The Less Than Legal Methods


So you have a copy of the first official DVD, either in the form of an ISO image or a burnt DVD-R. As you probably already know, an unmodified PS2 cannot boot burnt DVD-Rs simply by inserting them. This page shall briefly cover some of the methods you can (and can't) use to get around this. They are all of dubious legality but if you've already managed to obtain an illegal copy of the DVD then it looks like you're willing to take the risk.

Editing This Page

Please do NOT add any further detail to this page. It should only provide rough pointers to aid people in running Linux on their PS2. This project is NOT interested in pirating commercial games or other such illegal activities. If you require more information, consult Google. Everything you need to know is there.

Chipping Your PS2

A chipped or modified PS2 is capable of booting burnt DVD-Rs directly. You can't really beat this for ease of use but unless you get someone experienced to install the chip for you, the installation can be very risky. One bad move with the soldering iron and you could end up with a dead console. Furthermore, people are actually being prosecuted for the sale and use of these chips in some countries. This option is only recommended for those with a steady hand and a carefree conscience.

Swap Magic

Swap Magic is a commercial CD and DVD pair that takes advantage of the infamous swap trick. The PS2's copy protection mechanism is activated whenever the eject button is pressed. The swap trick involves using a specially shaped piece of card or plastic known as a slide tool (or a knife but seriously don't try this!) to prise open the drive door without using the eject button. The inserted disc is swapped with a burnt DVD-R and the drive door is then closed using the slide tool, again without pressing the eject button. This alone isn't enough to boot a burnt DVD-R though and that's where Swap Magic comes in. The discs allow the PS2 to be booted and the copy protection to pass. They then stop and wait for you to perform the swap trick. Once that's done, all you have to do is hit X and your burnt DVD-R will boot. Swap Magic is relatively cheap to buy and the swap trick isn't all that difficult once you get the hang of it so this option is well recommended.

Flip-Top Lid

If using a slide tool sounds too irritating, an alternative method of swapping the discs is to fit your PS2 with a PS1-like flip-top lid. The PS2's drive unit has no top cover so simply replacing the top half of the outer casing with a flip-top lid gives you access to the drive from above. Note that you still need to use Swap Magic or CogSwapLoader.


CogSwapLoader is essentially a freely available version of Swap Magic. The key difference is that it doesn't include any bootable PS2 discs, which leaves you in a bit of a catch 22 situation. It comes in the form of an executable ELF file and the only way you can run this is to make use of the infamous Independence Exploit. The problem is that the only easy way of performing the exploit in the first place is by using Swap Magic. There are other many other methods, which we shan't go into here, but the key thing to remember about the exploit is that it simply involves copying two files to your memory card. It doesn't matter how you get them there, the point is that you have to get them there somehow. Most guides make it out to be much more complicated than that. Interestingly, Linux is actually one way of getting files onto your memory card so if you know someone nearby who already has Linux working on their PS2, go and see them! Note that for CogSwapLoader to work, you need a PS1 disc and a PS2 disc with a high TOC. You also need a slide tool or a flip-top lid.

HDLoader and HDAdvance

HDLoader makes it possible to install and run PS2 titles from your hard drive. This was one of the incredible achievements made possible by the Independence Exploit. Unfortunately, its history is marred by the presence of its evil twin, HDAdvance. The HDLoader developers had never intended their project to be used for installing titles from burnt DVD-Rs and as such, they were seeking endorsement from Sony. Around this time, some unscrupulous individuals managed to crack the HDLoader binary to allow installation from burnt DVD-Rs. They dressed it up in a different skin, slapped a new name on it and began selling it commercially. The HDLoader developers were understandably rather upset. Sony wasn't impressed either. As a result, the official HDLoader project was soon terminated. Improvements have been made to HDLoader by various people since that time but due to the source code no longer being available, these have all been in the form of binary patches. These patches have been applied to later versions of HDAdvance but the HDAdvance developers (I say developers in the loosest sense possible) had no part in creating them. If you are planning to purchase HDAdvance, please DON'T. You will be giving your money to thieves. Download HDLoader from somewhere instead. It doesn't have the convenience of being on a readily bootable disc but all you need to do is install the Independence Exploit to your memory card using Swap Magic (which is cheapear than HDAdvance) or some other method.

As for HDLoader and Linux, the situation is rather complicated. Firstly, HDLoader blocks all access to the hard drive. This is an issue if you try to run the RTE from the hard drive, while also trying to use the hard drive for Linux at the same time. There is a "Kill HDL After Launch" option but that causes the RTE to freeze after loading the kernel, presumably because it is unable to locate the IOP modules, which are usually stored alongside the RTE.

Secondly, the 2.4.17 LinuxKernel doesn't seem to like the fact that HDLoader blocks all access to the hard drive. You are dumped to a black screen after the RTE finishes loading the kernel. This means that it isn't even possible to boot over the network using HDLoader and this particular kernel. For some reason, the earlier kernels did not have this problem. Chewi wrote a kernel patch to completely disable the DVD drive initialisation, which for some strange reason did allow the system to start but also resulted in the network adapter not initialising either. Bummer.

Lastly, putting HDLoader and Linux on the same hard drive, regardless of whether you intend on using HDLoader or not, is rather tricky. HDLoader uses the APA (Aligned Partition Allocation) partitioning format. Linux originally used a different format but a kernel patch for APA support was developed, which made it possible for HDLoader and Linux to coexist on the same drive. This patch was included in the 2.4.17 MontaVista kernel. So far, so good. The hard part is actually getting HDLoader and Linux onto the same drive in the first place. HDLoader wipes the entire drive, no questions asked. The ps2fdisk utility for Linux is confusing. Hooking the hard drive up to another machine is also difficult because the APA kernel patch was only written for the PS2 kernels. Manually locating and mounting a partition isn't much fun. More research needs to be done in this area because Chewi can't remember what he did and he wasn't entirely satisfied with the results anyway.

A final note on the subject of HDLoader. There is a superb utility called hdl_dump for manipulating the titles stored on a HDLoader installation. It can either operate on a locally-connected drive or a drive located in a network-connected PS2 running the hdl_dump server program. It's the easiest way to install a bootable PS2 disc image since you don't have to burn the image first. It is available for Linux and best of all, GentooLinux users only have to type emerge hdl_dump!

USBeXtreme and USBAdvance

This is where the tables were turned. The HDAdvance developers came up with something vaguely original for the first time in their lives when they managed to further patch HDLoader to use hard drives connected via USB instead of via the network adapter. This was ideal for the new slimline PS2 because the slimline's lack of an expansion bay meant that hard drives could not be connected in the traditional way. The new version of HDLoader was packaged as USBeXtreme and sold commercially alongside HDAdvance. Certain members of the PS2 development community were still angry about what the HDAdvance developers had previously done to HDLoader and so they decided to take the ultimate revenge. In just one day, they managed to strip the copy protection from USBeXtreme and released it into the wild as an executable ELF under the amusing name of USBAdvance. Justice was served. Once again, if you are planning on purchasing USBeXtreme, please DON'T. Download USBAdvance from somewhere instead. We believe that, in this case, two wrongs do make a right. (-;

Chewi hadn't considered trying USBAdvance until he started writing this page. He was fairly confident that it would be possible to boot the RTE from a small USB device such as a USB key or cheap MP3 player since the RTE only takes up around 25MB once the padding file is removed. Booting in this way would leave the hard drive free for use in Linux and would probably allow the 2.4.17 kernel to start properly. Things looked promising to begin with. The RTE did indeed start, albeit very slowly, but once the kernel had loaded, all that could be seen was a black screen. Chewi left it for a while in case the cheap MP3 player he was using was just taking its time but nothing happened. He also tried using a hard drive instead, which did seem faster but still, nothing happened. It is unclear why the kernel failed to start in this instance.