All solid state drives (SSDs) suffer from wear that eventually renders them inoperable. The PlayStation 5’s internal SSD is soldered directly to the motherboard. Does this mean your PS5 is doomed as soon as the SSD wears out? It’s too soon to worry.
Why Worry About the PS5 SSD?
Since the PS5 SSD is essentially part of the mainboard, any failure of the drive means replacing the entire board along with the CPU and GPU. Strictly speaking, you can manually remove components and solder new ones into a system. However, it’s usually not cost-effective and certainly not something the average user would do, even if they had the necessary parts and equipment.
Why Do SSDs Wear Out?
SSDs store data in memory cells. A cell is either a one or a zero depending on the level of charge within it. Reading the level of charge in the cell leaves it undisturbed, but in order to change that value (writing to it), the memory cell is exposed to a level of voltage that degrades it a little each time. Eventually, the memory cell is so degraded that it can’t hold levels of charge that are different enough to read as either a one or a zero, so it becomes useless.
Different types of SSD memory can take different amounts of wear before giving up the ghost, but the hardiest types cost the most money. MLC or Multi-Level Cell SSD memory stores multiple bits of data per memory cell, which makes it quite cost-effective. Most consumer SSDs, even the ones used in gaming systems, use MLC. However, since its cells have to store multiple bits, it wears down sooner than SSDs that only store a single bit per cell, where the different charge levels remain readable for much longer.
SSDs make up for this by being much, much faster than mechanical hard drives. Also, since they don’t have any moving parts, SSDs tend to last much longer than traditional hard drives before failing. They aren’t perfect, but modern gaming consoles such as the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S can’t offer the performance they do without them.
SSDs Actively Combat Wear
SSD makers are well aware of how wear affects the longevity of their products. While they can’t make MLC SSD memory more durable, they can be smarter about how SSDs write data to those cells. For example, “wear leveling” is an approach that keeps track of how many times a cell has been written to and tries to write to the least worn cells first.
SSDs also have extra memory cells that are not accessible to users or even the operating system. The drive holds these memory cells in reserve so that when a cell nears death, it’s quietly swapped out with a fresh cell held in reserve.
These are two main ways drives mitigate the effects of write wear, but it’s only part of the story. The various firmware that you’ll find in different brands of drive each have their own algorithm
SSDs Last Longer Than You Think
SSDs have a Terabytes Written (TBW) rating that indicated how much data can be written to them before the memory cells start to wear out. This number goes up the larger the drive is and, of course, better quality memory also plays a role.
The thing is, just like the Mean Time Before Failure (MTBF) rating that mechanical hard drives have, the TBW rating for a drive isn’t a precise prediction. In most cases, especially for high-quality SSDs as used in the latest consoles, the TBW rating is quite conservative. Torture tests have shown that in the real world SSDs generally exceed their TBW ratings, often quite dramatically. It’s not uncommon for write endurance to blow past the petabyte level.
It’s also worth remembering that where memory cells do fail, you still have firmware-level overprovisioning to extend the life of the drive.
Consoles Use SSDs Differently
Modern PC operating systems have been created with SSDs in mind. They don’t perform unnecessary disk writes that wear down SSDs. Yet, PCs will still perform more writes on average than a console. That’s because PCs are more general-purpose than consoles. You may be doing video editing, web browsing, gaming, and just about anything else with the system. Different types of tasks create different patterns of disk wear.
A console is quite different in this way. Most of the SSD is taken up by static game downloads. In other words, you download a game and leave it there until you’re done with it. So you may only be rewriting the whole disc once or twice a year if you’re finishing a few games each month.
Additionally, since games are developed to work with the specific RAM allocation of the console and it’s not a multitasking system with multiple apps running in the background, you don’t have RAM paging to contend with, where application data is cached to the SSD to make room.
What could be a concern is that the PS5 is always recording a rolling one-hour video game footage window. This is how you can hit the share button and save up to the last hour of gameplay. We don’t know what Sony’s calculations look like, but we assume that the sizable portion of the SSD reserved for the system allows a lot of wear leveling for this feature. Unfortunately, there’s no way to turn this off at the time of writing.
Catastrophic Failure Is a Problem
While we don’t think SSD wear is a realistic point of failure for the PS5, there’s always the possibility of catastrophic failure for any electronic component. This can happen on day 1 of ownership or ten years later. It’s part of the nature of mass production, where a small percentage of devices are going to fail regardless. If this happens to your PS5, there’s no simple fix. The entire mainboard has to be replaced and if that’s necessary out of warranty, it’s probably just simpler to replace the whole console.
Can You Preserve Your PS5 SSD?
If you’re really concerned about your PS5’s internal SSD wearing out during the useful life of the system, you’re only real option is to take advantage of the PS5’s SSD expansion slot with another SSD. This does represent an additional purchase, but if the expansion slot SSD fails for any reason you can just buy a new one rather than a new console. Simply refrain from using the internal SSD in favor of the expansion drive.
Also, remember that you can also play PS4 games from an external HDD or SSD using USB. So there are two places you can install games that avoid the internal drive entirely.