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PS5 won’t require a proprietary solution for storage upgrades

Internal storage will still need to be certified as compatible by Sony

The PlayStation 5 logo on a black background Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

During a scholarly presentation on Wednesday, PlayStation 5 lead system architect Mark Cerny delivered detailed specifications on the new Sony console. Much of his talk centered around the benefits of its custom-built 825 GB internal solid-state drive (SSD). Hidden among all the feeds and speeds is the fact that the PS5 will eventually be upgradable with off-the-shelf additional storage. Meanwhile, the Xbox Series X will require a proprietary expansion card to increase the system’s storage.

On Monday, Microsoft revealed that the internal storage solution for the Xbox Series X will be a 1 TB Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) SSD, which is over 20% bigger than the PS5’s drive. The Xbox Series X will have a slot on the back to add another SSD, but it will only accept the Xbox Series X Storage Expansion Card. It’s a proprietary 1 TB SSD being developed by Seagate; the price remains unknown at this time. The PS5, on the other hand, will have an expansion bay for an off-the-shelf M.2 NVMe SSD. That should give Sony’s customers more options when it comes to upgrading their console’s storage.

There’s one big caveat, however: The PS5’s expansion bay won’t accept just any M.2 SSD. In order to ensure performance compatibility with the PS5’s high-speed SSD — and physical compatibility with the size of the expansion bay — Sony will be certifying individual M.2 SSDs for the PS5, which uses the new PCI Express 4.0 standard. Cerny said that it’s “likely” that certifications will begin arriving “a bit past” the console’s launch this fall.

Cerny stressed during his presentation that it’s the nature of the PS5’s custom SSD that will change the next generation of PlayStation gaming.

PlayStation 5 hardware specifications

Feature Details
Feature Details
CPU eight x86-64-AMD Ryzen Zen 2 cores (16 threads), variable frequency at up to 3.5 GHz
GPU architecture AMD Radeon RDNA 2-based graphics engine with hardware acceleration for ray tracing
GPU 36 compute units at a variable frequency up to 2.23 GHz (10.28 teraflops)
Memory / interface 16 GB GDDR6 / 256-bit
Memory bandwidth 448 GB/s
Internal storage custom 825 GB SSD, PCIe 4.0
I/O throughput 5.5 GB/s (read), typical 8-9 GB/s (compressed)
Expandable storage NVMe SSD expansion bay
External storage USB hard drive support
Optical drive 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Video HDMI 2.1 (support for 4K 120 Hz TVs, 8K TVs, VRR)
Audio Tempest 3D AudioTech

The SSD inside the PS5 will have a read speed of 5.5 GB per second, with typical throughput for compressed data of 8-9 GB/s, effectively. That’s orders of magnitude better than the 50-100 MB/s speeds of the PlayStation 4, and Cerny says it will fundamentally change the nature of creating and consuming games. It’s so fast that it will also essentially mitigate the need to throw more RAM into the box.

Cerny added that the benefits of the PS5’s SSD will include significant decreases in load times, with faster streaming of elements such as textures and world geometry. Patching the games themselves will also be a faster, smoother experience for consumers. And the SSD will help free up system resources for other tasks, like an improved audio experience.

A chart with a column for the PS4 HDD and the PS5 SSD’s target design shows that “seek time,” the time needed to find data on the drive, will be nil. Meanwhile load times will provide 2 GB of date in just over a quarter of a second, compared to 1 GB in 20 seconds on the PS4.
A slide from Wednesday’s presentation by Sony’s Mark Cerny.
Image: PlayStation/YouTube

Meeting the full potential of this new storage technology required Cerny and his team to go further than ever before in their design to remove and reduce bottlenecks in the PS5’s architecture. That included custom hardware throughout, intended to marry the drive to other key components inside the device, including the CPU and the GPU itself. That’s also why it has such an unusual size at 825 GB, the perfect amount to meet the needs of its other components, Cerny said.

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