Storage Matters: Enabling a New Era of Gaming

Article By : Sehyun Kim

The impacts of this new storage capability will resonate across the video game industry.

The video game industry continues to grow more sophisticated and it seems as if every new release delivers faster speeds, higher-resolution detail and richer experiences. From a technology perspective, this has led to a huge demand for expanded storage capabilities.

The hugely popular “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” title, for example, set a new storage record when it launched in 2019 — requiring a whopping 175 GB of storage space. As games continue to innovate and improve, they will likely begin to exceed storage requirements of 200 GB, in turn requiring a storage capacity of 256 GB, or even larger.

For an industry where a long-lasting loading screen can single-handedly destroy a gaming experience, the solution isn’t always focused on storage capacity. Often, the type of storage can have a greater impact on the overall experience.

Looking for More
Gamers have long desired storage with faster load times so that they can immerse themselves into the overall gaming experience. As the game tries to load assets and textures, a slow hard drive or solid-state drive can leave a gamer sitting around instead of exploring a virtual world or setting out on a fishing raid.

In some instances, the HDD storage adopted by the current generation of gaming consoles has fallen short of gamers’ needs, prompting some to customize their devices with up-to-date solid- state storage so they can fully experience their games. A Worcester Polytechnic Institute study recently found that SSDs were about twice as fast as HDDs for reading, and 15 percent faster for writing. SSDs also provided 25 percent faster game boot times than HDDs and 20 percent faster game start times — but no significant increase in time to save games.

But the industry is finally listening. Later this year, Playstation and Xbox Series X will become the first gaming consoles to feature SSDs. Enabled by heavily stacked memory chips, new SSDs will enable even better performance and longer endurance and will feature house controllers and top-tier NAND flash memory.

The faster, more sophisticated SSDs will reduce load times, improve asset streaming speed, and potentially allow gamers to instantly resume multiple games the moment they quit. While developers are looking at the arrival of the SSD as a new era of storage, many are viewing it not just as storage, but as memory, enabling the user to move faster through the game.

Enabling a New Era of Gaming
The impacts of this new storage capability will resonate across the industry. Emerging technologies, such as expanded storage capabilities, as well as the proliferation of 5G networks, are the primary reasons for the popularization of cloud gaming. A recent survey by EY found that sixty-three percent of executives agree that if major game companies do not offer consumers cloud-based games, they will be at a disadvantage in five years. These platforms allow users to game from any internet-connected device with no installation needed. Since the game’s data is stored on a central server rather than on individual devices, gamers only need a fast internet connection and a display screen.

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Semiconductor memory will also play an important role in the growth of cloud gaming. As gamers turn away from high-end hardware for an experience that allows them to play their games anytime, anywhere they want. Because the vast amounts of gaming data need to be stored and exchanged, the needs for data centers will continue to surge, as will state-of-the-art storage solutions with latest SSDs and DRAMs.

Looking Ahead
The development and evolution of SSD solutions technologies and the emergence of next-gen SSD form factors will enable companies to provide memory solutions with higher capacity, faster data transfer speed, and lower price. Ultimately, the data transfer speeds companies are able to offer depends on SSD controllers and NAND flash. In addition, the capacity of SSD depends on SSD form factor as the latter determines how the developers can combine NAND packages within SSDs.

Products and offerings will evolve and improve as companies create new innovations in NAND Flash cell — such as the development of QLC — in order to provide more density per unit wafer surface. In addition, similar to processor designers moving to FinFET technology, new technologies like periphery under cell (PUC) can deliver denser NAND products. We’re also seeing this technology used in the latest 4D NAND Flash products which are currently available in the market.

Another area of advancement for semiconductor memories is AR/VR. The most determining factor for more realistic rendering or supporting AR/VR is graphics DRAM, and its data transfer speed/bandwidth. More specifically, the emergence of high bandwidth memory such as GDDR6 DRAM and HBM2E signals how companies are thriving to provide more realistic rendering and supports for AR/VR for gaming and other applications.

The need for new technology platforms to support the sensational and creative new games emerging in the market has never been greater. With new CPUs, GPUs, and SSD storage offerings emerging across consoles and PCs, the experience for gamers is set to enter a new phase.

— Sehyun Kim is Technical Leader at SK Hynix

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