Intro and Upgrading the PS4 Pro Hard Drive

Can the SATA III interface in the PS4 Pro further improve SSD-based load times?

When Sony launched the PS4 Pro late last year, it introduced an unusual mid-cycle performance update to its latest console platform. But in addition to increased processing and graphics performance, Sony also addressed one of the original PS4's shortcomings: the storage bus.

The original, non-Pro PlayStation 4 utilized a SATA II bus, capping speeds at 3Gb/s. This was more than adequate for keeping up with the console's stock hard drive, but those who elected to take advantage of Sony's user-upgradeable storage policy and install an SSD faced the prospect of a storage bus bottleneck. As we saw in our original look at upgrading the PS4 Pro with a solid state drive, the SSD brought some performance improvements in terms of load times, but these improvements weren't always as impressive as we might expect.

We therefore set out to see what performance improvements, if any, could be gained by the inclusion of SATA III in the PS4 Pro, and if this new Pro model makes a stronger case for users to shell out even more cash for a high capacity solid state drive. We weren't the only ones interested in this test. Digital Foundry conducted their own tests of the PS4 Pro's SATA III interface. They found that while a solid state drive in the PS4 Pro clearly outperformed the stock hard drive in the original PS4, it generally didn't offer much improvement over the SATA II-bottlenecked SSD in the original PS4, or even, in some cases, the stock HDD in the PS4 Pro.

But we noticed a major issue with Digital Foundry's testing process. For their SSD tests, they used the OCZ Trion 100, an older SSD with relatively mediocre performance compared to its latest competitors. The Trion 100 also has a relatively low write endurance and we therefore don't know the condition and performance characteristics of Digital Foundry's drive.

To address these issues, we conducted our tests with a brand new 1TB Samsung 850 EVO. While far from the cheapest, or even most reasonable option for a PS4 Pro upgrade, our aim is to assess the "best case scenario" when it comes to SSD performance via the PS4 Pro's SATA III bus.

Upgrading the PS4 Pro Hard Drive

Unlike Microsoft and the Xbox One, the PS4 has featured a user-upgradeable hard drive since the very beginning. With the PS4 Pro, the location of the hard drive has changed, but the process is still just as easy as its predecessor.

First, if you're upgrading a PS4 Pro with games and save data already on it, be sure to back up your data first, either by copying your saves and game data to an external USB drive, or by uploading your saved games to PSN if you're a PlayStation Plus subscriber. Once your data is backed up, you can move on to physically swapping out the drives.

As outlined at the official PlayStation website, the PS4 Pro's hard drive is located on the bottom of the unit. The upgrade process involves simply removing a plastic cover from the hard drive bay, unscrewing a single Phillips-head screw which holds the hard drive tray in place, and then removing the four Phillips-head screws which hold the drive to the tray. Swap in your SSD, reinstall the screws in reverse order, and snap the plastic hard drive bay cover back into place.

Next, download the appropriate PS4 system software and copy it to a USB drive as instructed on the PlayStation website. Note that you'll need to download the full PS4 system installer (about 800MB in size) if you're installing on a new SSD, and not the system upgrade (about 350MB). Using the latter file will result in an error when attempting to restore the system.

Finally, connect the USB drive containing the PS4 system software, hold the power button on the console for about seven seconds, and watch the system boot into safe mode. From there, you can select the Initialize PS4 (Reinstall System Software) option and you'll soon be up and running with a clean install of the PS4 operating system on your new SSD.

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