Install Linux On Your PS3

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So here we are, another TSA guide to something really technical that you can do with your PS3. Written by me, the least technical of the TSA staff. Those of you that know me from the forums or follow my twitter feed will know that I have nothing but bad luck with anything technological. This is probably a very bad idea but today, at the encouragement of cc_star, I’m going to install Linux on my PS3 and then hopefully, later we can look at some emulation possibilities.

I say hopefully because this guide might just end with me crying into a pile of splintered piano-black plastic and an irretrievably corrupted hard disk. Still, at least cc_star will know how not to install Linux when he gets around to doing it!

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OK, first things first. Linux comes in a lot of different distributions so which one do we choose? Well, traditionally this has been Yellow Dog Linux (YDL) because they were the one recommended for the PS3 and they made a PS3 specific version. However, I am going to be installing the resource-light version of Ubuntu – Xubuntu for a few reasons. Firstly, I’ve briefly visited Ubuntu on my PC and it was nice, smooth and easy to use. Secondly Xubuntu doesn’t use up a lot of system memory which is good because Sony have prevented Linux from using all of the PS3’s bells and whistles so it needs something that runs light. Thirdly, they’ve just made a distribution that works with the PS3 and apparently it works very well.

So there we have it, this guide will hopefully show you how to install Xubuntu onto your PS3. At least it will show you what happened when I tried to install Xubuntu onto mine…

Right, enough procrastination. What do you need to have before you start?

1) An external storage device. You’re going to need to re-format your PS3 so you’ll want some way of backing up your data so that you don’t lose it all. Game Data can be re-installed or re-downloaded and trophy data is stored online after each sync so you don’t need to worry about them. Providing you don’t care about losing the media files off your PS3 the only thing you’ll absolutely not want to lose are your Game Saves. At the very least back these up onto a memory stick. I will be using the PS3’s System Backup option to copy everything off my PS3 and restore it when I’ve finished.

2) A big enough hard disk inside your PS3. We’re going to have to partition that hard disk to make a space for Linux so you’ll need a hard disk in your PS3 with around 10gb that you don’t mind giving over to Linux. If you think you’d need a bigger hard disk then you can follow this guide, it’s hilarious and extremely well written by a very good looking young man with a massive… Ok, I’ll stop there.

3) A Linux install CD. Obvious really. The good news is that you can download Xubuntu, the version I will be using, from here and it’s totally free. There are other Linux distributions you could use which are also free but this guide is dealing with Xubuntu so that’s what I’ve linked to.

4) A USB Keyboard and Mouse and an ethernet connection. Your WiFi and bluetooth won’t work right away, Xubuntu needs to connect to the internet to find and install the drivers for it. Unfortunately that means it’s back to wires all over the place. I know this is very 2004 but bear with us, Linux will eventually work fine on your PS3 without wires sprouting from every socket.

5) Some spare time. Seriously, this could take a while and you won’t have much to do in between watching backup progress meters and install screens. I suggest you listen to some amusing podcasts from the community section of TSA or perhaps read through and contribute to the forums.

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Right, let’s get started. Go and download the Xubuntu install CD and burn it onto a CD with your favourite Disc-burning software. While you’re doing this it would be a good idea to back up that PS3 data. Plug your external hard drive into the USB on your PS3, go to Settings>System Settings>Back Up Utility and hit the X button. Choose the option to Back Up and read all the warning screens that will pop up to remind you that you can sync trophies with the server before you start and that you can’t just back up your system and then restore it to another PS3.

Tell it to back up to your USB-connected storage media. If it can’t find your USB storage device then maybe you need to reformat it to FAT32, download this and format the shit out of that mofo. Now we wait, depending on how much stuff you have on your PS3 this could take a while. Mine took hours because I had loads of crap on my hard disk. You might consider making a nice cup of tea to have with some biscuits. You might want to fiddle around on our forums and tell everyone you meet how brilliant I am. Just an idea for you. I’m just throwing it out there.

So, when we’ve finally backed up we need to format the PS3. This is the arse-looseningly-scary bit because we get to sit and watch a screen telling us that everything on our PS3 is being deleted. You did get that back up made didn’t you?

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Go to Settings>System Settings>Format Utility tell it to format your disk and allocate 10GB to OtherOS. You can do a quick format here, it takes about 10 seconds and then restarts your system.

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Now you have a blank canvas of a PS3 with fresh system software and a 10GB partition aching to be filled up with open-source goodness. Plug in your USB keyboard and mouse. Take a moment to revel in how weird it is controlling the XMB with a mouse and then pop the Xubuntu disc you burned into your PS3 slot. Go to Settings>System Settings>Install Other OS and hit X. The PS3 should automatically find the OtherOs.bld file that is on the CD and ask if you want to do this. Tell it yes.

In a few moments the file to set up a different Operating System will be on your PS3 so when that’s done you have to tell it to read that file before it boots into the PS3 Menu. Go to Settings>System Settings>Default System and switch it from PS3 to Other OS. Now restart your PS3 and watch as it boots into the Xubuntu setup routine and shows you a lovely little picture of two Linux Penguins and a screen full of scary text. Don’t worry, things all look a bit scary from here on in but there’s nothing to worry about. Follow my directions and we’ll all get out of this alive.

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When the scary-text screen stalls with a “kboot:” prompt you will notice a line above that reads “If in doubt, just press Enter” so what are you waiting for? Slap that USB keyboard like your PS3 depended on it!

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Now you get more scary text and loads of USB errors. Ignore them, they don’t mean anything bad. You’ll get a few dialogue boxes asking you about language and location stuff, answer the questions, it’s not hard. You will also get a screen that asks how you’d like to connect to the internet – ethernet or wireless. Don’t be fooled, you want Ethernet (eth0) because wireless might be possible but it’s a bitch to configure so just go the ethernet route.

You will be asked for a hostname, it’s not important what this is as it will only be used to identify the system to your home network. After some more instally stuff it will stop and ask you a question about Serial ATA RAID devices. I didn’t know what the hell this meant so I clicked yes and things went swimmingly. I’d advise you all to do the same. At the next choice pick “Guided: use entire disk” so that Xubuntu uses the whole of the 10GB partition we gave it. You will then get a query to finish partitioning, just hit yes and confirm until it starts installing the base system. This base install only takes a few minutes and then you’re asked for username and password stuff, this is just system log in stuff – you know the drill. You also have the option to set up an encrypted directory for this account but I said no because I see no reason to want an encrypted directory.

There is one more screen before the proper install starts and it is something to do with HTTP proxy information. I have no idea what this is because I don’t use a proxy. I presume that if you use a proxy server you will know what to do here. If you don’t use a proxy server then leave it blank.

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Now the system starts installing the operating system. It will take a little while (another excuse for a brew and some biscuits) and might look like it has stalled at 2% and again at 6% but it’s just being slow – don’t worry! There is a little question about system clocks at the end, you want to say yes to UTC.

When it has finished installing it will eject the CD, you have to remove it from the slot or it will insert itself again so whip it out of the hole and hit continue to boot up into Xubuntu! You’ll get the kboot: prompt again but you’ll be ready for it this time – hit enter and watch Xubuntu boot up and ask for your username and password (you did remember them didn’t you?) do your bit and help the system on its way. There you go – Xubuntu running on a PS3, who’d have thunk it?

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After a few moments you will get a little notification balloon that pops up on the top-right of the screen to tell you that there are updates available. I don’t really understand what a lot of them are but I know that Linux will automatically find the nicest drivers for the hardware it detects so I just clicked yes to install them all (106MB in roughly 5 minutes for the download and another 15-20 minutes to install them all for me). When the updates are done you’ll need to restart the system. I advise shutting down completely (use the button in the top right) because for me the system hung when I tried to restart and I had to switch off anyway.

When the system starts again (press enter at the kboot: prompt and fill out your log in details you are ready for some configuration tweaks!The most important thing you absolutely have to do as soon as Xubuntu starts is to install a lightweight file manager called pcmanfm because the default file manager (Thunar) doesn’t like the PS3.

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Open up your terminal window by clicking the Applications button in the top left of the screen and going to [Accessories]>[Terminal] and then type the following, exactly as I have it except lose the quotation marks: “sudo apt-get install pcmanfm” that should get your program installing. When it finishes you can close the terminal window.

So there you have it, A lightweight Linux distribution running smoothly on a PS3. You can go ahead and play the little games, surf the internet with firefox and generally prick about. You are supposed to be able to get back to the XMB by typing boot-game-os when the kboot prompt appears on start up but it didn’t work for me. The only way I could get back to the XMB was by forcing a reset of the PS by holding down the power touch-switch for 5 seconds until it double-beeps. This resets your video settings and boots into the XMB where you can change the default OS setting back to PS3 and avoid booting up to the kboot prompt every time you fancy a quick blast of Super Rub-A-Dub.

When you’re ready to move on to the next steps – freeing yourself of that ethernet cable and making your SixAxis work as the mouse pointer via bluetooth come back to TSA, there will be more guides going up as soon as I stop playing around and write them…

P.S. If you guys want anything specific written, like how to do certain things with PS3 Xubuntu then drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do. I will be working on how to run emulators (for the games you own the originals of, obviously) and how to free yourself from the wires for internet and control devices (will the Sixaxis clip on keypad work? We’ll find out together!) in the coming days (possibly weeks…)

Well, would you look at that, I’ve just spent most of the day doing this and writing this epic TSA guide when I could have been writing another chapter of my book. You’re welcome.

More Info: After some further tinkering I’ve found no way of booting back into the PS3 operating system (XMB) other than the “hold down the on-sensor until it beeps twice” method which resets your video settings (hardly a big prob as the PS3 auto detects them in a couple of button presses) and resets your user accounts. The latter is a problem because it means that you have to re-sign in to the PSN by clicking the “Sign up for the PSN” option under network. It can be scary but as long as you know your username and pasword you will be fine, just sign in with an existing account and re-sync your trophies. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a way around this yet.

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