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Starfield Heralding a New and Complicated Age of AAA SSD-Only Titles

Starfield

According to a recent Xbox Games Showcase, Bethesda’s space-based RPG Starfield will require a solid-state drive to run on PC. Though games have recommended SSDs as installation drives on PC before, this is the first time that AAA titles have outright required an SSD as standard from the get-go. Though there can be good reasons to insist on this change, it also comes with appreciable downsides that gamers will inevitably have to face.

Why the Need for an SSD?

SSDs are becoming standard thanks to the primary advantage they have over traditional hard drives – speed. A modern M.2 format SSD is many times faster than an older mechanical drive, and in-game this manifests as much shorter loading times. Faster speeds are why the new generation of consoles from Sony and Microsoft opted for SSD solutions over HDDs, and with great effect. For reference, loading a save game on Marvel’s Spider-Man takes around 26 seconds on a PS4’s HDD. On the PS5’s SDD, it takes around 2 seconds.

SSDs also allow for a cutting-edge new technology called DirectStorage. DirectStorage allows SSDs to speak directly to graphics cards, where they’d formerly have to go through the CPU first. The old route was slower and cost additional CPU cycles on a process that is now vastly more efficient.

Necessity and Downsides of SSDs

Of course, not all games require solid-state drives, where the smaller the game the less useful SSDs become. On the extreme end of the spectrum, just as collecting the bonuses, casino sites don’t experience any advantages on SSDs. Hosted on efficient websites like Mr Vegas and Casumo, these titles are small enough that the entire game will load near-instantly no matter the storage drive. Just as collecting the bonuses like free spins and deposit matches on these services and general browsing sees no slowdown, the same is true of the games. On modern phones or old computers, storage for smaller titles like these doesn’t really matter. It’s only in larger AAA games where the issues arise, and the issues can be profound.

The most noticeable problem that most users face with SSDs is the problem of size. Though SSDs are not nearly as expensive as they once were, they’re still much more costly than their mechanical counterparts. This issue is best illustrated with the new consoles, and their storage drive size compared to their predecessors. The launch PS4 specs included a 500 GB mechanical HDD when it hit shelves back in 2013. This was later upgraded to a 1GB model in future iterations.

The PS5 launched seven years later in 2020, yet its base model only offered 667 GB of usable space on its much faster SSD. In the meantime, video game installs had grown much larger. Cyberpunk 2077 alone can take up 160 GB of storage, meaning users will keep having to delete games and manage their data carefully if they don’t choose to purchase an additional drive. Though newer console releases like the Carbon Black Xbox Series S are releasing with expanded storage, they’re still yet to exceed the largest mechanical drives available on last-gen systems.

Coming in as the final issue of SSDs is their limited lifespan when it comes to writing cycles. SSDs can only be written a finite number of times before the drive breaks into read-only mode. Though this takes a long time, it is an inevitable problem that all SSDs will face after years of use.

An Inevitable Future

As larger open-world games increasingly become the status quo, there were only three possible solutions. The first would be for games to undergo long loading times and stutters as worlds streamed in, an obvious no-go. The second would be for developers to limit the fidelity of their worlds to suit HDDs, which their marketing tells them will lead to failure. The third route, which the industry has opted for, is the one where SSDs become the new standard.

Though it’s not without downsides, the same can be said for many new technologies, and in key ways that are important to big AAA game fans, the benefits of SSDs outweigh the costs. It’s also important to note that the downsides to SSDs will diminish over time, so the issues will lessen.

Source: Pexels

As production techniques improve, the size of SSDs grows, and the cost per GB shrinks. Improvements to their technology results in more write cycles being possible, so degradation can be held off for much longer. The future for this tech is only looking up, and that gives us hope for what comes next. Plus, if you were around to play games in the CD console age, it might be worth taking a step back to appreciate the road travelled. We still get flashbacks to Sonic 2006, and we’ll be happy if we never return to these dark times of minutes lost every death.

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