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The PlayStation 4’s easily replaceable hard drive, and how the Xbox One isn’t playing ball with enthusiasts

Early on, Sony made it clear that users would have physical access to the 500GB hard drive in the PlayStation 4, but the exact details surrounding the process were slim. However, recently we saw a hands-on confirmation that anyone with the will and a screwdriver can replace the drive inside of Sony’s next console – which won’t be the case with the Xbox One.

The recent confirmation came from a German website, ComputerBild, which posted a series of hands-on pictures with a pre-release PS4 model. Based on the machine-translated German text, the 2.5in laptop-style hard drive is held in place with simple Phillips-head screws, so it’ll be simple to remove.

Even better, it will fit drives as tall as 12.5mm – and that’s substantially more spacious than the PS3’s maximum of 9.5mm. If you are interested in tearing down the rest of the console, you’re going to need to invest in a set of Torx screwdrivers. Still, this is an extremely consumer-friendly decision that shows Sony’s commitment to pleasing the enthusiast crowd with the PS4.

If Sony wanted to crack down on console tweaking and customisation, it could have easily shipped with proprietary connections, embedded flash storage, or at least special screws. Instead, Sony is embracing consumer choice just like it did with the PS3. On day one, you’ll be able to swap out the standard 500GB hard drive with a larger hard drive or a super-fast SSD (although a 500GB SSD will cost almost as much as the console itself, of course). Still, even if only a handful of people ever bother to upgrade the drives, this is a huge win for the PlayStation team’s public image.

On the other hand, Microsoft isn’t playing ball with the enthusiast crowd. The Xbox One’s hard drive will not be user-accessible, so early adopters are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do they live with the meagre internal storage space, or void the warranty while upgrading? Both the PS4 and Xbox One will feature USB 3.0 ports, but the functionality will be limited for the time being (they won't support external hard drives, at least not at launch, anyway). If we can expect next-gen games to consistently reach the 50GB mark, the standard hard drive just isn’t going to be enough.

Frankly, Microsoft’s decision with the Xbox One’s locked-down hard drive is a disappointment. Hell, even the Xbox 360 features upgradable hard drives. The drives were wrapped in an annoying proprietary enclosure, but that’s still better than nothing. This time around, it appears that enthusiasts aren’t at the forefront of Microsoft’s mind.

For more on the next-gen consoles, see our closer look at the Xbox One and PlayStation 4's DRM, and our first impressions of the Xbox One.