Sony’s New PlayStation 5 Cooler Is Much Smaller

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When Sony launched its revised PlayStation 5, one thing users picked up on is that the new system is 11.6 ounces (330g) lighter than its predecessor. This is nearly a pound of weight. Enthusiast investigations have found where Sony managed to trim nearly 3/4 of a pound off the system, given that the chassis is identical. The new PS5 uses a significantly smaller heatsink. This, potentially combined with a redesigned fan, is leading to systems that run hotter than previously.

The YouTuber who broke this news, Austin Evans, opened both versions of the console and measured the air outflow temperature, which has increased by 3-5 degrees Celsius. This is not the same thing as a measure of the actual SoC temperature, but we can assume that the temperature on the die has increased by at least that much, possibly more.

Unfortunately, Evans reaches the wrong conclusions. The fact that the new console is exhausting hotter air is not enough to establish whether the actual CPU is running hotter. What we need are direct measurements of the core components like the CPU, SSD, and RAM.

Furthermore, there are reasons to suspect that Sony’s changes improved the cooler rather than harming its cooling ability. This is not proven — we don’t know either way — but we’ll walk through the evidence suggesting this system could be better cooled despite a higher exhaust temperature.

Here’s what the new heatsink looks like versus the old:

Image by Austin Evans

It’s true that the heatsink on the new unit is much smaller and lighter than it was previously, but there are also some hints that it may be more efficient.  The unit has been substantially redesigned. The old PS5 heatsink had six heat pipes coming off the rightmost block in the image above. Of the six heat pipes, we can see that four route under the heatsink and attach to the cooler segment in the upper left. The other two heatpipes are not visible and presumably terminate in the middle-left heatsink. The round cut-out is where the intake fan sits — that’s important for the purposes of this analysis.

In the new heatsink design, we still see six heatpipes but they run different places. The middle-left cooler is longer now, as is the far-left cooler. We still see four heat pipes route underneath the middle-left block to connect to the far left block, but the pipes are now much longer, implying Sony is using this long run to dissipate more heat into that particular section of the heatsink. Both the new and the old heatsink are complex enough that it’s fair to ask what measuring the temperature of “the heatsink” means, as the top far-left end is going to be a very different temperature than the area directly over the CPU core, no matter what.

If you think about the lower left-hand side of the heatsink relative to the air intake, it’s not getting much cool air at all compared with other parts of the heatsink. Sony appears to have improved the efficiency of its heatsink by positioning more of it to be cooled directly by the intake fan. A much larger proportion of the heatsink is now cooled directly by the intake fan.

It’s plausible that the reason the exhaust temperature is higher is that air is now being circulated more effectively, leading to fewer hot spots. If an area of the CPU heatsink wasn’t being cooled very effectively, the temperature in that area might not be reflected in the original design’s exhaust temperature. Improving air circulation this way might lead to higher exhaust temperatures but cooler internal temperatures.

Image by Austin Evans

All else being equal, we would expect the PS5 with the higher exhaust temperature to also have a hotter heatsink and a toastier CPU. But all else is not equal in this case. The new heatsink is much lighter, but Sony clearly didn’t just hack off parts of the previous design. They rerouted the heatpipe network and they run the pipes farther, possibly in an attempt to distribute temperature more evenly and to expose more of the heatsink to the new fan. The new PS5 also has a different fan than the old one, with differently shaped and longer blades. The internal temperature of the system may have gone up because the CPU is not being cooled as effectively, or it may have risen because more of the components in the system are being cooled more effectively. It will take more than the exhaust temperature to resolve this question. A higher overall heatsink temperature even after accounting for the new shape would tell us more.

Larger, heavier heatsinks should not automatically be assumed to outperform smaller heatsinks. The shape and size of a heatsink and the presence or absence of features like fins and heat pipes matter more than either the weight or the mass of the heatsink itself. Warmer airflow could be a sign that components in the system are no longer being cooled as effectively or a sign that chips that were previously too hot are now dumping more heat into the air and keeping less of it themselves. Having watched Microsoft struggle with the Xbox 360 and RRoD, Sony’s engineers are hopefully still well aware of the dangers of a similar mistake.

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