We recently purchased a new 80GB PlayStation 3 console, and our very own PS3 Dev Courier dissected his new system.
The item that peaked his interest the most was that it had one single 56-pin Flash chip, the http://www.digchip.com/datasheets/download_datasheet.php?id=842588&part-number=S29GL128N90T, and was 128MB in size in contrast to older PS3 consoles utilizing dual (2x256MB) 48-pin chips totaling 512MB. So, he bought a new adapter, and some blank chips and proceeded to pull the 56-pin flash, and dumped it.
To our surprise, he was unable to dump more than 16MB of it! At first, we believed that the other blocks in the flash were protected via password, however there was something else brewing.
He took the 16MB dump that was made and flashed it onto a completly blank chip, and reinstalled it in the PS3.
To our surprise, it worked!
Now, if you recall, newer version PS3 Firmwares have asked for a PUP file after formatting/inserting a larger HDD - This may be why! After flashing back just the 16MB of data, it also asked for a PUP file. So, the PUP was given, it installed the missing files fine, and then booted.
Basically, the system is now storing the majority of the flash contents on the hard disk drive, away from prying eyes. Even on a PS3 TEST console, the areas where the files would be are protected, so they can not be accessed.
This was also true when we wiped the 80GB's HDD, it again asked for the PUP. So, it would seem that the base system is now stored on the flash, and all of the SPRX's, XMB files, and other data is now fully stored on the HDD.
So the question is, why?
Was it just cheaper to replace the flash with a smaller one, or was it a security decision? Were we getting too close to uncovering something on the flash that could lead to a hack in the system?
We don't know yet, but we are still working at it - more to come, including details on the PS3's Service Mode! More PlayStation 3 News...