Electronics Manufacturing – M528

Playstation 3

Inside the Belly of the Beast

By Ata-Ur-Razeque Talukdar
Playstation 3

The Playstation 3 is the third games console made by Sony to compete in the latest console war.  With superior technology to its rivals Microsoft and Nintendo, Sony hopes the Playstation 3 will attain the same heights as the Playstation 2, which has sold over 100,000,000 units since its launch in 2001.  The Playstation 3 however, is more than just a games console; it’s a home entertainment system.  With a Blu-ray disc drive for high definition movies, a hard drive for storage of video, music and games and Wi-Fi for wireless connectivity to the Internet, Sony has position this machine as a high-end piece of equipment for the next generation of home entertainment.  But what is the Playstation 3 really made of and at what cost has this machine been made possible.  There are 2 versions of the Playstation 3 in the US and Japan, a basic 20GB model and a premium 60GB model.  This article will look at several key components in the premium model, where they come from and what they mean for the system as a whole.


The Playstation 3 has some of the most advanced components yet seen in consumer electronics, but the whole console is built around its CPU, the Cell processor.  Cell, shorthand for Cell Broadband Engine, is a microprocessor architecture designed by an alliance known as ‘STI’, which stands for Sony, Toshiba and IBM, to bridge the gap between desktop processors, such as Pentium, and specialised processors such as NVIDIA GPUs. 

The Cell processor in the Playstation 3 was finalised in late 2005 and was the result of more than 4 years design and testing by STI.  Ken Kutaragi, the ‘Father of Playstation’ and Sony spent nearly $400 million on the Cell processor*, which makes the Cell processor alone extremely costly.  An estimate of the cost of a Playstation 3 by iSuppli Corp in November 2006 put the Cell at $89 (£45) per unit, making it the third most expensive component in the Playstation 3.

Although Sony was the main driving force behind the Cell, which from very early on was destined for the Playstation 3, the actual development was carried out at the IBM campus in Austin, Texas. It is also worth noting that IBM has filed many patents regarding the Cell.  The process of manufacturing the Cell takes place in the US, as IBM has several factories in the state, including one in East Fishkill, New York, which has recently become the first facility to manufacture the new 65nm Cell*.

Blu-Ray Beam Blu-Ray Inside

Blu-Ray Disc LogoAside from the Cell processor, perhaps the most important component and well-advertised feature is the Blu-Ray disc drive.  Developed by a consortium lead by Sony, Blu-Ray is a High Definition format that can hold 25GB of data on a single layer disc and 50GB on a dual layer disc.

Blu-Ray, as well as being a key differentiator between the Playstation 3 and its rivals, has been the biggest cause of delays and production problems.  The long process of agreeing on copy protection and encoding standards, attempts at negotiation with rival format HD-DVD led by Toshiba and a shortage of blue laser diodes in the later half of 2006 delayed the Playstation 3 from an original release date of Spring 2006 to November 2006.

Blu-Ray Diagram
© 2006 Samsung Electronics America
The Blu-Ray disc drive in the Playstation 3, according to iSuppli’s estimates, costs $125 (£64), meaning it’s the second most expensive component in the system.  This is despite the fact that Sony manufactures this component itself, but of course components within the drive itself come from a variety of companies within the Blu-Ray consortium and elsewhere.  Sony has several production plants in China, so it’s likely that the drive is produced there.  Sony insists this is the future of home entertainment and therefore, vital to the longevity of the Playstation 3.  Time and the result of the conflict between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD will tell if all the time and effort spent on it, as well as the cost was worth it.


The RSX ‘Reality Synthesizer’ GPU is graphics chip co-developed by NVIDIA and Sony specifically for the Playstation 3.  According to iSuppli Corp, this is the single most expensive component in the Playstation 3, coming in at around $129 (£66).  This is the most important component to get right in a games console, which justifies the cost.  The power of Cell and the high capacity of Blu-Ray disc would be pointless without this graphics chip, which is responsible for outputting the high definition video and graphics, as well as rendering all the in-game actions calculated by Cell.

The Emotion Engine

One component, which is present in current American and Japanese units of the Playstation 3, but not in the European units is the Emotion Engine and Graphics Synthesizer, developed by Sony and Toshiba.  This is used to allow backward compatibility with the Playstation 2s vast library of games.  This includes the actual CPU chip used in the Slim Playstation 2 (a redesign of the original PS2).  Although there are no ports for Playstation 2 peripherals, this feature was invaluable to the Playstation 3s predecessor and is still valuable today.  However, the European version uses software emulation to achieve backwards compatibility, meaning that only selected legacy titles may be played on Playstation 3.  Sony has cited the cost of the component as the reason for its removal, although it costs only $27 (£14).

HDD and PS2 Slim

…and the rest

Other components worth noting are the Hard Drive, Bluetooth Module, Memory, Wi-Fi Module and Memory Card Board. 

The Hard Drive in the Playstation 3 has a SATA interface, a capacity of 60GB and is provided by Seagate, a well-known maker of Hard Disk Drives, at a cost of $54 (£27)*. 

The Bluetooth Module is manufactured by Sony using a CSR BlueCore 4, which implements the Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) protocol*.  This is how the Playstation 3 communicates with the controller, the device used by gamers to control in-game events, as well as menus, etc.

The Playstation 3 uses XDR DRAM memory in the form of 4 512MBit modules, clocked at CPU die speed for maximum efficiency with Cell.  Samsung, a well-known electronics manufacturer, especially in flash memory, provides these modules at a cost of $48 (£24). 

Marvell Chipset provides the Wi-Fi Module used in the Playstation 3, at a cost of $15.50 (£8)*.  This is crucial to Sony’s online strategy with its games and High Definition Content and another differentiator between Playstation 3 and the Microsoft Xbox 360.  Another well justified cost.

The Memory Card Board’s manufacturer is unknown and there is a multitude of companies that produce this kind of component around the world.

There are many other components used to produce the overall system plus ports for external connectors such as HDMI, Ethernet, Power, USB, etc.  These components come from many different companies across the world, some for cost, others for quality, but most will be a balance between the two.

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Playstation 3 Ports
Playstation 3

The Final Product

The final Playstation 3 hardware is put together by companies including Taiwanese company Asustek Computer and then shipped to Sony Corp for distribution.  iSuppli Corp estimates the total cost of Manufacturing the Playstation 3 Premium Model to be around $840 (£428), meaning Sony is taking a loss of around $241 (£123) on each Playstation 3 sold in the US, which is currently sold at $599 (£304).  However, in the UK, where the console is sold for £425 (over £100 more than the US) and with the lack of an Emotion Engine and Graphics Synthesizer ($27 or £14), Sony is only losing £39 (£401 cost - £361 pre-VAT price).

These calculations however, only take into account the main hardware unit and exclude any cables and the controller, which itself features Bluetooth, various chips and an accelerometer.


So the Playstation 3 is a very advanced piece of technology capable of providing the next generation of home entertainment in this new High Definition age.  The cost of the system will go down as the components become more widely used and many consumers will purchase the system purely for the Blu-Ray player, as stand-alone players currently retail for around £700 - £800.  One conclusion we can draw from this article is that Playstation 3 is worth more in the long run than the sum of its components.  This is an excellent example of Engineering at the highest level and may be ahead of its time.  The Playstation is by no means dead and will still roam and perhaps dominate the multiple markets it has chosen to enter.  This is truly a magnificent beast.

References *

Peter Hofstee - IBM employee - Austin, Texas – 6th April 2006

All component costs taken from iSuppli Estimate made in November 2006

IBM Press Release on 12th March 2007

SCEI Press Release 16th May 2005 (No detailed specs released after this date)

SCEE Press Release 23rd February 2007

How Stuff Works Article on RSX

CSR Product Description

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