Getting Started with Modding a PlayStation 2

I recently decided to buy a used PlayStation 2 and try my hand at modding it to play backups. Unlike the original XBOX, which has loads of good articles on modding, the PS2 was very lacking. Not that there isn’t some good information out there, just nothing boiled down into bullet points for a country boy such as myself.

Step 1: Get a PS2

Ebay was my first choice. Premodded PlayStation 2s go for 6-7 times what an unmodded PlayStation goes for. This is a little sad as what you need to do the mod costs very little. You’re pretty much buying a PS2 with a memory card when you buy one premodded.

You need a PS2 which has a model number that does NOT start with a 9. These unmoddable PS2s are ‘slims’ and have a shiny top.

I bought a SCPH-39001 from Ebay, commonly referred to as a fat PS2. It came with two controllers and a memory card.

Step 2: Do the Mod

Free McBoot is an exploit/mod you install on a PS2 memory card. It allows you to run unsigned code on the PS2, meaning you can run what ever you want, like game backups.

Long story short on this one, buy a memory card that already has the mod installed.

I bought a pre-installed memory card from Ebay. 

Step 3: Buy some other stuff

You’ll want the PS2 to look its best on your TV. Buy some component video cables. This is the same cable a PS3 uses for component out.

With what you purchased in steps 1 and 2, you can load games from a burned DVD or a USB hard drive. Having a ton of burned discs laying around is lame and since the PS2 only has USB 1.0 ports, a USB hard drive is going to be very slow, slower than a disc. You want to buy a SATA hard disk interface.

The SATA hard drive interface is normally part of a network adapter, though you can buy just the drive interface alone. Get a SATA interface, not IDE. With IDE you’ll be relying on old used drives, while SATA drives are modern and easy to buy new. Don’t bother with an SSD, its expensive overkill.

I bought a SATA adapter with no network interface. I also bought a 320GB SATA hard drive. Outside of my cheapness, there was no reason I could not have went with a larger drive.

Step 4: Using It

Modding the PS2 is simple enough, insert your Free McBoot memory card. That’s it. You’ll see a Free McBoot splash screen on boot and the main menu will have some more options, one of which will be Open PS2 Loader. This is the program you’ll use to launch backup ISOs from your hard drive.

You’ll need to get some backups of your games. The easiest way is to make a copy using ImgBurn. This is identical to the process you would use to make an ISO of any CD/DVD you have laying around.

Next up you’ll format your hard drive and load some ISOs onto it. For this you’ll need Winhiip and some way to connect the drive to your PC. I used a SATA to USB adapter.

Get your drive connected and run Winhiip. The first thing is you’ll need to do is to format the drive for 48 bits. After that load your ISOs.

Now plug the drive into the PS2, start Open PS2 Loader, hit O, and you should see your games.

Tip: R1+R2+L1+L2+Start+Select restarts the PS2. No need to get up to change games.

Step 5: Nice clean silence

The PS2 I purchased was dusty as hell. Gross even. The cooling fan was also loud. After taking the PS2 apart and giving every thing a good dusting and cleaning, the fan was still loud. 

I replaced the cooling fan with a Noctua 60x25mm fan. I followed this guide. I deviated from it some and connected the fan to the power supply to motherboard connector. This causes the fan to run whenever the rear power switch is on, but the fan does get the full 12v… sort of. Directly connecting the fan to the 12v made it run louder than I liked. I ended up using one of the noise suppressors that came with the fan. This made it silent. I probably could have saved some effort and connected it to the original fan’s leads.

The fan’s connection to the power supply connector.

The End

All said I spent less than $75 and took about three hours start to finish. Not too shabby.

 

Random Thoughts on Emulation and Retro Gaming

What follows are some very brief thoughts that are not worthy of an entire article.

I have owned a GPD XD for about a year now. It is by far the best handheld emulation device I’ve used. It plays the fifth generation consoles (PlayStation, N64) very well. Since it has a built in stand via the controller it also makes for an excellent device for watching movies during flights or lying in bed.

Hipsters have the market for buying old consoles all messed up. Everything is much more expensive than it should be. If you’re dead set on collecting you are going to spend some money, if you just want to play some games:

  • A Raspberry Pi 3 plays everything up to the fifth generations of consoles well. PlayStation support is excellent, N64 support is very bad. A Pi 3 and a PS4 controller makes for a very nice couch experience. Run RetroPie, its the easiest way to go.
  • A Nintendo DS will play GBA games. A Nintendo DS also costs a lot less than a GBA.
  • A 3DS can play DS games. A modded New 3DS can play GBA, SNES, GEN, Gameboy, NES, and more very well.
  • Nothing can emulate an original XBOX. Spend some money and get one that is pre-modded. TSOP is preferred since it makes it easy to change the hard drive.
  • A modded PS3 will play PSX, PS2, PSP, and PS3 games.
  • A modded Wii-U will play Wii-U and Wii.
  • A modded Wii will play Wii and GameCube.
  • You can buy pre-modded consoles on Ebay for not much more than a non-modded one.
  • If your PC is within 50 feet of your TV, a long HDMI cable and a PS4 or XBOX One controller will turn it into a great couch gaming ‘console’. If you also have a wireless keyboard and a mouse you’re in for good times.

Emulation on a Playstation Portable 3000 (PSP)

A PSP is a fun handheld. Compared to it’s rival the Nintendo DS, its more powerful, the games look better, and they are arguably more adult orientated.

As a long time PSP owner here is my impression of its emulation quality.

NES: Great
Gameboy: Great
Gameboy Advance: Good
Genesis: Poor. Lots of slowdowns. Sound is laggy or doesn’t sound right.
SNES: Poor. Lots of slowdowns. Sound is laggy or doesn’t sound right.
N64: Nope
Playstation/PSX: Great, if not close to perfect. The PSX emulator on the PSP was written by Sony. The quality is outstanding.
NDS: Nope
GameCube and above: Nope

I see a lot of recommendations online to use a PSP as a cheap SNES emulator handheld. Don’t fall for that. The SNES emulation is bad. It’s so bad I don’t even keep the emulators or ROMs on my PSP. I have never played through a game. I couldn’t even make it through the first level of Contra 3 because the sound of my gun was so high pitched it was annoying me.

If you want to play some PSP or PSX games, definitely get it. You’ll never go wrong playing a game on the original hardware it was designed for. PSX emulation is great, in my opinion it’s better than the PC emulators.

The biggest downside to a PSP is the battery. Batteries don’t age well and the PSP is getting old. Official replacement batteries from Sony don’t exist. Aftermarket batteries are horror stories (check out some Amazon reviews). Most people either stay plugged in all of the time or use an external battery like you would use to charge your phone in an emergency. I read an article of one guy who removed the UMD drive and soldered in two NDS batteries in their place. I’m lucky enough that my battery is in good shape, but when the time comes for a new one I’m a bit worried.

 

Woodi GBA and Woodi GBA Micro: Backlit GBA Clone (Obscure Handheld)

The Woodi GBA and the Woodi GBA Micro are portable game consoles that do a fair job of replicating their Nintendo big brothers.

If you want to skip the reading, here is a video showing off both systems:

 

Woodi GBA
Woodi GBA

The Woodi GBA looks almost identical to a Nintendo Gameboy Advance. The biggest differences are a reset button above the B and A buttons and a micro USB port on the bottom right edge of the case. When you turn it on you’ll see that is has a back lit LED screen, much like a GBA SP or NDS. The screen is bright and looks really good. It has a rechargeable battery.  The battery lasts about five hours.

The Woodi GBA has 26 games built in. These games vary slightly based on the color of the Woodi GBA you buy. It has a cartridge slot for accepting other games. As near as I can tell the only game available is the Woodi 28-in-1 cartridge that came with it. Keeping count that is 26 games built in and 28 on the cartridge, a total of 54. The games are all from the Nintendo GBA. The cartridges and slot are very similar to the Nintendo GBA’s, but are not identical. Nintendo carts will not fit.

When I originally bought the Woodi GBA I was hoping it utilized a GBA on a chip. After playing the games I’m sure that it is actually emulating them. While the games normally play at full speed there are times when there are slow downs. The sound quality is what really makes me think the Woodi is emulating. The sound quality is bad, really bad. The sound plays slightly slower than it should.

I purchased my Woodi GBA for $32 on AliExpress. For that price it was worth it. It’s a nice system to keep in the can.

Woodi GBA Micro
Woodi GBA Micro

Pretty much everything I said about the Woodi GBA applies to the Woodi GBA Micro. There are a couple of exceptions to that: the micro uses three AAA batteries and it has no cartridge slot. The batteries last a seven hours or so. Opening up both systems, they have the same circuit board, just the screen, case, odds and ends are different.

The micro USB port is just for show. It doesn’t charge the system. Plugging it into a PC does nothing. Looking at the circuit board, it is not connected to anything.

The Woodi GBA Micro has 25 built in games. These games are all from the Nintendo GBA and the Nintendo NES. The NES games are definetly emulated. You can push the shoulder buttons at the same time to bring up a PocketNES menu while playing.

I purchased my Woodi GBA Micro from AliExpress for $30.

I like to travel with the Micro. It’s cheap enough that I’m not worried about losing or breaking it.

How do they play?

For being cheap Chinese crap, both systems feel reasonably well built. I’ve dropped my Micro a few times and it looks as good as new. The buttons on the Woodi GBA feel good, the buttons on the Micro feel oddly springy, but work well. Both systems are near identical to their Nintendo made counterparts so they both feel good in hand.

The game selection on both systems is very good. You really can’t go wrong with classic GBA games. The games play OK. I touched on the sound problems earlier. Both systems remind me of PC emulators from 7-8 years ago… the emulation isn’t quite accurate. You notice things like colors being off or the tone of a sound being just slightly weird. I know some people who would be driven nuts by this, for me though it isn’t a big deal.  The games are fun and the system plays them well enough that I’m able to enjoy it all. Normal game saves work, after three months of ownership it hasn’t lost one of my saves. There are no save states like you would find in emulators.

Would I choose the Woodi versions over the Nintendo originals? That’s a hard question to answer… on a purely price and utility standpoint, yes I would choose the Woodi systems. $30 gets you a backlit, rechargable, GBA Advance with 54 games (builtin even,  no carts to carry). I can overlook some wonky sound for that. As someone who grew up with Nintendo and could be considered a fan, no. These systems are bad and morally wrong.

Other Comments

AliExpress isn’t for the faint of heart. It took twenty-seven days from the time I ordered until I received my systems. The first time out both systems were broken, the seller promptly sent me another set, letting me keep the broken ones. The new systems arrived twenty-three days later in good shape. The whole process was just under two months.

The Woodi Micro using AAA batteries isn’t all that bad. I use rechargeable Ni-MH batteries.  They last a long time.

I was really curious whether the systems were emulated or GBAs on a chip. All of the chips on both systems are either covered in resin or have the identifiers scratched out.

On being cheap Chinese crap… the game lists are poorly translated. I get a kick out of Castle Asia of Sorrow every time I start it up. The USB charger the Woodi GBA comes with is identical to an iPhone charger. Short of missing the Apple branding there is no difference in the look.

Castle Asia of Sorrow

Update 1/21/2016

All of the problems mentioned in the review above started to get to me. What really put me over the edge was the video/audio/controller lag in some games. The fifth world in Kirby’s  Nightmare in Dreamland is all but unplayable between the wonky sound and control lag.

I purchased these systems because I thought the hardware would be interesting to play around with, the games were inconsequential. I found that I liked the games and played them a lot though, go figure. I ended up buying a Nintendo DS Lite. It’s backwards compatible with the GBA and of course plays NDS games too. The difference in quality between it and either of the Woodi systems in night and day. There is no aspect done better by the Woodi systems than the Nintendo DS.

Would I still recommend the Woodi systems? If you’ve got $30 to blow, yes. If nothing else they’re neat conversation pieces. If you’re interested in playing games start to finish, go with an actual GBA or a DS. My vote is for a DS since they are half the cost used as a GBA and can play DS games too. The hipsters have the GBA market messed up in my opinion,  it is overpriced.

How to play GameCube, Wii, and Playstation 2 games on Android or Amazon Fire TV

I’m a big fan of Limelight game streaming. It works remarkable well on my Galaxy Tab S and Amazon FireTV with a PS4 controller.

I had something of a revelation the last week. If you add an emulator as a Non-Steam Game to your Steam library, you can then stream the emulator over Limelight. I’ve tried Dolphin and PCSX2, and they both work well. At this point I’ve played through all of the cups at 100cc in Mario Kart Double Dash on my Tab S and I couldn’t be happier.

The prerequisites for the setup are out there, you need:

  • A PC capable of running the emulator(s).
  • That PC needs to be GFE compatible. (Basically a GeForce GTX 650 or higher graphics card. I use a GTX 760)
  • An Android device
  • A controller for the Android device. (My Tab S is rooted and I use a PS4 controller over Bluetooth)
  • A network connection between the Android device and PC of at least 30mbp/s. (My PC and Amazon FireTV is on a gig wired connection to the same AP/router my Tab S connects to via 5GHZ wifi)
  • The Limelight software installed on the Android device. (this part is free)
  • Steam installed on the PC with the emulator(s) added as Non-Steam Games.

At the time of this writing that’s about $700 worth of PC, a $50 controller, a $80 router/AP, and then whatever your Android device costs. Anywhere between ‘free’ for a phone and $500 for a nice tablet.

As an aside, you can also stream PC games. I play a lot of Borderlands 2 over Limelight, its great playing it on my big TV with surround sound in the living room or even playing in bed.

I’ve played a lot on my Tab S and an Amazon Fire TV. I also have the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Samsung Note 4 phones, I’ve loaded Limelight and played around for a few minutes, as far as that goes it works on those devices.

 Edit: For giggles I decide to give my Galaxy S3 a go and see how well it works. I played Left 4 Dead 2 for about an hour and a half. It was playable. The only issue I ever saw was that sometimes when there was a lot of things going on on screen the game would briefly stutter, losing maybe 1/4 second worth of frames. It mostly happened when a propane tank exploded. A bit annoying but nothing to make me stop playing.

IPEGA 9023 Bluetooth Telescopic Controller Review

ipega9023

 

The IPEGA 9023 is a bluetooth controller that allows you to mount a phone or tablet into it. The sides of the controller telescope out and then spring back in to grip what ever is in the center.

I bought my IPEGA 9023 for use with my Samsung Tab 10.5 tablet. I mentioned in my emulator review for it that I didn’t like the IPEGA because of button placement; turns out I was wrong about  that. It’s not the button placement I dislike, when you use the IPEGA 9023 with a device that’s heavy you (or at least I do) hold it in such a way that makes it uncomfortable. I figured this out while trying the IPEGA with a Samsung Galaxy S3. When using the smaller device the IPEGA works very well and I was happy with it.

Since then I’ve tried the IPEGA with an iPad Air and a LG G Tab 8.3. Both tablets fit into the IPEGA and are able to use it as a controller. Both tablets are heavy enough that I hold the IPEGA awkwardly and end up uncomfortable in a short period of time.

I’ve also tried the IPEGA with an iPhone 5s, Samsung Galaxy S3, and a Samsung Note 4. All three of those phones work really well with the IPEGA. I’m able to hold it comfortably for long periods of time.

Having your screen in the center of the controller does take a little getting use to though.

As a controller the IPEGA 9023 works well. Its definetly not on par with a PS3 or NVIDIA Shield controller, but it gets the job done. I’ve read some reviews online speaking about dead zones in the analog sticks, my controller either doesn’t suffer from this, or I’m not one to notice it.

All in all the IPEGA 9023 is a good solution to the problem of holding your phone and controller at the same time while playing games. Its not good for holding a tablet. Considering I bought it just for use with a tablet I’m a bit let down.

 

Samsung Tab S 10.5 – How well does it run emulators?

Samsung Tab S 10.5

NES: Great
Gameboy: Great
SNES: Great
Genesis: Great
Gameboy Advance: Great
N64: Good – the hardware is more than enough to run the games, the emulators available are the problem.
Playstation/PSX: Great
NDS: Great
GameCube and above: Poor – games are unplayable. (Emulator problem as much as a hardware problem)

I’ve had my Tab S 10.5 for about three weeks now. I bought it as a replacement for an iPad 3. It’s been rooted and all of the Samsung junk turned off. I use a PS3 controller via the Sixaxis app.

I’m very happy with the tablet as a tablet. As an emulator machine its really good. My only complaint is the same complaint I have with emulation on any tablet; how do you hold the tablet and the controller at the same time? I tried an Ipega 9023 telescopic controller, the mount was good, but the controller had poor button placement for my hands. That made the controller difficult to use. Next I tried to DIY solution using a Gameklip and a car tablet mount. The Tab S was too heavy for the Gameklip. I end up propping the Tab S up via its case and setting it on a lap desk. This works, but I would much rather to have it mounted on the controller.

Having such a large screen makes emulating Nintendo DS games much more enjoyable than on a Shield Portable or phone. You have plenty of room to see both screens at the same time. The downside of the big screen is that games will look bad unless you apply a filter. Once you apply some HQ filters though, the games look amazing.

My favorite emulation device is still the NVIDIA Shield Portable, if for no other reason than the screen is mounted over the controller. The Shield is pretty dedicated to one task though.The Tab S is a great choice when you need a tablet but you also want to play some games. The screen on the Tab S is amazing and when you use emulators that support filters, your old games never looked better.

Since the Tab S 8.4 has the same hardware as the Tab S 10.5, all of the above should equally apply to it.

NVIDIA Shield Tablet – How well does it run emulators?

NES: Great
Gameboy: Great
SNES: Great
Genesis: Great
Gameboy Advance: Great
N64: Good – the Shield hardware is more than enough to run the games, the emulators available are the problem.
Playstation/PSX: Great
NDS: Great
GameCube and above: Poor – games are unplayable. (Emulator problem as much as a hardware problem)

There is one problem with the Shield Tablet that makes it a poor choice as a hand held emulator console, the battery life. I was lucky to get four hours of battery browsing the web and playing videos. Using it to play Chrono Trigger for the SNES got me about three hours of battery. The advertised battery life is 6-8 hours. Even more disappointing was that I could plug the charger in and the battery would still drain just from browsing the web/playing YouTube. I thought that my device had a hardware defect and sent it back, the new device had the same problem. If you read the NVIDIA forums, this is apparently a ‘thing’ with the Shield Tablets.

Considering how great the Shield Portable is its such a shame the tablet has these power problems. This one problem ruined an otherwise perfect tablet for me. Very disappointing.

NVIDIA Shield Portable – How well does it run emulators?

NVIDIA Shield Portable

Below is my quickie rundown of how well the NVIDIA Shield Portable emulates classic consoles.

NES: Great
Gameboy: Great
SNES: Great
Genesis: Great
Gameboy Advance: Great
N64: Good – the Shield hardware is more than enough to run the games, the emulators available are the problem.
Playstation/PSX: Great
NDS: Good. Some lag in parts, but nothing too bad.
GameCube and above: Poor – games are unplayable

tl;dr: The Shield Portable is best handheld emulator console out there.

What is the best handheld emulator console?

It’s no secret I like old games. At one time or another I’ve used an emulator on every handheld device I can find. Which one do I think is the best?

Sony PSP

If you already have a PSP this is a good choice. PSPs are very easy to load emulators on. They will run consoles up to SNES or GBA just fine. They’ll run PSP games and stream from your PS4 too.

Nintendo 3DS

A 3DS can emulate up to SNES era. It will semi-natively run GBA and DS games. It’ll run 3DS games too. You’ll need to buy a DSTWO flash cartridge though to get everything working. The build quality on the DSTWO carts can be suspect, mine works but is held together with tape. Unless you already have a 3DS I wouldn’t bother.

Android Phones and Tablets

The quality of the emulators for Android is outstanding. You can easily attach purpose made Android controllers or even use a PS3 or XBOX controllers. A two year old Samsung Galaxy S3 will emulate NDS, N64, and PSX games. 

iPhone and iPad

IOS devices will run emulators once jail broken. I wouldn’t recommend it. PITA to jail break and then a PITA if you want to update your phone. There is also a trick wherein you can install and run an emulator if you change the date on your phone every time you load the emulator, again a PITA. (This doesn’t work in the newest IOS version)

Random Chinese Android Consoles

They’re great when they work. The build quality and battery life can be very poor. There are a lot of different devices out there and I’m painting with a wide brush. Unless you can get one for practically free I would stay away.

GCW Zero

The GCW Zero will run anything up the SNES era. The build quality can be iffy at times. The battery life is awesome. If you can find one for under $100 its not a bad choice, though you can find PSPs for under a $100 and the PSP would be a better choice.

NVIDIA Shield Portable

The Shield has all of the good points of an Android phone and a built in controller. It will run any system short of the Game Cube. It’s seriously good.

What do I recommend?

If you have an Android phone made in the last two years, get yourself controller and use it. If you don’t have an Android phone, buy an NVIDIA Shield.

The quality and the ongoing support for emulation on Android is really amazing. The quality of the hardware on most Android phones and definitely on the Shield is excellent.

Cost wise a phone or a Shield are great choices. An NVIDIA Shield portable is $150 at the time this was written. An Android phone is something lots of people already have, you can get yourself setup with controller that attaches to your phone for less than $50. The other devices I mentioned in this post typically start at around $175 and go up from there.

I have an NVIDIA Shield and love it.