We tested the temperatures of the SSD NVMe PCI-Express 4.0 expansion!
Sony has released the installation of an SSD in Playstation 5, giving the consumer freedom to use any product that meets a set of specifications. But in addition to storage space limitations and especially the use of technology being mandatory PCI Express 4.0, the company was also quite explicit on the need for a way to dissipate heat.
As is clear from the installation instructions, the heatsink is not optional. In the words of Sony’s own guide: “Using an M.2 SSD with your PS5 console requires effective heat dissipation with a cooling structure such as a heat sink and heat transfer board.”
But unlike the initial system test where the Playstation checks if the SSD is PCIe 4.0 type or is within the 256GB to 2TB of space specification, there is no way for the console to detect if there is heat dissipation on the SSD, so it will work. But… this “can go bad”?
The first question is: what is too hot for an SSD? Despite variations between products, the specifications of the Cardea A440 that we are going to use in the tests end up being the same as many PCIe 4.0 models: the operating temperature ranges from 0°C to a ceiling of 70°C. Unfortunately the Playstation doesn’t give us an internal temperature measurement tool, so we had to improvise.
For the tests we took advantage of a set of sensors included on the ASUS ROG Zenith Extreme motherboard. Originally they were designed to be placed inside an enclosure and thus provide the user with information about internal air circulation and heat dissipation. But let’s improvise them, since the console itself doesn’t give us this information.
The first need is to validate this methodology. To test the workaround, we glued the sensor to different regions of the SSD with electrical tape, turned on a high-stress test on the SSD in the ATTO Benchmark and compared the temperatures measured by our gambiarristic sensor (T_Sensor) and the value recorded by the sensor of the SSD itself ( Drive Temperature). The result is very satisfactory when we place the sensor in the controller region, on the opposite side of the PCB, where the curve practically matches the measurement by the sensor of the storage itself.
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Here we also see the limitations of our tests. In heating, the temperature difference is less than 3ºC, but the electrical tape lives up to its name and causes our sensor to cool down more slowly. So our sensor can reach up to 8ºC more heating. But the most important thing is here: if the SSD hits 70°C, its operating limit temperature, we’ll know. And as you can see in this first graph – the test was done without any heatsink installed on the SSD – you can quickly get to this heat at high load, with the top of the graph being 70ºC and the value was reached near the end of the test.
With the methodology validated, it was time to try to figure out how to heat the SSD as much as possible. We opened some games, loaded saves, downloaded and moved games between the PS5’s internal drive and our SSD and came to the conclusion that the last two procedures stress the SSD the most.
In our tests, the two activities that raised the temperature the most were transferring between internal and external storage, and also downloading games. Loading games or even playing them is not enough to reach a high level of heat, which makes sense: they are high load activities for the SSD, but this doesn’t happen in a sustained way, unlike a transfer of a full game.
Even in the copy, however, we didn’t see the SSD hit 70ºC as it did in our stress test with the ATTO Benchmark on PC. At system peak, without any dissipation (T_Sensor), the sensor hit 59ºC, more than 10 degrees Celsius of margin below the threshold.
We placed a sensor inside the area where the SSD goes, below the metal cover. According to Sony’s own installation tutorial, this cover must be replaced after installing the SSD, which in theory reduces air circulation in the storage region. In our tests, the sensor indicated that the air inside this structure reached 34°C, which indicates that it is creating a greenhouse effect inside, but this is not a radical change compared to our ambient temperature of 24°C.
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Putting the heatsink that comes with the Cardea, with thermalpads and a robust metal frame, the impact is remarkable., as visible in the second graph (T_Sensor 2). In addition to the temperature rise taking much longer, the peak we hit was just 47°C, a great temperature for a heavily loaded SSD.
This shows us two things. The first is that temperatures without dissipation on the SSD can reach high values in some scenarios, but they are not unreasonable.. Temporary use of the SSD without additional heat dissipation is not something that should keep consumers awake.
But, at the same time, the difference between using a heatsink is huge, bringing the temperature to much lower levels. This makes the storage more capable of maintaining high performance without the risk of throttling due to overheating, but that’s not the main reason to use a heatsink.
Temperatures are among the main durability factors of an electronic component, along with humidity and dust control. Keeping the SSD operating at lower temperatures will help extend its lifespan, and considering that the cheapest PCIe 4.0 SSD is in the R$1,300 range, it’s definitely a good idea to extend its durability with a thermal solution that can be purchased separately or even in the kit of some models. Therefore, we follow Sony’s recommendation and also consider it a good idea to add a cooling system to the SSD you install on the Playstation.