It would seem that through the trials and tribulations this situation has put me through, I’ve learned a great deal about my problem, my console, and I’m currently kicking myself in the ass for not having thought of it earlier. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you already know where I’m going with this but I haven’t really gone to any sort of serious detail so I’m making this in hopes that Sony, someday, addresses this directly and that people get the help that they need. Also, a forewarning: if you’re still within warranty and you experience this issue, please, send it in to Sony for repair or back to the store you bought it from for replacement after backup; while Sony is notorious for sweeping their problems under the rug, there’s no reason you should have to pay for it and the powers that be have made it clear there are measures in place to make sure there’s no public outcry. I am not trying to be a whistle blower, here, either: I’m just looking to make sure that PlayStation 4 owners with this issue get the information they need so they can get back to playing and enjoying games on their kick ass consoles.
Remember, proceed with any steps, research, or procedures at your own risk and should only be taken if your system is out of warranty and you do not plan on renewing your system’s warranty.
Deconstructing The Problem
Here is the center of this entire problem: the internal fan. Now, I might here some of you say “well, duh, of course it’s the fan, look at the title of the article” and I gotta say, it’s not the problem we all might be thinking it is. It’s not the sign of a defect, it’s not the sign of bad wiring, it’s usually not the sign of customer induced damage, in most cases: this problem is the direct result of the design of the first generation PlayStation 4. Between the layout of the components of the system, the fan itself, and the quality of some of the components within the system, you have a problem that starts out as a mild annoyance, to an unimaginable annoyance, to something that may eventually cause damage to the console itself over time.
First, let’s look at the design of the system, as it’s probably the main culprit here and it’s been a problem with more than just one console in the PlayStation library: almost every PlayStation console in the family of consoles have taken weird design choices, from time to time, with their systems, but one of the strangest was their choice to constantly have the power supply be internal and have the system be so low profile that the supply is forced to be very close to the rest of the components. To my remembrance, only the slim PlayStation 2 had an external power supply. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever used a laptop or own one but if you have, I’m sure you’re familiar with that little “brick” attached to the adapter responsible for powering the computer, right? Those guys do a lot of work in regulating power flow to make sure nothing happens to the computer. As such, they get pretty hot, depending on how hard it has to work and how much power it needs to draw. And, yes, I know, desktop computers already do this but most of them – even a lot of the slim-factor desktop towers – give space between the components and the power supply to dissipate some of that heat away before it gets to the rest of the computer. In the PlayStation 4, the power demand is much higher and the power supply is smack dab right in the corner of the unit, in the middle of everything else and, try as it might, will always add to the heat level of the system by no fault of anyone’s anything. Add into that that the other component that generates the most heat for the system is the CPU and GPU and that they’re both around the corner, relatively speaking, from the power supply, and you have a problem.
Secondly, we need to look at the fan itself – probably the simpler of the problems, the fan is just not simply made to take a lot of abuse or deal with weird situations. Take, for example, if the system took a small impact or, say, something of a small size got in there – while it might not break the fan entirely beyond use, it could affect the fan in such a way that it would be, very possibly, the noisiest thing you’ve ever heard. To my knowledge, the fan has four stages: each represented by the temperature generated and read by the system itself. When it reaches a certain stage, the fan speeds up to a speed that helps cool down the system. As mentioned above, a part of that heat cannot be mitigated due to the power supply being internal and that affects the fan’s operation because the true generated temperature of the system under certain circumstances will always be of a minimum that’s higher than it should be. I’m not sure what happened in my case but I suspect that the bearings in my fan were, in some way, deformed or broken some how and the end result is the fact that my fan is wobbly. While it’s only very slight, when you test it, you get it up to a certain RPM and the wobbling turns into a vibrating that only gets worse as it speeds up. The main components themselves and the design of the fan are very basic and the idea given by looking and interacting with the part leads me to believe that it was made in-house for the system and, as such, was made as cheaply as possible. If my suspicions are correct and it is something to do with the bearings in the fan, that is just ridiculous as fan bearings should be one of the last things to go on a fan unless the inside of the system is incredibly dusty and crusty.
Lastly, but not leastly, we have the quality of some of the parts: I’ve already touched on some of the problematic parts already but there’s one in particular that I would like to focus on… the thermal paste used in the system. This was a problem that I noticed in the PlayStation 3 Slim models, as well, and I’m thoroughly shocked that I didn’t think of it until a little while ago. Basically, Sony seems to use a very low-quality thermal paste and that stuff is used to help keep the CPU and GPU as cool as possible. This stuff can get pricey and I can understand why they wouldn’t use the best on the market but the stuff they use has a very unpredictable shelf life, if my research has proven reliable, and the stuff can go bad within a year, practically demanding that it be opened up and replaced.
While the system’s heat is the reason for the season, the heat level has never gotten so high that the system has succumbed to any damage, which leads me to believe that Sony tried to account for these potential problems in the design of their system, why they replace warranty systems without much fuss, and why their documentation on such an issue seems practically absent from their online resources. This is practically reminiscent of how Apple handles their issues and it is not very cool for those of us who know what they’re doing with this stuff.
This Needs to be Taken Seriously
While Sony seems to have addressed the issue, slightly, in future models of the PlayStation 4, the problems haven’t completely gone away and it’s not entirely uncommon. Half of the problem is that a lot of people don’t understand what a normal operating procedure and temperature for the system is and should be and, as a result, quite often, gets brushed off and cast aside because otherwise the people commenting on it would have to admit they know the equivalent of fuck all about the problem. Yes, my problem pretty much amounted to my internal fan on the system making an obscene amount of noise and that was really only a major annoyance, at the worse, it brought to light a bigger problem and made me – along with many other people, apparently – realize that this is only the tip of the iceberg.
This is only compounded by the fact that Sony is pretty much trying to keep this problem hush-hush, it would seem, and the relative ignorance of a large majority of the system’s users due to the fact that someone who might not know better would look at how it’s being treated by most people and disregard it, especially if their fan isn’t making any undue noise, accepting that “that’s how it should be.”
However, the level of heat this system puts out is outrageous, even in normal situations. Sony is fully aware of this, too; they would have to be, because it would seem that the system performs extremely well at high temperatures and it’s threshold for overheating is really high, for a system like this.
The penalty for disregarding this problem as a user is pretty high, even if it’s like my issue and it’s just the fan making a lot of noise: any amount of high heat to sensitive components over a long period of time can cause permanent damage that absolutely needs part replacement. You cannot get around this as heat damage to your CPU, for example, is irreversible. As soon as your console shows signs of any of the symptoms set out in guides in regards to overheating or fan noise, look into it immediately.
My Personal Solution
While everyone’s situation regarding fan noise has been different, it would seem, there seems to be some combination of the issues I’ve set out but, generally speaking, there are some relatively, if not somewhat risky quick fixes out there: simply sitting the console on its side, as it was, apparently, meant to be, vertically, seems to take a lot of the wobble out of the fan blades, for example. Increasing the ventilation or introducing a source of cooling to the unit seems to help when it comes to fan noise as, when the console isn’t as hot, the fan won’t kick into high gear. Cutting down on your game sessions also helps, obviously, but the solution is generally the same: do what you can to keep the system as cool as possible.
In my case, simply applying new thermal paste seems to be a band-aid on the problem. It helps with the issue but it only goes so far: the heat levels do remain at a good level for some time but it still returns to that level, eventually. I as able to have the unit on for almost 12 hours solid before it got there and this was half and half between watching Netflix and playing Final Fantasy XIV so you be the judge of that one. Up until the time that I turned it off due to the noise at the 10th hour the dishwasher upstairs was noisier; the disc drive in the console itself was noisier; the fan on the laptop I use at work was noisier, and it’s fairly quiet; I was pretty much able to enjoy the system without much worry about noise at all. In order to eliminate the noise entirely I’m likely to have to replace the fan, as well, which is something I won’t be able to do for a little while as it seems getting parts from Sony themselves is impossible and any parts that are official come from already scrapped PlayStation 4 units so… it’s gonna be a bit.
However, as many fixes as there are, you can’t fix the problem that causes all this without changing the design of the system, which makes me wonder… what would one need to do to liquid cool this system? Seems, though, that that won’t be necessary, because my research has also shown that the latest generation of the system has a different fan assembly altogether and has some different thermal components as well as changed the layout of some of the components, leading to a more consistent performance throughout.