Expanding PS5 Internal Storage With An M.2 SSD: Our Guide
The PlayStation 5 firmware 2.0 (launched in beta test) finally brings the possibility to expand the internal storage of the console with an M.2 SSD. How to install it and what is the impact on game performance? We will tell you everything.
Lucky PS5 owner, you were feeling a bit cramped in the 825GB of storage (667GB accessible in practice) offered natively by your precious console? Be happy: its brand-new firmware 2.0, deployed since July 29 in closed beta – and therefore very soon available to all users – finally brings the possibility of adding an NVMe M.2 SSD to the machine’s appropriate slot. This additional SSD can be used to install PS5 games, unlike USB storage devices that can only host PS4 games or multimedia content.
Although the procedure and precautions for installing an SSD in the console are not insurmountable, there are a few tricks worth knowing – and a few traps to avoid. So, let’s try to review them.
Choosing The Right SSD: Beware Of Pitfalls
The first step is of course to choose the SSD that you are going to install in your console. But beware, not all M.2 format SSDs work with the PS5. First and foremost, it must be a model that follows the NVMe specification on a PCIe Gen 4 interface. SATA or PCIe Gen 3 SSDs are not recognized by the console: if a model of the wrong type is installed in the slot, the console simply refuses to boot.
We think this is a shame: it would have been nice if a PCIe Gen 3 SSD could at least be used to install PS4 games, just like an external storage device.
The second constraint to be respected is obviously a space constraint: the SSD must be able to physically fit into its slot. For this, its width must be 22 mm, and its length 30, 42, 60, 80 or 110 mm. This should rarely be a problem, since the vast majority of M.2 SSDs on the market are 2280 – that is, you guessed it, 22 mm wide and 80 mm long.
Finally, the SSD must absolutely be equipped with a heat sink. The console does not provide any direct ventilation in the slot, and using a bare SSD would most likely lead to overheating – resulting in performance losses and, in the most extreme cases, irreversible damage to the memory chips. The easiest answer to this requirement is to make sure you buy an SSD with a heatsink as standard.
If you already have a “bare” SSD that you want to use in your PS5, it is also possible to purchase a heatsink separately. It will usually cost you between 10 and 15 €.
In any case, this heatsink must respect a certain size and not exceed 11 mm in height, otherwise the console’s door will not close. This is a point to which you should pay particular attention, as many popular SSD models, such as the Corsair MP600, MP600 Pro and MP600 Core do not meet this requirement.
As far as heatsinks sold separately are concerned, the Be Quiet! MC1, for example, which we tested, does the job perfectly (although be careful not to confuse it with the larger MC1 Pro).
Installing The Disk
To access the PS5’s M.2 slot, it is necessary to immerse yourself in the bowels of the beast – in a very superficial way, rest assured. The first step is to remove the white panel corresponding to the lower part of the console, in other words the side where the “PS” logo is not located (or more simply, for the standard PS5, the side of the disc drive). Lift the corner corresponding to the top and back of the console into a vertical position, to release the lugs holding the panel in place, then slide it down – being careful not to let your strength carry you away.
The SSD slot is already showing. Use a PH0 Phillips screwdriver to remove its cover.
Inside the hatch, note the SSD retention screw, which is factory-fitted to slot 110. Remove it, paying close attention to the small metal ring underneath it: this is a spacer that will allow you to fix the SSD in perfect alignment with its connector. So don’t lose it!
Position the spacer at the thread that corresponds to the length of your SSD – 80 mm in the vast majority of cases, as mentioned above. Insert the SSD firmly into the connector (until you feel a small click), press it onto the spacer, and then secure it in place with the retention screw.
What About Performance?
Finally, there is the critical question of SSD performance, and its impact on the gaming experience. You may remember that at a conference in March 2020, 8 months before the console’s release, Mark Cerny, chief architect of the PS5, warned us that an SSD used as an expansion storage should not just perform at the same level as the console’s internal SSD, but a little better. He justified this by saying that the PS5 uses a proprietary 6-level priority storage management protocol, instead of the “only” 2-level priority of the standard NVMe protocol. A little extra speed cushion would therefore be needed, he claimed, to compensate for this difference.
This is not the case. Not only does Sony’s documentation recommend “merely” equivalent performance to the internal SSD (i.e., 5.5 GB/s sequential read), but it even specifies that this is only a recommendation; meaning that a slower SSD might cause some slowdowns in the execution of the games it hosts, but it should still run smoothly. This is what we set out to verify, by testing two different SSD models in the console: a Seagate Firecuda 520 500GB, capping out at a 4.7GB/s throughput (in line with the average PCIe Gen 4 SSDs sold on the market today), and a WD Black SN850 1TB, bulging with its 7GB/s.
The result of these tests? It is, let’s not hide it, rather disappointing, although reassuring. Indeed, there is absolutely no difference in gameplay. Even on Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, which makes the most spectacular use of the PS5’s new-gen storage, the experience is perfectly identical whether the game is installed on the console’s internal SSD, the Firecuda 520 or the SN850. The initial loading of a save is done with the same speed in all cases, and the dimensional jumps, which make us go instantly from one environment to another, do not suffer from any fluidity problem with Seagate’s “undersized” disk.
Other tests performed on Returnal and Dirt 5 have led to the same observation of perfect similarity of the experience. Against all expectations, only in The Last of Us Part II, running in PS4 backward compatibility mode, we could notice a tiny difference in the initial loading time of a game… which turns out to be slightly shortened when the game is installed on M.2 SSD, even the Seagate model. No need to worry, though: even though we checked the accuracy of this result with several repetitions of the test, the difference is no more than 5%, which is negligible.
|Action||Internal SSD||WD Black SN850 (1 To)||Seagate Firecuda 520 (500 Go)|
|Ratchet & Clank : Loading a save||2,8 s||2,8 s||2,8 s|
|Returnal : passage of the Scarlet Gate (passage from biome 1 to biome 2)||3 s||3 s||3 s|
|Dirt 5 : Loading a race||10,5 s||10,5 s||10,5 s|
|The Last of Us Part II : Loading a session||50 s||48 s||49 s|
In the end, the only situation where we could notice a concrete difference between the two SSD models was during data transfer. Moving the aforementioned 4 sets, totaling 222GB of installs, to the SN850 (which we previously measured at 5.3GB/s sequential write) took us 4 times less time than moving them to the Firecuda 520 (2.6GB/s sequential write). Somewhat counter-intuitively, moving those same games from an M.2 SSD to the console’s internal storage proved to be by far the slowest operation in our tests. An “anomaly” that could be attributed to a saturated SLC cache – but more experiments are needed to verify this hypothesis.
|Internal SSD||WD Black SN850 (1 To)||Seagate Firecuda 520 (500 Go)|
|Time to write 222 GB of installs||16 min 25 s||2 min 50 s||8 min 10 s|
|Equivalent average flow||231 MB/s||1 337 MB/s||464 MB/s|
In conclusion, it may be tempting to say that the best choice to expand the storage of your PS5 is to buy the cheapest PCIe Gen 4 SSD, without worrying about its performance, since it doesn’t make any major difference now. Caution is advised, however. It’s important to remember that the PlayStation 5 is a young console, and no game has yet fully exploited its capabilities. It is not impossible that, in the next few years, titles will appear that will make full use of the transfer speeds allowed by the machine’s internal storage – and therefore see their performance degraded if they were installed on a not quite fast enough M.2 SSD. In case of doubt, it would be wiser to follow Sony’s recommendations now, so as not to risk any regrets later on.
Other New Features Of Firmware 2.0: Interface Adjustments, And Virtual 3D Audio For Stereo Speakers
Support for M.2 SSDs is the most important new feature in PS5 firmware 2.0, but it’s not the only one. There are also some slight adjustments to the user interface, including a very welcome simplification of cross-gen game management. When you start downloading a game that you own on both PS4 and PS5, the console now explicitly asks you which of the two versions you want to install. Furthermore, if you have both versions of the game installed on your machine at the same time (for example, a Fifa 21 game that you want to play both locally on PS5 and on PS4 with friends who haven’t yet upgraded to the new generation), they are now represented by two separate tiles on the home screen, clearly labelled “PS4” and “PS5”. This should help avoid confusion.
Finally, the console’s 3D audio capabilities, which were previously only available when playing with headphones, now work with simple TV speakers – indeed, any pair of stereo speakers (just make sure you have the audio output set to “TV” mode in the console settings). This is materialized by a virtual spatialization processing, similar in essence to those often found on soundbars. In a very clever way, this spatialization can even be refined by means of an automatic acoustic calibration, using the microphone integrated in the DualSense controller.
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The result seemed rather convincing during our tests, with a significant gain in sound immersion compared to a classic stereo. But it is honestly difficult for us to give a definitive opinion, since the rendering depends largely on the quality of the speakers used, their positioning, and the acoustics of the listening room. In any case, the option deserves to be tried: your own ears will be the best judges of the relevance of the effect on your installation.