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Hardware Test: PS3 Slim

Smaller, cooler, cheaper, faster, better.

It's here, and I'm excited, and not just because I have a new piece of tech to dissect. When Sony redesigns its hardware, it tends to go the extra mile. It's not just about cutting costs, it's about making the whole device, and thus the brand, more attractive and "cooler". PSone and PS2 Slim delivered the goods, and who can forget the PSP-2000? Smaller, slimmer, obviously cheaper in terms of build quality but with more RAM and more functionality, like the very useful TV output. Can Sony deliver the goods with its new PlayStation 3?

With PS3 Slim, the stakes are much higher. What was previously the unassailable number one gaming brand is under intense pressure from Xbox 360, and in turn both Microsoft and Sony's efforts are being outsold significantly by Nintendo's Wii. Rewind three years: would anyone have dared suggest that Sony would be lagging behind in last position in the console race at this stage in the lifecycle? Could anyone have guessed that Sony would be outmanoeuvred in terms of gaming innovation, pricing and platform exclusives?

PS3 Slim's mission briefing is a tall order. It has to retain the premium/quality elements of its forebears and it still has to physically justify being the most expensive console on the marketplace, but at the same time, it has to achieve this while being significantly cheaper to produce. The good news is that in just about all senses, with just one or two minor reservations, I would say that it is a case of "mission accomplished".

First things first then: the unboxing. Package contents are surprisingly minimalistic. When you open an Xbox 360 Elite box, you're set upon by multiple bags of goodies, separate compartments and a perception that you're getting more than just a console. PS3 Slim on the other hand is limited to just the console, a thin 'n' floppy manual, power and USB cables and - horror of horrors - a composite video cable and SCART adaptor. Yup, the exact same AV cable we got at the launch of the PS2. It's as if HDTV never happened.

Unboxing the PS3 Slim in the Digital Foundry labs. Nice packaging, lovely console, but a bit short on the accessories...

If I can source a single, perfectly good, 1080p-capable HDMI cable for a few quid from eBay, I'm sure that Sony bulk-buying millions of the things can get a significantly better deal. A component cable that doubles up as a composite cable (a la Xbox 360) wouldn't have cost the earth either. The bottom line is that HD shouldn't be an optional extra here, it should be a core factor of every one of PS3's defining moments. It should come as standard. For similar reasons, Microsoft ditching the HDMI cable from the Elite is of approximate lunacy.

So, with that out of the way, it's time to check out the console itself. I like it. The old PS3 design was of its time and the Slim works for me as the natural successor - more functional, less flashy. Side by side with the old PS3 stacked vertically, it's about the same depth, but obviously a good deal slimmer and a couple of inches shorter. I never liked the original PS3's touch-sensitive power and eject buttons. There was always the sense that they acted in a purely advisory fashion - with the Slim you get good quality push-button replacements. Tactile, responsive, and securely mounted. In short, cheaper but better.

Ports and connections: taking a look at the rear of the unit we see the typical LAN, HDMI, Toslink and PlayStation AV ports, alongside a smaller two-pin power socket that replaces the "kettle lead" arrangement of the original. The front of the unit offers up twin USBs and a hidden cover for the removable hard disk. Swapping out the 2.5" laptop drive is simplicity itself. A compartment on the bottom of the unit hides the magic blue screw, which once removed, allows you to remove the HDD tray. Swap hard disks and you're away: all you need is a standard cross-head screwdriver.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the PS3 Slim's form factor is that it confirms all of those wacky and zany leaks that date back from several months ago. The packaging is a match, the console itself is identical. That story of a PS3 Slim materialising in a Philippines marketplace? Amazingly it was all true.

Part of this feature was going to be all about dismantling the machine and seeing what lurks within. However, iFixit's teardown is remarkably good, and well worth checking out. There are a number great little facts in that feature to tease out - firstly that the cooling fan Sony has employed is the largest iFixit has ever seen in a consumer device of that size and draws a max of 12 volts at 1.2 amps, effectively putting it up there with aftermarket fans on desktop PCs. Secondly, that the power supply is multi-voltage (the PS3 Slim's manual suggests it isn't), so importing US or Japanese models shouldn't be a problem. The PSU is also interesting in that if my sums are right it is rated for around 216 watts - even in hardcore use with everything at max, I couldn't get anything more than 101 watts out of my machine. Compare and contrast with the Jasper Xbox 360, which draws roughly the same amount of power from a PSU rated for 150 watts.