    Seriously, the PS2 was released in early 2000, and even now in 2009 people are still making games for it that are quite successful. Even very recently it was selling better than the PS3 and bringing in much-needed revenue for Sony. That is literally ten years of success.

    Consoles don’t succeed and stay relevant by constantly upgrading technology, they stay successful by being stable platforms for lots of quality games. Long console lifetimes are good because it means things don’t change, so that developers have more stable development environments and consumers are not burdened by excessive upgrade costs.

    So basically, I think the entire line of argumentation Shamus just used in this post is completely off-base.

    Still, it is looking pretty bad for the PS3. Of course, all signs are pointing to the possibility that this will be an extended console cycle for all of the major consoles, so Sony may be stuck with the PS3 for several more years whether they like it or not…

  30. rofltehcat says:

    I never liked the whole console concept. You basically buy an outdated, not upgradeable pc that couldn’t even surf (although console-developers seem to make consoles more pc-like now) and games cost 10-15 € more? Wooo!

    Also there just isn’t enough space for 3 consoles. Back in the day you had the SNES/N64 for the more colorful, childish games and the PS for more serious games.
    Now you got the Wii for childish, colorful, gadgety games and both the PS3 and the Xbox for the serious stuff.

  31. james braselton says:


  32. JKjoker says:

    i doubt well see a ps4 for a looong time, only nintendo is making money with them, ms and sony are still trying to break even, while they might look successful this console gen is a huge failure for them so far with the red ring of death, the development and production problems, the exponential software dev costs and they are still struggling to have a game library 1/100 as colorful as the ps2 one (hell, console game of the year in 2008 was Persona 4 and it was for ps2)

    what we will probably see is updates to the online services to offer more DLC crap and some useless gimmicks like natal, and i wouldnt be surprised to see more companies like Capcom to start taking PC a little more seriously the next couple of years

  33. Mark says:

    All of this assumes that graphics/processing power need to continue to increase at a linear rate until 2016. As one other commenter noted, the PS2 is nearing the 10 year mark, and it has a gigantic library of games and even a few new ones coming out. Look at the NPDs and you see the PS2 is selling almost as much if not more than the PS3. I think it’s possible for the PS3 to still be around and kicking in 2016.

    I think the Xbox 360 and PS3 kinda overshot the market. The consoles were ridiculously expensive when they came out (the PS3 more than the 360, but still). Development costs for games on the system are very high and while the output is in HD, most of the US does not yet own HD televisions. The biggest winner of this generation is the Wii, with its SD graphics and turn of the century graphics hardware. Developing the game for the Wii is comparitively cheap, and you’ve got a much larger install base to sell to. Granted, the Wii has not delivered too much on its potential, but that just means it can live a while longer as well. New peripherals seem to be coming out with relative frequency, blurring the line between generations. Even Sony is moving towards this sort of thing with its motion control system. It seems clear to me that the future of gaming is not dependent on graphics. If you’ve got good content and fun games, your system can thrive. So I could see both the Wii and PS3 being around in 5 years. I’m not sure about the Xbox. They seem to be moving in an entirely different direction…

    I’d bet we’ll see minor tweaks and improvements, along the lines of the PS3 slim or a 360 augmented by Natal. Or any number of new peripherals and other minor improvements…

  34. MegaGeek says:

    Ah, the poor Playstation 3. I bought one about six months ago and it’s already relegated to being a spare DVD player. Sure, some games can be good on a console (having your mates gather around the PC for a spot of Guitar Hero is not exactly ideal), but consoles won’t replace my PC any time soon.

    Shamus, I would just like to say I really enjoy your site. Interesting topics with well thought-out opinions, comments that feature proficient use of the English language and no flame wars. Brilliant.

    I don’t know if you have looked at adding your favicon into your RSS feed. My knowledge on the subject is very limited but I’m sure I’ve heard mention of WordPress plugins that can do just that. Sorry to be anally retentive about it, but the Twenty Sided feed is the only one in my favourites bar (IE8) without a favicon. Grrr.

  35. Draco says:

    They mainly used a comparison of install times, where the HDD is not the only factor involved. If the disk operates at a given data rate, changing the hard drive does not change that data rate.

    Lots of installs don’t involve installing the level information on a PS3. If he wanted a fair comparison, he should have taken the load times for a game that has an optional install option, where HDD speed -is- a known factor, like Street Fighter 4, or Valkyria Chronicles.

  36. MrMurphy says:

    Words fail me.

    And him.

  37. Nyaz says:

    @james braselton: …Huh?

  38. houser2112 says:

    @28: You’re not the only one, I thought the exact same thing when I read the title of this post. I thought it was related to making the Executor appear in some Star Wars title, or make an already existing SSD to have the “correct” dimensions.

  39. Ryan says:

    Seems fine to me if they keep the PS3 around. Development costs are through the roof with this cycle alone. I can only imagine how it would be in 10 years or so. Death to good graphics, right? I think the graphics of this generation is good enough, I don’t even think we need another cycle.
    Consoles are not like PC’s, I think this cycle will be around for a long time. The PS2 is 9 years old and games are still being released for it. I’m playin’ Persona 4 and that was released last year.

  40. I guess the next-next generation of consoles will come out handicapped from the start (for instance, running at just 10% power) and get increasing performance upgrades via updates every year… That should work for Sony…

  41. I do not leave a ton of responses, but i did some searching and wound up here The Escapist Show: Putting a SSD in a PS3 – Twenty Sided. And I actually do have a couple of questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be just me or does it look as if like a few of these remarks look like left by brain dead people? :-P And, if you are writing on other places, I would like to keep up with anything fresh you have to post. Could you make a list of every one of your public sites like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

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