Introduction, what you need, and steps one and two
Games take up millions of times the data they used to back in the old days. Factor-in digital distribution becoming more common and that PS Plus gets you more 'free' games than most people can handle, and you're probably already running out of space on your PS4 or PS3. And if not, you will be soon.
You can fix this by upgrading your console's hard drive.
It's far easier than you might imagine. Sony has done its best to avoid making it feel like tearing your system apart, as it does when you upgrade the hard drive on a desktop, or worse, a laptop.
We're going to take you through the process, step-by-step, as we upgrade the hard drive of our house PS4. Set aside 40 minutes and you can easily double or quadruple your console's storage.
Want to upgrade your PS3's HDD? Next week we'll be doing the same with Sony's older console. And if you own both you can even use your PS4's old HDD in its daddy.
What you'll need:
1x Phillips screwdriver
1x 2.5-inch SATA HDD
1x USB stick (8GB preferred) or 1x FAT32 USB HDD
1x laptop or PC with internet
1x PS4 controller
1x microUSB cable
Step one: Buying the HDD
Step one: find the right replacement
The first thing to do is to buy your replacement hard drive. The PS4 uses a 2.5-inch SATA hard drive, the kind generally used in laptops or super-slim external drives rather than desktop computers.
It also needs to be under 9.5mm tall thanks to the size of the caddy that lives inside the PS4, which protects the drive and keeping it in place. This does prove to be a little limiting as, at the time of writing at least, lots of 2TB hard drives are a shade too chunky.
To stick on the safe side, we used a Western Digital 1TB drive, which gets you double the storage of the standard 500GB hard drive without busting any seams. This is also the budget buyer's choice, as you'll find suitable 1TB hard drives for around £45-50 (about US$69-77, AU$88-98) while 2TB ones, funnily enough, cost almost double the price.
You'll also see an 'rpm' figure when shopping for hard drives. This stands for revolutions per minute and is a rough guideline of a drive's speed. Most models out there are 5400rpm, just like the standard PS4 hard drive.
If you want to see real improvement in load speeds you need to look for a 7200rpm drive. These tend to cost a bit more.
Want to go all-out? For even better performance, you can install an SSD. However, it's an extremely expensive upgrade: you'll pay around £175 (about US$269, AU$175) just to match the 500GB standard storage. Ouch.
Step two: Back-up your PS4
Got the hard drive? The next step is to backup anything you definitely don't want to lose on your PS4. The bad news is that you can't backup game installs. Your home internet will just have to take a beating to reinstall the lot.
PS Plus subscribers don't need to worry too much about game saves either, as they will automatically be saved to the cloud. However, if you want to be extra-safe, you can back them up to a USB stick or external hard drive.
Just insert the drive, then in the PS4 menu go to settings > application saved data management > saved data in system storage. Here you'll see an option to copy your saves to a USB drive. You need to select the files game-by-game so you might want to leave out any titles you're never going to play again.
Steps three - eight
Step three: uncovering the hard drive
Once you are happy you're not about to wipe out your gaming history, make sure there's no disc in the drive and turn the PS4 off completely (not standby). If your PS4 heads to standby as standard, hold down on the PS button until the power menu pops-up then select turn off PS4. Next, unplug all the PS4's cables (that's the HDMI lead and power cable most likely).
Set the PS4 on a steady surface, put a hand on the shiny top plate and move it to the side a little. This is actually a simple plastic HDD cover that's not held in place with screws but a basic clip.
Once it's free of its moorings, you'll be able to lift the cover off revealing part of the PS4's metal skeleton. There's not much damage you can do here, though, as it's more-or-less just the hard drive on show.
Step four: freeing-up the caddy
You'll notice the hard drive is not yet in full view. There's one screw we need to unscrew to release the frame that holds the hard drive, using a Phillips screwdriver.
It's the largest one on the metal surface you'll see, and is inlaid with the classic PlayStation button icons.
Once the screw is removed, you can just pull the drive caddy out horizontally from the PS4's body.
Step five: releasing the hard drive
There are four more screws that hold the hard drive to the metal frame it sits in. These sit on its sides, and can be released using the same Phillips screwdriver you used to free the HDD frame.
It's just the screws we need to take off, though. You'll also notice some rubbery bits the screws rest against to absorb any shocks to the HDD: leave those there.
Step six: Swap the hard drives and replace
Once you've freed up the hard drive, it's simply a case of putting your new one in there, then reversing the process you've just performed. So put those four screws in the sides, get the caddy back in the PS4, fasten it in place with the large screw and put the shiny plastic HDD cover back on the PS4.
If the hard drive doesn't fit, are you sure you checked it was a 9.5mm-tall or less 2.5-inch SATA drive before buying?
Should the process go as swimmingly as it went with us, you should be done within 15 minutes.
Step seven: download the PS4 software
Now you have a PS4 with a completely blank memory. The console's OS is stored on the hard drive you just removed, and the one inside your console is completely blank.
You need to download the software in standalone form, using another computer. You'll find it over at the PlayStation website, and it takes up around a gigabyte at present.
If you have the space you can use the same USB stick you may have used to dump your save games onto to get it in your PS4, as this stick won't be wiped. Once you've downloaded the firmware, put it in a folder marked UPDATE that sits in a PS4 folder on the stick. Don't do this and the PS4 won't be able to find the file.
Step eight: installing the OS
To get up and running, you first need to put the PS4 into safe mode with the stick plugged into the console. Hold the power button down for seven seconds to do this.
You'll then be prompted to press the PS button on your PS4's gamepad, which needs to be plugged in with a cable (wireless doesn't work at this point). Then simply follow the on-screen prompts and you'll be away.
But, yes, you will need to spend the next fistful of hours reinstalling all those games. Our top tip is to make sure you allow the PS4 internet access during standby to make getting all those games back a lot snappier.
Is upgrading your PS4 hard drive with doing? Absolutely. It's easy, takes less than half an hour if you're quick (plus a little time to reinstall games) and isn't really that expensive: around the price of a brand new game. It doesn't even invalidate your warranty. Sony is almost willing you to do it. The only reason Sony didn't pack in a bigger drive in the first place was to save costs.
For enthusiast gamers, it'll avoid you having to delete your installed games anywhere near as soon. Just think about it: The Order: 1886 takes up 30GB itself, and that's when you're running of the disc, not a digital download. With 500GB you just can't store that many games.
Upgrade to an SSD or high-speed HDD and you'll also see significant improvements in load times and, in some titles, texture pop-in during the game itself. It's a no-brainer.