The year is 2023, Sony is the first console maker in decades to enable disk drive replacement in a major game console. Not only is the procedure tool free, but the pairing process is pretty much as painless as possible. Of course piracy has exploded and Sony is now bankrupt—wait, no it hasn’t. The PlayStation 5 Slim came out and things are… fine?
Haven’t console makers spent years and years claiming that optical drives must be paired to main boards in order to maintain control? Haven’t they lobbied and pulled just about every privacy, copyright, and logistical lever they have to keep people from effecting these kinds of repairs?
It’s almost like unpairing optical drives wasn’t really that hard after all? But hey, we’re always happy to welcome repair-minded design, and praise it when its due. So without further ado, here are the the good, the bad, and the weird of the 2023 PlayStation 5 “slim”.
The Good: Repair, replace, rejoice
Hardware-wise consoles are often pretty straightforward, I mean Xbox is basically a windows machine in a different, well, box. But that minimalism doesn’t necessarily translate to ease of opening. Here’s where Sony’s PlayStation begins to shine.
Swappable Panels Mean Profit and Popularity
From the get-go the PlayStation is built to be opened. The side panels—up to four from the original PS5’s 2—are still removable with just a little flex and pop. The slim edition isn’t that much smaller of course, but it is nice to see that a reduction in size doesn’t translate to tougher opening. We always say that slim doesn’t mean unrepairable. We also like to say that repair not only saves users money, but can make manufacturers money, too. And in the case of DIY swappable side panels, Sony doesn’t even have to create a repair network! They just need to set up a web store for unique colors and collabs and rake in the cash. Not only that, customization builds a stronger connection to a product and increases brand loyalty.
Repair Roadsigns Aid Reassembly
Upon opening the panels it is immediately apparent that Sony expects, and even encourages, DIY repair. The four panels are all labeled with the iconic button symbols—triangle, square, circle, or ‘X’—that not only tie in iconic branding, but also remind users where each came from. The panel over the optical drive is the one marked with a circle, which feels like a very intentional mnemonic.
Additionally, interior instructions such as arrows, marked screw holes—two dots means a long screw belongs in the adjacent hole, one dot is for the shorties—and labeled M.2 SSD mounting holes, make this a very friendly device. No foreboding warnings or obtuse screws in sight.
Immortality Means Upgrades and Options
The best feature is the one we alluded to earlier, the tool-free optical drive swap. We’re stoked to see that Sony is all but begging users to remove the disk drive. Ideally there would be instructional manuals, and we’d love to see a promise to supply replacement parts, but short of that there’s not much we’d change here. There are no screws, no fussy cables, just pop the drive right out, like a flash drive. We love to see it.
And of course there’s the expandable storage slot in a handy, standard M.2 blade format with not one but five separate screw holes allowing for any size your heart, or your wallet, desires. In a world where cloud-based streaming reigns supreme, it’s nice to see that Sony recognizes the importance of solid hardware.
The Bad: Repairable With an Asterisk
Of course nobody’s perfect, and console repair was never going to change over night. With all the impressive inclusions, the PlayStation 5 Slim still has some rough edges we’d like to see taken care of.
Parts Pairing Woes
Now, we talked a lot about how impressive the optical drive swap was, but we do want to be clear that parts pairing is anti-repair. Even if this process is about as simple as it gets, the console still requires an internet connection, and still pairs the drive to the main board in some way. Do we expect that Sony will suddenly shut off your optical drive? No, not really. But can we imagine a world in which a dropped internet connection puts your drive in limbo forever? Unfortunately, yes.
Even without malicious controls in place, this pairing service may someday go offline. It may experience glitches, or suffer from regional or DRM locks. And we’re doubtful that those future jailbroken drives will meet with Sony approval.
The true repairable solution is letting parts be parts. Just like your car, your bike, your toaster: if you own it, you should be able to swap the parts.
Not a Fan of that Fan
The X-rays Creative Electron sent over showed off a pretty impressive fan. I was chagrined to find that the fan, despite having its own dedicated exterior panel, was not easily removed. Nor is the external grille removable for cleaning, thanks to non-reusable plastic welds. The fan is instead accessible from the reverse side, with a connector hidden under a sticker. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not my favorite way to maintain a high-priority component.
Sometimes there are hardware decisions I’m not confident are bad, necessarily, but they certainly don’t have great optics, so here’s a bonus for you.
Tamper Evident Stickers Begone
Got a sticker covering a screw? Bad omen, why are you hiding? Sticker makes it obvious you’ve peeled it up? Now that sets off alarm bells. Magnusson Moss and the FTC are clear that successful repairs will never void your warranty—at least in the US. And the corollary is that “warranty void if removed” stickers and similar warnings are illegal. A sticker that reveals cute PlayStation icons when you peel it doesn’t immediately break any warranty protection laws, but it does give Sony an indication of opening. And what do they care if you’ve opened your own console? This is the kind of move that gives manufacturers the upper hand, and can make warranty claims more of a struggle than they need to be. Especially when this sticker is just holding on a midframe, this sends a clear message that Sony only trusts us with some repairs, and they get to decide which ones, not you.
PlayStation 5 Slim Teardown Takeaways
This year has been a series of stunning wins for the right to repair. But sometimes the quieter march towards progress gets lost in the fanfare. We love to see that hardware engineers and product designer seem to be taking repairability to heart. You can tell they believe in DIY and are proud to make long-lasting equipment. Tool-free disassembly, case-molded labels and reassembly notes, plus flexible, upgradable storage and a shockingly replaceable disk drive, these are all core tenets of repairable design.
But the best hardware in the world can be hamstrung by software restrictions. Restrictions that can be enabled and changed with virtually no notice. With laws protecting repair falling into place, I’m sure designs like the newest PlayStation 5 will be rescued from these dastardly repair restrictions. But that’s a future we have to fight for.
Get informed about console repair restrictions and the organizations fighting against your right to fix, and game on. We’ve got a world to fix.