Are backwards compatible PS3′s a timebomb? Guide to taking good care of your system.

July 29, 2013

How many of you remember all the hassle that came with backwards compatible PS3s suffering from YLoD or laser malfunction?
The question here is obviously, are all of them like this? what are the factors that contribute to this? is it preventable? can it be fixed permanently? I’ll guide you through the matter using my own personal experience and some research.

The 60GB PS3 is perhaps the best version of the system ever made in terms of overall beauty and feature set. It has 4 USB ports instead of just two, Memory Card readers, it plays Super Audio CDs (but tbh I don’t know who plays these anymore) and it sports full Backwards Compatibility with PS2 games, upscaled in HD format, giving your old games a brand new look without having to buy all the HD re-releases. And it has a more shiny look than any other PS3:

But with all these nice features comes a dark side to all of this. The systems were said to be doomed when customers all over the world reported laser malfunction and their PS3s dying with the infamous YLoD. For this I’ve made a guide for you to follow if you want to keep your precious system like day one, to do so I’ll cover three main things: what are the causes of the problems, how they can be prevented and how they can be fixed once they have happened.

YLoD, what is it?
When a hardware malfuntion that prevents the ps3 from booting normally occurs, both the red and green light of the ps3 turn on at the same time, creating a yellowish light that indicates a serious problem has happened. A few system beeps are also heard, and in the case of some models, the fan goes on full speed for a second. When all of the happens, the system shuts down directly to prevent further damage.

YLoD, why it happens?
Two uncommon, yet fully possible reasons could be a faulty hard drive, if the hard drive has a damaged sector with important data in it, it may prevent the system from booting, the other possible, yet not so common, problem would be a faulty power supply unit. If the supply unit doesn’t work well and it doesn’t give the ps3 the power it needs, a ylod might occur. While it’s always good to check these two things before jumping to a conclusion, the most common cause of ylod is by far a faulty connection between the GPU and the motherboard, mainly caused by overheating.

Why does the PS3 overheat?
Just like ylod, overheating has many causes as there are many factors involved in the process of cooling down the system, but these are the ones that fail most often:
– the air vents where the system takes cool air in and throws hot air out
– the fan itself
– the thermal paste that connects the CPU and GPU to the heat sink
Whenever one of these three things fail, the process of cooling down the system is dramatically dropped and the system heats up more and more quickly.

What should I do to prevent this?
As we’ve mentioned above, you have to take good care of all three mayor cooling systems that the ps3 has: the fan, the air vents and the thermal paste.
Every year, specially when summer starts, open up your ps3 and check that all these are working correctly, follow this small guide to check each of them out:

– The fan: it’s pretty easy to know if the fan is fully working or not as there is a fan test available on the PS3, sadly the 60GB models don’t have it, so your only guess at this point is to listen to the fan when playing a graphically-intense game, Does it change speeds as it should? does it make a lot of noise as it should?

– The thermal paste: gently try to separate the ps3 motherboard from the heat sink, if they stick together strong then the thermal paste is still in working condition, if they separate easily, then they need to be replaced. Take into consideration that these ps3s used a bad quality thermal paste and that is a reason for their failure rate. Don’t make the same mistake Sony did, buy a strong, good quality, thermal paste, artic silver is always recommended. Remember that you have to evenly apply the paste on all of the surface of both processing chips, if you don’t know how to do this, there are a lot of youtube videos you can follow.

– The air vents: this one is quite simple, just clean all the dust that gathers over time in the air vents, make sure nothing stands in the way between cool air and the ps3′s internals.

Video Guide to open up a 60GB PS3:

Video Guide for applying thermal paste:

What should I do if I already have a YLoD?
Most people will tell you to do a reflow, which is considerably cheaper than any other methods, but DON’T. A reflow is uncontrollable heat, you may temporarily fix the issue, but it’ll eventually come back, and you can always break other important components. The ultimate fix for the ylod is a reballing, as it substitute the poor lead-free solder that Sony has to use with a more heat-resistant leaded solder. There’s always a probability of it failing again after a reball, but it’s considerably lower than after a reflow. Reballing isn’t cheap though, it usually costs around 80€, but it’s totally worth it considering that the PS3 has a chance to live forever after the reballing (if you take care of it as I’ve mentioned).

To summarize
While some times the ylod is unpreventable, most of the time is fully preventable if you do a full maintenance of your PS3 every year to make sure everything is in full working condition. As I said before, I recommend doping this maintenance when summer strikes, as this is when PS3s overheat most. If you take good care of the system, it’ll take good care of you.

Laser problems, what are they?
Laser problems occur when the PS3 is not able to read one, two or all types of discs, preventing you from playing games.

What are the causes?
It isn’t exactly clear why BC models have laser problems, there can be a lot of speculation, some based on fact, other plain stupid, here are some of them presented with the fact they are based on and the truth behind some of them:

– There is a chip right under the laser drive used for ps2 games, this chip burns the laser.
The Fact: it is a fact that the PS2′s GPU is right under the laser drive, and this GPU is only active with PS2 games.
The Truth: we are talking about a PS2 GPU here, it doesn’t produce nearly as much heat as the PS3′s does, and it’s being cooled by a huge fan as opposed to the tiny fan found on PS2′s that had to cool both the CPU and GPU. Besides, for newer consoles, the PS3′s GPU is the one right under the laser unit, this one produces a lot more heat, and it doesn’t seem as these laser unit are affected as much.
Conclusion: Not a Cause in itself if the laser is in normal working conditions.

– The laser gets dirty.
The Fact: it is a known fact that lasers do malfunction when dirty, and sometimes a simple clean with some cotton and rubbing alcohol might do the trick (and I for one always recommend to attempt this fix before anything).
The Truth: the PS3′s laser is enclosed in a space where it’s hard for dust to enter, and discs themselves are cleaned by the drive itself when they enter.
However, if dust accumulates over time (in the course of one or two years), it’s harder for the laser to read the disc and thus the lase has to force itself, which possibly causes it to eventually die.
Conclusion: The gathering of dust is a possible entrance point for other causes to strike the laser more severely than in normal working conditions.

– Playing DVDs burn the laser.
The Fact: this one is related to the PS2′s GPU. People either claim that is the GPU that burns the laser, or that DVDs are the cause due to the fact that most people encounter laser problems after playing PS2 games a lot.
The Truth: while it’s a possibility, it isn’t exact science and can’t be taken as the sole cause for laser malfunction. Just know that the system was intentionally made to play PS2 games, they must have done some sort of testing by stressing the unit to the max, had they found a correlation between PS2 games and laser faults they probably would have fixed it.
Conclusion: Could be, but unlikely

– Playing movies (DVDs or Blu-Ray) burn the laser.
The Fact: it is true that when playing a movie the laser is constantly working as opposed to playing games, where the laser stops if inactive.
The Truth: as with above, the system was designed for such task and I’m pretty sure they ran tests on it. We can’t fully discard this, but we can’t take it fully seriously either.
Conclusion: Could be.

– Older units have only one laser while newer ones have two
The Fact: this one is true. Older laser models have one laser eye for all media playback while newer models have two: one for Blu-Ray and the other for CD-DVD.
The Truth: This one could be the actual case. Maybe the fact that one eye has to read everything stresses it out most. It’s also possible Sony did this change because it’s cheaper to make a CD-DVD laser and BD-only laser rather than one laser to read everything. Could have Sony killed two birds with one shot?
Conclusion: this is the most likely cause for the malfunction, a combination of all of the above on a laser unit that has to do everything in one eye probably causes the laser to eventually die.

Maybe the dual laser setup is cheaper and more reliable than the single laser setup.

What can I do to prevent laser malfunction?
Unlike YLoD, laser malfunction doesn’t have an encapsulated cause that you can closely monitor. My conclusion is that, like with YLoD, you should periodically check the laser unit and clean it with some cotton and rubbing alcohol so that nothing stands in the way of the laser and the disc.
Video Guide for cleaning the PS3 laser:

What can I do if my laser already died?
You can attempt to clean it and adjust the POT (there are youtube videos for this). If nothing works, then get a replacement, they are cheap and videos all over youtube show you how to do it.
Video Guide for replacing the PS3 laser unit:

Overall conclusion:
PS3 systems are a lot more advanced than what we saw with the PS2, and thus they are more delicate and require a periodical maintenance. With the info gathered ibn this guide you should now be able to take good care of your system so you ought to enjoy it for many years to come, specially if, like me, you collect consoles, and a BC PS3 is always a good addition to a collection, or simply, a great console for people who have lots of PS2 games around and like to have everything in one place.
Also know that even if this guide was aimed at older PS3 models, you should also follow it for newer models, they are new but you never know when they might start failing like older units.

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