Linux on the PS3: First Encounters

Getting Penguins into our PS3

Getting Penguins into our PS3

What do geeks do when confronted with the hottest game console at the moment, one that is going on eBay for many times its list price? Why, they try to install Linux on it of course. It just happens that we managed to get our grubby hands on a piano-black Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) and after the initial hoo-ha had died down, we realized the dire lack of things that we could actually do with that expensive machine. Faced with a choice between an atrocious Mobile Suit Gundam: CrossFire or yet another iteration of a racing game like Ridge Racer 7, we turned to the much touted high definition entertainment route instead. However, we had a seriously unimpressive House of Flying Daggers Blu-ray disc that didn't look any much better than the DVD version (not to mention that we have watched the movie before and the Blu-ray version was poor on the extra features).

Installing Linux on the PS3? You must be crazy! That's probably the initial response from your fellow friends, but the potential to turn the PS3's processing prowess into a mainstream-computing machine is just too good to pass off and that's what we are showing you in our first attempt at this procedure in this article.

In short, we had this expensive shiny console coveted by many but there wasn't really any 'killer app' that made us want to turn it on (besides listening to the symphonic music it plays on boot-up). But then saying the PS3 is just a console is like saying football is just a game. We know it's much more than that. For beneath that black hood lies the powerful Cell processor, jointly developed by IBM, Toshiba and Sony. This PowerPC compatible processor is aided by up to 6 RISC processors though eight were originally planned. A thorough technical overview can be found here if you're interested in the engineering involved. Since there wasn't any compelling games or movies at the moment, we decided to do something off the beaten track - install Linux of course!

Actually, what we're going to try is not exactly unorthodox. In fact, it comes with the blessings of Sony. The folks there probably recognize that its new console is a supercomputer compared to previous consoles and it is actively wooing the open source crowd by advocating an open platform and basically allowing other operating systems, like Linux to be installed on the PS3. It is also a continuation of the Linux community that Sony has encouraged for its older PS2 console. While the cynics in us may not be completely sold on the whole open platform idea propagated by Sony (witness the cat and mouse game for the PSP homebrew scene or Sony Music's DRM root kit fiasco), there is already a website with some useful tools and guides on how to get Linux working on your PS3. A lesser known distribution, Yellow Dog Linux has also worked closely with Sony to get a custom distribution out for the PS3.

Of course, we couldn't wait for the official public release of Yellow Dog Linux (on Christmas ) nor did we feel like paying to get it earlier. Hence, we scourged the Internet for information on how others before us have done it. Yes, people have gotten the popular Fedora Core working on their PS3s and today, it's our turn.

Pre-Installation Checklist

Before embarking on our Linux journey, these are some steps that you need to take and files that you should download beforehand. We found a pretty handy 1-page guide to the whole installation process and all credit to the guy who compiled it. In any case, you should check that you have the following items:

  • A Sony PS3 (Duh! Update the firmware to 1.10 via System Settings >> System Update)
  • Fedora Core 5 (the DVD ISO can be found on many websites. Google is your friend. Remember, you'll need the Power PC version.)
  • Sony's official installer (Other OS Installer, reading the manual there is helpful too.)
  • PS3 Linux Addon CD (ISO image, about 45MBs)
  • Storage media (You'll need free space of around 10MB so a USB thumb drive and any sort of flash memory card is fine)
  • USB Keyboard and Mouse (there's up to 4 USB ports on the PS3 so there's more than enough ports.)
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