[ The Cold, Hard Truth ] Trials of PlayStation Fan Noise, Part Three: The Final Truth

As some of you who’ve read the other two parts of this little saga might know, I’ve had a little bit of trouble with my launch day PlayStation 4. I’ve never gotten a launch day console release before but I do know what being an early adopter can mean and it’s often problematic; I’ve gotten first generation systems before and I’ve been acquainted with some of the issues that came up. My PlayStation 2, my Dreamcast – peace be with her, wherever she is – my old 3DS, and my PlayStation Portable were all first generation models and I’m pretty sure I’ve owned first generation models of many other consoles as well but I’d never bothered to look much into it. This kind of thing is exactly what got me into console modifications years and years ago. However, this time around, I had hope for my PlayStation 4: I owned the system for nearly two and a half years and the only issues I really had were due to the incompetency of Sony’s “technical support” and their inability to help me through a software issue, which I rectified on my own.

This time, however, I was well reminded of the problems with being an early adopter: this time, though, we had issues with the insane amount of noise the fan was making and, by proxy, the heat that the system was generating. In case you haven’t been following the situation as I’ve posted on Twitter and Facebook, the amount of heat that the system was generating was insane and, as a result, caused the system’s fan to constantly be in it’s highest stage, eventually wearing it down to the point where it would wobble ever so slightly, causing a massive amount of noise whenever you turned the console on and left it on doing whatever for twenty minutes or so. It got to the point where you didn’t even have to play a damned game to get it going. It was making this noise playing Netflix, for fuck’s sake.

This is where the line is drawn, though, now that I’ve replaced the fan, did some tooling around, figuring out just what the problem was and where I was wrong and where I was right.

sony playstation 4 layout fan noise

The Final Word: System Layout

Even though I did remove the cover and did a little basic investigating myself, I was misled as I did not deconstruct the system to take a look at where things were going wrong with it. Once I took it in to a shop – I no longer have the tools to do this kind of work myself, anymore – to have a look at the system and poked around for myself, I can see that the system, in layout, is actually quite similar to the PlayStation 3’s Slim model: there’s one key difference, though, that could have made the PlayStation 4 work so much better that the PlayStation 3 Slim had going for it. You see, the PlayStation 3 Slim had a directional fan, meaning that the air being blown out by the fan wasn’t moving in all directions and only had ventilation in both the front and back of the system. With the PlayStation 4, the fan is not directing air in any particular direction so it’s free to kind of do as it pleases, putting out a small amount of air in all directions as opposed to focusing a decent stream of air in a particular direction. While this is kind of necessary, in a slight way, this also exposes the kind of flaws the layout design has – it was very clear that this system was laid out with the aesthetic appeal coming first and the actual functionality second: some parts are separated and clumped together for no real reason. For example, like I’d mentioned in one of my previous articles on this topic, the CPU is suspiciously close to the power supply, meaning that two of the largest sources of heat are very close to one another and, as such, the system is reading the combined temperature as opposed to the heat the CPU is generating independently.  This would be fine if the fan had a focused point of air flow but it can’t do that out of necessity as there are other components that, as the system is of a much better graphical and systemic quality than the PlayStation 3, require a lot more power to perform their tasks and, as such, generate their own heat. It would be better if the fan was directional in some way but it’s kind of necessary for things to be like this, unfortunately, as they took some poor liberties with the way they designed the layout of the internals for the system. There’s a few things regarding the heat sinks, the thermal paste, and the power supply that I want to get into, but I’ll save that for later.

If you’re confused by all the jargon, let me break it down for you rather simply: Sony is taking the same design principle they used from the PlayStation 3 Slim and applied it to a system that is way more powerful. Why is this a problem? Well, as the PlayStation 3 was a less powerful system, first off, and then it also wasn’t as powerful, meaning that the components and layout were pretty specific to that system and were optimized for that style of console: the heat it generated, what strengths and weaknesses it had, and the demands it required. What this means is that the PlayStation 4 was initially designed to expect and handle heat generation and air flow in a way that’s actually slightly worse than the PlayStation 3. This is why you’ve heard all these horror stories about the PlayStation 4 overheating and much like poorly laid out computers that are not cooled efficiently or properly, you’re taking a gamble; overheating isn’t always a problem as everyone’s home and placement for their systems are sometimes wildly different, producing results independent from one another.

I was a little harsh on the layout, though, in my earlier articles: given the circumstances that I’m sure the higher-ups gave them, Sony’s engineers did a pretty decent job with what they were given. They had to make the most out of a bad situation and considering that I wasn’t particularly the best with my PlayStation 4, I’m thoroughly surprised it went this long without any of the typical issues plaguing launch day systems.

playstation 4 component breakdown fan noise

The Final Word: System Components

This is my biggest sore point about the whole process: Sony and their handling of their system components. This thing feels more like a shoveled-out pre-fabricated Best Buy laptop than a high-end, bleeding-edge gaming console. As usual, with Sony, the thermal paste is complete shit and dried out in almost no time which, I believe, started this whole problem; I think that the fact that Sony using sub par thermal paste – let’s not forget how much this system cost at launch – led to the CPU taking on more heat more easily, leading the fan to working way harder, for way longer than it’s used to, leading it to wear down quicker, which led to this whole problem.

Sony’s always been one of those companies whose products sound absolutely marvelous on paper but, when it comes to putting their money where their mouth is, it’s often hit and miss and they will absolutely refuse to admit fault when it comes to poor choices regarding design and components. I remember there being a Sony television one of my former employees sold that had a failure rate – just at that location – of something like 32%. That’s insanity. And thanks to Sony’s “support” on common issues with that TV, we learned it was just best to absorb the hit on them and cover most issues with our warranties, as it wasn’t terribly expensive and we were making almost nothing on them anyway.

It doesn’t help the already bad situation that the power supply they used in the system could have easily been a 400W deal but instead they are using one that’s 240W, meaning that, if I’m not mistaken, that it has to work even harder to move power to components in the system that require so much power, meaning that it generates even more heat for that. You wouldn’t see a 240W power supply as standard in any gaming PC in the last five years. So, that component is already drawing and generating a lot of heat as it is and since the heat sink and thermal paste aren’t doing a great job of drawing away heat from the CPU and into the mounted plate it’s touching – as the heat sink is just not made of the best stuff but the worst is that the thermal paste dries up way before it should considering the cost and spec of the console, meaning the CPU and the mounted plate above it may actually make direct contact and that’s a huge no-no – and the CPU is generating a lot of heat on its own and since heat is flowing back into the CPU from the power supply, the CPU is reading falsely as to the temperature it should be, and therefore, causes the system to put the fan into overdrive and if that’s done it can cause the fan to make the noise I was experiencing or, even worse, cause it to fail, possibly leading to component failure if the fan situation isn’t addressed quickly.

Sony knew about this, too, but they would rather take the hit on having to refurbish systems and possibly remodel the system later than get the system out late or have to make compromises with the aesthetic design. Their support for some of these issues are atrocious, too, sometimes amounting simply to “ship your system to us if it’s within warranty,” giving no further explanation or information. They want to sweep this shit under the rug in the worst way and the worst part of it all is that they’ve really only addressed this about two years later and it’s only in a minor way. I am not impressed with how Sony’s handling all of this but I shouldn’t be surprised because this absolutely reeks of how Sony handled the laser problem with their first generation PlayStation 2 consoles.

playstation 4 teardown prep fan noise

The Final Verdict

When the system works, it’s very clear and obvious to me why the PlayStation 4 is the best selling console currently available on the market. It’s an amazing piece of machinery and it’s a shining example of how to make the best out of the difference between marketing, design, and functionality. However, when the system has issues, it’s something that could have easily been avoided and only happened because, in that difference I mentioned earlier, someone just refused to budge: most of the component problems were probably decided the way it was to keep the price of the system down while the general layout of the components were decided due to the stubbornness of the design team. You can’t really win with a situation like that and you can only really compromise and the consumers are really left in the crossfire of that mix. I would have easily spent 50-100 dollars more on my system if it meant that it was in optimal condition for 5-10 years.

It’s really Sony’s implied position on this whole ordeal that’s really kind of heartbreaking, to be completely honest: they refuse to address the issue professionally and personally and it seems extremely strange that even fanboys are taking up the flag of Sony’s complete lack of personable support on the issue. What’s worse is that Sony refuses to allow replacement parts to be sold or even shipped out for any other shops to do licensed repairs and Sony insists to take the Apple route and insist all repairs be done in-house, so if you buy from a supplier, you should know you’re basically taking a part from a system that could have been broken or used to the extreme like mine was. You should know exactly who you’re getting your parts from and trust that they test all parts before sale and please, if you need any kind of internal work done, unless you have the proper knowledge and equipment, get someone who’s trained to do it for you.

playstation 4 fan noise

The Aftermath

I’m sure some of you want to know what the end result was in me changing out my fan, after all this. Well, I’m happy to report that I don’t think the system has made less noise, previous to this, since I first bought it. I’m serious. Between the replaced thermal paste and the new fan, the system runs cooler than it did before and, as such, doesn’t require the fan work nearly as hard. Most times – I’ve had it only kick up a little bit during The Last of Us and periodically during Final Fantasy XIV after playing for a few hours – you could barely tell that it’s even on. I should note that this is while my speakers are turned off; that’s about the only time you can even hear it running. I used to not be able to watch a show on a loud volume without hearing the system over it. It’s such a dramatic difference that it’s ridiculous.

Right now, my PlayStation 4 is sitting vertically – something I’ve done with the system since this whole mess started because I tried it as a possible solution and it actually worked for maybe a day – and it’s just humming along quietly with nearly everything I do. When it does kick up, it’s still not even a quarter as loud as it was before.

With all this being said, I wonder how long it’ll be before Sony sends me a cease and desist.


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