Can you run Starfield on an HDD? No

On today’s installment of Bad Calls I Have Made, I will cop to never really buying the idea of Starfield needing an SSD. Even among its astronomical system requirements, an inflexible demand for solid state storage seemed like a stretch; after all, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart runs mostly fine on a hard drive, and in a previous life that game was employed as a cheerleader for the PS5’s SSD. Starfield would probably just have rubbish load times or texture pop-in or something, and all would be revealed once I could try it on mechanical storage. Which I now have.

So, can you play Starfield on an HDD? No. It’s bloody awful.

Was Starfield worth the wait? Liam and Alice B discuss this question – and more – in the video above.Watch on YouTube

Not Starfield per se, which is mostly good – when it’s running off an SSD. On a hard drive, it’s a completely different game, which is to say its structual integrity is snapped to bits like the chocolate on a freshly bitten Magnum. In addition to the largely benign, often hilarious bugs you get on an SSD, HDD!Starfield is riddled with skipping audio, animation failures, stuttering, hanging, crashing, the lot. Also, it has rubbish load times and texture pop-in.

The collapse in stability is the most naturally game-ruining of these behaviours. I played for hours on both my test PC’s SSD and the stock SSD of a Steam Deck before trying an HDD, and in both cases, Starfield didn’t crash once. By contrast, on an HDD it crashed twice during a single five-minute attempt at recording some footage for Liam. Temporary freezes are even more common, and while they might not send you to back to desktop in a defeated heap, they do render gunfights utterly unplayable. Here’s one I suffered earlier:

Do not adjust your set.

Quieter moments aren’t spared either. Often, they become literally quieter, as diagetic sound effects like wind, footsteps, or booster back blasts cut out or play out of sync. NPC dialogue is hit particularly hard by Starfield’s lack of HDD compatibility: in my experience, conversations typically began with a big stutter, followed by silence, followed by desynced dialogue floating from unmoving lips. These breakdowns in communication do not, as far as I can tell, occur on SSDs.

It’s not just me, either. In the RPS treehouse, Liam reported that he was getting the same seconds-long hangs as early as the tutorial, having somehow installed Starfield on his hard drive “by accident” (sure, sure). After reinstalling on his SSD, normal Starfield service resumed. Graham, another HDD user, has been seeing these issues too.

Before the extent of all this misery became apparent, I’d planned a straightforward loading time comparison using my test rig’s SSD (a 2TB Crucial P3 Plus) and a typical HDD (a 1TB WD Caviar Blue). I know that given the other problems, this must now seem as useful as measuring the blood pressure on Anne Boleyn’s cadaver, but these results still reflect the totality of how Starfield rejects non-SSD storage. In one case, the hard drive was a full ten times slower.

SSD load time HDD load time
Steam launch to start screen 20s 19s
Main menu load to active save 15s 1m 32s
Entering Lodge load 3s 31s
Grav Jump to new system load 19s 40s
Orbit to landing load 13s 24s
Takeoff to orbit load 22s 46s

If all this sounds like I’m outragedly flag-waving for mechanical storage’s good old days, when we frolicked through the sunlit uplands of spinning platters and didn’t have to worry about woke NAND flash, I am not. For gaming specifically, I’m more of the mind that HDDs have had their time; SSDs are both faster and cheaper than ever, and we’d all be a bit happier with our PCs if we fully switched.

You could say Starfield is simply reflecting these changing times. You could also point out that hard drives are mere tools, and don’t need to bow out gracefully like a beloved veteran footballer getting his testimonial. Still, if Starfield being irreparably wrecked on HDD represents some kind of ending… I dunno, I suppose I just didn’t imagine it being such a violent one.

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