Installing an SSD flash drive to your PlayStation 3 can radically cut down the loading times in Polyphony Digital's PS3 magnum opus, Gran Turismo 5.
Testing by "Phil" on the Beyond3D forum reveals that in many cases pre-race loading is cut by more than 50 per cent, making the lengthy wait between events that much more tolerable. In all test cases within GT5, there is a considerable improvement.
The experiments were performed on two PS3s - the SSD (a state-of-the-art Corsair F120) was installed into a standard "fat" PlayStation 3, while the hard drive measurements were carried out on a stock PS3 Slim. The improvements in loading performance are somewhat significant, as Phil's results reveal.
|Test||Corsair F120 SSD||PlayStation 3 Slim HDD|
|GT5 Initial Loading||29 seconds||55 seconds|
|Loading London (Zonda R)||19.26 seconds||39.47 seconds|
|Loading Cape Ring (Zonda R)||20.03 seconds||40.71 seconds|
|Loading Nürburgring GP/F (Zonda R)||25.12 seconds||46.45 seconds|
|Loading Suzuka (Zonda R)||21.73 seconds||43.82 seconds|
|Loading Chamonix Main (Ford RS WRC)||21.25 seconds||31.09 seconds|
Other testing seems to corroborate the results and suggests that an SSD cuts down the 42-minute install to 25 minutes, and hints at smoother performance in the menu system too - which would make sense since so much data is cached to the drive.
We've carried out our own SSD testing in the past (with a first-generation 128GB Samsung SSD) and found that while game install times were undoubtedly improved, the actual impact of the SSD during gameplay was limited: a few seconds saved here and there, but nothing really to write home about, and certainly nothing to warrant the excessive price of an SSD up against a traditional mechanical drive.
The case of Gran Turismo 5 is intriguing, however. The game only installs an initial 6.5GB of data to the hard drive, but this takes a suprisingly long 42 minutes on a launch 60GB PS3. As we mentioned in the GT5 installation analysis feature, the reason behind this is fairly straightforward - the game is de-archiving an inordinately large amount of tiny files and dumping them onto the hard drive (having a debug test unit allows us to peek at the drive contents fairly easily). While installing, each new file will require an update to the drive's table of contents and with each new file, the head on the hard drive will be moved. To give you some idea of the make-up of the HDD install of GT5, in one folder entitled "PDIPFS" we found in excess of 15,800 items, while in a second "PDIPFS_bdmark" folder, we found another, similarly colossal number of items.
SSDs are blazingly fast (to the point where installing an SSD into a laptop is probably the single most impressive tech upgrade you can make to one) but the headline sustained read and write speeds - often in excess of 200MB per second - aren't really relevant to either everyday computing or indeed running GT5. More important is that crucial lack of mechanical heads zooming around the surface of the disk, looking for the next file to load. Moving from file to file is virtually instantaneous. Combine that with the faster-than-HDD reading times and that's most likely the major reason why GT5's loading is so radically improved. As a bonus, the process of additional dynamic installation after the original 6.5GB install should also be considerably faster.
In a world where PS3-compatible 2.5" laptop drives are dropping in price like a stone, the notion of spending around £200 for a 120GB SSD remains pretty ridiculous, but the tests do highlight how important seek times are, and if you're thinking of upgrading your PS3 hard disk, this is well worth factoring into a potential purchasing decision.
The experiments also show that flash memory - also dropping in price all the time - may have an important part to play in the make-up of a potential next-generation console, perhaps working in concert with a traditional mechanical drive.