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New PS5 heatsink explained: What you need to know

PS5 heatsink
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you’ve been trying to get a PS5 — and good luck with PS5 restocks, incidentally — you may have heard that there’s a new PS5 model on the market. The PS5 model CFI-1100 (rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?) looks like it’s on track to slowly replace the CFI-1000, which has been the standard PS5 model since launch.

The CFI-1100 is somewhat lighter and quieter than the original PS5, which is good. But it also has a smaller heatsink, which is either not a big deal or catastrophic, depending on where you’ve read about it.

The fact is, there’s a lot of information and misinformation swirling around the CFI-1100’s smaller heatsink. Frankly, it can be difficult to tell the two apart sometimes. Having read both the apocalyptic and optimistic takes on the situation, I can say that there’s at least a little merit to both arguments. 

Could a smaller PS5 heatsink adversely affect the machine at some point in the future? Yes. Does this mean that the CFI-1100 is essentially an electrical fire waiting to happen? No.

Much ado about PS5 heatsinks

PS5 heatsink comparison

(Image credit: Austin Evans / YouTube)

First, to understand why the PS5’s revised heatsink may or may not be a big deal, it’s helpful to understand exactly what a heatsink is, and does.

A computer — and what are consoles, if not highly specialized computers? — generates a lot of heat, primarily via electricity powering its various components. Every component has a temperature threshold, beyond which it ceases to operate. A heatsink absorbs excess heat, then shunts it outside of the computer, usually via a fan. In the PS5, the heatsink and fan are located in the rear of the device, which is why you’ll feel hot air blowing if you put your hand behind the console.

Many factors affect a heatsink’s efficiency, from its materials to its construction. All other things being equal, however, larger heatsinks can store, and thus dissipate, more heat. So when YouTube reviewer Austin Evans discovered that the CFI-1100’s heatsink was 300 grams lighter than the CFI-1000’s, he was understandably concerned.

After testing the CFI-1000 and the CFI-1100 side-by-side, Evans discovered that the newer model ran 3-5 degrees (Celsius) hotter. He theorized that over time, this might cause the PS5’s components to burn out faster. After all, if the new heatsink is less efficient at dispersing heat, wouldn’t that tax the PS5’s components just a little bit more with each use?

As with a lot of technology, the answer is “it depends.” Evans’ evidence that the new PS5 model runs hotter is credible. But whether that increase in temperature is guaranteed — or even likely — to harm the device over time is much less certain.

An exhausting analysis

Playstation 5

(Image credit: Sony)

Richard Leadbetter, the technology editor at Digital Foundry, also had a look at the CF-1100’s heatsink and performance. He didn’t measure the exhaust temperature, as Evans did. But he also pointed out something that Evans may have overlooked: exhaust temperature isn’t a particularly revealing metric for system performance.

“The crux of the controversy surrounding Evans’ video stems from his view that the new PS5 is worse than the old one – it’s his contention that a smaller cooler made from less efficient materials produces a hotter machine,” Leadbetter wrote. “It’s not an outlandish theory by any means when you look at the mass and material reductions but the question of whether it’s hotter or not cannot be determined by measuring the heat output of the exhaust alone and even if it does run a few degrees hotter, it may well still be within manufacturer’s tolerances.”

In other words: Exhaust temperature isn’t a direct measurement of how hot any of the PS5’s components get. And even if it were, we don’t know exactly how hot the PS5’s components can get before they start to degrade over time. Even if individual components run hotter than before, simply running hotter isn’t necessarily harmful. The harm occurs only when the components routinely exceed their heat tolerances.

According to Leadbetter, there’s no evidence that this is happening. The CFI-1100’s power draw seems identical to the CFI-1000’s, and the fan did not suddenly start working overtime to expel massive amounts of heat. In other words: However, hot the CFI-1100 is running, it doesn’t seem to be running hot enough to adversely affect performance in any way.

Granted, Evans never claimed that the CFI-1100 doesn’t work properly, only that it might not hold up over time. Leadbetter does not think that’s a ridiculous idea — and, for the record, neither do I. After all, if a device overheats excessively, it will just shut down. But the new PS5 overheats just a little bit, time after time, over the course of years, it could eventually start losing performance, and even burn out entirely. Unfortunately, without observing CFI-1000s and CFI-1100s under comparable conditions for the next few years, we simply won’t know for sure.

Should you buy a PS5 CFI-1100?

PS5

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Of the two analyses, I find Leadbetter’s to be the more compelling. Measuring exhaust doesn’t necessarily tell us how hot each component gets, and it definitely doesn’t tell us what each component’s heat tolerance is. Video game consoles draw a lot of power, and people tend to use them for hours on end. The idea that Sony knowingly shipped something that’s likely to burn itself out in a few years is not consistent with how the company has designed consoles in the past.

Besides, as Leadbetter points out, there is still one very compelling reason to buy the CFI-1100 model of the PS5: It may be the only one you can get. Right now, it’s still very much a scalper’s market for next-gen consoles, and Sony will probably phase out the CFI-1000 over the next few months. If you’re lucky enough to find a PS5, you won’t have the opportunity to scrutinize serial numbers; you’ll have to buy it before someone else yanks it out of your online shopping cart.

In short, the new heatsink is probably fine, and if you get a CFI-1100 model, you’ll probably be fine, too. If it runs into massive overheating issues years down the line, however, rest assured that you won’t be the only one suffering from them — and that console manufacturers are pretty good about addressing widespread hardware failures.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.