Playstation 3 Hardware FAQ

ps3-hardware-faq

General PS3 info

1.1 – WHAT IS THE PLAYSTATION 3?

The PlayStation 3 (PS3) is the third major console release in Sony’s PlayStation line of game consoles.

The original PlayStation (PS1, or “PSX” for a while until Sony released a different console with that abbreviation), was a state-of-the-art game console when it was released back in 1995. It featured a 32-bit MIPS CPU, a 3D-capable GPU, and a 300 kB/s (double-speed) CD-ROM drive. It was very popular with developers, and many third-parties released games exclusively for the console.

The PlayStation 2 (PS2), released in 1999 in Japan, 2000 in North America, and 2001 elsewhere, was a massive improvement over the original console. With the addition of a DVD drive and a better CPU and GPU, and many blockbuster exclusive games, the PS2 is the highest selling game console ever. However, it was the most underpowered console of its generation, with the worst graphic and sound processors, and Sony was rather late with adding network capabilities.

The PlayStation X (PSX) was a PS2 that also had DVR capabilities. It was only released in Japan, and sold poorly.

The PlayStation Portable (PSP) is essentially a shrunk-down PS2 using UMD instead of DVD. It used a new UI called the “Cross-Media Bar”, or XMB, that would later appear in the PS3 and other Sony products.

1.2 – WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE PS3 AND PS2?

The first notable difference between the two is the optical drive. While the PS2 had a tray-loading CD and DVD drive, the PS3 uses a slot-loading drive that supports CD, DVD, and the new Blu-ray optical format.

The PS3 has a new GPU, the nVidia RSX, that is far more powerful than the proprietary “Graphics Synthesizer” that the PS2 used. The PS3 generally has better support for high-definition video, whereas many PS2 games only supported low-definition interlaced video.

The PS3 has a new SPU that supports hardware AC-3 (Dolby Digital) audio compression, much like Microsoft’s original Xbox. The PS2 only had hardware support for plain old PCM audio, although some PS2 games did DTS audio encoding in software, or used pre-compressed AC-3 audio in some game cutscenes.

The PS3 has a new UI, which is the Cross-Media Bar (XMB) that has been showing up in a lot of Sony products lately.

The PS3 can play Blu-ray movies in addition to DVD movies. The movie UI hasn’t changed much since the PS2.

The PS3 has a new wireless controller called the “SIXAXIS”; see below for details on the changes.

Early PS2 models supported FireWire (which Sony sometimes calls “i.LINK”), and early Japanese models also supported PCMCIA. The PS3, like later models of the PS2, has no support for these things.

1.3 – WHY SHOULD I BUY A PS3 ANYWAY?

Since the PS3 was released, the #1 complaint about the console has been its cost. But the price of the PS3 isn’t really a bad deal when you realize what you’re getting. The most comparable console of the PS3’s generation is the “Elite” model Xbox 360 (the model with HDMI ports and a large hard disk), and it still lacks an HD-capable video player and wi-fi support (the PS3 has both in the box). Also, the PS3 has less long-term costs, since online gaming on the PS3 is free, unlike Microsoft’s Xbox Live service.

Here’s a brief comparison of the PS3 vs. the Xbox 360:

PS3 Advantage PS3 Disadvantage
PS3 vs. Xbox 360
  • Better value for what you get
  • Motion sensitive controls
  • No regional lockout (except for PS1/PS2 games)
  • Blu-ray support (for movies and games)
  • Online gaming is free
  • Standard memory card support (on most models)
  • No need to download “profiles” for backward compatibility
  • Official Linux support
  • Wireless controllers have built-in rechargeable batteries
  • Supports more than just streaming media
  • More expensive up front than the cheapest X360 model
  • The PS3 completely lacks anything like the X360’s “Achievements” system
  • Some X360 games are not available in PS3 versions
  • Unlike the X360, the PS3 does not support upscan-converting 720p to 1080i
  • The PS3 does not support the rival HD-DVD disc format (which no longer matters much now that HD-DVD has been discontinued)
PS3 vs. Wii
  • Support for DVD videos, audio CDs, Blu-ray discs
  • No regional lockout (except for PS1/PS2 games)
  • Existant online gaming network
  • HD video support (and HDMI, too)
  • Digital audio support (AC-3, DTS, TrueHD, etc.)
  • No need for legacy controllers to play retro games
  • Official Linux support
  • Wireless controllers have built-in rechargeable batteries
  • PS1 classics can be played on a PSP; Wii virtual console games can’t be played on a DS
  • More expensive up front than the cheapest Wii model
  • The PS3 completely lacks anything like the Wii’s “Mii” system (which will probably change when “Home” is launched)
  • Both systems have motion-sensitive controllers, but the Wii’s controllers have a better implementation of motion-sensitivity
  • Some Wii games are not available in PS3 versions (but a surprising amount are available in PS2 versions)

1.4 – WHAT KIND OF PS3s HAVE BEEN RELEASED?

Previous PlayStations displayed their hardware version number on the outside of the box; it always started with the prefix “SCPH”. Sony seems to have abandoned this practice with the PS3, so now PS3 models are usually associated with the size of the hard disks bundled with the consoles.

Here are the PS3s that have been released as of October 2007:

Model Availability Card Readers WiFi USB Ports PS2 Compatibility SACD Support
20GB 1 None None 4 Hardware Yes
60GB 2 CompactFlash, SD, Memory Stick 802.11b/g 4 Hardware Yes
60GB-E 3 CompactFlash, SD, Memory Stick 802.11b/g 4 Software Yes
80GB 4 CompactFlash, SD, Memory Stick 802.11b/g 4 Software Yes
40GB 5 None 802.11b/g 2 None No
  1. Japan (discontinued in January 2008), Hong Kong (discontinued?), Taiwan (discontinued?), Singapore (discontinued?), North America (discontinued in April 2007)
  2. Japan (discontinued in January 2008), Hong Kong (discontinued?), Taiwan (discontinued?), Singapore (discontinued?), North America (discontinued in July 2007)
  3. Europe (discontinued in October 2007), Australia (discontinued in October 2007), New Zealand (discontinued in October 2007), Middle East (discontinued?), India (discontinued?), Pakistan (discontinued?)
  4. South Korea, North Korea
  5. Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, North America

20GB
This PS3 model was available at launch in Japan and North America. Contrary to early media reports, this model did have an HDMI port, but it did not have any card readers or Wi-Fi support. Not too surprisingly, no one bought it.

60GB
This PS3 model was also available at the Japanese and North American launch; a slightly different version of this console was available at the European launch (see below). Unlike the 20 GB model, the 60 GB model had Wi-Fi and card readers for SD and Sony Memory Stick cards. A lot of hardcore PS3 fans consider this model to be the best one Sony has released to date, since it had ports for everything as well as hardware PS2 backward compatibility. It was discontinued in North America in July 2007, and existing models had their price slashed by $100. It has since been discontinued elsewhere.


60GB-E
This model was the only console available at the European launch. It was the same as the regular 60 GB PS3, except that Sony removed the “Emotion Engine” MIPS CPU and included a software EE emulator. Although PS1 backward compatibility was not touched by this change, the change meant that PS2 games were no longer 100% backward compatible. This model was discontinued and replaced with the 40 GB model.

80GB
Originally released in South Korea, this is the current PS3 model in North America. Other than the larger hard drive, the only changes Sony made to the hardware is they added IPTV compatibility, and removed hardware PS2 backward compatibility from the Japanese and North American versions of the console. (The console will still run most PS2 games, but only in software emulation.)

The game “MotorStorm” was bundled in with this version of the console. Sony has announced that a future version of this console will come with a Dual Shock 3 controller (instead of the current SIXAXIS) and include the bundle-in game “Metal Gear Solid 4”.


40GB
The 40 GB PS3, announced in October 2007, had several hardware components cut in order to reduce the cost of the model. Although this PS3 still supports more than 2 player gaming, only 2 USB ports were included. The removal of the memory card readers means that USB drives are the only means of transfering files to/from the hard disk.

However, the most notable (and controversial) change was the complete removal of PS2 backward compatibility, since this PS3 model does not have the PS2’s “Graphics Synthesizer” GPU on board. PS1 games will still work as expected.

THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: There is a rumor floating around out there that Sony will add PS2 backward compatibility to this model via a future software update. THIS RUMOR IS FALSE. Sony has stated that they have no plans to add backward compatibility to this console **ever**. The PS3 simply does not have the power to emulate both the PS2’s CPU and GPU in software and give users a good game experience.

The Asian version of this console is available in black and ceramic white. Rumor has it that the ceramic white version will be released outside of Asia, but when this was written, there was nothing concrete about this.

The North American version of this console comes with the Blu-ray movie “Spider-Man 3”.

As of February 2008, the European version of this console comes with no movies or games. That will change in March 2008. Sony has announced two 40 GB PS3 bundles for Europe, one of which (which will not be available in the UK for some reason) contains the movies “300”, “Casino Royale”, and “Spider-Man 3”, while the other contains the game “Gran Turismo 5 Prologue”.

1.5 – DOES THE PS3 HAVE A REGIONAL LOCKOUT?

It depends on the media.

All PS1 and PS2 games have a regional lockout, and will not play on PS3 consoles released outside of their regions. This means that, for example, Japanese versions of PS2 games will not run in a North American PS3.

To date, all PS3 disc-based games have no regional lockout. Every now and then, software will show up on the PlayStation Store that has a regional lockout, but it is usually there by accident (this happened to the demo version of “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune”).

DVD and Blu-ray discs use a separate regional lockout and may not play in PS3s released outside of their regions. To date, very few Blu-ray discs use the regional lockout feature. DVDs are another story…

1.6 – DOES THE PS3 HAVE PARENTAL CONTROLS?

The PS3 has parental controls for DVD and Blu-ray movies, PS1 classics (but _not_ disc based games), PS3 games, and movie trailers. It does not have parental controls for PS2 games, or PS1 disc-based games, since both platforms predate the addition of parental controls to Sony consoles.

1.7 – WHAT ARE THE HARDWARE SPECS ON THE PS3?

CPU IBM PowerPC “Cell (Broadband Engine)”, 3.2 GHz, 64-bit, 8 cores (however, one is disabled in order to increase chip yields & reduce marketing costs, and another is reserved by the PS3 OS, so 6 cores are available for games, Folding, GNU/Linux, etc.)
GPU/SPU nVidia RSX “Reality Synthesizer”, 550 MHz
System RAM 256 MB

The hard disk, USB, etc. vary from model to model. See 1.4 above for details.

1.8 – WHAT I/O PORTS COME WITH THE PS3?

On the front of the PS3, there are 2-4 USB ports depending on the PS3 model. All of these ports support USB 2.x (“high-speed USB”) and are hot-pluggable.

On all but the 20 GB and 40 GB version of the PS3, there are slots on the front for SD, Memory Stick, and Compact Flash cards. These are used for backing up and restoring data, as well as importing/exporting pictures, video, etc. They are hot-pluggable, but it is important to only remove them when they are not being accessed (their light is blinking).

On the back of the PS3 are ports for HDMI, A/V out, Ethernet, and optical audio. The HDMI and Ethernet ports are hot-pluggable; the A/V port is not. The optical port is “hot-pluggable”, but since it’s fiber-optic instead of electric, it’s not really hot.

There’s also a bay for the hard disk on the back. Unlike the PS2, the PS3 will work with any serial ATA hard disk for laptops, in addition to the one bundled with the console. According to Sony, the maximum hard drive size allowed by the PS3 is 250 GB. Obviously it isn’t hot-pluggable.

The PS3 also supports Bluetooth (in all models) and Wi-fi (in all models except the 20 GB model); obviously there are no ports for them.

1.9 – DOES THE PS3 HAVE THE “JAGGIES” PROBLEM THAT PLAGUED THE PS2?

Short answer: No, and “plagued” is too strong a word to describe the problem.

Long answer:

NTSC, PAL, and SECAM all use “interlaced” video frames. That means that, instead of a display receiving single frames to draw to the screen, it receives two fields that make up a single frame, and has to lace the two frames together. (See below for more details about interlaced vs. progressive scan video.)

The PS2 “jaggies” problem, which was most noticeable in some very early PS2 games, was caused by the console generating a small delay when sending each field to the screen. Due to the delay, the fields were drawn out of sync, and the picture had noticeable artifacting, even on low-quality video connections.

The whole thing is water under the bridge now. The problem was corrected by Sony and third parties on the PS2 side of things years ago. To date, there have been no PS3 games that have drawn images out of sync when running in interlaced
video.

1.10 – WHAT PS3 MODEL SHOULD I BUY?

The only person who has the answer to this question is you. It all really depends on a few things:

  1. Your budget (the PS3s with smaller hard drives and less features are cheaper)
  2. The importance of PS2 backward compatibility to you
  3. The importance of the presence of card readers to you
  4. Whether or not you need Wi-fi support

All PS3 models come with Bluetooth, USB, HDMI, PS1 backward compatibility, and optical audio support, so you don’t need to worry about those features.

If all you care about is the price, and the other features don’t matter to you, then you should probably buy either the 20 GB or 40 GB model. Otherwise, you should probably buy either the 60 GB or 80 GB model.

(NOTE: Some of the above models may not be available in your region, or may have been discontinued. If so, then you might only be able to find them on eBay or somewhere similar.)

1.11 – WHAT KIND OF DISCS CAN THE PS3 PLAY?

All PS3 models can play (though some may be subject to territorial lockouts):

  • PS1 games
  • PS3 games
  • Compact Disc Digital Audio (CD-DA, or “Red Book Audio”)
  • Video DVDs
  • Video Blu-ray discs
  • GNU/Linux PPC/PPC64 installation discs (through “boot other OS” command)

Some PS3 models can play (see 1.4 above):

  • PS2 games
  • Super Audio Compact Discs (SACD)

No PS3 models can play:

  • Games for non-Sony consoles (Xbox, X360, Wii, etc.)
  • Computer games (for Windows or Mac OS X)
  • Video HD-DVDs or CH-DVDs
  • GNU/Linux non-PPC installation discs

1.12 – WHAT COMES BUNDLED WITH THE PS3?

All PS3s come with:

  • The console itself (of course)
  • 1 controller (currently SIXAXIS in North America and Europe; will eventually be replaced by the Dual Shock 3, which is included in Asia)
  • 1 composite video cable (see 2.2 below for details)
  • 1 USB regular size to mini size cable (for the controller)
  • 1 AC Adapter cable
  • Instruction manuals

Some PS3s come with:

  • 1 Ethernet cable
  • Bundle-in games
  • Bundle-in movies