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Ok, so several of my co-workers have been upgrading their work machines to use SSD hard drives instead of old spinning disks. They all rave about the huge speed boost on IO intensive actions like booting up, loading large files, starting apps the first time (before they're in memory) etc.

That got me to thinking, as I was waiting through load screen after load screen... would the same be true for my PS3? I've got to imagine that for downloaded games it will make a huge difference, since the game only exists on the HDD. But what about games that are on disc? Does the system cache a copy of the data on the HDD? or pre-load any of it when the game starts up? Has any one tried this yet?

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Well, it can slightly reduce loading time. However, reading from the DVD / blu-ray / HDD is not the only time consumming operation that can happen during those loading screen. In fact, it is generally not the longest operation.

After reading the data from the disc, the game still has to:

  • decompress it (data is generally compressed to reduce used space)
  • rebuild cross-references (between textures and models, ...)
  • ...

Those operations generally take more than half of the loading time. There exists some techniques to reduce this time (streaming, ...) but they may not be applicable to all types of game, and they can be difficult to implement.

Game are allowed to use some space on the HDD as a cache of blu-ray / DVD (both on Xbox and PS3). This is not that much used as installation (either via the Guide on Xbox, or via the game on PS3) is generally a better option (as the cache can be cleared automatically by the system after exiting the game).

On some specific games, loading time can be drastically improved however. Gran Turismo 5 for PS3 loading time can be halved by using a SSD.

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Good point about the decompression and rebuilding of other in memory structures. Hadn't thought about that aspect of it. –  cabbey Dec 7 '10 at 21:36
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Basically, not much. I read an article (found it) a while back where some tech guys put an SSD in a PS3 and compared load times for game w/ install. For the most part load times where the same. PSN games might have had a small advantage but things like metal gear solid still took about the same amount of time to load.

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Does the system cache a copy of the data on the HDD?

I wouldn't have thought so. Disk space isn't infinite and there are some consoles (but not PS3's) without hard drives at all, so if data were cached there'd have to be code to cope with it not being present. A far simpler solution is to not cache the data and read straight off the optical disk.

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Well, the PS3 must have a HDD, so developpers don't have to code around a missing HDD. In fact, game are allowed to use the HDD as a cache (on PS3 and Xbox 360), and many of them do this. –  Sylvain Defresne Dec 3 '10 at 17:07
    
@Sylvain - OK, but my first point still stands. –  ChrisF Dec 3 '10 at 17:08
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