November 11, 2006 - Japan's Impress Watch media site took delivery of a retail PS3 unit today, and quickly began putting it to various tests. It took the system apart (see check out this article for pics of the innards), confirming that every PS3 does indeed include the PS2's Emotion Engine and Graphics Synthesizer combo chip as an assist for backwards compatibility. More importantly, at least if you're interested in saving some cash, the site conducted a hard disk test to see what happens when you put a new hard disk into the system.
According to Impress, the 20 Gig PS3 includes a Seagate LD25.1 hard disk running at 5,400rpm and with a cache of 2 megabytes. The 60 Gig PS3 has a Seagate Momentus 5400.2 running at 5,400rpm with a cache of 8 megabytes. The site investigated what would happen when you replace the hard drive with a Seagate 7200.1 series 100 gigabyte hard disk running at 7,200rpm and with 8 megabytes cache. This hard disk was purchased at a standard PC parts shop in Akihabara for the equivalent of around 180 dollars.
You'd expect a faster hard disk to speed up the transfer of game content from the Blu-ray disk during game installation. But that's not the case. The three hard disks took approximately the same amount of time to install Ridge Racer 7 (9 minutes, 45 seconds) and Gundam (8 minutes, 13 seconds). The site speculates that the bottleneck during the install is reading from the Blu-ray disc rather than writing to the hard disk.
There also isn't that much difference when playing games that have been installed. Impress reports hardly any difference between the three hard disks when going from Ridge Racer 7's stage select to the start of a stage.
Finally, the site put one more PS3 multimedia feature to the test. It transferred a large amount of data from compact flash to the hard disks in order to compare write speeds. The 20 gigabyte hard disk performed the worst, taking 4 minutes 56 seconds for the transfer. The 60 Gig and 100 Gig hard disks took 4 minutes 28 seconds. It appears that the cache size of the latter models is more important than the speed jump to 7,200 rpm for the new 100 Gig hard disk.
As its final judgment, Impress recommends that, for now at least, users should avoid a 7,200 rpm drive due to cost and potential heat concerns. Instead, the emphasis should be placed on hard disk size and cache size.