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PlayStation 3: What's with the watts?

The forthcoming PS3 is apparently as hungry for electrical power as a 3-year-old for hamburgers and fries. While the latter can be sedated, the former is insatiable

Sony is not a company renowned for its good table manners and self-restraint, but early reports suggest that the PlayStation 3 scoffs 380 watts, more than eight times as much power as the PlayStation 2 (45 watts), and more than twice as much power as the Xbox 360 (160 watts). So, while an Intel Core 2 Duo PC with high-end graphics card chews politely on a 160 watt entrée, the PlayStation 3 gorges itself, splashing electricity about like a toddler with a bucket of fizzy drink.

In these heady days of well-publicised impending global environmental apocalypse, some might think it a little brash of Sony to unleash an electronic Bacchus on the scene. The culprit may be the new Cell processor the PS3 uses. Cell is based on a Power processing core, surrounded by several 'helper' processors. Whether it's related is unclear, but Apple certainly had problems putting G5 PowerPC chips into their laptops on account of heat and power-consumption issues -- eventually it gave up and switched to Intel for this reason, among others.

Last month Sony was reported to have experienced overheating issues in some demonstrations of the new PS3, causing its sterner critics to dub the console the "PlayStation Flee!" -- implying that people should run because the heat might cause scenes like those in the movie Backdraft. Sony denied these claims, explicitly stating that that "PS3 does not suffer from an overheating problem". The complaint stemmed from a report by a Macquarie Equities analyst, David Gibson, who claims to have observed PS3s that "operated erratically and had to be repeatedly reset" at the recent Tokyo Game Show.

The extra power consumption of the PS3 over the PS2 suggests that we're not really getting much better at designing efficient systems, we're just pumping more 'fuel' into existing paradigms.

Crave is reminded of Man's trip to the moon using pocket-calculators, sellotape and bits of bailer's twine. Necessity is the mother of invention, but while console-makers feel content to slurp electro-juice from the wall-nozzle without rebuke, there'll be no real evolution in this field. -CS