Need for Speed: PS3 Linux!

Turn your PS3 into a dual-boot game machine and Linux box.
Surf the Net in PlayStation 3 Linux

Now, I can start to analyze whether the YDL installation is actually a configuration that addresses my earlier stated needs for a software solution that makes the PS3 a useful Internet machine, and a quick visit to confirms that, yes, it works fine, it's darn fast and eminently usable. Nice!

One of the sites I use as a test is Google's Gmail service. It's complex behind the scenes and quite powerful, so the question is always whether it works and renders properly on a new system. YDL came through like a champ, working just fine and letting me navigate through my e-mail securely through Firefox. Thunderbird is also pre-installed and ready to go, and configuring a POP3-based e-mail account is pretty straightforward for most Linux users, so there are at least two good avenues for accessing your e-mail.

Figure 5. Testing Google's Gmail with YDL

That means, of course, that YDL does indeed meet my primary criteria for usability, letting me surf the Web and interact with my e-mail, all from the comfort of my easy chair and with a simple USB keyboard added onto my slick PlayStation 3 device.

But, Linux offers a lot more capability, and as an experiment, I launched Rhythmbox and quickly concluded that I have had my expectations of music players really screwed up by using iTunes for so many years. It's astonishing to me that I can choose “Internet radio stations” and not get a list of available stations, but instead have to figure out the URL of the station I desire so I can “tune in” to it. Unfortunately, all these years into the Linux evolution, and there are still too many apps that are rough around the edges like this.

I went to Firefox, searched for “internet radio station jazz”, found one through the popular Live365 site, selected the channel, had it try to download a streaming file that caused the launch of the Helix player, only to find that it doesn't have the capability of playing back that type of content. Next stop: AccuRadio, but it wanted me to install a new plugin. Yech. New Orleans Jazz channel WWOZ offered up a URL, so I pasted that into Rhythmbox just to find it didn't work either. To heck with it! How is someone like my Mom supposed to survive so much hassle to get audio in YDL?

At the End of the Day, It's a Linux System

As I expected, it may be slick and fast running on the Sony PlayStation 3 with its powerful Cell processor system, but it's still the same Linux that we've gotten used to with no exciting new capabilities, no easier way to work with the various media on the Web, and the same rough edges I've been bothered by for over a decade now.

Unlike most Linux systems, however, YDL on PS3 at least lets you reboot and go back into the world of the PlayStation, where you can easily run photo slideshows, upload and enjoy your music library, watch DVD and Blu-ray HD video and, of course, play some of the amazing games available for the PlayStation.

Really, it's one heck of a combination, and if you know someone who would like to have access to all the power and capabilities of the Cell processor through Terra Soft Solution's YDL system, along with the fun and power of the PlayStation 3, it's really one heck of a combination. Even if you just want to hack, it's cool to have a foreign OS on the system as an option at boot time too.

Dave Taylor has been poking around in UNIX and Linux since the mid-1980s and has contributed various software to its evolution. He has run Linux on all sorts of strange devices now, including his tri-booting Mac laptop and Sony PlayStation 3. He also runs a busy Q&A and troubleshooting site ( and has written a number of popular tech books, including Growing Your Business with Google and Wicked Cool Shell Scripts.


Dave Taylor has been hacking shell scripts for over thirty years. Really. He's the author of the popular "Wicked Cool Shell Scripts" and can be found on Twitter as @DaveTaylor and more generally at


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Sony are major dicks!

Anonymous's picture

Well as you mentioned above, Sony have been dick in restricting the RSX from linux distros.

Seriously, why do they think, people using the ps3 as a pc will lessen their games sales? If I had a dated pc (which I happen to have lol), I would rather save the money saved for an upgrade to my pc (or a splash for a new system), by using my ps3 as a fully functioning pc for gaming.

With all that saved cash, I could buy more ps3 games, PSN content and games, than if I had to buy a new pc.

The only games Sony would then ever have to worry about me not buying for the ps3, would be pc only titles (titles I would buy anyway even if I did not have a ps3). Every other game that is multi platform would see me buying the ps3 version, since it would work hassle free, with the sony controller and have trophy support.

Well let us hope Sony reverse this decision in future updates or someone manages a work around to Sony's lockout (I would be happy to donate to yourself if you were ever interested in doing this ;), I am sure there are thousands of other ps3 owners thinking along my lines, you could be looking at a nice sum for retirement lol).

Woops got so carried away

Anonymous's picture

Woops got so carried away bashing Sony, I forgot to ask my initial question I had;

Is it possible to install a usb linux distro to my usb flash drive, then install it to the ps3? If that is not possible, is it possible to make/download a live cd of the usb linux distro, then use that to install to the usb flash drive?

Basically I do not want full linux capability (since I am noob at it lol), all I want it for is to be able to play back unsupported video formats on my ps3 (.mkv .h246 etc). I would prefer to watch these videos on my larger lcd than my small pc screen ;). Also would not mind playing some Monkeys island on the ps3 :D, does scumm emulator even work for linux? I would think about other retro consoles to emulate, but I still have my nes, snes, megadrive, master system and atari st lol.


barry foye's picture

i want to put linux on my ps3 so i can play pc games on it like the new call of duty world at war, day of defeat and other such games, i'm also looking forward to the new empire|total war game.

i only recently discovered that i could put linux on my ps3 (as my title points out i'm just a noob to all this).

the reason being is that my pc is now quite dated and is not up to the task of running new games, i have no problem springing for a new pc but before i do would like to see if the ps3 works instead.

can any one give me a good answer with lay terms as my programme knowledge and what not is quite non existant.

i'm sorry if i'm bothering people with my lack of understanding, but it's hard to find answers online without trawling through post after post of half answers, slagging off and mis information and this post seems to have people who know what their talking about and good information

thanks in advance :-)

Because Sony choose to be a

Anonymous's picture

Because Sony choose to be a dick, they decide lock out RSX GPU on the PS3, thus the linux system only has limited power using the cell processors. Most mordern PC games can not run on a PS3 based Linux. Another reason for sony to lock out the GPU is that if people are just going to play PC games on their system, they won't make any money on the PS3 games. Remember every PS3 Sony sells they lose about 200 bucks(2006 estimate). Now with the new systems, with only 2 usb, not backward compatible with PS2 games and no media card reader slot. They still lose about 30-50 bucks per system. Not only Sony is losing in market shares in console, they are losing in game sales as well. I search a long time on eaby to get my hand on one of the used PS3 original 60GB, but it was worth it, consider the system cost 800 bucks to make and I got it for 460 on ebay. If you want to play your old PS2 games and want enough USB port so you don't have pull and plug just to get to your SD card stuff, get the original 60GB.

LJ Calls that article In-Depth?

zakhur's picture

I read the article.

Then I read it again.

Oh, sigh, linux isn't a multimedia powerhouse, just like it hasn't been for 10 years. THAT is the message that stuck in my mind.

Well, gee, if all you look at is RH/Fedora where the focus is servers, that is the conclusion you will reach.

But it isn't accurate.

I see more help requests from desktop users of Fedora than any other distro. Occasionally someone will find some hardware that MEPIS won't install on and detect AND set up, but not often. Yellow Dog isn't Fedora Core, but it is not far away. At least Terrasoft is showing some testosterone in selecting e17. I have had that running on one of my systems for a year and I still like its tidyness.

The fact is, there ARE distros out there that work out of the box with tunes and DVD play and such. Some are pretty beta, yet, like ArkLinux, which holds a lot of promise for WinSheep, but has some weird crashes of multimedia desktop apps, especially internet radio. (I defy you to find one with fewer clicks to install, or with a mission control that looks more like the one in WinXP), so if they ever get enough support to get the bugs under control, maybe the author can write a happy article.

And then there is that French company, Mandriva, which oriented on desktop users and gained a pretty loyal following. Despite a LOT of mistakes, they have survived, and are growing, and have now released a Beta Corporate Desktop. It is not what a linux user would love, as most of the update tools don't work (being disabled to support a new install/update scheme called FIBRIC) and it is based on their moving bug target, Cooker, right on the bleeding edge.

A few days ago, I entered the local Fry's to look at laptops. I had two requirements in mind. 1) The Keyboard had to fit my oversized hands at least as well as any ordinary keyboard, and the blasted touchpad mouse had to be capable of being disabled so my hands would not activate it when I was typing, and 2) It had to do 3D desktop in Linux. Lesser requirements were tunes and DVD play. I brought along a test kit. It was on a 2G USB Memory Stick.

I booted from Mandriva Flash, a Dane-Electric USB memory with about 1.1G taken up by the system, and checked, to the utter amazement of the salesperson. I found 4 that did 3D, but all had dinky keyboards, so I left without a new laptop. The salesperson was fascinated and played with the office tools for a while.

The salesperson asked why I carried a bootable system on a stick. I explained that when traveling, I might have to use a computer in a hotel business center or an office. I needed something that could pretend to be part of a windows network and which would leave no traces, taking my business results with it. I had added a little software to the stick, UML and emacs, and the windows domain stuff, but otherwise it was the same as it left the factory.

Well I can't blame Terrasoft for using FC/RH as their baseline. They, too are concentrating on servers. And SONY's selecting them was obviously a marriage de convenance as they were the only ones close to producing linux for the PS3.

Concentrating on servers has been the safe course for linux distros. Those who didn't, often did not do well as a business enterprise. Storm Linux? Mandrakesoft? (They emerged from their own ashes, but were in bankruptcy for a while) ArkLinux? (Bero's Titanic capabilities carry that one, but no commercial possibility seems likely) Symphony OS? (A very good idea, but again it is the effort of people who are one step from the poor farm, largely because they are working on it).

I contribute $ when I can, and I contribute effort, bug reports, and sometimes code when I have the time.

Anyway, so the linux available for the PS3 is NOT a multimedia giant. There are linices out there that ARE. And the path to conversion has been paved by having a working linux with real tools already on the box. And someone could probably do something interesting with Yellow Dog and the source rpms for Mandriva or Arklinux, or by making packages from source tarballs. If I were not fully engaged in something interesting for consumers, making use of linux for a revolutionary product, it might be me.

But sighing about the lack of this or that won't solve the problem. I hope the impression I received from the article was not the message most others perceived. It sounds like someone frustrated and ready to give up on linux.

PS2 Linux is better

Paulo Pinto's picture

I confess I suffered a big disappointment with PS3's Linux support.

I own the PS2 Linux kit and was hoping to get a similar support for PS3.

However that is not the case as we found out.

So currently if you want to develop homebrew games for the new generation of consoles, the only solution is the 360 with XNA.

I don't accept the excuses that some people are giving on the Net by saying that we could just make use of the SPEs for a software rasterizer. We have 3D hardware support, so we should be allowed to access it, at least partially like on PS2 Linux.

Dumbed down hardware

johnzbesko's picture

I've installed YDL on our family PS3 with the expectation that I could play videos from my PC over our home LAN and on our large screen HDTV. Alas, it is possible to get video to play (xine, mplayer) but not in fullscreen mode. This is a result of a handicapped video driver that X in YDL must use. How disappointing to find out the PS3, with its state of the art graphics, cannot play linux games as well as my PC.

When can we expect an improvement?

Dumbed Down Software

zakhur's picture

Actually, software written for an Intel or AMD 64-bit processor cannot be expected to perform any better on a CELL.

You have your Power Processing component, much like the CPU of Intel or AMD in the sense that it is a RISC with some microprogramming, which does some execution reordering, branch prediction, etc, and off to the side you have eight Synergistic Processing Engines WITHOUT branch prediction, aggressive prefetching, or any of the things we have come to expect processors to do invisibly or in the background. On the PS3, 7 of those SPEs are available, one being used by the system.

You have to consider loop unrolling, multiple buffering (yes the SPU has instructions to access its own huge cache and DMA to interleave fetches from main memory), and the extensive use of arrays in designing the algorithms. The SPE has MANY instructions that are SIMD (Single Instruction, Multiple Data) like the SSE instructions on the Intel Processor or the AMD, so feeding the SPE arrays to process gets things done in a hurry.

The programming has to be different to take advantage of the many hardware threads available. It even requires a different way of thinking about algorithms. It is easy to feed the SPE standard programming that would result in much slower execution than on a more conventional CPU.

So the answer to your question is when we have better software tools (in progress) and when we have people who have trained themselves to program efficiently on the CELL Broadband Engine. I think a year will see people doing things with CELL than no one today believes to be possible, like converting video streams on the fly from one format or scanning method to another, not in hours but in seconds, or rendering images of 20000x16000 in full animation also on the fly.

The really nice thing about organizing algortihms for the CELL is that if performance is not sufficient, it can be improved without redesign by adding more CELLs in parallel.

Maybe now is a good time to make practical use of Oz and Mozart. Over distributed networks, its fault-intolerance made it mostly impractical for mission-critical apps, but now... With the distributed net on a single chip, things might be much improved.

I think that if sony

Angel Genchev's picture

I think that if sony released the full specifications on ps3 hardware - very soon, if not - unpredictable.
For linux games it depends on how difficult is to implement 3D support. I`m wondering what ps3 is using to render 3d - a 3D chip or it`s software that`s running over cell-processor cores.

3D on the PS3

Ysangkok's picture

No hardware-accelerated 3D on the PS3. No one has released drivers. runs on generic drivers.

PS3 Linux

Dan's picture

Um... it is linux. Write your own drivers. That is the ultimate beauty of linux. You want it to do something? Do it yourself don't wait for the driver to be written by someone else, then post it to a website and let others enjoy the fruit of your labor.

It may be the ultimate beauty of Linux, but...

Gamechaser001's picture

It may be the ultimate beauty of Linux, but not everybody can do programming, I can't understand heads or tails on how to program, i'm lucky to know my way around the terminal/command prompt let alone how to program my own Linux software, why not have somebody who knows what they are doing create the software, put it on a website, then have us programmingly challenged Linux users get a peice of the pie?

If Sony would provide

Anonymous's picture

If Sony would provide documentation on their video device, it would be much, much easier to do so.

Simply go to IBM and get the Cell BE specs...

YourMaMa's picture

The PS3 has IBM's Cell BE processor. No need for video/graphics chip as the 7 SPEs can easily crunch all video/graphics requirements. Simply need to be programmed correctly - SONY is obviously doing it in their PS3 games....

Not really

Anonymous's picture

The PS3 has an nVidia GPU, similar to what you'd find on a 3D card in your desktop. Professional game titles for PS3 offload 3D rendering to the nVidia GPU and use the Cell for other things, like a realtime physics engine.
nVidia would have to release a PPC Linux driver before the GPU would work, and I believe Sony may have to allow you to access the GPU anyway.

Any updates to the video drivers?

faheyd's picture

Any updates to the video drivers?

I'm not buying a PS3 until there are existing accelerated video drivers for Linux. And no, I'm not writing them myself as there are plenty of smarter people available for that chore.

Better Drivers

Dave's picture

Since you asked faheyd, the answer is "sorta".

Unsolo has developed a SPU accellerated setup that can let X manage to run full 1080p movies without a problem (but still plenty of bugs to hammer away at, it's a Google summer of code project now as well) no matter what firmware version you wish to use. If you stay below version 2.10 firmware, there is another project that was able to get DMA access to the RSX directly and provide basically the same thing.

As you might guess, this isn't what many of us would like which is a "real" RSX driver courtesy of Sony or Nvidia (a binary that isn't open source would be acceptable) to provide easy access to 2D and 3D accelleration. There are also at least some gains being made at useing the SPU's to do some of the "harder" work that the PPE just isn't good enough for, like H264 encoding/decoding (currently a 1080 H264 movie won't playback smoothly, the PPE just doesn't have the power on it's own for this). The main issue on the PS3 under Linux is the fact that while there is a decent amount of software available (thanks to Mac's use of PowerPC for all those years), almost all of it is run entirely on the PPE and can't be easily ported to use the "real" power of the Cell B/E which is the SPU's.

While currently some of the access to "good" gameing and multimedia is still only available from a quick reboot into the GameOS, Linux is getting closer and definately filling in some of the gaps. You can create a decent Freevo or Myth frontend, have a good Internet Browser, or even setup a DVR on the Linux side plus get some real productivity apps. Things are getting better even if the pace is slower than most of us want, even Sony is helping out a bit at least on the GameOS side, with additions like DIVX support.