How to back up and upgrade your PS4’s hard drive

Running out of disk space on your PS4 with those monthly PlayStation Plus releases? Maybe those long load times are slowly eating away at your sanity. That tiny, slow drive that comes standard with the PS4 leads to nothing but heartbreak, but you do have options at your disposal. It’s easy to swap out the default hard drive for something much better, but what about all the cool stuff already on your drive?

Today, we’ll walk through the process of backing up your files and how you can upgrade your console with little more than a screwdriver. Unfortunately, the data migration process isn’t very pretty as it stands, but the extra storage is absolutely worth the investment.

Copy to USB Storage Device

Copy your save files to an external drive

First off, plug in an external USB drive into your PS4. From the main menu, launch Settings. Scroll down, and navigate to Application Saved Data Management > Saved Data in System Storage > Copy to USB Storage Device. From here, select a title. Select the save data you wish to preserve, and press “Copy.” Wait for the files to transfer to your external drive, and then repeat on any other save files you want to keep around.

Copy All Media to USB Storage

Copy your screenshots and videos to an external drive

From the home screen, launch the Capture Gallery. Open the All folder, press right on the D-Pad, and then press the “Options” button. Next, navigate to Copy to USB Storage Device, and select everything you want to keep. Press “Copy,” and wait for the media to transfer over to the external hard drive.

At this point, you can copy your screenshots and videos to your PC. Sadly, you won’t be able to move them back to the PS4 just yet. Sony still offers very limited media playback functionality on its flagship console. Of course, you could always stream your media to your PS4 with Plex, so it’s not the end of the world.

dd utility

What about the game installations?

If you’re following along in the PS4 menus, you may have already noticed that Sony doesn’t offer any official way to back up your game installations. Unfortunately, there isn’t a perfect solution for this problem just yet. If you’re upgrading your PS4’s drive, Sony wants you to download and install your entire library all over again. If you’re living with a slow connection or bandwidth caps, it might take weeks to get your games back — it’s a mess. Hopefully, Sony will eventually patch in a better backup solution, but our options are limited for now.

In the mean time, you can mount your PS4’s drive on your PC, and attempt to use third-party tools to move your data from one drive to another. This can potentially result in data loss, so make sure your saves, screenshots, and videos are safely backed up on a separate drive beforehand. The dd utility on Unix and Unix-like platforms is capable of making nigh-on perfect clones, but you’ll need a partition editor like GParted if you’re moving to a larger drive. Plug in the 2.5-inch PS4 drive to your PC, run the utilities, and you’re off to the races.

Keep in mind, this method isn’t officially endorsed by Sony, so any number of things could break. It’s unlikely that you’ll do any damage, but oddball formatting and screwy DRM might stand in the way of complete data migration. If you’re not comfortable with this command-line sorcery, just stick with the officially supported method, and re-download your games from PSN.

Buy a replacement drive

If you’re going to bother swapping out your hard drive, you should definitely pick a replacement that’s both faster and higher capacity. When I bought my PS4 at launch, I snagged this 1TB 7200rpm drive from HGST. It’s not the biggest or fastest, but it’s a nice step up from the default 500GB 5400rpm drive, and it’s quite affordable.

You can go with an SSHD or SSD if you’re willing to spend the extra money, but the performance improvements will vary wildly depending on which games you play and how you use your PS4. Just make sure you buy a 2.5-inch SATA II-compatible drive, and everything should work out fine.

Open PS4

Open your PS4

Once you have your drive ready to go, power down your PS4, and unplug everything. Move it over to a large open surface, and slide off the shiny part of the PS4’s case. Set it aside.

PS4 Screw

Replace the drive

With the top of the case off, you’ll see where the drive sits right away. With a phillips screwdriver, remove the single screw holding the drive in place. Slide out the tray, swap the drives, replace the tray, and secure the screw. Slap on the case once more, and plug everything back in.

Initialize

Initialize

When you boot up the PS4 with a new drive, you’ll need to initialize it. Button through the “Safe Mode” menu, and keep the PS4 System Software on an external drive for good measure.

USB to PS4

Restore saves

While you can’t easily move your screenshots and video clips back onto your PS4 just yet, you can restore your game saves. Connect your external drive to your PS4, and then navigate to Settings > Application Saved Data Management > Saved Data on USB Storage Device > Copy to System Storage, and then select the save files you wish to restore. Copy them back to the internal drive, and you’re set.

Back it up, Sony

In many ways, the PS4 is a step backwards for the end user. It can’t store games on an external drive like the Wii U and Xbox One, and it doesn’t even have a full-fledged backup feature like the PS3. It’s incredibly frustrating, but at least it sports a user-accessible drive, right? Sony has been stumbling quite a bit lately on the software front, but I remain hopeful that easier backups will make their way to the PS4 eventually. For now, we’ll just have to jump through these additional hoops.

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