How-to: Make a PS3 Laptop of your very own (part 1)

You may not have the disposable income to take home our one of a kind PS3 Laptop (which is still up for charity auction!), but that doesn't mean you don't have the time or wherewithal to build one of your own. Which is why we've asked our man Ben Heck to show everybody how he built the thing for the benefit of independent modders everywhere. In this installment we'll take apart the PS3, identify the parts within, and then reassemble them in a more compact way. We'll also install a USB breakout cable and take a look under the mammoth heatsinks and pipes. Read on!

Let's begin by taking apart the original 60GB PS3 and identifying the parts within, shall we?

Pay no attention to labels such as this!

A good rule of thumb when taking apart electronics is that if you can't find the last screw to remove a shell - or ANY screws to remove a shell as with the PS3, it's probably under a warranty sticker of some kind. On the hard drive / base end of the PS3 is a sticker of this sort -- poke through it with a Phillips screwdriver to undo the top shell screw. The shell will then slide off to reveal...

The emperor is most displeased with our apparent lack of market share progress...

...the inner shell, as shown above. When first opened the PS3 looks quite similar to Darth Vader in that scene from Empire Strikes Back when the dude sees him with his helmet partially off. What, you don't see it? Whatever, at this point we'll find the lion's share of screws that must be removed to continue disemboweling the PS3.

Labeling the screws in case you get cold feet

When taking apart expensive electronics it's often a good idea to use masking tape to label each screw hole with the type of screw you find in case you need to put the unit back together at some point, as shown above.

To remove the card reader door, simply lift and snap it out.

They didn't expect people to find this tab... but we did.

Before the inner shell comes off we'll have to insert a flat-head screwdriver in the hole on the upper right corner. This will snap off the shell and allow us to continue.

Overview of the PS3 guts

With the inner shell removed the 60 gig PS3 will appear as shown above. Some notes regarding these parts:

  • The PS3 has an interestingly designed power supply, it's curved to fit the case. Pretty cool. It accepts the AC wall power input and converts it to 12 volts DC for the PS3's main power supply. This is done via a large copper 2 pronged plug that we'll see a bit later. In the front of the PSU are a few small wire connections. These provide a 5 volt "rail" power (always on) that allows the PS3 to sense the front buttons and power itself on, much like a PC or the Xbox 360. However unlike the 360 / Wii this does not power the USB when the unit is off.

  • Below that, we see the WiFi / Bluetooth module. This connects to the main motherboard via a flat ribbon cable and also has a small antenna attached via a cord, much like the Wii. This part of the PS3 must remain, not only for the WiFi, but for the controllers to work.

  • Card reader. Since we're already going to take up space keeping the WiFi board the card reader pretty much has to go. (It's fairly useless anyway, if you ask us.) On older machines, things like this can be kept or simply moved by rewiring their connections, but on the PS3 everything is connected by 0.5mm pitch flat ribbon cables, and thus is practically impossible to rewire by hand. (More on this when we get to the Blu-ray drive.)

  • E-Z Touch Power Switch. Well, technically the eject and power buttons work with capacitance, kind of like those metal lamps you can touch to turn on. We can leave this circuit board where it is, and simply attach wires to the capacitance button tabs to put the touch sensors elsewhere. (More on this later) As for the LED's, they can also be rewired as they are fairly simple.

  • Blu-ray drive. This is the baby that allows you to watch "Die Hard 4" at the bargain price of $35 . This photo is a bit old, well before HD-DVD bought the farm, and I'd labeled a Blu-ray drive as an albatross, but now it appears Sony probably gambled and won with that idea. The discs are still too expensive if you ask me. (I guess they are made from petroleum...)

Let's pull the PS3 apart further, shall we?

Be careful with ribbon cable sockets such as these

First off is the card reader module. Use a pair of tweezers to carefully rotate down the clasp on the ZIF (zero insertion force) socket holding the ribbon cable. You can then remove the cable and the module. Use it to prop up a leg on a wobbly table or something, a card reader isn't of much use in this project. (Unless you're madly in love with it for some reason.)

Next is the WiFi antenna, with a connection just like the one on the Wii and Xbox 360 WiFi adapter (see my other projects). Use tweezers to carefully lift it up and off the board. Save the antenna assembly for later. The WiFi will work without it, but it's good to put back on anyway.

Next, disengage the ribbon cables and remove the WiFi module and touch switch PCB in the same manner as the card reader.

Let's move onto the power supply. Start by pulling out the AC power plug from the back. Then unscrew the ground connection from the motherboard frame. Fun fact: disconnecting this gets rid of the ground loop hum heard when using the analog audio.

Death to ground loop hum!

You can now unscrew and lift off the power supply. Now we see the main 12 volt DC input plug -- quite hefty, isn't it? We'll reduce the height of this later.

Nice hefty copper connections!

Next comes the Blu-ray drive removal. Notice how it's not actually bolted in place or anything, just held by good old cheap mechanical retention.


The connections going to the drive are a 90 lead thin ribbon cable and a small connection for power. Due to complexity of this ribbon cable (and the fact that it isn't something simple like the SATA interface on the 360) we'll have to use it for the final product. For now, use tweezers to CAREFULLY lift up the flaps on the ZIF sockets to detach the cable from the PS3 motherboard.

Also note that one of the chips on the drive's PCB has a pad because it uses the RF shielding as a heat sink. We'll need to remember this later on and be careful not to run the drive for more than a minute or two (during the testing / experimentation process) without some sort of heat sinking in place.

At this point the PS3 should look like the above. The large clamps in the center are clearly for the CPU/GPU heat sinks. At this point we could leave the main unit as is and mod around it, but attaching USB port extensions -- and nagging curiosity -- mandates we have to break it down further.

Lifting the main unit out of the case reveals the simply massive (yet quiet) fan inside the PS3. (You could probably install this sucker on a Chevy Metro and get away with it.) But hey, we don't hear about massive numbers of PS3's overheating either, do we? The fan connects to the motherboard via a simple two wire plug.

Don't get your fingers caught in this thing.

Doubles as a NASA wind tunnel turbine.

Remember - Sony lets you put in any size/type 2.5

Let's continue to take the frame apart by pulling out the built-in 2.5-inch SATA drive. This is done by simply removing the lock screw (don't lose it), lifting the tab and sliding the drive out. Like the Blu-ray drive, it would be too difficult to desolder the SATA connection from the mother so we'll just leave the drive in its original position for the final configuration.

Next, use tweezers to unplug the PS3's battery. Like the Wii's battery, unplugging this does not cause any critical data to be lost, as far we could tell.

Now it's time to remove the radiator. Unscrew both of the heat clamps to release it from the motherboard.

No wonder copper's so expensive. Or rather, why the PS3 is...

The PS3 uses more heat pipes than any electronic device we've yet seen, although we're light on supercomputer mods.

The PS3 motherboard with the radiator off. White thermal grease can be found on the CPU / GPU, much like on the PS2. We'll replace this with Arctic Silver thermal compound, as we did in the Xbox 360 Laptop.

Next, remove the metal frame from around the motherboard. At this point it's only held in place by a few final screws, and some "hinge tabs" at one end, requiring you to tilt the frame up and pull it out.

It's important to note that several ICs on the motherboard have pads which allow them to sink their heat to the frame. They are usually white, gray or black in color. When handling the board be sure these pads remain in their original places so they will contact what they are intended to when putting the frame back together.

Some of the pads may stay on the metal frame, so pull the frame off slowly so you can see where all the pads are and/or should be. If you need to move a pad, grasp it gently with tweezers and peel it off slowly, to avoid crushing or ripping it. Also take care to keep them clean of dust and debris.

Free PS2 inside every specially marked PS3!

These ICs should look very familiar to anyone who's ever been inside a PS2 -- it's the combo Emotion Engine / Graphics Synthesizer and the RAM (small black squares). If Sony continued including all previous system ICs in new consoles, the PS5 motherboard will be approximately the size of a football field. Notice how there's a heat sink pad on this as well -- be sure it stays in place on the shielding for proper cooling.

Before we move on it's best to clean the thermal grease off of the main ICs before it can make a mess / stain your favorite shirt, or whatever. For best results, remove the grease with some high-grade rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs until they are shiny and clean. To get the thermal grease off the sides or edges, use toothpicks to scrape it off.

Side note: the GPU is called the "Reality Synthesizer" -- it's note quite that good, but hey.

The bare PS3 motherboard. Overall it's quite thin, except for the USB ports, which unfortunately aren't easy to remove.

Now we'll add a breakout cable for the USB connections. Due to the nature of this motherboard it is rather difficult to desolder items such as the USB ports ,and thus it's easier to simply add connections onto them. For this I've chosen an old computer ribbon cable with a female header receptacle end. This one has the proper number of pins -- four per USB port x 4 ports = 16 pins.

Shown above is a blown-up of a USB port as seen on the motherboard. The pin-outs are fairly simple,+5, DAT -, DAT+ and Ground. They are always in that order, and ground is always the pin connected to the main surface (fill plain) of the motherboard. You can also check with a multimeter, ground is always -- without fail -- the outer copper edge of the motherboard. See if that connects to any suspected ground pin -- on the USB or otherwise -- and you're golden.

Keep a handy notebook of this information laying around for best results

In the photo above we can see that the pin-outs on the header have been logged into a notebook. This is always a good idea, especially when you have a system that will eventually have a lot of re-wired and/or manually created plugs. It's also important to "key" the header block, either by knocking out one of the holes (I usually stick in and break off the tip of a toothpick) or using a metallic ink pen to label the plastic, as shown above. We'll attach the male header (gold item on right side of photo) in a later installment. The general plan here is to have 3 USB ports available at the front of the unit and reserve one for the built-in keyboard.

Now let's modify and reinstall the metal frame.

Using a Dremel and a cut-off wheel make an opening in the metal frame near the USB port section, large enough for the header to fit through. Be sure to wear safety goggles when doing this sort of work!

Next, break off the 3 mounting tabs from the top surface of the metal frame - note how they are a different color than the frame itself. This will make the overall motherboard assembly a little thinner and easier to work with. Be sure not to bend the main metal frame, otherwise it might not fit correctly back onto the motherboard or correctly heatsink the ICs that use it.

It may also be useful to drill out the stamped rivets to remove the brackets. Try and keep the dust off of the heat sinks pad if at all possible.

At this point the top half of the metal frame should look like the above. We won't need to make any adjustments to the bottom half of it.

Arctic Silver - it works for me!

Next we'll reattach the heat sinks / radiator. Spread a thin layer of Arctic Silver thermal compound over the CPU and GPU as shown above and described on their packaging. (See site for details.) We usually do this while wearing latex glove (the kind that aren't powdered). This is much cleaner and keeps skin oils off the surface.

Now we'll reattach the heat sink clamps. Be sure they are tight and screw down evenly (to the same depth) to ensure the clamping is even across the chip surfaces. Also, remember to plug the big fan back into the motherboard!

It still functions!

At this point the PS3's main board can be used again, as shown in the configuration test above. Note how the Blu-ray drive is in its original position so the chip on it can be heat sinked to the frame. In the next installment, we'll discuss how to arrange the parts of the PS3 to fit them inside of a laptop-style case, the design of the case, and the LCD screen that we'll use. See you next time!