A round of applause for Eurogamer, which did the thankless task of testing out the NXE‘s HDD Install option and comparing it to normal method of playing games off the DVD. Several games of all shapes and sizes were checked, including Gears of War 2 (or should I say Gears of Bore, yuck), GTA IV and Halo 3, and found that, on average, you’re likely to shave a few seconds off your loading time by installing a game to the hard drive.
Take Gears of War 2. Running the game off the DVD, as you do now, the initial load takes 32 seconds. Running off the hard drive—each game is installed as a disc image, so it’s one big file per game—that same initial load takes only 24 seconds. So, you save eight seconds by installing to the hard drive.
Games like Half-Life 2, which can be found in The Orange Box, fare the best, as they’re not at all optimized to run off the disc; the game loads its sections as necessary with no fancy streaming to speak of. As such, loading the level We Don’t Go To Ravenholm (presumably that’s what Eurogamer meant with “We don’t go there any more”), which normally takes 47 seconds instead takes only 15 seconds—that’s 32 seconds saved, chief.
Games like GTA IV, which Rockstar designed in such a way that it’s constantly streaming data off the disc, minimizing load times, don’t benefit as much from the HDD install. Starting a new game drops from 26.5 seconds to 25.2. Loading an in-game mission dropped from 8.5 seconds to 7 seconds.
It comes down to this: if the game streams data off the disc as it’s played you’re not going to see much improvement (the GTA IV example). If, however, the game goes about its business the old school way, loading data as it’s needed (the Half-Life 2 example), then you’ll see a marked improvement.