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New Xbox Experience: DVD vs. Hard Disk Face-Off • Page 2

Is it worth installing stuff? We investigate.

Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise

Install Size: 5.2GB

The Viva Piñata experience was designed to be as user-friendly as possible to the Xbox 360 newcomer, and was therefore optimised to play as well as possible for Core and Arcade owners, relying little on the hard disk for any boost in performance. In theory then, this game is as good as any for testing DVD versus HDD performance.

Unfortunately, tests turned out to be largely irrelevant. Viva Piñata has a lot of animations and small cut-scenes that cannot be skipped by the user, and the chances are that a lot of the game's interactions with the DVD drive take place there. The look and feel is of a game that happily performs without any real delays - there's only marginal loading moving to the village from your garden, or journeying out into the wild, and in these cases the wait is slight, and barely improved by running from hard disk.

Section Tested DVD Load Time HDD Load Time
Loading New Garden 20.5 seconds 16.5 seconds
Moving to Dessert Desert 7 seconds 5 seconds
Quit to Main Menu 20 seconds 16.5 seconds

Grand Theft Auto IV

Install Size: 6.7GB

Rockstar already thought of the problems NXE's installs are designed to alleviate.

I tried to dispel a lot of the myths surrounding the DVD vs. HDD debate back in the Grand Theft Auto IV bonus round face-off. Logically speaking, the PlayStation 3 version with its mandatory installation should of course have fared better than the 360 code running from DVD. With the amount of game data streaming in at any given time, the game's pop-up (both in terms of geometry and textures) should be much reduced on the PS3 game. However, in my experience, the 360 game held up very well, matching PS3 performance - only crazy, suicidal flying in the helicopter saw any palpable advantage in terms of faster streaming from hard disk.

NXE's hard disk installation also bears out these results. Yes, the interminable wait while the game loads is significantly reduced, and there are clear reductions in load times when it comes to reading in save games, but other than that, once again the main advantage of installing to hard disk is eliminating the noise the DVD-ROM drive makes. Certainly, pop-in issues in general were not improved.

GTA IV spent years in development and as a project, it led on Xbox 360. It's fair to say that the Rockstar team knows the Xbox 360 hardware intimately and the reason we don't see much in the way of a performance increase (compared to PS3 or an NXE install) is because the game is already caching data to the hard disk behind the scenes.

Section Tested DVD Load Time HDD Load Time
Initial Load 46.5 seconds 33 seconds
Starting New Game 26.5 seconds 25.2 seconds
Loading 'Ivan the Not So Terrible Mission' 8.5 seconds 7 seconds
Loading 'Bull in a China Shop' Mission 20 seconds 11.5 seconds

Halo 3

Install Size: 6.3GB

GTA IV gave strong hints that an NXE install offers little advantage for games already optimised with the hardware in mind, and Bungie has already revealed in a recent podcast that running from hard disk wouldn't improve Halo 3's loading times, but I must admit that I wasn't quite prepared to see an actual, tangible impact in performance from copying files to hard disk.

I was curious to try out Halo 3 because its Campaign mode loading runs so slowly that I remember thinking at the time that my DVD drive must be on its way out (or that I had a dodgy copy of the game), but its sloth-like streaming is actually even slower once the data is installed to hard disk, with disc and drive completely removed from the equation.

The Campaign mode appears to be caching a lot of stuff from DVD to hard disk - load one campaign, then the next, then return to the original and you'll find that it'll load much faster than it did the first time. I could only imagine in this case that the hard disk is being read twice over, with less than impressive results. The tests were re-run again to ensure that everything was being loaded in the same order, but nothing changed - the bottom line is that Halo 3 already loads quite slowly from DVD, and it's even slower on hard disk.

Moving away from the Campaign option on the main menu and simply starting off a brand new solo mission didn't help either - loading time was twice as slow. It's clear that there's a hell of a lot of data caching going on in Halo 3, and you can't help but think that a patch could fix this, so I'll be interested to see if Bungie attacks the issue.

Section Tested DVD Load Time HDD Load Time
Sierra 117 46 seconds 53 seconds
Crow's Nest 59 seconds 70 seconds
Tsavo Highway 46.5 seconds 57 seconds
The Storm 52 seconds 64 seconds
Floodgate 54 seconds 64.5 seconds
The Ark 61 seconds 69 seconds
The Covenant 66.5 seconds 78 seconds
Cortana 40.5 seconds 48.5 seconds
Halo 80 seconds 65 seconds

Fable II

Install Size: 6.8GB

One of the few titles on this with tangible in-game benefits to HDD installs.

Fable II is a game so open and expansive, with so many different possibilities that we went back to basics with the measurements - restarting the game from scratch twice over, doing the same things and following the same basic quests to ensure that the measurements in loading times and general performance were like for like.

Boosts in data-streaming speeds moving from one environment to the next were not out of the ordinary as the results below show, but out of all the games tested here, Fable II did actually show some improvement in the game experience - seemingly minor, but very welcome nonetheless. For a game so clearly designed to be as easy and intuitive as possible, the inventory and skills page (brought up by pressing the start button) is surprisingly clunky and slow to respond. Playing from DVD, there does appear to be some lag as it streams data from the disc. For me it stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb in a game that is otherwise so effortlessly joyous to play, but thankfully the 'lag' is very noticeably reduced when the game is running from hard disk.

Section Tested DVD Load Time HDD Load Time
Loading Castle Fairfax 15.5 seconds 11.5 seconds
Loading Home Village 32.5 seconds 24.5 seconds
Loading Old Tomb 17 seconds 10 seconds
Loading Bower Lake 20.5 seconds 14.5 seconds
Loading Bowerstone Market 28 seconds 22 seconds
Loading Bowerstone Old Town 19.5 seconds 16.5 seconds
Loading Rookridge 18 seconds 13 seconds

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About the author

Richard Leadbetter

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry  |  digitalfoundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.


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