I'm the proud owner of an original PS4, a first generation model, which has served me fine for the last 3 years. There were two things I didn't like much though: disk space and noise.
I couldn't fix the noise (cleaning will help probably) but I did fix the storage issue, though it was sometimes hard to find clear information.
(I crawled through so many poor YouTube videos and fanboy reviews that I want to save you that pain.)
All I wanted to know: a. is an external drive slower, and b. does it matter which one?
Answers: a. it isn't slower compared with the (old) stock drive, and b. yes, but... well, no.
No money and no issue with the speed of the stock drive?
- Add a 2 TB WD MyPassport external drive.
Some speed increase and more space?
- Replace your cramped / slow 500 GB or 1 TB stock drive with a 2 TB Firecuda SSD.
- Out of space yet again? Add a 4 TB WD MyPassport external drive.
OR (if you own a PS4 or PS4 Slim)
- Add an external SSHD FireCuda 2 TB or something similar.
Got money to burn and need the best of the best?
- Break the bank and go out and buy a 500 GB or 1 TB SSD. Expensive!
- Add that same 4 TB WD MyPassport external drive or a FireCuda.
Important: you can easily move games from internal to external drive and vice verse.
The Slim and Pro are much more silent. So you're okay if you buy a new one today. I guess I should open my old PS4 and clean it one of these days, that should at least count for something...
My PS4 came with a 500 GB stock drive. It's a crappy SATAII drive (though not as bad as often thought). The drive is fine if a. you don't have too many digital downloads, and b. don't need maximum speed.
But what if you run out of space? You'll have to start deleting some games to make space for newer ones. How inconvenient.
Two solutions: replace the internal one, or add an external one.
Internal drive replacement
Soon after I bought my PS4 I replaced the original 500 GB HDD with a Seagate 'Thin Laptop 1 TB SSHD'. Giving me more space, and the speed advantage of an SSHD.
All reviews agree the SSHD is faster upon the 4th or 5th load of the same game or level. I disagree with the conclusion that it is sometimes slower on the 1st load. In my case, the drive was faster everywhere, ranging from 10% to 50% faster. Note that the original PS4 is limited to SATA2, and the whole disk access design doesn't seem to be the best possible implementation. (Hey Sony, something to fix on the PS5, and please add a second drive slot while you're at it.)
There are different versions out there. The latest SSDH laptop drives are called 'Firecuda'.
Replacing the internal drive involves some extra work: opening the PS4, installing the drive, getting the right firmware, and re-downloading all your games. Yes. Time consuming it is, but I think it was worth it.
Adding an external drive
The 1 TB drive lasted for three years, but now it's time to get something a little bigger. I had two options: replace the internal SSHD 1 TB with a newer, larger SSHD 2 TB (108 euro) or get an external drive. As the internal SSHD was working fine, and there would be little to no speed increase I opted for an external one. I can always use it for something else later. A 4 TB backup drive is never a bad thing to have laying around. And now I won't feel that guilty if I would ever use an SSD in the PS4 😏
Note: my 3 years old 'Laptop SSHD 1 TB' has perhaps 60% the theoretical maximum speed of a current 'Firecuda 2 TB SSHD'. However, internal drives are limited by the SATA2 interface in the PS4 and PS4 Slim, and you would need an SSD to saturate a SATA2, so the gain isn't as much as you could hope for.
WD MyPassport 4 TB
Little square box, which looks better in real life than on a picture. Style matches the old PS4 😎 and if you want you can buy them in different sizes and colors. The 4 TB might be a bit overkill... Perhaps settle for the 2 TB?
WD MyPassport 4 TB versus WD Essentials 4 TB versus WD Gaming 4 TB
I haven't been able to find any real information on the differences between the three mobile drives from WD. I can make some guesses... If someone knows better please tell me!
- Looking at reviews and benchmarks both the external WD and Seagate offerings are regular drives, not SSHD's.
- The 'gaming' drives may be slightly different from the standard drive, to use it in combination with a PS4 or XBox. A small external drive is typically only used incidentally for backups etcetera, though it might be moved around a lot. An external drive for a console would probably be moved around less, but run more hours. Of course there's no way to tell (and to be honest I doubt it).
- The 'gaming' drive could be faster. Some benchmarks suggest a minor improvement over a regular external drive (say 5 to 10% max).
- Then again, it may all be just a sticker.
I did some speed tests on a 1 year old Essentials 1 TB versus a new MyPassport 4 TB, and speed differences were less than 10%, most likely due to different age and drive geometrics. Not a fair comparison then.
I noticed that the MyPassport was a little cheaper than its cousin Essentials. Hmpf. Not enough to matter, and the MyPassport was an optical better fit to my first generation PS4, so that's the one I picked up.
It might be smartest to build your own 'gaming' drive... get a metal USB3 2.5" drive enclosure and put in a Firecuda 2 TB. That would improve cooling, and give you the advantage of the SSHD cache.
I've tried different games and tests, and watched countless Youtube videos and read many rambling reviews, and here are my (generic and personal) conclusions for the first generation PS4 with a three year old SSHD:
- My (3 year old) SSHD is roughly 10% faster than the (3 year old) 500 GB stock drive. Everywhere.
- Even though absolute numbers don't look much like an improvement, the SSHD feels much 'zippier'. The PS4 starts a little faster, menus load a little faster, etcetera. Of course, when you have to reload a specific level (because you cannot get through it, sigh) then the on-board NAND cache really starts helping. (Of course, an SSD is even faster, and right from the start at that.)
- The external drive is just as fast as a stock drive, and probably even faster. (The WD 4 TB drive I used was typically around 5% faster than the stock drive.)
The results are probably less pronounced with a PS4 Pro, but should still be noticable.
I've done some benchmarking as well, but didn't want to bore you or myself with endless tables 😊
Here are some numbers for a loading a saved game in Horizon Zero Dawn:
Internal stock HDD 500 GB - 1:17
External HDD WD 4 TB - 1:14
Internal SSHD 1TB 1st load: 0:53
Internal SSHD 1TB 5th load: 0:40
I don't have an external Firecuda SSHD laying around to test. But if someone wants to donate some hardwarem, well... 😏
I'll add some more.
- If the PS4 knows there is an external drive it may NOT de-power your USB ports when rest-mode is enabled. This is by design, so updates can be downloaded in the background. Your external USB may stay spinning. (Mine powered down after a while, but I've read a few reviews where that was not the case. It probably depends on the drive.)
- You can take the drive with you to play games somewhere else (of course you'll need to log in on that other PS4 using your own account, but that's obvious I guess).
- I have to re-check, but I noticed some smaller (?) games were more affected by the move to the external drive than others. No clue why.
- Background downloads have more impact when using the external drive. Many games do halt downloads, but some don't, resulting in longer loading times if there is anything going on in the background.
- You cannot store movies, save games or pictures on the external drive.
- Only one external drive is allowed. After formatting it cannot be used for anything but PS4 games. (Until you reformat it again, of course.)
- A full or empty drive should not affect speed (much). The filesystem Sony choose isn't affected that much. If you think it is, you can 'rebuild the databases'. Some say it helps, some say it doesn't matter. I tried it and it made no difference in my case. You can always try...
- When adding an external drive this will be the one used by default for new installs.You can of course change that back if you want.
Oh! Almost forgot. When I bought my ol' PS3 Slim (second hand) a year before the PS4 I replaced its hard drive as well, and put in a 500 GB SSHD that was a leftover from another project. Things were a little faster but honestly? I would not replace the drive for speed reasons with an SSHD. Though if I would have to buy a new drive for a PS3 I'd probably get an SSHD these days.