If you're only using your $500 PlayStation 3 for console gaming, you're missing out on half of its hidden versatility: the ability to upgrade into a fully functional PC! Inside that shiny plastic shell resides some decent computing silicon, just waiting to be released from its undeserved console shackles. And while Windows Vista and OSX are no-goes due to legal issues, there's no reason at all not to dual boot into a perfectly serviceable Linux platform when the need arises.
The installation process is fairly straightforward, and the hard drive is easily upgradeable if you don't mind spending a little extra cash on the side. And while Ubuntu for PlayStation has a few functional limitations, you can find myriad excellent applications for you to enjoy from the comfort of your own living room, including VLC for encoded video playback, Amarok to blast your digital music library, and some classic SNES emulation software that you can play using your PS3's Sixaxis or Dualshock controller. This guide will show you how to do all of the above, so let's get started!
• A PlayStation 3
• A PC with a CD/DVD burner and burning software
• Kboot and Ubuntu 8.10 .ISO image (Bundled)
• A USB keyboard and mouse, or a wireless keyboard and mouse
• An external USB hard drive or USB thumb drive for data backup
• A router with an active Internet connection
• A 120GB or greater 2.5” 5,200rpm SATA notebook hard drive
• A small Philips Head screwdriver and a small Flat Head screwdriver
• A wireless router
• A CATVe Ethernet Cable (for ease of overall installation during setup)
Naturally, this entire process starts with locating and burning the Linux distro itself. Log in to your existing home PC and grab the PS3 Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex ISO from Ubuntu.com. After the download has competed, burn the ISO image to a blank disk. (If you don't have a standard program to do this, numerous free options exist, such as IMGBurn or Infra Recorder.
Once the ISO disc has been created, set it aside, and move on to the next step. If you have trouble with a failed Ubuntu install later in the process (usually a result of one or more corrupted files), consider slowing the burn speeds of your ISO to 32x or 24x. We’re shooting for reliability here, not speed.
Save that PS3 data! Even if you don't plan on upgrading your PS3's HDD, you'll still have to reformat and repartition the existing drive, and all game saves and stored content such as music will be deleted. Don't worry about your PS3 account info and profile data though: that's all bundled on a separate flash drive along with the PS3's native operating system, called XMB. Also, games purchased from the PS Store online may be downloaded again for free.
To save your current data, do the following: start your PS3 without a game or movie disc to boot into XMB. From here, navigate to 'Settings' → 'System Settings'→'Backup Utility.'
Select 'Backup Utility' and then hit 'Backup,' and finally confirm 'Yes.'
Select the actual device you plan on storing the data on (such as a flash disk or external hard drive), and let the console run through the backup process.
NOTE: the PS3 will only accept 2.5” SATA 5200rpm hard drives, not IDE or 7200rpm.
An 'upgrade' to 80GB of storage might sound elite to the console crowd, but we as PC enthusiasts know better. A true HDD upgrade is one that puts hair on your chest, like a 320GB model. Even better: swapping the PS3's hard disc is easy. Here's how to make the change: unplug the power cable and any HDMI / accessory cables from the PS3. Locate and remove the plastic cover on the bottom / side of the console (a small flat head screw driver works well to pop the cover off).
Remove the HDD retainer cage by taking out the middle screw and gently pulling on the clasp. Remove the four mounting screws from the sides of the cage and take out the old drive from the holster.
Seat the new drive back inside the holster and refasten the 4 mounting screws. Slide in the entire unit back into the PS3 until the whole assembly locks firmly into place (but don't be a gorilla and over-do it; a minor push should suffice). Tighten the last screw back down and lock the black cover back over the opening. And you're done. The PS3 will now automatically format the new drive when powered on and boot back into XMB when completed.
Now it's time to get Ubuntu up and running (even if your PS3 has just formatted your new HDD, you must still follow this step). First off, the default PS3 Wi-Fi Internet connection has been known to cause errors with the Ubuntu installation program. To avoid any road bumps, it's best to plug in a standard Ethernet cable from your personal router directly into your PS3 console.
Find your way back to the root of XMB and navigate to the following: 'Settings'→'System Settings'→'Format Utility'
Select 'Format Utility.' Enter 'Yes' when prompted. From the partition menu, select 'Custom.' Now select 'Allot 10GB to Other OS.'
Highlight and enable 'Quick Format.' Make sure not to power off the PS3 while the format occurs. After the process is finished, press the X button to restart the system.
Now that we have 10GB alloted for the Ubuntu portion, it's time to insert the burned ISO disc. Go ahead and plug in your keyboard and mouse into the console at this point. After doing so, navigate to 'Settings' → 'System Settings' → 'Install Other OS.'
After the system has scanned the ISO, highlight and select 'Start.' The PS3 will pre-scan the Ubuntu installation, but it won't actually launch it. To do that, you'll need to got to 'Settings'→'System Settings' → 'Default System.'
Change the default setting of 'PS3' to 'Other OS.' Select 'Restart,' when prompted. The PlayStation 3 will turn off for a few seconds and then reboot. Don't panic: when the system restarts there might be a small delay until you start seeing the Linux gears turn.
Let the data compile until the final line eventually ends with 'Kboot,' and a nice friendly blinking cursor.
If at any time the install gets stuck, or if your overweight cat accidentally stumbles over the PS3's power cord killing your setup, it's not the end of the world. Just shut down the PS3 and when you restart, hold down the power button for about 10 seconds until you hear a second 'beep.' Release the button and you'll be forwarded to XMB where you can start the journey again.
Continuing on from the cursor on your screen next to Kboot: If you're utilizing an old-school CRT TV, type 'Install.' However, If you've moved past 1998 and you're running an HD TV, you'll want to take note of your monitor's best native resolution and type out the following string and hit enter:
where X is one of the following values: 1,2,3,4 or 5. Refer to the below chart for the correct setting:
Therefore, if you have a 1080p TV, the text should look like this: install video=ps3fb:mode:5
After you've started the setup, you'll be asked a few questions as the install progresses. Here are our suggested answers.
If possible, choose 'Ethernet' as primary over wireless. If running an Ethernet cable from your router to the PS3 is totally out of the question, then go ahead and highlight wireless instead. Be aware, however, that Ubuntu isn't the best of friends with WPA encryption, and this might confuse the installer and result in an error. A WEP key is a better bet.
Give yourself a network host name. Or, if your imagination has run hopelessly dry, you can just use the default 'Ubuntu' and hit 'Continue.'
When asked whether or not to enable Serial ATA RAID, select 'Yes.'
To tell the OS how to partition the hard disc, select the first option 'Guided – use entire disk,' and then continue.
Give your new Ubuntu sector a login name and a password.
When asked whether or not to setup an encrypted file directory, enter 'No.'
Leave the Http: Proxy field blank when prompted and continue.
The main software installation will now begin. This is the long leg of the journey, and can take upwards of 45 to 60 minutes, but luckily, it shouldn't require any input on your end. For some setups, you might notice that the progress meter gets stuck around 6%, but give it about 15 minutes and it should soldier onward. If you instead receive an error message, or if the 6% stays in place for over an hour (as it did with us the first go around), you probably have a corrupted ISO disk and you'll need to re-burn the ISO file at a slower speed.
Once the installation has finished, go ahead and set your system clock when prompted. After that, you'll be asked to remove the install disk. Do so, and then click enter. Enter your user name and password into the following splash screen, and presto: you're now surfing Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex from the cozy confines of your gigantic plush beanbag.
The terminal is your friend, especially for app installations. To open it, go to 'Application' → 'Accessories' → 'Terminal.'
By default, the Ubuntu / Kboot loader will setup PCM audio, which is an audio codec suitable for most HDMI and Optical connections. We were able to get sound right from the get-go using both an HDMI cable connected to an LCD's integrated speakers as well as an optical cable hitched into a Dolby Digital external receiver. Just make sure Ubuntu's sound isn't muted; to check, double-click the speaker icon in the upper right-hand corner of the desktop and make sure the duo sliders are raised midway up the level bar, not on the very bottom.
To immediately enable multimedia codecs (MP3, etc.) go to the terminal and type this string, and then hit enter:
sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras
Firefox comes pre-bundled. Use it!
In case you missed it: to boot back into XMB, shut down the PS3 from within Ubuntu. Once the console has powered off completely, hold down the power button for about 10 seconds until you hear a second beep. Release the power button and you'll be forwarded to the PS3's primary OS. Conversely, to load up Ubuntu, just follow the prior instructions on changing the PS3 default OS, and then hit 'Enter' after the text screen loads.
So you've got that fresh copy of Ubuntu just sitting there, begging for some action. Not sure where to start program-wise? Feeling a little lost on how to maximize your distro inside the entertainment room atmosphere? We've got you covered. Here are some great apps to help you on your way.
Amarok is a Linux customized and tweaked fully-featured digital music player. A great choice for turning your house into a certifiable digital music funk-factory (complete with an embedded visual album cover plugin). The perfect addition to any 7.1 surround THX system just itching to rock out. Here's how to install and use it.
First, make sure you're connected to the Internet, and open up a terminal. From here, type out the following line and press enter:
sudo apt-get install amarok
Let the process complete and then go to 'Applications' → 'Sound and Video' → 'Amarok' to start the player. The initial setup screen should launch. Go ahead and click 'Next.' Since you probably don't have any music folders allocated yet, simply select the top box to include all of the options, and click 'Next' again.
When given the option for a database setup, make sure the drop-down menu is set to 'SQ-Lite,' and then continue to 'Finish.' Amarok will now be ready.
To open up a music file, go to 'Playlist' → 'Add Media.' From here, just navigate to your music directory (or wherever your audio files are located) and press 'OK.' Your selection will now be added to the playlist. Do note that Amarok might be sluggish for the first 5 minutes when loading. After that though, it should work fine.
Admit it. You used to play console games all the time. Especially the SNES. Sure, you can assert that the PS3 you're currently using was a dedicated Blu-ray player before Ubuntu, but we know better. Bottom line: there's no point in avoiding your console gaming roots (misguided as they are), so why not embrace your nostalgic heritage instead? Fire up this emulation app with a few tips on running your wireless controller in conjunction, and jump back into the classic 16 bit days of ye olde Mario Kart.
First things first: a retro emulator is of little use with a mouse and keyboard. WASD is fantastic for Quake. It sucks for side-scrollers. Let's get that PS3 controller back in action.
Download this file to the desktop. Double-click the folder when finished and select 'Extract Files.' You should now see two package icons. Double-click the icon that reads: 'bluez-sixaxis-bin_powerpc.deb' and let it install.
Once it's finished, close the dialogue screen and double-click the next icon, which should be titled: 'bluez-sixaxis_rc1.1_all.deb.' Allow this file to finish setting up as well, and then like the other, close the screen at the end. You don't need your Sixaxis or Dualshock yet, so leave them powered off for now.
Make your way to 'Applications' → 'Accessories' → 'Sixaxis-GUI.' From the small pop-up screen, select 'Setup Menu,' and then click 'Setup First Connection.' (You'll want your fully charged controller ready to be turned on at this point).
Press the PS button when prompted, and then hit 'OK.'
After this, close out of the welcome screen and go back to 'Applications' → 'Accessories' → 'Sixaxis-GUI,' and select 'Task Menu.' Click 'Enable Keyboard and Mouse,' and then click 'Fake Joystick,' and hit 'OK.'
All you have to do at this point is select 'Turn Off Sixaxis,' wait about 10 seconds until you're returned to the main menu, and then click 'Connect Sixaxis to PC.' Now your controller is ready to party like it's 1992.
Now let's snag that emulator. Open up a terminal window, being sure to press enter after entering the following text:
sudo apt-get install snes9express snes9x-x
Once the emulator finishes setting up, close the terminal and locate the launcher in 'Applications' → 'Games' → 'Snes9express.' Open up the software and immediately find the 'Controllers' tab. Whatever you do, don't ever configure the Sixaxis or Dualshock to a different set of buttons, that will lead to Ubuntu SNES disaster. All you need to do is select 'Devices' on the right, and then enter the following line beside Pad1 in replacement of the existing data: /dev/input/js0
Go ahead and hit 'Close.'
Now find the 'Sound' tab. Ensure a box is checked next to 'sound,' 'stereo,' 'filters,' and 'thread sound.'
Click the video tab. Here, place a check next to 'scale,' 'high-res,' and 'full screen.' Don't worry about any of the other options
Now go to the 'ROM' tab, click the folder icon near the far right-hand side of the screen, and locate your SNES ROM files
Select the title you wish to play, and then after the directory string is listed in the text box, click 'Power' to start the game. If anything goes wrong, or if you mistakingly tried to finagle your controller to a different scheme, just click the 'Reset' button to undo your custom settings.
VLC is an extremely flexible and stable jack‐of‐all‐trades media player that allows you to view all of your (legally) downloaded movies and personally created film strips. It even covers the often elusive MP4 format as well. It's easy to utilize, but it's rich in functionality. Grab it by reading below.
Open up a terminal and type the following, pressing enter afterwords:
sudo apt-get update
Now, on the next line, type this next string, hitting enter at the end:
sudo apt-get install vlc vlc-plugin-esd mozilla-plugin-vlc
Let the process complete, and then close the terminal. Now go to 'Applications' → 'Sound and Video' → 'VLC Media Player.' When first launched, choose your downloaded album art preference (default to manual download only) and then continue to finish the setup.
To play movies, find the 'Media' tab and then click 'Open File.'
Now use the drop-down menu to search for your movies. When you've found one, just click 'Play,' and VLC will begin your video.
And that's all there is to it. Enjoy!
While the titles of Ubuntu and Xubuntu are differentiated by a single letter, in reality, these two Linux distros have a few notable differences. Basically, Xubuntu is lighter resource-wise, and some have noted better performance on the PS3 due to the console's rather limited memory bandwidth. But the biggest gap between the two platforms is the window wrapper that runs them (Xubuntu gets its fuel from XFCE, where Ubuntu cruises on raw uncut Gnome). Gnome goes for a cleaner look and a more sparse desktop approach, catered more for the typical user. XFCE shoots more for the higher-end minutia detail-driven crowd.
But it's important to note that while Xubuntu can be a more nimble contender in the modifying and resource arena, Ubuntu enjoys a powerful uppercut with an overall larger application diversity base and a simpler directory experience. Really though, all said and done, it just comes down to personal taste and preference, as many of the big apps like VLC, Skype, etc. are easily attainable for either OS. You can always redo the installation steps at the beginning of this article if you wish to wipe out one for the other on your PS3, so feel free to experiment with both!