Exploring Wii U’s Storage Options And Selecting The Best Drive For The Job

The launch of Nintendo’s next home console is nigh upon us. Although there are still mysteries surrounding the Wii U (like price, release date, etc.) one of the things we do know is what storage mediums will be compatible with Wii U. Because we take every aspect of Nintendo seriously here at Nintendo Connect, we wanted to explore most of the practical storage solutions for the Wii U so we can decide which drives to purchase and use. To get everyone up to speed, Nintendo has officially announced that the Wii U will accept SD cards (including SDHC formats) and USB drive storage (such as an external HDD). Unfortunately the Wii U won’t have any internal HDD drive bays found in current-gen HD consoles, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. Luckily Wii U owners won’t have to buy any proprietary drives so any drive around the house will work. Even though we have a lot of options for storage on the Wii U, we wanted to know which options would be best and we would like to share our research with you. Just as we did with 3DS SD card options, we will now do the same for the Wii U.

The interfaces:

We wanted to explore all of the practical options for an SD card slot and USB 2.0 drives to see how performance varies across the board. But before we share what we used we wanted to go over the interface technologies and why they are important. USB 2.0 interfaces have a theoretical max speed of roughly 40 MB/s with actual speeds running at ~30MB/s or so. THIS IS IMPORTANT because at this rate it would be POINTLESS to get any SSD over a USB 2.0 interface as the speeds would bottleneck the SSD greatly making it no faster than the average 5 year old HDD. The Wii U will sport an IMB Watson 7 based CPU that is native for USB 2.0 drives, and although Nintendo could modify it to run USB 3.0 it would be very unlikely which is why we are sticking with USB 2.0. As for the SD card slot it is also very possible that Nintendo will have a fixed throttled speed like they did for the 3DS from our testing here. This is smart of Nintendo by making even the slowest speed SD card equal performance to the fastest card for loading of games. And to finalize our interfaces we wanted to compare what the current Wii’s optical drive is running at, which happens to be a DVD format-9 running at x6 speeds which averages roughly 8 MB/s. This makes sense now that Square Enix wanted users to load both disks of Dragon Quest X to a 16 GB USB flash drive to significantly cut loading times and making the loading of areas potentially 3 times faster than compared to the normal optical drive.

The test subjects:

To test a wide range of drive scenarios we used:

A last-gen Parallel-ATA 80 GB drive with USB 2.0 Enclosure











Some of you may have older drives lying around so we wanted to use a 2.5 inch 5400 RPM PATA drive in an external enclosure for USB 2.0

2.5 inch 320 GB G-Drive












The Hitachi G-Drive minis are possibly my favorite external drives with great cooling heat-sinks and a slew of interface options such as USB 2.0 and FireWire 400 and FireWire 800. The model we tested was the 5400 RPM 320 GB model.

Sandisk 32 GB micro UHS-1








One of the newer micro SD cards; the 32 GB UHS class 1 Sandisk Ultra series. These little beauties are great SDHC cards that are not only faster than a class-10 SDHC card, but are also waterproof. AGAIN, speed won’t likely matter with SD cards, as even a class 2 should yield same speed performances as they had in the 3DS.

3.5 inch Seagate External 750GB Hard Drive












An important variable for testing the limitations of speeds on USB 2.0, this external Seagate HDD solution requires an external power source to supply enough juice for the drive and also runs at 7200 RPM speeds.

SanDisk 2GB Cruzer Micro Flash Drive











And lastly, a very old, beat-up 2 GB USB 2.0 Sandisk micro Cruzer flash drive. This will be important to see how performance is run on a smaller, older drive.

To make sure testing was performed in equal situations, we used BlackMagic’s Disk Speed Test app at 4 GB and 1 GB testing scenarios for an average and formatted all the drives in FAT32 format (again most likely the format used for the Wii U as it is what the 3DS and Wii currently use). And for  fun we also tested SATA III connected HDD’s and SSD to help get a better idea of what newer computers are using.

The results-

Going into this we knew the limitations of USB 2.0 and again, for what the Wii U is doing it really isn’t a big deal. We did however want to see the best options for the Wii U and to see if any of our tested drives will bottleneck speed performances on the Wii U. The read speeds will be most important as most write speed scenarios are already going to be bottlenecked by the speed of your internet connection, as we have never been able to download off Nintendo’s servers faster than 1 MB/s on the fastest of connections.

For the PATA 80 GB drive we got an average speed of 10.4 MB/s write speeds and 15.7 MB/s read speeds. This isn’t too shocking as newer SATA drives are more efficient.

2.5 inchPATA drive 80 GB USB 2.0 results

For the G-Drive we tested it over USB 2.0 and FireWire 800 to demonstrate the limitations of USB 2.0. Here we have maxed out the USB 2.0 interface with write speeds of 37.2 MB/s and read speeds of 38.0 MB/s.

2.5 inch GDrive 320 GB 5400 RPM via USB 2.0 results

Now take a look at the difference FireWire 800 makes on the same drive:

2.5 inch GDrive 320 GB 5400 RPM via FireWire800 results

Almost doubling the performance by using FireWire 800 at Read/Write speeds of 71 MB/s with having the 5400 RPM drive now as the bottleneck. This helps prove that SSD’s would be pointless (speed-wise that is) as well as even 7200 RPM drives over a USB 2.0 interface.

Using the SD card proved to be the least consistent of speeds. It’s important to note that speeds for SD cards were all over the place, and I even used an 8 GB class 6 card to make sure the UHS-1 wasn’t the culprit. I had speeds from 4 MB/s write speed to 16 MB/s. For a totaled average we ended up with speeds of 7.2 MB/s write speed and 19.4 MB/s read speed.

32 GB SDHC Micro UHS-1 speed results

Next up is the externally-powered 3.5 inch 7200 RPM Seagate drive to help prove that even the best of drives are bottlenecked by USB 2.0. We ended up with 28.2 MB/s write and 34.5 MB/s read speeds. What’s also interesting to note, the inferior interfaces of the 2.5 inch USB 2.0 powered 5400 RPM G-Drive demonstrated better results than a more “adept” drive. Again another testament to the engineering of the G-Drives.

3.5 inch 7200 RPM 750 GB HDD over USB 2.0 results

And for the last test we had somewhat surprising results. Although this is a flash drive and has no moving parts, this 5 year-old drive was expected to do worse than the newer UHS-1 SDHC card. We ended up however with a write speed of 5.6 MB/s and read speeds that exceeded that of the SDHC card at 27.8 MB/s.

And for comparison fun, these are the speeds of my 7200 RPM HDD and OCZ Vertex 4 SSD:

7200 RPM SATA III drive on the left and OCZ Vertex 4 SSD on the right

quite the difference an interface makes, doesn’t it?


In conclusion:

After comparing all drives and their different speeds we wanted to break down some good options to help people pick the best drive for the job. If you wanted to go with that older 5400 RPM drive sitting around the house your’e in luck as you won’t be missing out on any performance bottlenecks thanks to USB 2.0′s interface. That doesn’t mean that 7200 RPM drives are bad or at any disadvantage, it just means you don’t have to go out and get the “best” drive for the job, as there won’t be any differentiation in performance. With the spotty performance of our SD cards we actually would recommend either a HDD or even a large flash drive for storage on the Wii U via USB 2.0.

Our Recommendations:

If you don’t have any extra drives and you are in the market for one, here are a couple of great drives to look at.

First is the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex 320 GB USB 2.0 drive from amazon that is not only the same amount of space found on the largest of Xbox 360 HDD’s but it’s also only $49 no tax and free shipping from Amazon found here.

And last is my personal favorite suggested by Matt and provides solutions for the best of both worlds of storage and convenience. We have discussed the best solution for people looking to get an “internal” drive solution for the Wii U and we even considered soldering an mSata SSD internally to a Wii U, however it would be pointless as it would still carry USB 2.0 speeds and would void our Wii U warranty. But we came across the next best thing:

PNY 128 GB Flash Drive

The PNY 128 GB flash drive found here at NewEgg for $99. This drive is a great solution for having an “almost” internal storage solution for Wii U. Just stick this small flash drive into one of the U’s rear USB ports and you won’t even notice it’s there! At double the cost than our suggested HDD, this small thumb drive is almost as much storage as current PS3′s 160 GB drives (give or take 30 GB’s) and if you wait patiently this drive could easily drop in price around the time the Wii U launches. Have any other suggestions? let us know and share them in the comments.

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