gamers have been less than happy about Gran Turismo 5's load times since the long-awaited game launched a few weeks ago. Beyond3D forum member Phil was fed up enough to install a Corsair F120SSD in place of the system's traditional SATA hard drive and the performance difference is significant. We've graphed the data from Phil's load time tests below.
Certain forum respondents expressed dismay that the load times are only twice as fast, but we've a feeling that firmware optimizations could improve transfer speeds. Load times have always been the Achilles heel of console gaming, but SSDs could dramatically improve the situation. When the XBox 360 / PS3 launched, SSD performance still varied considerably, cost the earth, and weren't an option for console's that already set price records.
Gamers hate load times and manufacturers love differentiating products; an SSD-equipped version of an XBox 360, PS3, or Wii could be a match made in heaven. At present, a PS3 runs $299 for a 160GB model and $399 for a 320GB model (this includes the Sony Move bundle). Sony could easily whip up a pair of "Elite" SKUs at $349 (60GB SSD) and $499 (120GB SSD). Our price points are strictly theoretical and only meant to illustrate how SSDs could be integrated into the PS3's existing cost structure.
This wouldn't affect game development or cause compatibility issues because developers wouldn't have to target SSD users in any special way. The fact that gamers detest long load times, meanwhile, would discourage game studios from exploiting the 'extra' time they'd suddenly gained when the market began switching to SSDs
There's another way the major console makers could introduce SSDs. Instead of offering SKUs differentiated by the presence and size of an SSD, all three manufacturers could offer updated consoles with USB 3.0 support. Users would then have the option of plugging in their own USB 3.0 storage device. Such drives wouldn't replace hard drives as the console's primary storage, but could be used to provide 'preferred' storage. Regularly played titles or current favorites could be installed directly to the high-speed drive, with occasional or past titles saved to primary storage.
First-generation USB 3.0 thumb drives aren't fast enough to make this option appealing, but that could easily change by the time a USB 3.0 SKU was actually brought to market. The potential downside here, however, is processing time--the console's CPU would have to devote at least a small amount of CPU time to handling the USB interface.
With both MS and Sony sticking to their current consoles for at least another 2-3 years and the Nintendo Wii getting a bit old in the tooth, this type of upgrade seems virtually certain. It's the best type of upgade, insomuch as it would improve one aspect of every game that's ever been published for the system in question. Faster load times might not have the advertising potential of Sony's Move or Microsoft's Kinect, but they'd be every bit as sexy for gamers in the know.