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Only PlayStation 5 next-gen exclusives will tap SSD's full potential

The PS5's SSD won't truly revolutionize gaming until developers move on to next-gen and leave PS4 behind

Derek Strickland | Mar 20, 2020 at 07:03 pm CDT (21 mins, 36 secs reading time)

The PlayStation 5's internal SSD can fundamentally change how games are played, and more importantly, how they're made. But this won't happen as long as devs are still focusing on current-gen hardware.

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Current-gen consoles are going to hold next-gen systems back, at least for a while. The PS5 and Xbox Series X aren't resetting the console generation. The new systems will live alongside the PS4 and Xbox One family for multiple years before next-gen takes over. This is integral for ensuring a smooth shift between gens and carrying current-gen games forward.

During this period, developers and publishers will release games on both generations. Microsoft has said Xbox SX won't have exclusives for years, whereas Sony is expected to launch first-party PS5 exclusives right out of the gate. Still, though, Sony will keep making PS4 games until 2022.

The single biggest advancement in next-gen hardware is SSD storage. Both next-gen systems use their own respective customized PCIe 4.0 x4 NVMe M.2 SSDs that absolutely annihilate the HDDs in current-gen consoles. The PS5's SSD can transfer uncompressed data at up to 5.5GB/sec, which is 100x faster than the PS4's internal drives.

The SSD's speed depends on a customized I/O block on the 7nm AMD SoC alongside potent architectural designs, including an extremely potent compression system. The 825GB SSD has a customized 12-channel flash controller, of which half has accessible for games data, and hardware-based decompression that can channel data like assets, renders, textures and more at 2.7GB/sec, and up to 9GB/sec for compressed data.

Until all games are made for next-gen, the games themselves won't fully tap the potential of SSD tech.

So what do these specs mean for developers? How will they actually affect games? They won't just affect games, but fundamentally revolutionize the development process.

Basically these SSDs represent one thing above all else: Freedom.

Read Also: Understanding the PS5's SSD: A deep dive into next-gen storage tech

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Right now making games is an act of war: War against limitations, bottlenecks, and restrictions. A significant part of games development is finding creative ways to circumvent restrictions imposed by lower-end, outdated hardware.

Games are literally developed with these hardware limitations in mind. They have to be, or the games wouldn't work. So developers have to be mindful of all kinds of hardware permutations while they make games, and constantly tailor to the lowest common denominator. In this case, the LCD would be PS4's and Xbox One's mechanical hard drives.

Developers have found creative ways to mask long loading times from these slow drives. There's elevator levels that serve as a joining path between two world states, or a long corridor or cave that sits in between major loading zones. A huge portion of level design is built around how fast assets can be loaded into the SoC and rendered on the screen. The slower the data stream is, the more they have to compromise their original vision and throw in winding pathways and other zones to buffer the new areas.

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The SSD also reduces duplication of assets in a game simply because the data is organized so the system can access it once instead of having to replicate it tens--and sometimes even hundreds--of times in every environment. This will shrink overall game install files, which will in turn be further compressed with the PS5's powerful new Kraken-based compression system from RAD Tools.

Remember, HDD's spend 2/3 of their time seeking data, and only 1/3 of the time actually loading data. SSDs don't have any seeking time. Data is just directly shot right across six of the flash controller's 12 lanes for processing.

The SSD revolutionizes games-making by massively accelerating data access speeds. The system can intelligently, efficiently, and quickly access, process, and render data at a rate that's never been seen in consoles before. This is made possible by all components of the complex and powerful customized software and hardware on the system, from the Zen 2 CPU, the Navi GPU, the 16GB GDDR6 RAM, and of course the PCIe 4.0 that channels and stores all the data. Every part has been designed to be synergistic with one another.

So now developers have more freedom because storage limitations have been abolished. SSDs--especially the new custom SSDs--introduce a new era for games development.

But there's only one issue here. Not every developer or publisher will focus exclusively on next-gen. They'll still be making games on PS4 and Xbox One, and that means they'll still be designing them around the lowest common storage denominator (5400RPM drives).

Only PlayStation 5 next-gen exclusives will tap SSD's full potential 1 | TweakTown.com

With this rationale in mind, it's first-party developers who make games exclusively for the PlayStation 5 that will see the true benefits of the new SSD technology. That means cross-generation games probably won't hit the potential the new tech has to offer. Sure we'll see upgrades like 120FPS, ray tracing, 4K 60FPS, and quicker load times--dramatically quicker load times--but insofar as the SSD actually defining games development rather than just being a part of it, that should be exclusive to, well, next-gen exclusives.

Bear in mind there's a lot we don't know about the PS5, its SSD, and games development on the system.

Although Mark Cerny revealed a ton of information, we still have no clue what the dev environment is like, or what kinds of flexible tools are baked into the PS5's architecture. We've heard lots of things praising the system's flexibility and ease-of-use, strongly hinting the discrepancy can be significantly mitigated thanks to these toolsets, but it's still hard to shake the idea that current-gen will hold next-gen back for years to come.

We can further glean and infer some tidbits from what developers are saying about the PS5's SSD. Two devs in particular have interesting responses--they're from Sony's first-party Naughty Dog studio, a studio that stands to benefit tremendously from this tech.

Let's hope Sony really is making PlayStation 5 exclusives to launch alongside the system. Otherwise we probably won't get a true taste of what's possible with the PS5 until 2022 or thereabouts when the PS4 is slowly retired.

The console will release in Holiday 2020, and it may cost $499.

Check below for more info on everything we know about the PlayStation 5 so far:

PlayStation 5 specs and details:

  • Custom SoC with second-gen Navi GPU, Zen 2 CPU
  • 8-Core, 16-thread Zen 2 CPU at 3.5GHz
  • Navi 2X GPU with 36 CUs on RDNA 2 at 2.23GHz
  • Ultra-fast 825GB SSD with up to 9GB/sec speeds
  • Support for 4K 120 Hz TVs
  • Ray-tracing enabled
  • 8K output support (for gaming)
  • Plays PS4 games, BC is on a title-to-title basis
  • Separate games that ship on BD-XL Blu-ray discs
  • New controller with extensive haptic and tactile feedback

PlayStation 5 Coverage:

Last updated: Apr 6, 2020 at 04:34 pm CDT

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Derek Strickland

ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Derek Strickland

Derek is absorbed with the intersection of technology and gaming, and is always looking forward to new advancements. With over six years in games journalism under his belt, Derek aims to further engage the gaming sector while taking a peek under the tech that powers it. He hopes to one day explore the stars in No Man's Sky with the magic of VR.

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