Do SSDs improve gaming performance?

Do SSDs improve gaming performance?

Arnab Mukherjee | 13 Sep 2019
HIGHLIGHTS

While SSDs do offer an upgrade over HDDs, when it comes to pure gaming performance, do they make a difference?

Since the last few years, SSD’s have become completely mainstream especially when it comes to gamers. The costs have been coming down and in terms of performance, SSDs clearly outshine what HDDs can offer. However, there’s still a significant price difference when it comes to the cost-capacity ratio, but that is something many gamers will be willing to overlook if there’s a corresponding boost to gaming performance on their builds. The question remains - do SSD’s really affect gaming performance? The answer isn’t as simple as you might think.

Wait, what does an SSD do?

This section is for those who don’t exactly know the benefits that an SSD offers. If this is something you’re familiar with, feel free to skip to the next section.

Intel P3608 NVMe flash SSD, PCI-E add-in card

An SSD essentially reduces read/write times drastically as compared to an HDD. Comparing similarly priced SSDs and HDDs, you’re bound to notice a difference in data access times that can go as high as a factor of ten or even more. Even the cheapest SSD you can get is likely to outperform a performance-oriented HDD when it comes to pure performance. Quite a lot of us already use SSDs to run our operating systems, which leads to faster boot times and quick access to your desktop once you’ve fired up your system.

On the other hand, an SSD also uses up less CPU power, leaving the CPU free for other operations, as compared to an HDD. So, on an SSD powered system, you might see an overall improvement in performance beyond the faster boot time as well.

But this isn’t about an outright feature to feature comparison between SSDs and HDDs. Do all of these benefits affect gaming performance? In some ways, yes. In others, not so much.

SSD vs HDD - which one comes out on top for gamers? (Source: Flickr)

Framerates

Let's get this straight right from the get-go – SSDs cannot give you better framerates as compared to an HDD, with everything else equal. That is something your GPU is responsible for. So, if you’re having issues with your framerates, you’re better off focussing on upgrading your GPU than trying to eke out better framerates by picking an SSD over an HDD. You don’t have to take our word for it. Try running a benchmark from an SSD and an HDD. In most cases, you won’t see any significant difference in performance.

When it comes to framerates, there’s no difference between using an SSD and an HDD


This doesn't mean that SSDs make no difference to gamers at all. There are some areas where they prove to be an advantage.


Loading times

An SSD’s prowess lies in faster data access. So any situation in a gaming experience that involves accessing data from the storage on a computer will be faster on an SSD. So, any game will boot faster. You’ll see shorter loading screens. In fact, a particular issue called ‘hitching’ is best addressed by moving your game to an SSD. 


Comparison of load times between a pure HDD and a HDD+SSD setup on an Xbox One X (Source: GamersNexus)

‘Hitching’ is where a game fails to load its assets at a pace that can keep up with the player, resulting in pauses or partially loaded screens. So if you’re encountering these issues, then yes, upgrading to an SSD will certainly help you. Even without any particular issues, an SSD will grant you shorter loading screens and smoother in-game asset loading.


These will go away faster with SSDs (Source: Bethesda)

Build

A particular point of confusion when it comes to the SSD vs HDD debate for any build is which one is tougher. In terms of sheer longevity, HDDs can outlast SSDs by five years or more. However, due to the SSD not having any moving parts, they tend to come with fewer manufacturing defects and age better. On the other hand, an HDD will stick you with a steeper downward curve of performance over the years. The same issue also makes an HDD noisier as time passes. Take your pick based on priorities for this one.


Structural comparison between HDD and SSD

Cost vs Capacity

Not everyone has the massive budget required to spend a fortune on building an SSD-only gaming PC. Games today are massive and require sizeable hard drives to be stored. One of the advantages that have still kept HDDs alive is the low cost-to-capacity ratio that they offer. On the other hand, you have to keep in mind that the premium you pay for an SSD is not just for speed, but also for increased reliability, lower CPU loads and power consumption, and in the event of a failure, a backup speed that is almost three times faster.


A high capacity SSD will cost you a bomb

So what do you do?

Get both of them! That is what most gamers do. You can have a 250GB SSD running your operating system and a 1TB HDD for your games. Even better, you can move the game you’re currently playing into your SSD to get the best of both worlds. However, if you prize performance over all else and cost is not a barrier for you, you can say goodbye to HDDs without missing them at all.

On the other hand, if you don't want the hassle of maintaining two separate drives and yet want the benefits of having both an SSD and an HDD, you should go for a Solid State Hybrid Drive (SSHD). On a typical SSHD, a small amount of storage is in the solid state form while the rest is as a traditional hard drive. It appears as a single device to a system, and a controller chip onboard controls the storage of data. Certain SSHDs come with the ability to understand which applications you use the most and move them onto the SSD part of the SSHD. Their benefits make them ideal for laptops, however, they're also useful for PC builds where you do not want the hassle of having to decide where to store your programs each time. When it comes to pricing, SSHDs fall between HDDs and SSDs, but are closer to the lower end in comparison to SSDs. Keep in mind that a dedicated SSD is always better in terms of sheer performance.

OK, but what's PCIe NVMe and SATA III all about?

You may have noticed that some PCs come with a PCIe NVMe SSD while others sport a SATA III SSD. In short, the former drives are faster while the latter ones are slower but they're both still faster than a typical HDD. NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) is the latest (and fastest) transfer protocol for data stored on disks. It complements the PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) transfer interface, thereby achieving transfer rates of approximately 15.8 Gb/s. SATA III is the third iteration of the Serial ATA transfer interface, which uses the AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) transfer protocol to achieve transfer speeds of 6 Gb/s. It's fast compared to a typical HDD but PCIe NVMe is even faster. You can't go wrong with a SATA III SSD on your new PC but a PCIe NVMe SSD is the one to get if you're looking for extreme speeds.



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