Cause of PS5 Controller's Joystick Drift Revealed by iFixit

Illustration for article titled Cause of PS5 Controller's Joystick Drift Revealed by iFixit
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

A teardown of the DualSense controller for the PlayStation 5 appears to have zeroed in on several contributing factors to the issue of joystick drift.

First, some context: The PS5 launched mere months ago, but it didn’t seem to take long before gamers began reporting stick drift problems. Now, Sony is facing a class action lawsuit related to the problem. Diving into the technical functionality of the DualSense controller, the repair folks at iFixit identified several issues that may together be contributing to the problem. But interestingly, the biggest one seems to be that the potentiometers in the DualSense joysticks will inevitably fail.

iFixit identified the maker of the joystick modules in the DualSense—and other controllers from various other hardware makers—as Japanese electronics and components company Alps Alpine. Citing an Alps spec sheet for joystick potentiometers, iFixit found that the company lists an operating life of 2,000,000 cycles on its RKJXV series.

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By iFixit’s estimation, after measuring the controller interactions of one of its own engineers, that could mean that someone gaming for two hours a day could begin to experience issues in as little as 4 to 7 months depending on the game. iFixit did note, however, that potentiometers could fail before or after that window.

Wear to the joystick potentiometers may not be the only issue contributing to drift, though. iFixit noted that plastic stretching, stress on the spring mechanism that helps center the joystick, and grime accumulated with normal use can also contribute to the problem. In any event, the complicated process of addressing these issues—particularly without soldering tools—is a problem.

Sony did not immediately return a request for comment about iFixit’s findings or the lawsuit related to its warranty agreements.

The class action complaint related to the PS5's DualSense controller was filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The primary allegation in the complaint is that Sony is and has been aware of the issue, namely as a result of “thousands” of consumer complaints. It also takes aim at what it frames as an arduous customer support process and costs to consumers that Sony reportedly does not reimburse them for.

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“Even for in-warranty repairs for Drift, customers have to pay for shipping the controller to a Sony repair center—a cost that varies based on a number of factors, including location and the total weight of the package—and Sony does not reimburse customers for these shipping costs,” the complaint states. “As a result of Sony’s unfair, deceptive, and/or fraudulent business practices, owners of DualSense Controllers, including Plaintiff, have suffered an ascertainable loss, injury in fact, and otherwise have been harmed by Sony’s conduct.”

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DISCUSSION

wekilledbambi03
wekilledbambi03

All analog sticks are susceptible to drift. I have fixed a Dualshock 4 and a XB1 controller for it and while I haven’t fixed one yet, I have experienced minor drift on a Switch controller. It is just a matter of waiting to see how prevalent the issue is.

That said, Sony is pretty good at stealth fixing their controllers. Launch PS4 thumbsticks would literally disintegrate within a month or so of use due to a bad batch of rubber. Shortly after that revision they changed the L2/R2 mechanisms to be stronger (I have replaced 3 or 4 R2 buttons on my launch controller). Those revisions were both done with little to no fanfare. They just came out and if you got a new one... good.