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Low-cost PS2 controller matches Sony's version sans the cord

Posted: 19 Feb 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:PS2? Sony? Game Elements? Philippines? wireless controller?

The Game Elements GGE609U PS2 controller from Philips, available for about $22 to $25, matches up in price and function with Sony's own wired controller but dispenses with the cord. The little gadget caught my eye at a recent run to our local drug store and I snapped one up to see how the design came together. To undercut the Sony-branded controller alternative, the GGE609U has to deliver more capability and cut costsboth ongoing themes for just about all things electronic.

The controller's overall ergonomics closely mirror the Sony PS2 wired controller, with the same "batwing" handles, dual joysticks and trigger buttons. Perhaps the one missing feature in the GGE609U is the force-feedback vibration that is found in both Sony's wired controller and Logitech's competing wireless controller, which come in at $10 to $15 more than the Game Elements design. I don't do a lot of gaming, but the racing simulations on which I'll waste a bit of time are a bit more energetic when you can "feel" the rumble strips and gravel traps.

'Not much' inside
Aside from markets and features, what's inside? As you might expect from the price tag, the short answer is "not much." The product is really composed of two distinct, but related, electronic assemblies. The first is the handheld controller proper and the second is the plug-in dongle, which serves as the wireless bridge between the PS2 and the controller. Since the controller and dongle must communicate bidirectionally, each subsystem requires a transceiver.

To standardize as much as possible, the transceiver portion of the design is implemented on a small patch of circuit board that can be found replicated in both the controller and the dongle. By using simple header connectors to join this standard radio module to the other electronics, some additional economy-of-scale benefits can be achieved. Because the connectors are inexpensive and the connections are hand-soldered in low-cost labor environs, there is presumably a net upside.

The single-chip ATR2806 2.4GHz transceiver solution from Atmel is all that is needed on the radio semiconductor front. Implemented in SiGe BiCMOS, the ATR2806 uses a low-IF architecture and integrates an LNA, VCO/PLL and all modulation/demodulation with a digital interface to the outside world. About 20 passive components join the single chip in the radio module, and bare-die mounting with epoxy "glob-top" encapsulation is used to shave off some of the traditional packaging costs at the expense of rework. Data rates of 500Kbps to over 1Mbps are claimed for the device. With a die size of under 6mm?, the pair of radio chips probably contribute under $2 to the total cost.

Game Elements GGE609U

The GGE609U PS2 controller's overall ergonomics closely mirror the Sony PS2 wired controller.
Click image to view teardown diagram

Integrated antenna
The antenna for the radio is integrated directly into the radio module circuit board with a planar inverted-F antenna etched into the circuit board metallization. In a further effort to spend only where needed and enhance radio performance, the radio module is implemented on a glass-epoxy circuit board, a lower-RF-loss material than the less-expensive phenolic laminates used for most of the other boards.

For the digital half of the equation in the handheld controller, an MCU from Elan Microelectronics (possibly one of the EM78 series) is used, integrating the radio interface, system control and the multichannel A/D converters needed to interface with the dual-axis potentiometers in the two joystick assemblies.

A Holtek HT93LC46 128-byte serial E2PROM is the sole storage device. The remaining electronic components in the controller are limited to a couple-dozen passives, a single crystal and the joystick assemblies. Again, the Elan component is wire-bonded directly to the controller board and epoxy-covered to reduce costs.

At under 3mm?, the MCU introduces less than 50 cents in cost, likely less than even a single joystick assembly.

More penny pinching
The dongle-side radio module also interfaces to an MCU (whose identity could not be determined). Here it's even simpler and smaller than the Elan MCU, since only a radio and PS2 interface are needed, and no A/D conversion is required. Glob-top direct-chip bonding on phenolic is again called upon to save money. And the penny-pinching even extends to the choice of the thinnest gold flash PCB metallization and use of aluminum (vs. gold) wire bonds. It wouldn't pass any tough reliability screenings, but when home use and rock-bottom costs are the drivers, the assembly technology seemingly fits the bill.

To get to a $20 to $30 retail product with about $3 to $4 worth of semiconductor content, the remaining aspects of the design all have to be kept low-tech and low-cost. To keep factory costs down, somewhat astounding levels of manual assembly also drive final manufacturing to China as a must. In the end, the Philips Game Elements design is able to profitably match the price of Sony's wired controller with a wireless design, while still leaving some margin for my corner store.

- David Carey
President, Portelligent

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