Sony’s PS2 was one of the most popular consoles of all time – but even halfway through its life, it was clear that the next generation of consoles was going to need something more. If you’re not familiar with Sony’s supercomputer, here’s a look at the history, specifications, games, and modern availability of this powerful piece of gaming hardware.
A Brief History Of The PS3
Following several years of development, the PS3 was officially announced in 2005 as the successor to the best-selling PS2. The full release came in late 2006, about six years after the PS2 was released onto the market.
Unlike its predecessor, the PS3 had a slow start in the market despite some new features. While the PS2 was essentially just a gaming console and DVD player, the PS3 was a complete entertainment center. It came complete with PS3 themes to customize the menus, remote connectivity with the PlayStation Portable (and later the PS Vita), and access to the rapidly-growing PlayStation Network.
Part of the slowdown may have come from the price of the console – Sony asked $499 for PS3s with a 20 GB hard drive and $599 for the 60 GB models, both of which were significantly more than the release price of the PS2 (much less its later, lowered price).
In fairness, Sony wasn’t gouging consumers – they actually lost money on each PS3 sold due to high manufacturing costs, and were betting that software (and, later, PlayStation Plus) support would provide the profits.
Sales of the PS3 continued to be slow until the time the cheaper Slim version was launched in 2009. The PS3 didn’t have the exclusive interaction of Nintendo’s Wii or a head-start against Microsoft’s Xbox 360, but recovered as more exclusives came out and the price of the console went down. The PS3 ultimately sold more than 83 million units before being discontinued in May 2017.
While only about half as popular as its predecessor, the PS3 was a success for Sony, and many of the lessons learned went right into the development of the upcoming PlayStation 4.
The PS3 is built around a Cell microprocessor, which mixes a 3.2 GHz Power Processing Element and six Synergistic Processing Elements. One additional synergistic element runs certain parts of the security and operating system, while the eighth acts as a spare. If you’re not familiar with these elements – and they’re very specialized as hardware goes, so most people aren’t – the important thing to know is that these were extremely powerful processors for the time they were used.
The graphics processor is the RSX ‘Reality Synthesizer’, which Sony developed in partnership with Nvidia specifically for the PS3. While it’s based on Nvidia’s 7800GTX, the RSX is ultimately a hybrid designed for the console’s needs. It includes 256 MB of GDDR3 RAM, but the unusual design and need to draw from system memory mean that developers had to code in ways they weren’t used to in order to achieve their performance targets.
Most eventually learned to do so – helped along by Sony’s ongoing support for third-party developers – but it did take some time to start using the PS3 to its full capacity.
The first generation of PS3’s had the choice between 20 GB and 60 GB hard drives. It quickly became apparent that the addition of the PlayStation Store (and the ability to download games) meant those drives were too small. Sony upped things to 60/80 GB in the second generation, eventually capping out at a 500 GB model in the fifth, “super slim” generation.
Notably, some buyers chose to replace the PS3’s default hard drive with a larger one of their choosing. Some did this to get added space, especially on the early models, while others swapped in large SSD drives to reduce loading times and help improve overall performance.
The Best PS3 Games
PS3 games cover a wide spectrum of lengths and genres. If you enjoy games at all, the PS3 has plenty of titles you’ll like – but if you want a quick list of favorites, here are the Top 10 PS3 games by sales.
The top-selling PS3 of all time is Grand Theft Auto V, with 21.3 million copies sold. As one of the most popular franchises on PlayStation, it’s had a consistent place on the sales charts. GTAV’s sales were driven in no small part by the inclusion of Grand Theft Auto Online, a mode allowing up to 30 players to play together (with all the chaos that usually entails).
#2 on the list is Gran Turismo 5 (11.94 million), marking the return of the popular racing franchise. Like Grand Theft Auto, the Gran Turismo series has consistently been among the best-selling titles – indeed, #8 on the list is Gran Turismo 5 Prologue (5.35 million), and #10 is Gran Turismo 6 (5.06 million). The franchise continues to add new features over time, and Gran Turismo 5 has more than 1000 different vehicles included.
#3 on the list is The Last of Us (7 million), an action-adventure survival horror game. The story follows Joel (a smuggler) and Ellie (a teenage girl he’s escorting) as they make their way across a post-apocalyptic version of the United States. While firearms are available to defend against cannibals and other dangers, stealth is a major component and fighting isn’t always practical.
The Last of Us received extensive critical acclaim for the story, character relationships, designs, and overall gameplay. As it stands, this title is one of the most-awarded games of all time, making it an outstanding choice if you want to start a PS3 collection and don’t know what else to get. (That said, a remastered version was released for the PS4 – and that’s an even better buy.)
#4 on the list is Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (6.6 million), which slightly edged out its #5 prequel Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (6.5 million). These action-adventure games tell the continuing story of protagonist Nathan Drake as he travels the world and searches for the treasures of history.
#6 is another franchise returning to the Top 10 list – Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (6 million). It’s set several years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and follows the story of aging protagonist Solid Snake as he attempts to stop his nemesis from taking control of a system that provides directions to Private Military Companies and could rapidly instigate a full-blown war.
Metal Gear Solid 4 sold so well on release that it provided a boost in sales to the PlayStation 3.
#7 is a new franchise on the list. Batman: Arkham City (5.49 million) is the second entry in the Batman: Arkham series, and follows the tale of comics’ Dark Knight as he’s locked in a new super-prison. As with several other games on this list (including The Last Of Us, Uncharted 2&3, and Metal Gear Solid 4), Arkham City has a strong action/stealth aspect to it.
Arkham City also introduced a number of features, including new playable characters and equipment for Batman to use. Level design centers around gliding, allowing players to rapidly cover significant parts of the map.
#9 on the list is God of War III (5.2 million), the first time the franchise has entered the top 10. This entry follows the continuing revenge story of Kratos as he strikes against Olympus – and he doesn’t even pretend to be a hero as the fall of the gods begins to affect Earth. The previous titles are available as part of the God of War Collection, offering quick and easy access to the full story.
The PlayStation 3 in Modern Life
Sony officially discontinued production and shipments of the PS3 worldwide in May 2017. Despite this, the different generations (and hard drive sizes) of the PS3 console are still widely available. Many of the older models are used, but Slim and Super Slim models can be found new online and in many stores focused on selling games.
This won’t be a concern with new consoles, but make sure you get a PS3 controller. Official controllers are better – and have wireless functionality for those who want it – but third-party options are available at reasonable prices.
Most PS3 games are widely available. In addition to a significant number of physical copies, especially for the most popular titles, many games are available online through the PlayStation Store. The big concern here is data storage – 500 GB sounds like a lot, but when major titles can be 10 GB or more each, not counting the Operating System, Downloadable Content, and other media, that does fill up.
For that matter, most of the consoles have smaller hard drives. If you plan to buy a significant number of downloadable titles, look up a guide for replacing the hard drive on your model.