Nearly three years after the introduction of the original budget-busting PlayStation 3, Sony has put both the system and its price tag on a diet. The appropriately named PlayStation 3 Slim shaves over an inch off the width of the previous system while keeping the same processing power intact. Sony also drops the price by $100 from the previous model, and bumps storage up from 80GB to 120GB. But the PlayStation’s distinctive piano black shell also disappears, along with the ability to run third-party operating systems. Has Sony cut too deep and turned the caviar of the console world into a tuna fish sandwich? Let’s have a closer look and find out.
Features and Design
As the name suggests, most people will notice the biggest differences between the new and old PS3 right out of the box. The smaller dimensions on the Slim make it feel like less of a behemoth in most home entertainment systems, but on the same hand, it doesn’t come anywhere near the diminutive size of the Wii. It’s improved, but the difference in person may look less drastic than the marketers would have you believe.
Along the same lines, the aesthetics of the machine have clearly suffered from the cheapening. We’re not always fans of gloss finishes on items that see much handling, but a PS3 gets touched so rarely that the original system could safely gleam away from a home entertainment system out of the way of grime. The Slim sports a matte-black finish that looks suitable for the interior of a Chevy Cavalier. It just doesn’t throw off the same vibe. We absolutely love the new eject and power buttons, which actually click instead of just responding to touch, but the other new materials are an obvious step backward in the name of cost.
Like all PlayStation 3 models, the Slim includes a built-in hard drive for cutting load times, a Blu-ray player, built-in Wi-Fi connectivity (giving it a major leg up over the Xbox 360, which requires a $100 accessory for the privilege), two USB ports for accessories and controller charging, and 1080p HDMI output. However, owners of last-gen PlayStations may notice that it can no longer load third-party operating systems like Linux. Sad? We suppose, but we can almost guarantee that most late adopters who waited three years to get a PS3 have no idea what Linux is, much less any desire to install it on a PS3.
The lack of compatibility with PS2 games and the missing media card reader remain a disappointment, even though they were missing on the last-gen model as well. On the up side, new model supports Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio for output to compatible receivers, which should satiate the audiophile crowd still eying the PS3 mostly as a Blu-ray player.
Playstation 3 on the left, Playstation 3 Slim on the right
Playstation 3 on the left, Playstation 3 Slim on the right
Performance and Testing
Although Sony doesn’t trumpet it from the rooftops, the processor in the PlayStation 3 has also changed for the better. The famed Cell processor has gone from a 65nm manufacturing process to a 45nm manufacturing process, basically meaning: It’s smaller. Smaller electronics of course make it easier for Sony to fit the same processing power into a smaller box, but as another pleasant consequence, they usually consume less electricity. Sony hasn’t posted official numbers for how much “greener” that makes the PlayStation 3 Slim, but the power supply goes from 280 watts to 250 watts, meaning it uses at least 10 percent less electricity at peak consumption. Will you notice the difference on your utility bill? Unless you’re running a room full of PlayStations in your basement as a render farm, probably not.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t notice elsewhere. Less electricity used means less heat, less heat means less need for fans, and less need for fans means less noise. Yes, the PlayStation 3 Slim is quieter than its predecessor, which most folks already considered pretty reasonable compared to the raucous roar of an Xbox 360 running at full bore. The difference isn’t terribly noticeable – especially if you’re already grinding up enemies in Gears of War with the sound up – but in the isolation of a home theater room with a quiet Blu-ray movie spinning, we definitely preferred the din of the newer PS3. With an ear right next to it, the PS3 Slim emits a slightly higher-pitched whisper, while the original model emits a lower roar with more a noticeable scrabbling sound when the Blu-ray drive seeks.
With the older system, hiding it away in a cabinet helped a lot with eliminating the noise, but also drove temperatures up as heat collected in the confines around it. The newer model runs cool enough to pull it off without any concerns. We placed both consoles in identical but separate cubbies within a home entertainment system and let them sweat away decoding Blu-ray movies. When we returned 20 minutes later, the air around the older PS3 felt warm enough to heat up our hands on a cold winter day, and the fans had kicked up to an even higher degree of obnoxiousness. The air around the Slim barely felt warmer than ambient temperatures, and the fans ran no harder than they did with the cabinet doors open.
Gaming and Blu-ray performance on either system is remain identical. For more details on gameplay, see our review of the original PlayStation 3.
The bundle of accessories included with the PlayStation 3 hasn’t changed at all from its predecessor. You’ll get the magic black box, a DualShock 3 wireless controller with USB cord (for initial setup and charging), an AC power cord, and an AV cable for standard composite audio and video connections. Unfortunately, that still means you’ll need to dig up your own HDMI cable. Given the widespread adoption of the HDMI standard in the three years since the PS3 launch, we really would have appreciated Sony swapping composite cables for HDMI in the box. If you’re buying a PlayStation 3 in 2009, you’re playing on an HDTV.
Despite the tummy tuck, the PlayStation 3 remains the capable, muscular box it’s always been. The lack of third-party operating system support and slightly duller materials remain the only real trade-offs you’ll make to own the newer, slimmer PS3, and we would gladly accept both of them in exchange for another $100 left still padding the wallet after purchase. And you’ll get a cooler, quieter, greener PS3, too. It’s about time.
• More reasonable price
• Smaller form factor
• Larger hard drive
• Cooler, quieter
• Still no included HDMI cable
• No Linux support
• Cheaper-feeling materials