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New PS4 hardware is more efficient with less fan noise

Japanese blog tears down and tests new CUH-1200 model.

Almost two years into the PS4's lifecycle, Sony has updated the console with a substantial revision that is not only cheaper to produce, but is also quieter and considerably more power-efficient. The new CUH-1200 revision is currently available only in Japan so unfortunately we can't test it directly, but much of the analysis we'd like to carry out has already been done by the Pocket News blog, and the results are fascinating.

Let's talk about the physical make-up of the machine first. The changes extend way beyond the removal of the glossy plastics and a re-arrangement of the existing rear ports on the unit's exterior. On the inside, there's a new, smaller motherboard with a series of changes. Taking centre-stage is a reconfiguration of the GDDR5 memory set-up. Earlier incarnations of the PS4 used a considerable 16 memory modules to provide the 8GB complement - the new CUH-1200 makes use of double-density Samsung modules to halve that to just eight, which should reduce energy consumption significantly.

The main processor within PS4 has received a new designation, perhaps suggesting some kind of change to its design, but its physical dimensions remain the same, confirming that it is still a 28nm chip. There remains the possibility that Sony may have moved onto a more efficient iteration of the 28nm process, but our gut feeling is that it's still the same chip at its core.

Within CUH-1200, there's still see the usual 5400rpm HGST Z5K500 hard drive, but other areas see change. There's the introduction of a simpler Blu-ray drive design, minor changes to component arrangement and the replacement of a few chips, including the Panasonic HDMI controller. There are also small changes to the cooling assemblies through the unit, but the main fan is the same. A new power supply is introduced: it's 80g lighter and has a lower output, which may also contribute to the overall improvement in power efficiency.

Pocket News 'tore down' the new CUH-1200 unit, revealing the new motherboard layout. The previous board had 16 512MB GDDR5 modules, eight on each side of the board. The new unit has only eight modules, all of them on the reverse side. Click on the thumbnails for a closer look.

And that's where the new CUH-1200 model really comes into its own. According to Pocket News's metrics, standby power is anything from 30 to 50 per cent lower (depending on mode) compared to the launch unit, while the main menu is around 11 per cent more efficient. Perhaps not surprisingly, the biggest gain comes during gameplay, where the launch unit draws 148.6W, while CUH-1200 brings that down to 122W - that's an 18 per cent drop, and actually brings PS4 power consumption down to the same approximate level as Xbox One.

But for many, it'll be any reduction in fan noise that is most important, and without a proper hands-on, it's difficult to translate Pocket News's metrics into an appreciation of the actual experience. However, the launch PS4 was measured at a peak 60dB, dropping down to a minimum of 43dB and 57dB on average. In contrast, CUH-1200 handed in a peak 56dB, 42dB minimum and 52dB on average. It may not sound like a lot, but decibels aren't measured on a linear scale, and the Pocket News blogger notes that the new unit is noticeably quieter. As the new unit uses the same fan as the older hardware, the reduction in noise must simply come down to a lower rpm overall.

PlayStation 4's fan noise is one of the only issues we have with what is fundamentally a very well-designed piece of hardware. Sony chose to retain a console-like form-factor over the set-top box style found on Xbox One, resulting in a more stylish unit but one that by necessity requires a smaller fan spinning at a faster rate, inevitably producing more noise. But the bottom line is that an 18 per cent drop in power consumption leads to less heat generation overall, and thus less of a need to cool the internals quite so aggressively.

We'll try to get a closer look at the new hardware as soon as possible, but that isn't easy bearing in mind that the new design is currently available only in Japan. The new 1TB PlayStation coming to the UK is based on the existing design, and it's unknown when the new version will ship to territories outside of Japan. But the basic existence of a CUH-1200 based on the existing chassis scuppers any potential PS4 'Slim' for a good while yet - we fully expect that it'll take a full revision of the main processor to a smaller 20nm or 16nm fabrication node to see a top to bottom revision of the full console. But in the here and now, CUH-1200 looks like an impressive new iteration of the PS4 hardware, and we'd recommend taking a trip to the Pocket News blog to dive deep into the wealth of data on the new hardware.

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About the Author
Richard Leadbetter avatar

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.