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Sony PS4 teardown shows near breakeven point on hardware cost

Posted: 21 Nov 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IHS? teardown? PlayStation 4? DRAM? BOM?

According to IHS, for the past seven years, Sony Corp. has offered various revisions of the PlayStation 3 console, of which many were sold at a loss. However, with the PlayStation 4, the company has managed to release a design whose component and manufacturing costs are starting out lower than its price tag—paving the way for the company to quickly attain profitability on hardware sales, stated the market analytics firm.

The BOM for the PlayStation 4 amounts to $372. When the manufacturing expense is added in, the cost increases to $381. This comes in $18 lower than the $399 retail price of the console.

When other expenses are tallied, Sony initially will still take a loss on each console sold. But the relatively low BOM of the PlayStation 4 will allow the company to break even or attain profitability in the future as the hardware costs undergo normal declines.

"When Sony rolled out the original model of the PlayStation 3 in 2006, our teardown analysis revealed that the console delivered supercomputer-class performance at a price equivalent to a notebook PC," said Andrew Rassweiler, senior director, cost benchmarking services for IHS. "However, this achievement came with a major downside for Sony, as the BOM costs for most of the different versions of the console were in excess of the retail prices, in some cases by more than $100. Although Sony brought the PlayStation 3's costs down significantly during its lifetime, the company's intent was never to make money on the hardware, but rather to profit through sales of games and content."

"This time, Sony is on a greatly shortened path to the hardware break-even point, or even profitability, with its cost-conscious PlayStation 4 design. The company is pulling off this feat, despite offering a brand-new design that once again includes avant-garde components that yield superfast performance. The PlayStation 4 keeps a lid on costs by focusing all the additional expense on the processor and memory—and reducing outlays for the optical drive, the hard disk drive (HDD) and other subsystems," Rassweiler noted.

The PlayStation 4 is more economical for Sony than even the revision of the PlayStation 3 torn down by IHS, which was shipped in 2009, a model dubbed the CECH-2001A. That version of the PlayStation 3 carried a $336 BOM and manufacturing cost compared to a $299 sales price.

The costliest subsystems in the PlayStation 4 are the core processor and the associated graphic dynamic random access memory (DRAM), which together entail $188—representing slightly more than 50 percent of the BOM of the entire console. This compares to only 29 percent for the fourth-generation PlayStation 3. For the PlayStation 4, Sony clearly has integrated two functions—the core CPU and GPU—that were previously two discrete ICs.

"Sony clearly has made the decision to focus on balancing the brains and economics of the console, with the processor and memory dominating both the design and the BOM," said Jordan Selburn, senior principal analyst for consumer platforms at IHS. "This processor is a monster, with the surface area of the chip amounting to about 350mm2. That is three times larger than any other chip manufactured using equivalent-process technology that has been examined by the IHS Teardown Analysis service. Despite the remarkable silicon acreage of this device, it comes at a price point attractive to mainstream consumers while delivering a very high level of performance. Future versions, manufactured with even more advanced semiconductor processing technology, will further enhance both cost and performance."

The processor exhibits a high degree of integration, using advanced 28nm semiconductor manufacturing, and combining both the CPU and GPU into a single device. The Advanced Micro Devices Inc. processor includes an eight-core Jaguar CPU and a Radeon GPU. This processor costs $100, IHS estimated, compared to an $83.55 combined total for the two prior, equivalent integrated circuits from IBM and Nvidia that were used in the PlayStation 3 that IHS analyzed in 2009.

The cost increase for the DRAM is even more remarkable, at an estimated $88, up from just $9.80 for the fourth-generation PlayStation 3, i.e. the CECH-2001A. Note that the $9.80 total does not include the DRAM that was mounted directly to the Nvidia processor in the PlayStation 3 that IHS analyzed in 2009. This cost increase is due to the PlayStation 4's adoption of advanced Graphics DRAM (GDRAM) GDDR5.

"GDRAM DDR5 memory has much higher bandwidth than the DDR3 used in the Xbox One. It also works better with parallel computing and is designed specifically to enhance graphics performance," said Mike Howard, senior principal analyst, DRAM & memory, for IHS. "Because of its cutting-edge status, GDRAM GDDR5 is more expensive than DDR3, which is used in high volume in products including PCs and older game consoles."

Offsetting the increased costs for the processor and memory are unchanged or lower expenses for other subsystems.

The biggest area of cost reduction is in the optical drive, at only $28, compared to $66 for the CECH-2001A PlayStation 3. With the optical drive mechanism remaining largely unchanged since 2009, Sony was able to capitalize on the dramatic price erosion in this product during the past four years.

Sony trimmed another $10 from the BOM by using a more integrated design overall for the PlayStation 4. The design allowed Sony to reduce the number of small-sized integrated circuits, discrete semiconductors and passive components. The total cost of these devices amounted to $40 in the PlayStation 4, down from $50.23 in the CECH-2001A PlayStation 3.

Another $5 reduction was achieved in the mechanical portion of the design, including enclosures—such as plastics and metals—and in the electro-mechanical content such as PCBs, connectors and wire harnesses.

The hard disk drive in the PlayStation 4 is $1 cheaper than the one in the CECH-2001A PlayStation 3, despite a major jump in capacity to 500GB, up from 120GB. This cost reduction reflected the major decline in HDD costs during the past four years.





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