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.