I love garage sales, thrift stores, and flea markets. It’s a thing. But I especially love finding good deals on stuff, fixing it up, and making broken things work again.
I do that a lot with tech.
One of my latest finds? A PlayStation 3 system for twenty-eight dollars. Yep, just twenty-eight dollars. Too good of a deal to pass up!
Until I found out that it was dead as a doornail. Wouldn’t boot at all. After a little google searching I found the system suffered from the YLOD – Yellow Light of Death. Yellow is the color the light on the front of the system flashes when you turn it on. It seems to be a pretty common problem with older PS3’s. So there you go, I spent twenty-eight dollars on a paperweight.
Except I didn’t. I fixed that PS3, and it’s opened my eyes to a world of videogames that I’d missed out on. Here’s how.
The Yellow Light of Death simply means that the two main chips in the system aren’t connected very well to the circuit board anymore. The solder that holds the chips in place has cracked from all of the repeated heating and cooling that’s happened over the years. The first solution I tried, and one that worked for several weeks, was extremely simple. I baked the system.
No, not in the oven. I simulated an oven by placing the system inside the box it came in, putting a thick glove on my hand, and running a hair dryer over the vents of the PS3 for five minutes. Then I let it cool for a minute. Then five more minutes with the hair dryer. Then another cool cycle. I did this for a total of ten heating & cooling cycles. The inside of that cardboard box was, well, like an oven. Super hot, hot enough that it melted one corner of the PS3’s plastic case.
After it cooled for half an hour I plugged it back in. The PS3 was still hot to the touch. The internal fan immediately came on, which was far more than the system had done before. The light on the front of the PS3 turned blue instead of yellow, and that fan spun up to maximum speed. It knew the PS3 was still super hot inside and that fan had a job to do! As the fan hit high speed a huge cloud of dust and dirt blew out of the PS3’s side vents – it was like a car backfiring. Boy that thing had been clogged with dirt!
About five minutes later the fan slowly spun down, getting quieter and quieter. And then, to my honest surprise, the PS3 actually booted and displayed it’s welcome screen. How about that.
Now, as I said earlier, this fix really only lasted for a few weeks. Eventually the system fell back into the YLOD. This time I decided to do a proper fix. I disassembled the entire PS3, only to find that the system was in fact a mutant – inside it was half electronics and half dust bunny.
The thing had collected an amazing amount of dust and dog/cat hair over the years, whoever had this before me must have had pets. I gave it a thorough cleaning, and then took a heat gun to the main chips. Not a hair dryer, but a proper heat gun, the type used for stripping paint or linoleum. I set it for around 600-700 degrees fahrenheit. A couple of minutes circling over each chip was all it took, then I let the board cool. Flipped it over, and did the same with the backside of the board.
In reassembling the system I replaced the thermal paste that helps keep the main chips nice and cool. There are huge heat sinks in a PS3, but if they aren’t connected well with the chips they won’t cool a thing. A thin layer of thermal paste stuck everything back together really well.
And wouldn’t you know it, once again I had a working PS3 system. Hurrah!
Well, that’s after I pulled it back apart again to figure out where to put a single, leftover screw. Wouldn’t you know it was probably the most important screw in the whole system, the one that connects the ground cable. Whew, glad I noticed that.
So, twenty-eight dollars for the system and four or five dollars for a tube of thermal paste. I’ve been playing PS3 games now for a couple of months – did I mention how cheap PS3 games are nowadays? Most can be found for five dollars or less. Thrifty. 🙂