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The big picture: Microsoft has announced two new size options for Xbox Series console storage expansion, and they are reminding customers yet again how expensive the latest NVMe storage still is. The prices recall the days of the Xbox 360's proprietary HDDs and the PlayStation Vita's memory cards, but how much better are the alternatives in today's market?
The announcement on Xbox Wire reveals 512GB and 2TB options for Seagate's Xbox Series X and S expansion cards, which command $140 and $400, respectively. They join the existing 1TB card priced at $220.
It's easy to point out Seagate's temporary exclusive deal to make Xbox SSD expansion cards as a reason for the sticker shock. It may remind some of the days when the Xbox 360's proprietary hard drive expansions didn't compare favorably to the PlayStation 3's compatibility with certain off-the-shelf PC hard drives. The PlayStation 5 has similar functionality, with Sony recently having unlocked support for PC M.2 SSDs.
Prices for off-the-shelf PCIe 4 NVMe SSDs, including the ones most recommended for the PS5, are fairly similar to those of the Xbox expansion cards. Samsung is preparing to release editions of its highly rated 980 Pros fitted specifically for the PS5 later this month, but they're slightly more expensive than the Xbox cards. The difference is that the similarly-priced PC and PS5 SSDs are more than twice as fast on paper. The question is how much that translates into a real-world performance difference.
The Xbox Series expansion cards are rated with read speeds of 2.4GB/s. The PS5's internal SSD is rated at around 5GB/s and that's the minimum Sony recommends for SSD upgrades. PC SSDs in the same price ballpark of the Xbox cards have read speeds as high as 7GB/s, including the 980 Pro.
To determine whether those high-speed requirements are warranted, Eurogamer's Digital Foundry recently tested PS5 exclusive Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart on an SSD below Sony's listed system requirements. Overall performance seemed to suffer only slightly. One game released only for the new consoles that can be compared on both PS5 and Xbox Series is The Medium, and tests showed that it actually loads twice as fast on Xbox compared to PlayStation.
These are still early days when it comes to PS5 and Xbox Series games. Those tests might only prove that games haven't fully utilized the new consoles' SSDs quite yet. The difference between the two may very well show itself in the coming years, and someone who spends $400 on a 2TB SSD is likely to keep using it for a long time.
This goes without mentioning developments that are still to come on PC. We've yet to really see games take advantage of Microsoft's DirectStorage API, and we have heard little about Nvidia's upcoming RTX I/O.