Sony Stakes Its Bet on 60 GB PlayStation 3 in North America

In a statement to the gaming press yesterday, Sony Computer Entertainment spokesperson Dave Karraker acknowledged reports - apparently based on statements from resellers in the field - that his company will discontinue manufacturing the 20 GB version of PlayStation 3 for North America, concentrating instead on the 60 GB edition.

"Due to the overwhelming demand for the 60 GB model from both retailers and consumers," Karraker told reporters, "we have ceased offering the 20 GB model here in North America...Based on retailer and consumer feedback, we have decided to focus our current efforts on the more popular 60 GB model."

Sony's reasons may have more to do with common sense than with any specific threats of the PS3's demise, which may be diminishing as unit sales appear to have normalized. Last November, a teardown analysis by hardware analysis firm iSuppli of the parts used to construct both original US PS3 models revealed that the difference in Sony's cost between the 20 GB and 60 GB Seagate drives was only $11, and the total difference in manufacturing costs for both consoles was only $34.50 - which includes a $15.50 expenditure for the WiFi enhancement that Karraker confirmed the new 60 MB model will continue to include. With a $100 sales price difference, Sony is clearly much better off selling the higher-end model.

Also, historically as lower-capacity components sold to OEMs reach the end of their market life, their sales price often dove-tails upward to take advantage of rising demand from OEMs who depend on those older components for their designs. So a situation may have arisen where not even the $11 price gap existed any more.

But will Sony continue to use the same Seagate 60 GB drive in its PS3 models as it has been using, going forward? As the company has already confirmed and as we reported last February, its future designs will no longer incorporate the Emotion chip from the PS2 to enable downward compatibility with older games, opting instead to let emulation software handle that job. So we already know there are some internal hardware modifications already in the works.

According to iSuppli's teardown analysis last November, the 20 GB PS3 used the same ST920217AS hard drive, from Seagate's LD25 series, as Microsoft's Xbox 360. It's a 2.5" form factor drive optimized for high performance in portable devices, such as MP3 players. For the 60 GB model, Sony opted for the ST96812AS, from Seagate's 2.5" Momentus 5400.2 "high value" product line which targets mid-range portable PCs.

But according to Seagate's spec sheet for April 2007, the Momentus series has a far slower internal transfer rate than the LD25, at [CORRECTION] 42 megabits per second (Mb/s) versus the LD25's 460.8 Mb/s. (Internal transfer rate is a measure of how fast it takes for data to be moved from the platter to the internal HDD controller, where it can be read through the interface.) So even though the LD25 was a smaller drive, it's probably a faster one.

If Sony stuck with the Momentus drive, gamers who have evaluated the earliest PS3 high-tier models could notice slightly slower performance. Seagate currently doesn't offer a 60 GB capacity in the LD25 series, though it does offer an 80 GB LD25.2 with the same 460.8 Mb/s internal transfer rate.

BetaNews has requested details from Sony, though if they're not available, gaming enthusiasts may want to devise some kind of benchmark test for the PS3 -- just like they would for PCs -- to determine whether Sony's performance curve over time is holding firm or dove-tailing the wrong direction.

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