Yes, the PlayStation 4 Supports External Storage, but There’s a Catch

Game installs look like a no-go.

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It was probably a given, but we now know that while the PlayStation 4 supports external storage (like the PlayStation 3 before it), we won’t be able to use that storage to play downloaded games. Thank Sony games honcho Shuhei Yoshida — one of those rare corporate divisional presidents who spends a pile of time fielding questions on Twitter, pretty much daily – for confirming as much last week.

I’m assuming that’s not an anti-piracy thing, since Sony uses a generic 500GB internal hard drive in the PS4 and supports swapping it in or out, just like the PS3.

If you’re hoping to lock down your hard drive in an attempt to thwart freebooters (hey there, Xbox 360), you’d never make your internal drive swappable. And since Sony doesn’t sell PlayStation-branded hard drives priced upwards of twice what you’d pay for the same hard drive off whatever store shelf (hey again, Xbox 360), it’s also not a proprietary profit-making thing.

Okay, so a transfer speed issue then? Probably not. I don’t know enough about the PS4′s developmental architecture to make a blanket assumption, but while an external hard drive standard like eSATA (which the PS4 doesn’t support) is faster than USB 2.0, USB 3.0 (which the PS4 does support) brings things at least up to par with eSATA, give or take nominal differences when performing different transfer functions. In theory, there’s no reason the PS4 shouldn’t be able to play games running off a speedy external hard drive tethered with a USB 3.0 cable.

Indeed, computer-based gamers do as much today via external hard drives, playing Steam-based games without incident. Or take Nintendo’s Wii U, which employs USB 2.0: the console supports running games off external hard drives — indeed, the top-end Deluxe model only comes with 32GB of internal storage, so plugging in an external hard drive is mandatory if you’re scarfing from the full-downloads trough. It’s perplexing, to me anyway, that Sony wouldn’t support gaming off an external drive.

Not that Microsoft‘s doing much better: Speaking at PAX a few days ago, Larry Hryb (aka Major Nelson) confirmed that while the Xbox One will eventually support external storage, the feature won’t be present at launch because “the team is working on some other things.”

And yes, you’ll need a lot more than 500GB if you’re going all-digital. Not day one. Maybe not even year one. But we’re talking, at least in some instances, 50GB per game; do the math and that’s less than a dozen games before you’re forced to play the “which do I play least” game.

I hope, as I’m sure most do, that Sony eventually comes around and supports playing games off external hard drives (Microsoft, too, if it’s planning the same, though Engadget claimed back in May that the company’s senior director of product planning had said the Xbox One would ultimately support installing games to an external device). That, or Sony ought to explain, candidly and in some detail, why this feature’s a no-go.

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9 comments
JamesLhuede
JamesLhuede

as kazriko said, the internal format of the ps3 and ps4 is proprietary, and is therefore optimized heavily for the architecture. decisions like this greatly extend the lifetime of the product. if you want your ps4 to go out of date as a usable gaming machine in a couple of years, then it might have been a good idea to support playing games off universally formatted drives. if you want your ps4 to last like the ps3 did, then these are the sacrifices you have to make.


and in reality, its barely a sacrifice

RaniWasHere
RaniWasHere

I just want to be able to watch videos, listen to music and look at photos from my external hard drive..

Kazriko
Kazriko

It may be a piracy thing. In the PS3, the internal drive is completely encrypted with a key that is stored internally in the CPU. That hard drive can't be removed and hooked up to anything while getting anything useful out of it. The PS4 will probably be the same. External hard drives are usually formatted to some universal standard, in the case of the PS3, it only supported FAT32. If you were to load games onto the external drive, you'd have to completely reformat the drive and lose all non-PS4 data that is on it, and then you wouldn't be able to move it to other PS4's, else it would break the copy protection.

Also, USB 2.0 is significantly slower than SATA3. 2.0 can only do 480 Megabits per second which is 1/12th the speed of Sata3. USB 3.0 is about 5/6ths the speed of SATA3, but most hard drives don't use the entire 6gbit/sec anyway. I wouldn't be surprised though if they let you play videos and music off of an external hard drive, as you can do that on PS3.

I'm sure they'd tell you there's not much reason for an external drive when you can just plop a 1TB drive directly into the system.

MatthewTripoli
MatthewTripoli

I am not sure how much faster  the ps4 internal storage drive would be over a extenral drive but if you use both then developers have to target the lowest common denominator so that their are no gameplay issues.  If you can only use the faster internal storage then devs can take full advantage of what might be small benefit but is still a gain. also Id rather have the option if installing a internal sdd which i can do with ps4 then the option of a external drive

mrbcool
mrbcool

No worries somebody will come create a crack to play games off an external drive. Then sony will send endless patches to kill it. It's only a matter of time.

shyambond
shyambond

@mattpeckham storage flexibility has been a console problem since day 1.there us always a cache