July 27th, 2012, 00:00 Posted By: wraggster
Digital Foundry breaks down the challenges facing Sony with its upcoming console revision
Good news, bad news. According to a recent report from VG247, the latest revision of the PlayStation 3 could well be released at a surprisingly price-point - £99 is being suggested, somewhat optimistically - but the platform holder won't reveal the new console at Gamescom, looking instead to sell-through more of its existing inventory. Our sources corroborate the Cologne no-show and while the entry-level 16GB model will be "aggressively priced", we have no confirmation on just how low that price-point will be.
The upcoming CECH-4000 model is definitely a very big deal for Sony however, representing the company's best chance to grab current-gen market share before more the technologically advanced replacements arrive next year. More than any other PlayStation 3 model released to date, this revision is all about getting as many boxes in homes as possible, and based on leaked photography from Brazil's equivalent of the FCC, we have a pretty good idea of what Sony has done to get its build costs down to a minimum.
"The new model introduces a number of new cost-cutting measures, but it's the move towards flash memory for the entry-level unit that offers the most potential for a meaningful price-cut."
Superficially, overall size issues aside, the most obvious change to the core PlayStation 3 design comes from a top-loading Blu-ray drive, replacing the more expensive slot-loader we've seen in all PS3s to date. Curiously, the lid appears to be raised vertically in relation to the rest of the top elevation, suggesting that perhaps it slides across the face of the unit, rather than popping up. Other than that, the basic hardware make-up looks to be much the same as the existing Slim: dual USB ports remain (Sony couldn't really cut-down any further here) while the reverse of the unit retains the multi-AV port, HDMI socket, Ethernet and Toslink digital audio outputs.
A look at the power supply rating offers us our first hints of what may - or may not - have changed within the console: Sony has reduced the load it is capable of down to 190W from the current Slim's 200W. That's a very meaty PSU bearing in mind that the launch version of the Slim - which has since been made much more efficient - only drew a maximum of 105W when I first tested it back in 2009. It also suggests that the core of the PS3's components hasn't changed that much from the existing Slim, which currently uses a 45nm Cell CPU combined with a 40nm RSX graphics core. Combining both chips into one - as Microsoft has done with the Xbox 360S - or dropping either component down to a lower fabrication node would surely have brought about more comprehensive power-savings, allowing Sony to incorporate a smaller, cheaper PSU into the new machine.
However, the various interconnects between PS3's two types of RAM, and the complexity of Cell itself makes integrating GPU and CPU into one part immensely challenging, and while a 32nm shrink for the main processor could be achieved, there appears to have been some uncertainty if it would happen at all. For RSX, the next logical shrink is down from 40nm to 28nm, but with production on the lower process still ramping up, right now it's probably more cost-efficient for Sony to stay where it is.
So far, what we seem to be looking at is a machine that rolls up all the gradual changes Sony has made to the Slim since its 2009 debut, but with only superficial changes to the chassis, offering limited cost-savings. So it's safe to say that the notion of a £99 PlayStation 3 doesn't really add up at this point. However, the most fundamental difference comes from revisions to the attached storage. According to the leaked documentation, three different SKUs are in the offing: 16GB, 250GB and 500GB. To begin with, many thought that the 16GB option was a typo, and that the entry-level PS3 CECH-4000 would be a 160GB model that's more in line with the current offerings on the market.
Leaked images of the new CECH-4000 PlayStation 3 model from Brazilian website Tecnoblog show clear cost-cutting in terms of the unit's construction, including some kind of manual mechanism for accessing the Blu-ray drive. Size has also decreased visibly.
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