For as long as Sony’s PlayStation Portable has been on the market, it’s been a juicy target for hackers. With burly hardware (for a handheld) and a gorgeous screen, it just begs to play homebrew, and lots of PSP owners have cracked their devices to do just that. Unfortunately, Sony has had other plans for their handheld, and has released dozens of firmware updates and several hardware revisions to make it harder to hack the PSPs handheld.
As such, there’s no one hack that works on all PSP, and in fact some PSPs are completely unhackable. There is, however, one fairly easy method that works on most consoles, which is what we’ll illustrate in this article.
Is my PSP hackable?
This hack, which doesn’t require any hardware modification, has two limitations:
1) It doesn’t work on 3000-Series PSPs. If you’re not sure which hardware-revision your PSP is, check the sticker on the bottom, it should say something like “PSP-1001”. If the number following “PSP” starts with a 3, you’re out of luck. Unfortunately, no one has developed a hack which works on 3000-series PSP, so you’re pretty much boned if you have one.
2) If you have a firmware installed that’s more recent than version 5.03, this hack won’t work. To check what firmware is installed on your PSP, turn it on and go to Settings->System Settings->System Info. If your firmware version number is greater than 5.03, you can't use this method to hack your PSP. There is a way to hack more recent firmware, but it’s significantly more difficult, involves modifying hardware, and is beyond the scope of this article. If you want to know how to do it, do a web search for “Pandora’s Battery.”
So how do I do it already?
First, plug in the PSP and make sure that it’s fully charged. This is vital because you’ll be screwing with the firmware on the device, and losing power and shutting down during a firmware flash is one of the quickest ways to brick your precious handheld.
Next, make sure that you have a large enough memory stick to run the hack. You need at least 512 MB of space on your memory stick to perform the hack, but if you want to load it up with homebrew apps, you'll need more space than that. If you're looking to upgrade from the dinky memory stick included with most PSPs, you can get a 4 or 8 GB Memory Stick Pro Duo off of Amazon on Newegg for around $15 or $30. If you do get a new memory card, you need to format before beginning the hack, which you can do by inserting it into the PSP and selecting Settings->System Settings->Format Memory Stick.
Now, if your firmware is any version below 5.03, you need to upgrade to the official 5.03 Firmware. To do this, first download the 5.03 firmware update here. Next, plug your PSP into the computer, and turn on USB mode from the Settings Menu. Now, on your computer, access the PSP like you would a USB drive, and place the file EBOOT.PBP that was in the file you downloaded earlier into the folder /PSP/GAME/UPDATE/. Make the UPDATE folder if you have to.
Now disconnect the PSP from the computer. In the Games menu, select Memory Stick, then choose to run PSP Update ver 5.03. You will have to agree to some terms of service and such, and then the PSP’s firmware will be updated to version 5.03. As with any firmware update, it’s absolutely vital that you not screw with the PSP while this is going on, or you will ruin it.
First, you will need to load ChickHEN onto the PSP’s memory stick, which allows you to run some homebrew apps on a PSP. Open the ChickHEN folder in the archive you just downloaded. You will notice that it contains a file called h.bin, and two folders, called PHAT and SLIM. Copy the h.bin file to the root of your PSP’s memory card.
Now, if you have a “fat” PSP (1000 series) open the PHAT directory, and copy the image called “eggsploit.tiff” onto your memory stick in the directory /PSP/PHOTO/. If you have a “slim” PSP (2000 series), open the SLIM directory and copy the directory inside, called “ChickHEN” to the memory stick in /PSP/PHOTO.
Now you’ll load Hellcat’s Recovery Flasher onto the memory stick. This is what will actually flash the new, custom firmware to our console. Open the archive you downloaded earlier, and navigate to the Hellcat’s Recovery Flasher folder. Inside is another folder called RECOVERY; copy this folder into /PSP/Game/.
Those are all the files you need for the firmware hack, so exit USB mode and disconnect your PSP from your computer. To start up ChickHEN, go to the Photo menu, then select Memory Stick. If you have a SLIM PSP, click on the ChickHEN folder. Otherwise, select the .tiff image you copied over. This corrupted image contains the code which will install ChickHEN on your PSP when you attempt to view it.
If it works, your screen will briefly flash green, then it will reboot. If it doesn’t work, and just crashes your PSP without the green flash, don’t panic. Whether the hack works or not seems to be largely random, so just keep trying until it works. It can require a little bit of patience; we didn’t get the green flash until our eighth try. Once you do get the green flash and reboot, go to Settings->System Settings->System Information and check to confirm that your System Software has been updated to 5.03 ChickHEN R2. If it has, you’re ready to move on.
Next, go to the Games menu, then select Memory Stick, and run Hellcat’s Recovery Flasher. It will warn you that you’re about to mess with the PSP’s internal flash memory. Choose to proceed, then select Install CFW from the menu that loads. Next, choose to reset your settings. Now, Hellcat’s Recovery Flasher will install the 5.0 M33 custom firmware onto your PSP. When it’s done, it will prompt to you press X to shut it down. You’ll have to boot it back up yourself.
And that’s it! You’re now running the M33 custom firmware!
But what can I do with it?
Play Homebrew apps, of course! There’s a vibrant scene of programmers making homebrew apps for the PSP. You can all sorts of homebrew apps online, including games, custom themes, utility apps (like browsers and e-book readers) and more. You can find sizeable repositories of legal homebrew here and here.