Hardware / Video Games Consoles

The Sony PlayStation 3 Dissected

What do you do if you have one of the first few thousand PlayStation 3s in the US?
A little more than a year ago I was one of the lucky few outside of Microsoft to see the inner workings of an Xbox 360. This weekend I had the chance to once again delve into the inner workings of a truly next-generation console.

Like the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3 console comes in two flavors identified mainly by the hard drive capacity: the low end model contains a 20GB hard drive and the high end model contains a 60GB hard drive. Additionally, the 60GB version also contains an 802.11b/g adaptor for wireless internet connectivity, a flash memory reader and chrome finishes. Today we will mostly focus on the 60GB version. There are other contractors working on supplying the PlayStation 3 components, but virtually the entire console is assembled by Asustek -- the same guys who make several of the Apple MacBooks.

The Box Inside the Box

Disassembling the PlayStation 3 is literally a process of starting from the simplest components to the most complicated ones. First, one must open the hard drive slot to remove the 60GB Seagate. Then comes the removal of the glossy front cover. A sticker warning of the catastrophic, warranty-voiding consequences if removed is quickly ripped off, exposing a Torx-head screw. Removal of the lone Torx screw allows the glossy cover to be removed, exposing another barrier to entry. Seven screws later, and the real cover gives way to the innards of the black box.

Immediately visible are the Blu-ray Disc drive (which looks similar to an internal PC slot-loading drive), a simple card reader and a reflective shielding box. Under this shielding is the power supply, which is completely internal in the PlayStation 3.

Both the U.S. and Japanese versions of the PS3 use the same power adaptor; the inverter is housed inside the console

After removing the power supply, Blu-ray drive and flash card reader, the massive thermal backplate is revealed. The motherboard is mounted upside down under this backplate with all of the active cooling at the bottom of the console. A single 160mm fan and massive heatsink sit below the motherboard. Removal of the cooling unit reveals two exposed chips though metal shielding, both of which were directly connected to the cooling assembly's heatsinks and heatpipes. Then, all that's left to be undressed is the motherboard, which exposes its Cell, RSX, EE and GS chips in all their glory.

A single 160mm fan provides all of the active cooling for the Playstation 3

Disassembly requires no special tools other than the Torx-head and Phillips-head screwdriver.

Chips and Bits

The PlayStation 3 is by far the most complex consoles to date, and a look at the inside reveals that the thermal design is even more complex than that of notebooks and desktops today. On the motherboard of the PlayStation 3, there are a few key elements on the motherboard that immediately attract the eye: the two most prominent being the Cell processor and RSX graphics engine.

Aside from WiFi and Blu-Ray, all of the core logic on the Playstation 3 is housed on a single motherboard

More than five years in the making, the Cell Processor was developed jointly by Sony, Toshiba and IBM. The processor's name originated from the idea for a chip that operated in a similar fashion of a complex organism. Multiple 'cells' capable of general tasks, but all devoted to achieving a greater goal.

The Cell processor provides the processing power for the console. To the west of the Cell is the NVIDIA RSX processor, to the north is the Sony IO Bridge for Ethernet and other IO

The Cell is a multicore chip capable of multi-threaded, massive floating point calculation. It comprises of a 64-bit PowerPC-based Power Processing Element (PPE) and eight identical Synergistic Processor Elements (SPE) running at 3.2GHz. The Cell consists of 234 million transistors and is manufactured on a 90nm silicon-on-insulator process.

The entire Playstation 2 Emotion Engine and Graphics Synthesizer can be found on the Playstation 3 motherboard, including the DRAM modules located just to the north of the Emotion Engine

The PPE is a dual issue, multi-threaded, in-order processor. It features a 64KB L1 cache, a 512KB L2 cache and shares many design cues with other PowerPC processors (this also gives it VMA/Altivec-like features). Most modern processors are of the out-of-order type, Cell forgoes this in favor of power savings and excessive transistor count. Being confined to its in-order architecture leads to decreased performance in applications with multiple branches, though clever programming, elegant compilers and the sheer speed of Cell may be able to minimize the downside. In essence, the Cell follows much of the RISC processor philosophy.

Samsung's XDR memory provides the main system memory for the console

Each SPE is an independent, single precision, vector processor with 128 128-bit registers and four single precision floating point units. Each SPE is able to take a single instruction and perform multiple operations, just like how Intel used MMX or SSE technology to add SIMD (single instruction multiple data) to its Pentium CPUs. SIMD processor technology is ideally suited towards media applications such as games, movies and other forms of digital content.

The first six SPE's are dedicated to intense computational tasks. The seventh SPE is dedicated to OS security, and an eighth is included to help improve production yields by following the "baker's dozen" rationale (i.e., only seven out of eight cores need to be functional in order to be a approved for use in PS3). It is optimized for computational intensive workloads and media applications, such as games, movies and other forms of digital content.

Sony's IO Bridge: the HDMI, Ethernet and optical audio ports are just north of this chip

Unlike the PPE and most modern day processors, the SPEs do not contain any cache whatsoever. Instead of cache, each SPE unit has 256KB allocated for local stores. While cache operates independent from programmer control, anything placed into an SPE's local memory must be explicitly planned by the programmer. The advantage of this is that it takes the unpredictability of cache out of the equation, which leaves room for greater performance. The disadvantage of this, of course, is that it takes the complexity away from the processor and puts it squarely on the shoulders of software programmers. This is one of the reasons that developers are commenting on the challenges of working on PlayStation 3. But with smart programming, storing to local memory will yield faster performance than using a general cache.

Marvell powers the Ethernet and storage device controllers

At this time, very little information about the NVIDIA RSX (Reality Synthesizer) processor is known, however we can pick some information out from the assembly. The RSX is a 550MHz graphics engine based on the G70 architecture, the same architecture family responsible for the GeForce 7800 series GPU. However, several reports indicate that the RSX is actually running at 500MHz core.

Four 512Mbit GDDR3 DRAM modules are integrated onto the RSX package, providing a total of 256MB of on-GPU memory. The chips in our console are Samsung modules rated at 700MHz (at least, according to the chip labels) which is essentially in-line with what reports claimed earlier this year. Like the original Xbox, the PlayStation 3 incorporates a memory controller on the graphics engine. According to documents leaked earlier this year, developers are supposed to use the RSX to access the main XDR memory or the GDDR3 memory found on the RSX chip.

256MB of Samsung XDR DRAM composes of the system's main memory. The memory on our console is listed at 400MHz, or 3.2Gbps. Also found on the console is a single 128MB Samsung NAND, signifying that the PlayStation 3 utilizes flash memory in some way.

Like the Xbox 360, the serial connections between the processor and GPU are easily visible, although the complexity on the PlayStation 3 is also apparent. Whereas the Xbox 360 essentially had two main controllers, the PlayStation 3 also adds two additional chips: the PlayStation 2 Emotion Engine and IO bridge (CXD2973GB). However, the Emotion Engine featured on the PlayStation 3 is more than just a die-shrink of the chip found on the previous generation console since the entire PlayStation 2 Graphics Synthesizer is also present on this chip; a feature present since the V9 PlayStation 2. What was an entire console in 1999 is now a single, passively cooled chip. A pair of Rambus DRAM chips is configured close to the EE/GS chip, similar to how they were found in the PlayStation 2.

Outside of Sony and NVIDIA, the company with the most chips in the PlayStation 3 is undoubtedly Marvell. Marvell has been a long time ally with Sony -- virtually all of the PSP networking and storage is provided by Marvell. The traces from the Ethernet port to the Marvell chip are also easily visible.


The PS3 is cooled by a single heatsink that covers a large majority of the motherboard. Under this heatsink, four more heatspreaders are revealed. Two of these heatspreaders house the Cell processor and the RSX.

Heatpipes dissipate heat from the Cell and the RSX along the system heatsink. This heatsink is cooled by a single 160mm fan with an exhaust along the back and sides of the console. The Cell processor is clearly the largest source of heat for the console, and it is situated directly underneath the 160mm fan. The Emotion Engine and Southbridge are both passively cooled, yet appear to make contact with the backplate that houses the main PS3 fan.

The massive heatsink on the Playstation 3. The Cell and RSX processors are anchored by heatpipes to the heatsink, which is in turned cooled by a 160mm fan

The entire power supply is built into the PlayStation 3. The Xbox 360 requires an external "brick" that can be swapped out depending on the local regulations for electronic devices. The US and Japan uses 110-120V, 60Hz adaptors. Europe, on the other hand, uses 220V, 50Hz adaptors. This may be one of the main reasons the PlayStation 3 is largely delayed in Europe and Australia: a different inverter is required and Sony must allocate different consoles per region, instead of simply allocating separate "bricks" per region like Microsoft. Then again, there may be other factors prohibitting a European launch as well.

The only active cooling for the Playstation 3: a single 160mm fan

Additionally, the AC to DC step does not have any specific cooling on the PlayStation 3. Virtually all of the active cooling is handled by the single heatsink and fan on the other side of the backplate that houses the motherboard. It does not seem as though this upper half of the PlayStation 3 is hermetically-sealed, there appears to be very little airflow to the rest of the console here.


The PlayStation 2 was released in 2000 when DVD was just starting to hit the mainstream. With the price of the console being among the cheapest ways to buy DVD playback capability, many purchased the machine for movies instead of gaming -- and the situation may be mirrored again with the PlayStation 3, as it will be one of the most affordable Blu-ray Disc players this year.

Blu-ray Disc is a next-generation optical disc format which could potentially replace DVD. A single-layer Blu-ray Disc will hold up to 25 gigabytes of data and a double-layer will hold up to 50 gigabytes of data on a 12cm CD/DVD size disc using a 405nm blue-violet laser. With up to five times the storage space of a DVD, extra capacity enables for large data applications and 1920x1080p HD video quality.

The Blu-ray drive is attached to the motherboard by a proprietary ribbon cable

Blu-ray currently competes with HD-DVD for ownership of the next-generation optical standard, with neither format yet taking a clear lead. PlayStation 3 may have a hand to play in the matter as every console sold will increase Blu-ray installed user base.

The BD-ROM found in the PlayStation 3 has a maximum read speed of 2x for Blu-Ray Discs, 8x for DVDs and 24x for CDs. The drive also supports the Super Audio CD format.

Seagate, who already supplies Microsoft with 20GB hard drives for the Xbox 360, scores another win by supplying Sony with 20 and 60GB drives for the PlayStation 3. The hard drive found in the 'fully loaded' version of the PlayStation 3 is a 60GB 2.5" Seagate Momentus 5400.2. The mobile drive runs on the SATA 1.5Gbps interface, spins at 5400 RPM and has average seek times of 12.5ms.

What's different from Microsoft's implementation is that the hard drive is easily accessible via a special compartment on the console. Just a flip of the lid and a removal of a few screws is all that's required to separate the hard drive from the system. What's even more interesting is that Sony explicitly states in its Safety and Support manual that the system will accept any 2.5" SATA hard drive, which will eliminate any user cries of storage limitations like what Xbox 360 owners are experiencing. People getting (or stuck with) the 20GB version of the PlayStation 3 could easily upgrade to a drive that would surpass its more expensive older brother. This also opens up the opportunity of upgrading to a faster, 7200 RPM drive. At DailyTech, we've already attempted to use a 3.5" 320GB hard drive (with some creative cabling), and had no problem utilizing the new drive.

The process in changing to another SATA drive is remarkably simple. All one needs to do in install the new hard drive in the reverse manner of removing it, and the system will alert the user on boot-up that a new drive is detected and needs to be formatted. After the format, the system fully recognizes the change in storage space and moves along with nary a hitch.

Other Odds and Ends

Situated on the underside of the BD-ROM is a controller board connected by several ribbon cables. Running the width of the drive, the controller board features custom chips designed by Sony.

Given that the 60GB version of the PlayStation 3 includes two features that the 20GB version does not, wireless LAN support and a flash memory card reader, it only makes sense that these two devices are modular.

The flash card reader, which accepts compact flash, Secure Digital and Memory Stick Pro, rests in the space provided next to the power supply and BD-ROM. It is connected to the system by a ribbon cable which reaches down towards the motherboard.

The IEEE 802.11b/g card sits directly below (in relative terms when the console is laid flat) the card reader and is connected to the system also via ribbon cable. The wireless card is home to a pair of daughterboards, which upon removal of the metal plates reveals one with chips from Sony and the other with a blue PCB with chips from Marvell.


All in all, the PlayStation 3 is one of the most takeapart-ready consoles we've ever seen, an enormous departure from the Xbox 360 mentality. We've already completed our first hack by attaching a 320GB hard drive to the console, and the system hasn't even launched in the US yet. The PlayStation 2 was one of the most difficult consoles to disassemble and hack, yet we're not even out the door yet and things seem to bode well for the brave hacker and the PlayStation 3.

Source: DailyTech
Authors: Kristopher Kubicki & Marcus Yam
Date: November 11, 2006 3:48 PM

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