Step 1: Diagnosing the Problem
On Sunday, October 18, 2015, the unthinkable happened. The family PS3, the hub of our living room entertainment, bit the dust. I had spent an hour while my daughter was napping tackling the Point Lookout DLC on Fallout 3 (Fallout Shelter re-ignited my appetite for the series, but I remain on the PS4 sidelines), and, when she woke up, decided to pop in The Lion King on Blu-ray for her to watch while she woke up a bit. Fifteen minutes into the movie, it froze completely and would not budge. I ejected the movie, brushed it off, and put it back in, but the PS3 refused to read it. Instead, I just heard a double-click, like it wanted to eject the disc, but nothing was happening on the screen. In retrospect, I wondered if Fallout was freezing a little too frequently immediately prior to this event, but if you’re familiar with Bethesda games, you know it’s kind of hard to tell.
The system was still powering up, going to the home screen, and playing Netflix without any problems, so it did not seem to be a motherboard or hard drive problem. That the drive was still sucking in and spitting out discs was also a good sign, as it told me the whole drive had not failed. The Google machine told me that my symptoms were indicative of a faulty or dirty laser. The acute nature of the failure led me to believe that it was likely a faulty laser lens, but I decided to try an old CD lens cleaner disc anyway. The disc played, but it did not solve the problem. This was not all bad, as it did give me some important information. The drive still played CDs. Further investigation revealed that it would play DVDs as well, but any PS3 games or Blu-rays got the double-click noise, with no other feedback. Some people online reported that they solved similar issues by fully dissembling the disc drive and cleaning the laser lens with alcohol and a cotton swab, but these reports were met with skepticism, and I did not believe the functionality could suddenly and irrevocably be lost due to an onslaught of dust, without any prior warning.
Step 2: Admitting you have a Problem
Okay. My PS3 has a faulty Blu-ray laser. As much as I’d like to shut my eyes and wish the problem away, I’m going to have to spend some money. My PS3 has been out of warranty for years. What are my options? Dump some money into repairing an obsolete system, or finally get moving on purchasing that shiny new PS4 I’ve had my eyes on for the last year?
Option 1: I did some quick research on professional repair services in my area. A professional repair service in my area offers a $99.99 flat fee for Blu-ray drive repairs.
Option 2: Put down $350 for a new PS4 (it’s $299, now, but this was before Black Friday).
Option 3: My research into the problem indicated it is possible for a mechanically-minded person to replace the laser lens his/herself. They go for about $25-30 on Amazon. Add in the jeweler’s screwdriver & Sony security lock set for another $10.
Option 4: Buy a used PS3 on Craigslist. Not very price-friendly. Most people are marking them up because they want to sell their games with them and it seems like all of the ones in my price range are broken ones selling for parts (Pro-tip: if you’re trying to sell your old PS3, you’ll have an easier time moving it if you sell your system separate from your games).
Option 5: As a consequence of Option 4, I found a guy on Craigslist who offered various PS3 repair services. After contacting him, he agreed that it sounded like a faulty laser lens, and said he could repair it for $50, with a 60-day warranty.
Step 3: Taking the Plunge
Perhaps trusting far too much in my own abilities, I went with Option 3. And here is where the real learning begins. I have a slim 120 gb CECH-2001A model PS3, which the Google tells me requires a KES-450A laser lens. No problem. I found the correct lens on Amazon, and, hey, it even has my PS3 model in the listing. Great. Can’t go wrong. A week later, the lens and jewelers/Sony security screwdriver set was in my hands. This set is not strictly necessary. The two “jeweler’s” screwdrivers are simply very tiny Phillips-head screwdrivers, and the security screws, from what I understand, can be jimmied with tiny flat-head screwdrivers. I was just trying to take some pain out of the process and figured I could use some of them in the future.
There are very helpful videos on Youtube (see here and here, and dozens of others) for taking apart and re-assembling the Blu-ray drive. I’ll leave the finer points to them. A few helpful points from a novice perspective:
- One of the security screws necessary for opening the outer case is actually hidden under the Warranty sticker. I had no idea there was one under there! You’ll void your warranty the second you lift the sticker, so make sure you’re out of it before you go mucking around in there like I did.
- Keep your parts and screws organized. The first time I put everything back together, I had a few sweaty moments trying to remember which screw fit where.
- There was a small white plastic piece screwed into the existing lens that was necessary to install the new lens into the drive deck.
- Make sure the drive deck rails are aligned perfectly horizontal to each other as you install the lens into the new deck.
- Make sure all of your ribbons are secure and fully inserted as you put the drive back together.
Step 4: WHY THE F IS IT NOT WORKING?
A few of my own stupid mistakes first, so review my tips above, and hopefully you can avoid them. I first didn’t notice that the drive deck rails were slightly askew. Next problem was failing to re-insert one of the ribbon cables, so the full drive lost power. Once these issues were resolved, I was back in business, right? RIGHT? Not quite.
The drive was back online and spinning Blu-ray discs, but it didn’t sound right. I put the drive together once without the top cover on and could see that it was not spinning at full speed, and eventually it was giving me that dreaded double-click, like it wanted to eject. So, I’m back to square one. Nope. Not quite there, either.
I tried a DVD, and now the PS3 won’t read that, either. First thought, “great.” I’ve royally screwed something up, and now it’s effed. Guess I’m getting a PS4 for Christmas, or something. So I disassembled the PS3 one final time to get the laser lens out so I could return or sell it, and, what the heck, I’ll put the old laser lens back in there just to satisfy the neat freak inside me. Guess what? The old laser still reads DVDs just fine.
Now I’m a little annoyed. Did I receive an even “faultier” lens than the one I was trying to replace? I contacted the seller with my concerns. This was their response:
Silly me. I forgot to “root” the laser. What the hell is “rooting” it? I decided that this was likely some type of firmware requirement I missed, and went in search of the answer. This led me down a rabbit hole of trying to figure out the firmware necessary to replace the full Blu-ray drive. It seems the drive has a “daughterboard” that is linked to the system motherboard, and you have to downgrade the system to a certain system version to run the system tool necessary to link them. This is my nightmare. I am in way over my head. After hours of research figuring out how to do this, I contacted my old Craigslist friend, and asked him what he would charge to simply “root” the laser that I already bought and installed.
“What?” he said. “There is no firmware required for a simple lens replacement.”
Duh. I knew that. “I’ll probably just bring this thing to you to fix it. But, if I told the seller I thought I received a faulty laser and they told me I need to ‘root’ it first, they’re just blowing smoke up my a**?”
“Sounds like it. Let me know!”
I wanted to do some more research before I decided to meet with this Craigslist guy, because I assumed that despite his proffered warranty, this was an out-of-basement-type operation. I tried the PSN network board and got zero replies. Fortunately, I cam across a very helpful PS3-modding website called ps3hax.net, and called upon their expertise. You can see my forum post and their replies here. Suspicions confirmed.
Step 5: Doing what I should have done
At this point, I’m totally frustrated. I want my PS3 back. I want to play Fallout. I’m just taking it to the Craigslist guy. I got it touch with him, and took it to his base of operations. I confirmed that it was an out-of-home operation, but he wasn’t the 12-year-old I feared, working out of his bedroom. He was totally professional about it, and replaced the lens in about 40 minutes, and it cost me $50, with the donation of my original faulty laser, which he says he uses to defray costs by returning it to a re-furbisher.
I was so excited when I got home and plugged… it… Dang. Dangdangdangdangdang. I left the power cord on top of my car when I drove off. Well, it took an extra week to get a new power cord, but now I’m back in business, and I got the refund on my lens purchase, thanks to Craigslist guy’s advice. I’ve finished the Fallout 3 DLCs, and some other side quests, and now I’m off to playing a terrible, demented game called Shadows of the Damned.
I can’t say I totally regret my experience, because I feel I learned quite a lot about the internal workings of the PS3, and I feel confident I could perform the repair, if faced with it again; however, for a novice, there is certainly some risk of headache here.
If anyone in the Pittsburgh area needs Craigslist guy’s services, let me know, and I’ll get you in touch.