With all of the drama surrounding Linux on the PlayStation 3, you might be surprised to know that it wasn’t the first time Sony brought everyone’s favorite open source operating system to their home game consoles. In 2002, Sony released an official PlayStation 2 Linux kit that turned it into a fully functional Linux computer with (for the time), some impressive capabilities.
But a decade later, Sony’s official Linux kit is better suited to a museum. Even if you could track a copy down, it’s outdated to the point of hilarity and never saw very good support in the first place.
Luckily, that doesn’t mean the dream of Linux on the PS2 is dead. Developer “Mega Man” has recently released version 3 of his Linux Live DVD for the PS2, bringing penguin power to modded and unmodded PS2’s alike.
The heart of this new Linux implementation is kernelloader, a fully open source bootloader capable of launching the Linux kernel on both the original (fat) and Slim PS2. This is a considerable improvement over the bootloader included with the official Linux Kit, as it was only able to work on the original PS2 and was never open sourced.
In addition to booting standard Linux distributions, kernelloader is confirmed working with NetBSD and embedded Linux systems like OpenWRT. If you’re looking to get your PS2 doing something more useful than playing GTA3, kernelloader is probably the place you want to start.
Live DVD Version 3
The live DVD works on all versions of the PS2 due to the fact that the system was designed to be able to play burned video DVDs. Using this loophole, it’s possible to boot the kernel from the Memory Card and load the filesystem from your burned disc.
According to the release notes, the new features in this release include:
- Updated YouTube script which should work with all videos.
- Compatible with all PS2 models (slim and fat)
- p7zip (command line tool)
- Support for EyeToy including webcam support
While this live DVD opens up the possibility of getting Linux running on nearly every PS2 out there, there are some pretty harsh realities we need to come to terms with.
Linux on the PS2 is using the absolutely archaic 2.4 kernel, which works well enough to get the thing going, but not a whole lot else. Don’t expect much in the way of hardware support or performance from such an old Linux release. Work has been done to port the 2.6 kernel to the PS2 (which of course is outdated itself, but not quite as painfully), though not to the point it’s really usable.
Kernel aside, the PS2 hardware leaves a lot to be desired in 2012. With a ~300 MHz processor and a paltry 32 MB of RAM, the PS2 has specs that even the lowest end Android smartphone would laugh at; all while sucking down as much energy as a modern quad-core laptop.
All that being said, if you have an old PS2 laying around and would like to try your hand at turning it into a low-end Linux box, all the files you’ll need are located on the developers Sourceforge page.