Star Citizen, SSDs, and Page Files Oh My

DISCLAIMER: What I’ve provided here is a result of a lot of experimentation on my part and referencing trusted sources. These are my opinions, and not to be taken as gospel. Others are welcome to have different opinions and to point out flaws in my reasoning.

This post is to sum up advice I often give regarding the above topic, as it often comes up. I’m going to break this up into sections and edit it as needed for accuracy.

DO I NEED AN SSD, AND IF SO WHICH ONE?

Star Citizen is proven to benefit SIGNIFICANTLY from running on an SSD, and it can be argued it is unplayable if run from a conventional hard disk. PC Requirements at the bottom of https://robertsspaceindustries.com/star-citizen/fly-now even states “SSD strongly recommended”. A spinning hard disk WILL hold you back.

Short answer first. These are my current recommendations in order if getting an SSD for a “gaming only” system. Order may vary depending on current prices.

  1. Intel 660P (if an m.2 NVMe socket is available)
  2. Samsung 860 EVO sata (there are m.2 860 EVO drives, but are no faster)
  3. Crucial MX500 sata

I do NOT recommend getting any of the Samsung NVMe drives (970 EVO,PRO) or Intel Optane SSDs for “gaming only” systems. The benefits are minimal bordering on the imperceptible, and can easily double or triple the cost per gigabyte. If you do not already know you need one of these (video encoding, compiling code, etc) you probably don’t. If money is no object, please just do your research and have fun stimulating the economy.

If you really want to get into details, this article does a good job. https://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/ssd-buying-guide,5602.html

SPECIAL NOTE: There is some disagreement on the use of the Intel 660P as the system (or OS) drive, due to its use of QLC NAND chips. I’m honestly on the fence on this at the moment. TLC drives (like the 860 EVO and MX500) listed above potentially have more reliability. If it is within your budget, it may be advisable to get two drives. A TLC drive for the C drive and the 660P as a storage or D drive. Game installs could also be directed to the later. Many of the same reservations were voiced when TLC drives were introduced over SLC (single layer cache). At the end of the day this is a cost benefit analysis, and QLC drives haven’t been out long enough for a definite answer.

NVMe (or PCIe x4) or SATA drives
For the purposes of a gaming, there isn’t much performance difference between PCIe channel and sata drives. QLC has brought PCIe channel drives down to the pricing of the sata drives, so now the choices are a little greyer, but sata SSD drives are still a good choice for “gaming only” situations.

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SSDs AND FREE DRIVE SPACE

Due to the way Solid State Drives work, they suffer significant performance hits when approaching full capacity. https://www.howtogeek.com/165542/why-solid-state-drives-slow-down-as-you-fill-them-up/ . Where this “hit” starts varies between models, but a good rule to stick to is never go beyond 75% full if you can in any way avoid it.

This is especially problematic when a relatively low capacity drive is used as the “C” drive. Due to the way SSDs work smaller SSDs have lower performance and lifespans versus the larger versions in the same model line. Filling to capacity only makes this MUCH worse. However, there are a few things you can move or remove to help mitigate this.

  1. Move the Page File to another drive. Also referred to as the “swap” file or virtual memory, many people will tell you to disable it or set it to a fixed size. For multiple reasons, this is bad advice. What you need to know is that you only need a Page File on one drive. It could even be a non-SSD and not significantly affect performance in most cases. Some even do this intentionally to minimize wear on the SSD as they have a finite lifespan.
    https://www.howtogeek.com/126430/htg-explains-what-is-the-windows-page-file-and-should-you-disable-it
    This article explains what is going on and where you can go to change these settings. Disabling the Page File on the SSD and enabling on another drive can potentially save 20 or so gigabytes of space taken when Star Citizen is running.

  2. Disable the Hibernate File. Note this will only save a couple gigabytes normally. This is the mode where your PC saves it state so that even if powered down completely (not just asleep) when it powers up again it restores the desktop as it was prior, with applications open and everything. For a gaming system, this feature is largely unused. If you are sure you want to do this, it can be disabled system-wide by opening a command prompt “as admin” and entering the following: “powercfg -h off”.

  3. If the system or “C” drive, cleanup previous Windows updates. Note that doing this will prevent you from rolling back to the previous version if a problem arises with the latest update. Files from past Windows 10 updates can easily take up 20-40GB of drive space. In the Windows Search box type “cleanmgr.exe” and run it “as admin”. Look for a checkbox labeled “Previous Windows installation(s)”. Check it and other items you are OK with deleting permanently. Note that “Downloads” will delete ANY files in your Downloads folder. Select “OK” and confirm when prompted.

  4. Search your drive for junk files (left over temp files, etc). One application I find useful is Space Sniffer, available here http://www.uderzo.it/main_products/space_sniffer/ . It is a good app to visually see what is taking up your drive space. Once downloaded, run it “as admin”, select the drive to scan, and give it time. It will take a while. Assess what it shows and decide from there. Note that there are folders you’ll find that you should never edit or delete manually. Examples are C:\Windows\WinSxS and C:\Windows\Installer. These can build up over time as Windows updates, and the only safe to deal with them is step 3 above or a clean Windows installation.

  5. Separate LIVE and PTU on different drives. LIVE and PTU currently can take over 50GB of space each. Now that we use a unified Launcher it isn’t as easy to install PTU on a second drive if space is an issue on the first drive. However, it is still possible by using a feature known as Symbolic Links. For details read here https://www.howtogeek.com/howto/16226/complete-guide-to-symbolic-links-symlinks-on-windows-or-linux/
    For our purposes, we will assume that Star Citizen is installed to the default location “C:\Program Files\Roberts Space Industries\StarCitizen”, and the target location is “D:\Games\Star Citizen”. With that assumption, we shutdown the launcher and move the PTU folder (if present) in the default location and copy/create it in the target location. From an elevated (i.e. run as admin) command prompt, enter the following command.
    mklink /D "C:\Program Files\Roberts Space Industries\StarCitizen\PTU" "D:\Games\Star Citizen\PTU"

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