Setting Up Your PS3 For Ubuntu Linux

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When it was announced that the PlayStation 3 would support and run Linux, it was well-received by the tinkering/hacking community. To be able to run Linux on game consoles has been possible before (earlier PlayStations also supported Linux, apart from other consoles like Microsoft’s Xbox and Sega’s Dreamcast), but never had it been advertised and supported so well. With a PS3 today, you can download a few files, follow a few simple steps and have Linux running on your PS3 in a couple of hours. And mind you, the capability offered by Linux isn’t minimal by any standard. You can have a full-blown word processor, multiple emulators to turn your PS3 into the ultimate gaming setup, or install MythTV and turn it into a powerful multimedia platform. In this article, I will list the steps needed to install and run Linux on the PS3.

Setting up the PS3 for OtherOS

Before you start installing Linux on the PS3, you first need to set it up for Linux/OtherOS. This involves formatting your PS3’s hard-disk, finding and setting up a distro-specific OtherOS bootloader and finally booting into the Linux installer.

Formatting the PS3’s HDD:

In the XMB, go to System -> Settings, and format your HDD. You will be asked to select the size of the OtherOS partition. Make sure to select atleast 10GB for the OtherOS. With the ability to put your own HDDs in the PS3, specifying combinations for all sizes isn’t possible here. Just make sure to use some common sense and choose the size wisely.

Setting up OtherOS:

You will need to find an OtherOS.bld file for the specific distribution that you want to install on your PS3. Many distributions have released this bootloader file for the PS3. Some distributions like Ubuntu even bundle it on the CD image. For other distributions, support might not be as good. In any case, try searching through Linux forums and Google, and you’re bound to find one for your favorite distribution.

Once you have the OtherOS.bld file, it’s time to put it on a USB stick (Memory cards/sticks, USB pen drives) with the following folder structure: “X:\PS3\otheros\otheros.bld” where X is the drive letter of the USB storage medium on your computer. Once you’ve copied over the bootloader file, remove the USB drive/stick and connect it to your PS3.

Navigate to Settings -> System Settings -> Install Other OS. The PS3 will then find the otheros.bld file on your USB storage/Ubuntu CD and install it. Your PS3 is now ready to run an alternate operating system. It is now time to prepare the distribution CD for installation.

Setting up Installer and Ubuntu Installation

Now that the PS3 is ready to accept a bootable Linux disc for installation, it’s time to download and burn an ISO of your favorite distro. In this article, I will cover Ubuntu. You can download the Ubuntu ISO image off Ubuntu’s servers. Click here to navigate to the download page. From there, select the release which you want to run on your PS3 (8.04, 8.10 or 9.04), then navigate to the “release” folder. On the page that opens, click on “PlayStation 3 Desktop CD” which will link you to the PS3-specific ISO image of that version.

Once you’ve downloaded the ISO, it’s now time to burn it to an empty CD. If you are familiar with this step, you can skip it and read the next step directly. For the rest, you can download a free application like ImgBurn and select “Write image file to disc”, then select the downloaded ISO file in the “Source” area, selecting your CD/DVD writer as the destination and finally clicking on the large button at the bottom to burn the image file to the disc.

Once this is done, insert the CD in the PS3, go to Settings -> System Settings -> Default System and select “Other OS” from the list.

When you reboot your PS3 now, it will boot the OtherOS bootloader (in our case, Ubuntu) and this will load the Ubuntu installer. Once it is loaded, you should see a command terminal with a “kboot:” prompt. Pressing Enter on the keyboard will start the installation procedure. If you want to go back to the PS3’s XMB, just type “ps3-boot-game-os”.

The Installation procedure is similar to what you will face when installing Ubuntu on a desktop system. You can refer to an article on installing Ubuntu written by my colleague Michael Dougherty here.

At the end of the install, the CD will automatically eject itself. Remove it from the drive and reboot your PS3. At the “kboot:” prompt now, press Enter to boot into Ubuntu Linux. Once at the login screen, type your username and password to login. You should now have a working Ubuntu operating system on your PS3.

At any time, you can open up a terminal and type ps3-boot-game-os to boot into the PS3’s XMB. If you are stuck and cannot access a terminal, turn off your PS3, and when turning it on again, hold the Power button for a few seconds. Your PS3 should beep and boot into the XMB. This will reset the PS3’s system settings and you will be able to revert back to the PS3’s XMB without any problems.

Once installed, the possibilities with Ubuntu Linux are endless. Watch out for future articles from me exploring the various possibilities and explaining them to you.

Final Words

With Linux installed, you can start exploring it immediately. The latest Ubuntu versions should pick up most of the PS3’s hardware automatically, especially the Ethernet card. Just connect it to your router and start browsing and installing packages using Synaptic or another frontend.

In future articles, I will take a look at how you can make full use of your PS3’s hardware and show you the different possibilities with Linux on your PlayStation 3. Until then, keep experimenting and having fun!