PlayStation 5's massive heat sink is why the console is so gigantic

A massive copper heat sink makes up a big portion of the PlayStation 5's case real estate, along with a massive 120mm fan.

@DeekeTweak
Published Wed, Oct 7 2020 1:05 PM CDT   |   Updated Mon, Oct 19 2020 8:20 PM CDT

As we predicted a long time ago, the PlayStation 5's overall shape and design is dictated by cooling. The console's rather massive 15 inch x 10 inch size allows ample real estate for critical cooling components like the big 120mm centrifugal fan and a unique heat sink design.

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Today's PlayStation 5 teardown finally revealed the console's most important technical feat: Cooling. Sony spared no expense on this front. The company spent five years designing the PS5, two of which were spent designing the liquid metal compound solution, which can conduct 86% more heat and thereby significantly drop operating temperatures while under demanding loads. Liquid metal compound isn't much without a proper heat sink though; improved conductivity is meaningless unless you have a proper system in place to properly dissipate the heat.

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Thankfully the PS5 also has a massive heat sink designed for this purpose.

The 120mm diameter, 46mm-thick centrifugal fan takes up a portion of the console's left side, and the L-shaped heat sink itself takes up the other side. It's not the crazy dual-sided heat sink we saw in previous Sony patents, but it's still a pretty unique hybrid solution; the PS5 has a pipe-based heat sink that emulates vapor chamber cooling.

"Like the PS3 and PS4, it uses a heat pipe. However, the shape and airflow have made it possible to achieve the same performance as a vapor chamber," Sony engineer Masayasu Ito said in the teardown video.

The heat sink is fastened to a hard copper plate with what could be aluminum dissipation fins. The copper contact hardplate is essential as the liquid metal compound solution conducting heat from the SoC contains gallium, which is corrosive to aluminum. The heat pipes are also copper based.

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Sony's PlayStation 5 uses these three main components to keep the system cool while gaming in 4K:

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  • 120mm, 45mm-thick double-sided fan
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  • Liquid metal cooling compound solution contacts directly to 7nm+ SoC
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  • Heat pipe heat sink that's shaped to emulate vapor chamber performance

Here's how it works:

Intake

The PS5's 120mm fan pulls cool air from the front and sides of the console via specially-designed vents. The PS5's curvy design isn't just for looks, but for practical direction of airflow. Air is pulled in and passed through the SoC and heat sink to move the hot air conducted from the heat sink out of the console via exhaust vents. The entire rear side of the PlayStation 5 is made up of exhaust vents.

Conductivity/Exhaust

All of the major components are connected to the copper heat sink: SoC, RAM, and SSD. The NAND SSD, memory controller, and RAM all use thermal compound to pass heat to the heat sink. The SoC, however, uses liquid metal compound, a solution that can increase thermal conductivity by 86%. As you play, heat is generated from the chips and is conducted into the heat sink, which uses a heat pipe to move the heat. The heat is moved across the fins and pushed out the back forcibly by directional airflow from the fan.

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In tandem with these components, the PlayStation 5's SoC and power supply have also been tweaked to mitigate both noise and heat. Both the PS5's GPU and CPU have variable frequency and maintain a constant flow of power to ensure the fans operate at a consistent level. Even when the SoC clocks max out, generate heat, and require more power, the fans won't rev up like the current-gen consoles.

The current PS4 and PS4 Pro have variable power delivery and locked CPU and GPU frequencies, which means the console will dump more power as it's needed and the fans will rev up as a result.

PS5 architect Mark Cerny explains:

"Then we went with a variable frequency strategy with PlayStation 5. Which is to say we continuously run the GPU and CPU in boost mode. We supply a generous amount of electrical power, and then increase the frequency of GPU and CPU until they reach the capabilities of the system's cooling solution.

"It's a completely different paradigm. Rather than running constant frequency, and letting power vary based on the workload, we run at essentially constant power and let the frequency vary based on the workload."

The result is a highly-customized system that's built from the ground up to deliver next-gen performance without sacrificing heat management or noise.

The PlayStation 5 releases November 12 for $499 (standard disc version) and $399 (digital-only system). Check below for a full side-by-side comparison of the entire 9th generation of console hardware:

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Derek is absorbed with the intersection of technology and gaming, and is always looking forward to new advancements. With over six years in games journalism under his belt, Derek aims to further engage the gaming sector while taking a peek under the tech that powers it. He hopes to one day explore the stars in No Man's Sky with the magic of VR.

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