When Your PS3 Becomes A $400 Paperweight

The PlayStation 3 had been out for several months when I started looking into buying one. My PS2 was making loud grinding noises and I feared it was on its last legs. Moreover, Sony had just announced that PS2 backward compatibility would be cut from the next model of PS3, so it seemed as if it had become a “now or never” situation.

So I imported a 60GB American PS3 for my PS2 games and American DVDs (and PS3 games of course). Everything went well for just over two years. Then, just as my platinum for Uncharted 2 was in sight, I got the “Yellow Light of Death”: I pushed the power button one day, the power light blinked yellow, and the system shut off.

The Yellow Light of Death is the PS3’s way of saying that for some reason the PS3 cannot boot up. This system failure can be caused by several things — like problems reading the hard disk or Blu-Ray drive — but the most common issue is on the motherboard. Sometimes the PS3 gets so hot while running games, the solders that hold the GPU and CPU to the motherboard can actually melt, breaking the connection between those chips and the motherboard. (This is also the cause of the “Red Ring of Death” so feared by Xbox 360 users).

The first thing I did upon getting the Yellow Light of Death was to contact Sony Japan support about sending in my PS3 to be fixed. I was told, however, that they could not repair an American system at the Japanese service office so I would need to send my PS3 internationally to Sony America for a fix. As Sony America charges $US150 for a Yellow Light of Death repair and shipping costs looked to be $US70 or more each way, it was obviously cheaper to buy a new PS3. Moreover, Sony America will often send a refurbished system to you instead of fixing the one you sent in — and the refurbished system will often lack PS2 backwards compatibility.

So it looked like the only thing left to do was buy a new Japanese PS3 Slim and cry about my loss of PS2 backwards compatibility. But what about all my saved data? I didn’t want to give it up. Of course, at first I thought I could just swap my old drive into the new system. However, after doing a bit of research online, I found out that PS3 hard drive data can only be read by the PS3 that wrote that data originally.

But then I ran across numerous online tutorials showing how to fix a PS3 plagued by the Yellow Light of Death. For only the price of some screw drivers, a heat gun, and some thermal grease (about $US40 total), I could fix my broken PS3. Now I am not the kind of person that feels comfortable messing around with circuit boards; but with my PS3 no more than a $US400 paper weight, I figured I really had nothing to lose. Following the guide of YouTube user Gilksy, I took apart my PS3 (as you can see in the video above) and reflowed the PS3 motherboard. This was done by using the heatgun (think super hot hair dryer) to melt the solders around the GPU and CPU and then letting the chips settle back into their original places. After that, all I had to do was put the PS3 back together. Surprisingly enough, it worked.

Reflows like the one I performed can last anywhere from a few days to a year, but they are, in the end, a temporary solution. The solders are guaranteed to break again eventually, forcing you to repeat the process. Mine only lasted three days. But in those three days, I had backed up my data so I wasn’t all that depressed when I finally gave in and bought a new PS3 Slim — this time with a three-year extended warranty.

And remember that PS2 I said was on its last legs back in 2007? Well, the old girl is still going strong today, a full 11 years after I bought her — though she still makes those worrisome grinding sounds….

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