The last thing that any PS3 owner wants to see:
The "Yellow Light of Death"
Some of you may remember that I wrote about my experiences (and frustrations) with trying to repair or replace a PS3 through Sony last year. It was not a pleasant experience. So when that replacement unit suddenly failed on me a few weeks ago while playing Dark Souls with a "Yellow Light of Death" (YLoD), I was understandably very upset. The system would not even turn back on after the failure occurred. That, combined with the sudden nature of the failure meant that I had no chance to even try backing up the data on the hard drive, let alone uploading any copy-protected save files onto the PSN Cloud. Heck, I couldn't even remove the Dark Souls disc that was now stuck in the drive! What ever happened to good 'ol latch-and-spring lids? You don't have to worry about getting discs stuck in those!
So it seemed that I was up shit creek without a paddle. I already knew, from previous experience, that Sony probably would not fix the console, and would instead just send me a refurbished replacement, and that my hard drive would, therefore, not be useable with the new system. I didn't want to give Sony any more of my money, since it is their bullshit DRM policies that prevent consumers from being able to reliably transfer saves from one system to another, so I decided to try my luck with a local repair shop instead, and play Civilization V: Gods & Kings (review coming soon now available) until the console was returned.
Well, that hasn't worked out any better for me.
When I dropped the console off, I specifically explained to the tech that the console failed suddenly, and without giving me an opportunity to backup any of the data. I told him that I removed the 500 GB drive that I had installed in the system, and put the original 60 GB drive back in so that he wouldn't have to worry about accidentally deleting or corrupting data. He assured me that if the console could be fixed, that the old 500 GB drive would still work.
A few days later, he called to tell me that the GPU had burnt out and needed to be replaced, and that the system now booted up, but required a reformat of the 60 GB hard drive. I told him that he could go ahead and reformat that drive, since it didn't have any of my real data on it. I also asked him specifically if my 500 GB drive would work once I got the system back. He assured me that it would.
Well, there appears to have been a miscommunication (or outright deceit on the part of the technician).
When I picked up the PS3 the next day (all excited to be able to be able to play it again), paid the $110 repair fee (in addition to the $20 diagnostic fee that I had paid up front when I dropped it off), brought the console home, put in the 500 GB hard drive containing all my data, and booted up the console, I was greeted with the extrememly unwelcome message that the hard drive was not recognized and needed to be reformatted.
This is what you'll see if you try to use your old hard disk on a new PS3, or the same PS3 with a new GPU.
I called the store to complain, and they attempted to explain to me that the GPU is an "integral component" of the system's motherboard. According to them, replacing the GPU apparently changes the motherboard's HDD encryption keys so that it no longer recognizes the previously-installed and formatted drive. This, unfortunately, was never communicated to me by the repair technician. If it had been (prior to replacing the GPU), I would have told him not to bother, since I'd rather just buy a new console in that case.
They didn't bother asking me because they thought I had a backup of the data. Even though I had already explained to them the system failed suddenly, and that I didn't have an opportunity to make a data backup. I also stressed that my only reason for wanting a repair was so that I could get the console working long enough to get my copy-protected data off. So even if I had a backup, the technician should have known that copy-protected data cannot be transferred to a console with a different encryption key (as far as the HDD is concerned, this will be a totally new console). So whether or not I had a backup was irrelevant to whether or not I could retrieve my copy-protected game saves (such as Demon's Souls and Dark Souls).
The store did offer to try to find a way to transfer the copy-protected content off of the 500 GB hard drive, but I knew they wouldn't find a way. So I asked for them to just give me the old GPU back in the hopes that I could re-install it myself (regardless of whether they'd offer me a refund) and try to get it working long enough to transfer my data off. Usually, cracking in the soldering between the GPU and the motherboard (and the resulting overheating of the processor) is the cause of YLoD. So if the GPU can just be resoldered, it might function temporarily.
The store wouldn't do this because they claimed the chip did not function, so it wouldn't be worth the technician's time to try to restore the system to its original condition. Fair enough. They are a business. They can't make money by wasting their time installing non-functional equipment. I have some friends with electrical engineering experience, but they don't have the equipment to make the change, so even though I have the old GPU back, I can't really do anything with it at the moment.
I did talk to one friend of a friend who claimed that each time the PS3 formats a drive, it changes the encryption key. This prevents the system from being able to have two HDDs being used simultaneously. If this is true, then I may have screwed myself over by putting the old 60-gig drive back into the system. So even if the GPU replacement hadn't changed the encryption key, the reformatting of the 60-gig drive would have. Again, this is something that the repair shop technician should have known and should have explained to me. But he didn't. So the loss of my data may have been my bad, and because of that, I'm not going be a vindictive dick and call out the specific repair shop by name.
But that isn't the end of the problems
The problems didn't stop there, though.
A PS3 hard disk error. The drive either has a dirty lens, is physically faulty, has corrupted firmware, or has become "unmarried" from the console's processor.
When I finally settled down enough to try playing a game, I found that the console wasn't playing PS3 discs anymore. DVDs worked fine. Downloadable games worked fine. But when I put a PS3 disk in the drive, I would get error "80010514" or the system would simply hang indefinitely on a black screen after the initial disc loading. I asked a friend to try taking the console apart and cleaning the laser lense, but that didn't work either. After a somewhat exhaustive internet search, we found that the PS3's blu-ray drive also has an encryption key that is paired to the GPU. So when the GPU was replaced, the repair technician may have forgotten to remarry the disk drive to the new GPU. So I called the repair shop. The girl who answered the phone seemed to know exactly what I was talking about and said that they had just had a similar problem with another customer and that if I brought the console back, they could fix it in like 10 minutes. I took the console back to the repair shop and explained the situation to the technician, but he didn't seem to have any clue what I was talking about. I guess he didn't remember the other customer who he had just done the same thing for. Eventually, he took the console, did something to it, and gave it back.
Unfortunately, when I returned home, the console's disk drive still wasn't working. Either the technician didn't actually know what needed to be done, or there is actually something physically wrong with the disk drive (even though I had never had any problem with it prior to dropping it off for repair).
Throwing in the towel
At this point, I was done. It had been over two weeks already, and I was sick of running around trying to get this damned thing working. I just wanted to play games again. So I hopped online and checked for local GameStop that had refurbished 60-gig systems available. I found one, drove down to the store, and bought a refurbished console that came with a free one-year warranty. Hopefully, if this one decides to go kaput on me, it does so within the one-year warranty, instead of after 14 months like the last one did...
I still have the old console, and I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with it. I may sell it on eBay with a disclaimer that the disk drive may need to be remarried or replaced. Or I might just let one of my electrical engineer friends take it apart and do whatever they want with it.
So once again, I have been completely screwed out of 100's (or maybe even 1,000's) of hours of game progress by Sony's obscene anti-piracy policies. I honestly don't know how Sony can legally get away with encrypting the end-user's hard drives and data, and I really wish somebody would sue them over it. I wish I could afford to hire a lawyer, but I can't. Not having some kind of easy data-recovery method for failed consoles is absolutely inexcuseable, and just shows how Sony doesn't give two shits about their loyal customers. At least I had actually managed to finish Demon's Souls before this failure occurred; although my 80-90% progress on Dark Souls seems to have gone down the tube...
And now, in order to guarantee that I can keep backups of all my data, I'm going to need to start paying Sony $60/year so that I can upload copy-protected saves to the PSN Cloud. So not only does Sony go out of its way to screw over consumers with excessive DRM, but they then turn around and milk those screwed customers for more money. I wonder if hardware failures are a part of the company's profit plan? All the people buying replacement hardware, sending their hardware to Sony to be fixed, and spending money for online cloud storage are just giving Sony even more incentive to release faulty products. Almost like a scam...