Sony's PS3: It Rocks on Linux
As previously mentioned, courtesy of Rambus I've been testing a Sony PlayStation 3 (mine is a 60 GByte model) on and off over the past week. A near-future post will share my hands-on thoughts on this console as a consumer electronics platform, but for now I want to focus on a particularly compelling use of this system for EDN's core engineering audience.
Most consoles (with the exception, if you believe the company's claims, the Nintendo Wii) are heavily subsidized under a razor-and-blade pricing model, the theory being that you get hooked by the low system price and the system supplier eventually makes up the loss (and then some) by subsequently selling you lots of highly profitable game titles. This loss-leader approach makes gaming hardware particularly attractive to folks interested in using it for broader purposes. But manufacturers generally do all they can to suppress such usage creativity, under the theory that the more other things you do with your gear, the less 'official' gaming you'll do, and therefore the less likely it'll be that the manufacturer can eventually cover (or ideally supercede) its initial console sale loss.
Microsoft, for example, has combated breaches of its first-generation Xbox console (which, as my writeup noted, is fundamentally, nothing more than a DRM-enhanced PC containing an Intel CPU and a Nvidia core logic chipset) in a variety of ways; hardware revisions, for example, along with firmware updates either bundled with game titles (and required prior to game play) or delivered via Xbox Live. According to a recent discussion I had with a local GameStop employee, Microsoft has even ordered retailers to pull vulnerability-inclusive version pressings of certain new and used game titles from store shelves (along with, presumably, compensated them for the lost inventory). And Sony has been equally aggressive in grappling with the PlayStation Portable homebrew crowd by employing similar techniques.
With living room consoles, on the other hand, Sony has been more sanguine. The company used to sell a Linux development kit for the PlayStation 2 (I bought one on closeout a while back) and still hosts a community site. Unfortunately, the kit was hobbled by various quirks such as widespread monitor incompatibility, along with lack of hardware graphics acceleration support (for perhaps understandable reasons; Sony didn't want Linux-based games to eat into its lucrative PS2 title business). More generally, the lack of strong corporate backing, both in terms of technical support and of regular software updates to fix bugs and add capabilities, hampered developers' efforts.
Sony also officially blesses alternative operating systems (i.e. in addition to its own GameOS) on the PS3. I chose to install Yellow Dog Linux, a Sony-sponsored distro developed by Terra Soft Solutions, a company that'll be familiar to folks who remember my past PowerPC writeups. With the phase-out of the PowerPC on Macs, Terra Soft has redirected its focus to the Cell processor found in the PS3, which the CPU's developers (along with YDL's developers!) hope will also achieve broader application usage. To be precise, YDL doesn't run directly on the PS3 hardware; instead, it runs through the GameOS hypervisor, which acts as an API conduit between other O/Ss and the hardware. You'll soon see why this distinction is important.
Installing YDL on the PS3 is a multi-step, albeit fairly straightforward, process.
- Attach the game controller via its USB cable (i.e. don't rely on the wireless connection), along with a keyboard (I used an old Mac on I had handy) and mouse.
- Custom-format the HDD through the GameOS settings screen; the only two available multi-O/S options are 'Allot 10GB to the Other OS' and 'Allot 10GB to the PS3 System'. I selected the former option. Note that a game demo I'd previously downloaded (Grand Turismo HD) was wiped out by the subsequent re-partition and reboot (if you want to preserve this data, you can back it up to a Memory Stick or USB-tethered drive in advance, and later restore it), although my user profile was retained.
- Download two files, one a bootloader installer from Sony's site and the other a YDL bootloader from Terra Soft Solutions, onto a Memory Stick, USB drive or optical disc. Transfer them to the PS3, again through the GameOS settings screen, and again reboot.
- Insert the YDL install disc and begin the setup process, which will take around an hour (I confess that I spent that time watching a movie on the Xbox 360 ). After installation, the console will automatically boot into YDL; you can either subsequently reconfigure it to auto-boot into the GameOS from within YDL or do so by holding down the power button for 5 seconds (which resets the console to factory default settings) at boot. Conversely, from within the GameOS settings screen you can specify the 'other OS' as the default for future console boot-ups.
Continued with 'Linux On The PS3: A Hit, Albeit With A Few Strikes'….