Monday, March 28, 2011

RE-FLOW PS3 basics and troubleshooting?

PS3 DIY GPU Reflow / YLoD Fix

So, this was a bit unexpected, but one of my closest friends, …”Chris” we’ll call him, had his PS3 die last Friday. Sadly, I was out of town fixing Xbox 360′s all weekend (see this article) so I didn’t get the messages he left on my office line. He had recently become a victim of the infamous “Yellow Light of Death” or “YLoD”. This was a fix I was quite confident in, considering my past experience and awesomely new tools, so I set off straight away. After all, being one of my closest buddies, I sympathize with the fact that he absolutely loves his PS3. I had to fix it immediately.

I found a great guide in this thread, posted by Gilksy, who also happened to provide these videos on youtube for the same repair. Sadly, the unit he tore apart was a much more original revision of the hardware than the one I was working on, but I still found his guides quite useful. I suggest you read/watch them before you attempt this repair.

The only thing I worried about was the fact that around 20% of PS3′s with the YLoD error are power-supply related, so I couldn’t be sure if it was the graphics chip or not until I dismantled the behemoth. Luckily, my friend had taken it upon himself to open the unit and clean it, thinking that dust had maybe been the culprit, so I didn’t regret opening the unit to look inside. But BEWARE, opening your PS3 will void your warranty, and if you ruin your hardware, I take no responsibility. This article is here purely for education and entertainment purposes only. Do not take apart your console unless you are completely confident in your abilities to perform this repair. There is a greater chance that you will ruin the mainboard or botch some other sub-system by opening the case and poking around than you have of fixing it. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

With all of that malarkey out of the way, let’s get started!

Ready To Rip Open

Ready To Rip Open

Blu-Ray and PSU out...

Blu-Ray and PSU out...

Shields Down, Sir!

Shields Down, Sir!

I took to the unit with my Torx bits first, although it turns out the main screw for getting the top case off is *like* a Torx bit, but with a c-block in the middle. I had much better luck getting it in and out with a smaller sized flat headed screwdriver. With the Blu-Ray drive and the power supply dismantled, I set to removing the fans and heat sinks. Once I cracked the mainboard from the bottom heat shield, I instantly knew the GPU and CPU were to blame — there were scarring marks on the shield, and the thermal paste from the original application had not seated well. Obviously this was a heat-related problem.

One clean, one with paste.

One clean, one untouched.

Obviously never seated properly.

Compound set improperly.

Both procs clean!

Both processors clean!

After everything was torn apart, I set to cleaning the chips. Compared to the iBook G3 fix and the Xbox 360 fix, this was an easy clean. The thermal compound didn’t show the signs of having been burnt or even set (it was still wet!) correctly, and came off easily with 99% isopropyl and cotton swabs. In comparison to the Xbox fix, this literally took no time at all. After everything was immaculately clean, it was time to ready the heat gun. Don’t forget — the board should be removed entirely from the case, and the backup battery (the little watch-style one) should also be removed prior to heating. You don’t want to mess up anything unnecessary. Also, most videos on the internet show heating of the back of the board before moving on to reflow the chips… I don’t condone this, as the board will transfer the heat evenly quite easily, and I wouldn’t move a board I was reflowing unless I was trying to ruin it on purpose. You could seriously mess some stuff up.

Level it out...

Level it out...

Heat it up...

Heat it up...

Fresh Arctic Silver!

Fresh Arctic Silver!

When it came to the heat gun portion of the repair, I took a few notes from my previous iBook G3 repair. After leveling the mainboard both ways and ensuring that everything was clean, I heated up the board slowly. This wasn’t as slow as in the past, maybe 5 minutes while moving in, and focused on the GPU and CPU chips for around 2 minutes apiece before backing the heat off in the same manner. I would say that altogether, it was around 14 minutes for 2 chips, as opposed to the iBook’s 20 minutes for 1 chip. The PS3′s chips are made from a hardened metal (most likely aluminum or steel), while the iBook’s chip was made of silicon. Considerably easier, and many less screws to manage in the case. After the reflow was complete, all that was left was to spread fresh Arctic Silver 5 on the two chips before reassembling it back in it’s enclosure to see if the process had worked.

Shields Reactivated!

Shields Reactivated!

Only the top shield left...

Only the top shield left...

Another Successful Reflow!

Another Successful Reflow!

Once I had everything back together, I moved the unit over to my 40″ Bravia, and lo and behold — yet ANOTHER successful reflow! Apparently I have the luck of the gods, (or the irish or something) because this was relatively easy! Albeit, I have done many, many consoles in the past… so this was nothing new. Please be aware if you have never done anything like this before… you could really mess up some salvageable hardware. In the right hands, things can be fixed. But please don’t assume that just because you’ve seen people do it successfully on the internet that you can do it yourself… you dont want to be this guy. If you bring me your dismantled parts, I’ll probably start laughing… and then end up fixing it anyway, it just seems to be my nature.

After everything was said and done, my friend “Chris” was stoked. No $150 charge, no 3 weeks of waiting, and he gets to keep all the data on his harddrive! After all, who gets a chance to back up their saved games, music, movies and photos after their PS3 dies? The answer is nobody, really!

Have the YLoD? Don’t know anyone who can fix it, but don’t want to send it to Sony? You can snag my e-mail address from the “About Mic-B” page, or post a comment down below. A big thanks to Gilksy, and big ups to anyone who’s done this successfully.


Sony PS3 Reflow: Frequently Asked Questions

The PS3 YLoD. Blast!

The PS3 YLoD!

Since I posted my PS3 YLoD DIY Reflow article, there has been an onslaught of messages to my inbox from people concerning it, and the many facets of what that entails… so I decided to compile the most-asked here and to maybe give some more quick answers to people desperate for information.

Please, please… I urge you to take any of my advice with a grain of salt, and always get a second opinion. Also don’t forget to actually contact Sony and see if you are still under warranty before attempting a reflow like this. You will void your warranty and may ruin some perfectly good hardware in the process. Anywho, on to the questions…

My PS3 constantly has strange dots all across the screen. As I go through the menu the screen freezes up but I can still hear sound. Would a reflow help?
Yes, this is classic behavior of a GPU’s solder connections going bad. A reflow at this stage may yield better results considering that the solder from the GPU has not completely separated yet.

If I pay for shipping will you fix it for me?
I’m sorry to say that you’ll have to pay for a bit more than that. In order to keep demand down, I have begun charging $80 before shipping and possibly parts for a PS3 reflow. All I can guarantee is that it will work when you receive it — There are no guarantees on time as it seems that each model number takes to the reflow differently… (small hardware revisions are the culprit IMHO) so to be blunt, I think you should learn to do it yourself… and then do it for your friends for a bit of dough!

I’ve tried the reflow a few times now, and it worked the first time. Since then the PS3 has died and I think I’m doing something wrong. Any suggestions?
My suggestion for you would be to get an infrared non-contact thermometer (home depot, 30 bucks) and use that to tell how hot your getting the board during your reflow. Solder melts at about 410-420 fahrenheit, and you’d be surprised how cold the board is during most reflows. Once I got mine, it was quite eye-opening.

I’m overseas and my PS3 broke, who do I contact?
Just contact Sony USA by phone. You will end up paying $169.99, which is an outside of the US cost. You are paying for international shipping rates three ways + labor charges + cost of the item that needs to be repaired. It’s a bit ridiculous, but they will do it. Also, I’m not sure on international calls to 800 numbers, but I wouldn’t think that you’d be charged.

I don’t think I’m applying the Arctic Silver 5 correctly. Have some tips?
Well, the thing to keep in mind here is that less is more. Use a small dab about the size of an uncooked grain of rice, and spread thinly and evenly with a card. It’s not really rocket science.

I don’t have an infrared no-contact thermometer, is there any other way to judge how hot the board and components are?
You might try leaving a bit of solder somewhere that’s not important, and where no circuits lie… but still near the gpu and cpu in order to gauge when the solder points are hot enough underneath the chips to reflow. Don’t forget to level out the board first!

Do you have to use a heat gun, and where can I get some thermal compound?
Thermal compound is carried by most any computer shop. Radioshack also carries Artic Silver 5, it runs about $10 for a small tube. Don’t use generic products or “thermal grease”. They aren’t as good. Also, for this method a heat gun is essential, and only $20 from Home Depot. Some have used their ovens, but I would never do that myself and I don’t recommend it.

Can I use a hairdryer instead of a heat gun?
The burning point of hair is somewhere around 140°F, so I assume the average hairdryer does not even get that hot. Solder in general will not even begin to soften or melt until about 190°F, and that’s for cheap stuff. Alloys that melt between 180 and 190 °C (360 and 370°F) are the most commonly used. Basically, no.

How do I remove my PS3′s harddrive?
Well, it depends on your model. If you have a PS3 slim, use this method… and if you have a Fat PS3 (the Darth Vader version like mine) use this method instead.

So I hope some of this helps.


This will only fix certain motherboard issues. This fix will solve YLOD issues cased by the system getting so hot the CPU / GPU or direct chipsets get shifted. This fix uses a heat gun to heat up the CPU / GPU and direct chipsets and allows them to fall back in place.

I used a standard heat gun (dual, High, Low settings). Check the temp on it though. You want it around 700-750 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some Additional Tips Not In The Guide:
  • If you have worked on PCs this shouldn't be that hard. If you have worked on Notebooks, you shouldn't find the PS3 to be very difficult at all. Most notebook chassis are far more tedious then the PS3's.
  • DOWNLOAD THE GILKSY GUIDE!!!! Read the guide a couple of times. Note the manner in which the PS3 is sitting in each photo.
  • Have the guide open on your notebook or PC as you work. Otherwise print it out.
  • Make sure you have enough time to take it apart and put it back together. It will take about an hour maybe an hour and a half. You don't want to take it apart then try to put it back together the next morning.
  • Make sure you have a clean work area. With PLENTY OF LIGHT, I used my kitchen counter.
  • Have places to sit parts out of the way.
  • Have the right tools, you don't want to strip every screw.
  • Get a ground strap in addition to the tools outlined.
  • Have several containers to keep the screws in, one for each level of "disassembly" is what I used.
  • Careful getting the first rubber foot off, I trashed mine.
  • Keep track of where the coarse threaded vs. fine threaded screws come from. The coarse threaded screws generally screw directly into the plastic chassis.
  • Clean the pieces as you disassemble the PS3, a vacuum with a hose attachment and canned air work great. Stubborn dust bunnies may require a paper towel dampened with alcohol.
  • Keep the work area clean as you work. Be careful not to vacuum any screws. This will insure no dust (or pet hair) get into the new thermal CPU compound which could severely effect it's performance.
  • When you get inside the system get a sniff of your power supply, if it smells burnt, this fix MAY not work.
  • A few minor steps are missing from the guide, but they are fairly easy to figure out.
  • Careful with the ribbon cables, each one has a clip to hold them on. Some release the opposite way of others.
  • Righty tighty, lefty loosey!
  • When assembling the PS3 make sure you have all the cables where they should be as you put it together. You don't want to have to take it back apart a bit to get a cable where it's supposed to be. Be sure ports meet the port-holes as they are supposed to. Over all everything should have a tight fit.
  • When you put the screws back in you just need to secure everything, you aren't entering a strongman contest. Over torquing these screws may result in a funny looking PS3.