Hard drives and video games: five reasons why they are being abandoned

Hard drives have always been one of the central pillars of the PC, and a fundamental component to be able to enjoy our favorite video games. His role was so important that they even ended up reaching video consolesWithout going any further, Xbox was the first to have, at home, a unit of this type, and it was later extended to Xbox 360 and PS3.

With PS4 and Xbox One, hard drives had an even greater role, and the installation of video games became essential to be able to play on consoles, which in the end made the user experience more and more similar to what we would have with a PC, which ended up becoming a major problem that has given developers many headaches.

To understand it, it is necessary to be clear why do we have to install a game on a storage unit, and why this can end up becoming a bottleneck. Normally a game has an approximate average weight of between 30 and 90 GB, although there are titles that easily exceed 100 GB.

Due to the weight they have, it is clear that it is impossible to store that enormous amount of data directly in the system’s RAM memory, and even if it were possible in some cases this type of memory is volatilewhich means that when turning off the PC the installation disappeared and we would have to do it again.

That is the main reason why it is necessary to use a storage unit, such as a hard drive, because this is nonvolatile, and also because it has a capacity that even in its cheapest versions is already in the 2 TB range. With a hard disk we have plenty of space, and we will also have the peace of mind that the installation will be maintained permanently.

Hard drives and video games: why have they become a burden?

Now that we are clear about why it is necessary to install video games on storage units, such as hard drives, we have the basis we need to fully explore why these have become a problem, and why video game developers they are turning their backs every time.

So that you have a more complete vision of the reality that we currently live in this sense, I am going to share with you five keys that explain, in a broad and precise way, the reasons why hard drives already have “one foot in the grave” in the video game industry. Its days are numbered, and eventually, sooner or later, we will reach a situation where it will be impossible to play using such a component.

1.-They have a very high latency

And this makes access times are much slower than what we would have on an SSD drive. This is totally normal, remember that hard drives are mechanical units that use several platters to store data and files, and that these are read through a mobile head that has to find the position of each data or file in each of those dishes.

If the data or files you need are found in very remote areas, or even on different dishes because there is a serious fragmentation problemthe latency will be enormous and could ultimately lead to numerous problems, including jerks and cases of popping more or less marked. Popping is the absence of necessary elements and a subsequent sudden and late appearance of these.

Imagine, for example, that you are driving through Night City in Cyberpunk 2077 and you see that elements of the stage appear out of nowhere, pedestrians and vehicles that should have been rendered much earlier. This would be a clear case of popping, and it is one of the problems that has occurred most frequently in Xbox One and PS4 games released in recent years.

To try to minimize this problem, developers have been using game installations with repeated data, so that they are installed in various areas of the hard drive to facilitate their location and improve access times. Obviously, this takes up more space unnecessarily.

2.-Its performance is much lower

hard drives video games popping

The difference in terms of performance between SSDs and hard drives is huge. Consider that the storage unit of PS4 and Xbox One, a 5,400 RPM hard drive, barely reaches an average speed of 100MB/swhile the Xbox Series X SSD reaches 2,400MB/sand that of PS5 reaches the 5,500MB/s.

What does this mean when we talk about video games? Well, very simple, that the data transfer speed offered by the Xbox Series X storage unit is 240 times greater than that of Xbox One, and that thanks to this it is not only possible to reduce loading times, but also The access and loading speed of game assets is greatly improved.

When the game engine is installed on an SSD drive with such a huge bandwidth, it can load all the elements and data you need in less time. This will reduce loading timesand at the same time it will improve the user experience, since once inside the game the load of assets in real time will occur at a very high speed, and we will not have jerking or popping problems.

Again we can put Cyberpunk 2077 as an example. In its version for PS4 and Xbox One, the game not only had problems with popping and jerks, which were especially pronounced when changing zones, but also would literally stop for several seconds because it needed to load data, and the hard drive was not capable of doing it in real time while handling the data needed to move the game. With an SSD the loading times between zones do not exist.

3.-There is no room for optimization

Hard drives have finally peaked, have reached a point where It is no longer possible to continue pulling optimization to get these to perform a little better in video games. As I told you before, developers have used tricks like on-premises data mirroring to improve performance, although at the same time it is a form of de-optimization because it makes games take up more space.

We have also seen a very marked trend towards the development of corridor games, with very small worlds made up with false backgrounds that show places we can never really get to. All these are tricks to disguise reality, and it is that with hard drives it is not possible to create video games with large worlds that can be freely roamed by the user, and the classic transitions with long loading times between maps are another insurmountable barrier. .

Cyberpunk 2077 is another excellent example because this title includes an option in the settings that allows optimize the game to run on a hard drive. This has an explanation, and it is that the game was developed to work on Xbox One and PS4, two consoles that have very slow hard drives, but it was also optimized to work well on an SSD drive, which is what PS5 and Xbox Series mount. X-Series S.

As much as we want to optimize reality, it ends up being inevitable, and in this case hard drives can no longer give more of themselves in the world of video games. They have become, for all their shortcomings, a huge bottleneck, and there is no room for optimization. So much so that even Cyberpunk 2077 itself will become one of the first games to stop supporting this type of storage units.

This does not mean that it will no longer be possible to play it on an HDD unit, but it does mean that the performance of this will be insufficient and that the gaming experience could end up being significantly affected, either by performance issues or for errors of greater or lesser severity.

4.-SSDs have been standardized

And they have done it to such an extent that today it is almost impossible to buy a PC or laptop that comes equipped with a hard drive. It must also be taken into account that the price of SSD drives has dropped dramatically in recent years, and that today it is possible to get models with 1 TB capacity and a good level of performance from 50 euro.

SSDs have become quite a standard within the general consumer market, and They have also done it in the world of video consolesa subject that is also very important and on which we are going to deepen in the last point of this article.

Due to the price difference that exists today between hard drives and SSD drives, it is clear that it is no longer worth buying an HDD, except for very specific cases that in the end constitute the exception and not the rule. So, for example, a hard drive would make sense primarily as a secondary drive for storing data and files, and also for backup.

As the main unit, an SSD is essential today, because it offers a huge improvement in general compared to the HDD, and with a minimal price difference. We have already given you specific performance data, but beyond the MB/s there is the issue of latency and access times, which are precisely what make us have that feeling of total fluidity and almost instant openness of files and folders when using an SSD.

5.-Consoles have said goodbye to hard drives

This is more important than it seems, and I’ll tell you why. Hard drives had continued to receive significant support in the world of video games because they were developed, in general, based on PS4 and Xbox One hardware. Both consoles use HDD drives, so in the end it was imperative to optimize for these drives.

We are talking about a huge user base, since both consoles add up to around 160 million users worldwideand this represents a very wide spectrum of potential sales that encourages developers to continue optimizing their games to work well on hard drives, and to accept the sacrifices that this entails.

With PS5 and Xbox Series X-Series S came the jump to SSD, and this automatically put an “expiration date” on hard drives in the gaming world. At the time when the transition to said consoles is complete, and PS4 and Xbox One are abandoned, developers will build on current generation hardware baseand in it the hard disk no longer has a presence.

Again, this is not to say that we will not be able to install games on hard drives, but it does mean that these may not even work acceptably on those drives, and that they will no longer be optimized to work with such slow storage drives. This will happen, if all goes according to plan, from 2024, the date on which the old generation consoles will be almost completely abandoned.

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