Game devs are starting to weigh in on the PlayStation 5's next-gen 5.5GB/sec SSD tech and how it can revolutionize gaming. But right now devs are mostly focused on speed versus huge gameplay changes.
The PS5's SSD is a massive development that changes everything. But it won't change everything right at launch. Developers still need time to get used to the tech and utilize it in innovative ways. While first-party devs like Insomniac are using the 12-channel PCIe 4.0 SSD to completely revolutionize gameplay in Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart with instantaneous omni-dimensional traversal, other devs are mostly focusing on raw speed.
Sony just interviewed a few devs about the PS5's SSD and the consensus is that the raw hardware speeds will drive initial next-gen experiences. There's no talk about custom data libraries or APIs or I/O architectures, and no discussion of technical info (which is disappointing). Just hype around instant access, elimination of loading times, and how the PS5 can load assets for rendering at 5.5GB/sec.
The PlayStation 5's SSD is the console's big advantage.
It's Navi RDNA 2.0 GPU is weaker at 10.3 TFLOPs compared to the Series X's 12TFLOPs, and features 16 less compute units (36 RDNA CUs vs. 52 RDNA CUs in the Series X), and the 8-core, 16-thread CPU is 300MHz slower at 3.5GHz as compared to the Series X's 3.8GHz.
But the PS5's SSD is twice as fast at processing uncompressed data. The PS5's SSD hits 5.5GB/sec uncompressed data and 8GB/sec compressed. The Series X hits 2.4GB/sec uncompressed data and 4.8GB/sec compressed. So the reality is the PS5's SSD has a lot more potential for game-changing content...but again, that will take time to unlock.
Here's what game developers are saying about the PlayStation 5's SSD. The most interesting part was from Sony Japan Studio, who is using the SSD as a VRAM buffer to hold more assets for games. This was outlined by Mark Cerny in the early March technical briefing:
"There's no need to have loads of data parked in the system memory waiting to potentially be used. The other way of saying that is the most of the RAM is working on the game's behalf," Cerny said.
"We are already changing the way we think about the SSD. We see it not just as storage but also memory, utilizing the speed of the SSD to load data at blistering speeds, bringing you straight back into the action to avenge your many deaths," said Gavin Moore, Creative Director, SIE Japan Studio.
"The SSD and custom I/O architecture around it allows us to send players across dimensions with near-instant speed. It fundamentally changes the rules and allows us to think about ideas and game designs that are only possible on PS5," said Marcus Smith, Creative Director, Insomniac Games.
"A bit further into the next generation I'm expecting we'll start seeing developers make more use of the not-so-obvious benefits of the SSD. This is what excites me the most! What does it mean for developers when everything can be loaded from the disk that fast? Will we even need the concept of "levels" anymore?.... The possibilities for this tech are exciting for me as a developer, and exhilarating for me as a gamer," said Ari Arnbjornsson, Lead Programmer, Returnal.
"The SSD is a gamechanger, I think as this generation matures we will see some amazing innovation in streaming and open-world game design," said Neil Hill, Lead Programmer, Far Cry 6.
"Hitman 3 pushes you to explore and experiment in huge sandbox locations - and being able to save/load frequently is key to that. The blitz-fast load times we are seeing on the PS5 console encourages [player] experimentation more than ever," said Mattias Engstrom, Game Director, Hitman 3.
It's true that raw speed can fundamentally change gameplay by reducing friction between gamers and time spent, but the more transformative features are farther down the road. I think this is an important thing to remember once next-gen consoles roll out. Yes, games will play faster, load assets faster, and load faster than ever before, and yes, this will be amazing. But the real potential of the custom PCIe 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD tech and its accompanying architectures won't be unlocked right away. That will take some time.
The SSD feeds all other components and is the gateway to everything the PS5 can do, from ray-traced global illumination effects and upscaled 8K gaming to the massive streamlining of data sets to reduce game file sizes and completely eliminate large patches that overwrite existing data.
The real excitement around next-gen isn't just raw speeds or 4K 60FPS gaming, but the possibilities that developers can unlock with enough time.
The PlayStation 5 is expected to release holiday 2020, and will have two versions: a digital-only SKU, and a model that plays discs.
Check below for full spec comparisons of PS5 and PS4 eras: