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World of Warcraft Shadowlands Beta - SSD versus HDD

For Shadowlands Blizzard listed SSD as a minimal requirement. This did frighten a lot of players and in the end SSD ended up as recommended only. How does storage type affect WoW?

Storage types

HDD storage uses magnetic spinning disks to manage data. SSD uses solid state NAND Flash memory to store data - no mechanical parts. The main advantage of SSD aside of higher transfer speeds is much much quicker file access time and much higher random read/write performance. This helps with game load times as well as with quicker application of updates.

Combarison of HDD, SATA SSD and NVMe SSD

Combarison of HDD, SATA SSD and NVMe SSD

For WoW SSD really help with assets loading. This was quite clearly visible in Legion where a SSD greatly helped with Dalaran load times. Below you can see cold load times of Oribos using an average HDD, entry level SATA SSD and good NVMe SSD:

WoW cold load time HDD vs SSD

As you can see HDD is way behind any type of SSD. The NVMe SSDs achieve much higher throughput than SATA, but this isn't used as much when loading WoW assets.

SATA HDD performance

SATA HDD performance

SATA SSD performance

SATA SSD performance

NVMe SSD performance

NVMe SSD performance

Slow HDD will give long load times and then optionally some more time to load all missing assets, like even your UI icons. This can get annoying and that's why Blizzard recommended an SSD officially.

Delay on icons loading on HDD

Delay on icons loading on HDD

Mac Mini with slow HDD can't load zone assets in time

Mac Mini with slow HDD can't load zone assets in time

How to upgrade to an SSD?

If you have a typical PC then your motherboard should have multiple SATA connectors. You can just add an SSD to the system (connecting via SATA cable to the motherboard and power connector to the PSU) or replace existing HDD with SSD and reinstall Windows and all games.

On a laptop your options may be limited. If it uses a standard HDD drive then it can be replaced by a SSD. Some laptops allow for additional storage - then you can also add SSD without replacing existing one. Older laptops may have a mSATA connector while newer and latest - M.2 connector for M.2 NVMe or SATA drives. If your laptop have a M.2 slot check the documentation which type of M.2 drives it supports (and which key connector it has). Older ones likely will only support SATA variants while newer can support only NVMe or both.

External SSD drives can be used, although you will have to have it connected constantly while playing. Flash drives likely won't perform good enough and I would not recommend using them (they are good for storing data, not for random on demand access). SD cards could work but you would have to look for SD cards marked with A1 or better A2 performance standard. A1/A2 define how much random I/O the SD card can handle. This is crucial for using SD cards for applications and not for large file (image, video) storage. You will however pay premium for such SD card vs SATA SSD and potentially you will need a USB3 card reader if built in is to slow/old and having problems with SDXC cards.

ADATA MicroSDXC A2 Premier Pro 256 GB card could potentially work as an SSD replacement

ADATA MicroSDXC A2 Premier Pro 256 GB card could potentially work as an SSD replacement

And as mentioned - if you use a SATA or NVMe SSD you can replace the whole system or just add it for WoW and some other games. SSD does help a lot with Windows and other application loading and is pretty much recommended across the board. If you want to move your system from HDD to SSD then you will either have to reinstall the system clean or clone existing one - some SSD come with cloning software while other rely on third party apps to do it.

When picking SSD - always give some extra capacity. SSD performance is better with higher capacity as well as gives more extra space that can be used for other things. You should never have a SSD used close to full capacity - in such cases performance drops a lot, potentially to unplayable level (one of reasons why extra capacity is better).

For WoW only SSD I would recommend 256-512GB. For Windows + WoW 512GB - 1TB. Even a basic, but good brand/good reviews SATA SSD will do. Don't buy SSD labeled with a weird brand and without any reviews. There are trash SSDs on the market.

Different types of M.2 SSDs often use different connector key

Different types of M.2 SSDs often use different connector key

Modern PC system often have 1-2 M.2 slots on the motherboard

"Modern PC system often have 1-2 M.2 slots on the motherboard

Older laptops may have a mSATA slot

Older laptops may have a mSATA slot (light blue desktop SATA connector next to it)

2,5 and 3,5 inch HDD can be replaced by a 2,5 inch SATA SSD

2,5 and 3,5 inch HDD can be replaced by a 2,5 inch SATA SSD

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World of Warcraft Shadowlands Beta benchmarks, 12 October 2020, Piotr Maliński

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