The great technological novelty of the next generation consoles is not the ray tracing nor the support for a 4K resolution, but the general change in the storage format by adopting solid disks or also known as SSDs . But how will this affect PC gaming in the future? Will we see solid drives being an essential part of our gaming PCs or will it all remain an anecdote?
While the PC has traditionally been the force of technological innovation when it comes to technologies, consoles have been the democratizing force that have brought these technologies to the mass market.
And it is that we cannot deny that, although solid disks are much better than conventional hard disks in terms of performance and although they have been among us in the PC world for many years, they have not just been standardized in their use, and specifically their Usage in games is poor because it boils down to slow loading times and nothing more than that, without the games taking advantage of all the other benefits they provide.
The SSD adoption process is like the CD
The best way for a technology to become a de facto standard is by mass-producing it, and in the hardware world the best way to achieve this is for said technology to come standard in the system instead of forcing the user to buy it. Since when a technology is integrated, the end user takes it as free within the same system and developers can make use of this technology in all their applications.
In the early 90’s for both consoles and PCs, CD-ROM readers were sold in expensive multimedia expansion systems that did not come integrated with the systems.
It was not until the second half of the 90s, dominated in the console market by the PlayStation, that the CD-ROM became a standard integrated technology that did not result in an extra cost for the end user and games began to appear. who considered the use of this technology in their development. For the user who had bought a PlayStation, this was not an extra cost since it came from the factory and had as a consequence the low cost of the CD-ROM readers on PC since from there was born a whole recreational industry focused on this format.
With NVMe storage the same will happen, its use in applications in a massive way will be possible thanks to the fact that tens of millions of people will have an Xbox Series, X or S, and / or a PlayStation 5 at home. This, on the one hand, will help lower costs thanks to the enormous demand that this type of storage will have compared to previous years and, on the other hand, it will make games take advantage of this technology.
The influence of Direct Storage for the standardization of SSD in PC
Thanks to the fact that Microsoft has also opted for solid disks in its console and that it has decided to universalize the DirectX of the Xbox and the PC we find that we finally have an API such as Direct Storage integrated in DirectX 12, which gives the capacity to GPUs to be able to use the non-volatile memory in the system as long as it is accessible through the system’s PCIe lines, whether it is connected to different lines of the system’s PCIe controller or if it is inside of the graphics card itself.
The first generation of cards to have access to the SSD were the AMD Vega through HBCC , but it was not until the implementation of Direct Storage that it was standardized in DirectX 12, resulting in the implementation of RTX IO technology in the RTX ranges. 2000 and RTX 3000 from NVIDIA.
The advantages of giving the graphics card access to the non-volatile memory of the SSD are many, but especially they are based on giving access not to tens but to hundreds of GB of memory, which allows to store common graphic data such as texture packages , models and other files that are normally used not only in games but also in professional modeling applications.
The intergenerational period
Are we going to see SSD usage in games in the short term? The reality is that no, since all the console games that we are going to see at least in the first year of these are intergenerational, and this means that they are designed for the current generation and not to take advantage of the SSD, since current consoles like Xbox One and PlayStation 4 do not use this technology.
As for the PC world, there are still many people using mechanical and graphic discs that do not have the ability to access the solid discs that are in the system, so we will still have to wait a while to see games that require the SSD, and This will be related to the time in which the console games begin to use the SSD and are ported from the console to the PC; then yes we will see PC games asking you to have an SSD in the system, but for this you will still have to wait a year at least.
The UFS 3.1 is solid state memory too
The counterpart to all this is the fact that UFS 3.1 memory is also solid state memory and this is significant for much of the market, and that is that not everyone who buys a PC needs to use high-speed non-volatile memory like that will be used for the consoles and the PC gaming market, all based on the use of PCIe interfaces with several GB / s of bandwidth. Non-volatile memory types such as UFS 3.1 have a good enough bandwidth to replace the hard disk in most applications of daily use for most people and are already being used in a massive way in devices PostPC.
This will mean that the cost of the high-end NVMe used for PCIe disks does not drop so much in price, simply because the bulk of the market for computers and devices will use UFS 3.1 memories to store their data, which is much more cheap, so the PCIe solid drives that you install in your system are not going to be integrated technology as standard, at least in the PC, but technology for enthusiasts, as happened with the 3D cards, which also became an integral part of PCs but twenty years later the common PC is still sold without the high-end graphics cards built in.
Will games be better optimized thanks to the use of the SSD?
The games will be better optimized for the use of the solid disk, but they will not be so for those who do not have them on their PCs, so many games will not be able to be played if you do not have an SSD or they will simply work much worse.
When, for example, Wing Commander III appeared on PC, it was one of the first games designed to take advantage of CD-ROM technology in all its splendor and it was a game completely impossible to carry out on floppy disk format. The same will happen in the case of games that make use of solid state memories for PC, they simply will not be possible on hardware that does not have them.
In any case, the title designed and thought to make the most of the SSD and that represents a before and after in PC games we have not seen yet, is that we have not even seen it announced.