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post #1 of 4 (permalink) Old 12-05-2006, 04:01 AM Thread Starter
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PS3 & Linux 5.0

November 30, 2006 - Right from its announcement, Sony always proclaimed that the PlayStation 3 would be more than a simple gaming console. It had always said the same thing about the PlayStation 2, dubbed a Computer Entertainment System by the company, though this time it's a great deal more serious about it. At the unveiling during its E3 2005 press conference, Sony stated that it would ship Linux pre-installed on the PlayStation 3's hard disc drive. While that (and numerous other things) changed before its release, the system does still support Linux - you just have to install it yourself.

A few months ago, Terra Soft Solutions announced that its Yellow Dog Linux would be the first officially supported flavor of the OS to run on the PS3. Other flavors do in fact work just as well, but Terra Soft is indeed the first company to fully push its support, so that's what we've installed.

It's worth noting that everything in this article, including the images, was created and posted solely from within Yellow Dog on the PS3.

If you haven't used Linux before, it's important to note that this is a power user's operating system. Being an open source OS, it's strengths lie in its flexibility rather than ease of use. While you're able to do almost everything in Linux that you can on a PC or Mac (aside from run platform-specific applications and games, of course), there's quite a bit of a learning curve to get over to fully make use of the system and get it up and running like you'd want it to.

As we're catering to a very wide audience, I'll be taking the newbie approach to this article, focusing on what works out of the box and what doesn't. If additional packages needed to be tracked down, compiled and installed to provide functionality, I intentionally didn't do so. With as numerous as the options are, I could spend days fiddling with these things, and so for time purposes as well as to mirror the assumed involvement of our readers, I'm only reporting on how the OS works after its default installation.

Receiving and Installing
There are three ways to get Yellow Dog Linux v5.0. If you're a paying, Enhanced member of its ydl.net network, you can download it as of this writing. Come December 11th, you'll be able to purchase a DVD package for $49.95. Two weeks later (on Christmas, no less), you'll be able to download the complete OS for free, though you'll need a DVD writer to burn the ISO.

After you have the operating system in your hands and on a disc, there are a couple steps you need to take to get it installed. First, you need to partition your PS3's hard drive using the Format utility in the Cross Media Bar. Oddly enough, you can only set aside 10GB to either the other OS or the PS3 for gaming/video/music purposes. In other words, if you have the 60GB system, you can't do 30/30; you can only do 50/10, though you can choose which OS gets 10GB and which gets the rest. Note that this will erase everything on the drive, including your saves, so you'll want to back them up first.

After formatting the drive, you need to create the installer. Using either a flash drive or a blank recordable disc of some sort, you need to download two files - Sony's bootloader installer and the actual bootloader. The bootloader installer comes from Sony itself and is simply used to start the installation of a third-party bootloader. This bootloader will then let you choose between starting Linux or the GameOS (a.k.a. the Cross Media Bar for playing games). Getting these files copied over and run is a pretty straightforward process that is nicely explained in the Yellow Dog Install Guide.

Once you have the bootloader running, you can start the actual installation process via your disc. The process takes about an hour or so and is relatively painless, though there are a few screens that may seem a bit scary if you don't know they're coming. For example, since the Linux partition won't have been formatted yet, you'll see an error that says that the OS can't read from the disc. It makes it look like you have a bad drive, but it's just a poorly worded message that everyone will see.

Once it's set up, you'll still default to booting to the Cross Media Bar. Heading into the System Settings, you change the default boot OS to OtherOS, which in this case is Yellow Dog. Upon restarting you wind up at a command prompt, and from here you need to either type ydl to start Yellow Dog or boot-game-os to start the regular PS3 interface for playing games and such. You can reboot to the GameOS from inside of Yellow Dog, though it seems that once you head back to that it becomes the default booting OS again, so you'll have to head back into System Settings to switch back to Yellow Dog again and restart. It's not the smoothest thing in the world, but it's reasonably simple once you know what's going on.
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post #2 of 4 (permalink) Old 12-05-2006, 04:01 AM Thread Starter
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Up and Running - Basic Use
The Yellow Dog Linux interface is somewhat similar to what you'll find in either Windows XP or MacOS. By default, the main usage bar, called the E Shelf, appears at the top-center of the screen. On the far left you have the blue "Start" button, which cascades into your various Applications, Configuration settings, Window listing and whatnot. Next to this you have the Pager which displays your Virtual Desktops, a series of workspaces that you can work in. If you haven't used this sort of thing before, it's easiest to imagine it as working with multiple monitors - you can have different windows running in each Virtual Desktop, and you simply click on them to switch between. In our example window below, we have OpenOffice and a file view running in our first desktop, a Firefox browser open in the second, and the third and fourth are clear. You can set the number of Virtual Desktops you'd like to use, so if this concept seems a tad confusing to work with, you can set it to a single window.

To the right of the Virtual Desktops you'll find the Ibox, a little box that shows you all of your minimized applications. Clicking on them will of course bring them back up. To the right of this is the Ibar, which is equivalent to the Quick Launch icons on XP's Start bar or the aliases OS X's Dock bar. A single click launches said application. And on the far right you can have a series of modules, small applications that perform various tasks. In our case, we're running a basic clock and a screenshot tool for taking our images.

Networking
The first thing you'll probably try to do once Yellow Dog is up and running is to hop online and check your email. The PS3's Ethernet port works without any setup, aside from maybe popping in an IP address if you need to. Wireless is a different issue, however. WiFi isn't automatically detected, and while you can go and manually add a wireless adapter, the OS doesn't try to help and choose which brand it is. There are tons of options, numbering somewhere around 100 or so if we had to guess, so while one may work, we couldn't figure out which one it would be.

This can obviously be remedied in the future, and someone may have already figured out how to set it up. Again though, we're not going to run through hoops at this time to get it working - we're only commenting on what works out of the box, so to speak.

Application Support
Yellow Dog Linux v5.0 comes with a rather standard suite of applications that includes Firefox for browsing the web, Thunderbird for email, Gaim for instant messaging, OpenOffice for business-type stuff (like writing this article), The GIMP for editing images, the Titan media player and a number of other small games and accessories.

Firefox works like a charm, though some plugin support is sketchy or non-existent. Flash, for example, doesn't work as though you can get it for Linux, you can't download a Cell-supported version right now. Thusly, YouTube.com and other Flash-based sites don't work well or at all.

Most all of the other base applications work exactly as expected. We're not going to go into general usage specifics or GIMP vs. Photoshop arguments here, but the basic set allows you to perform most regular computer tasks - surf the web, play and view music and media, chat with folks, edit your images, etc.

The main exception that we ran into is with Titan. It doesn't seem to come pre-loaded with any plugins, so you'll need to track those down and install them to play most media formats. DVDs don't work as an example, which is rather disappointing. We did try and install one of these packages, but gave up after a few minutes when the compile instructions weren't agreeing with us.


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post #3 of 4 (permalink) Old 12-05-2006, 04:02 AM Thread Starter
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Video and Sound
Yellow Dog automatically recognizes the PS3's sound chip and everything works as expected. The NVIDIA RSX graphics chip isn't fully supported as of now, however. All 2D stuff works perfectly fine and looks great, especially on a nice HD monitor, but it isn't accelerated in any way. 3D stuff is entirely unsupported at this point. Full support is said to be in the works, however, so we'll see how that goes.

The default output resolution is 1124x644, which is certainly a little odd. On our Sony Bravia 32" LCD display, we get black borders around the outside of the frame. The image itself is quite clear, though some smaller text can be a little hard to read (as is the case with any PC-oriented output on a TV-oriented display). When attempting to change the resolution from inside Yellow Dog, as opposed to editing its config text files, we're given an error that our display doesn't return a series of acceptable resolutions, and therefore we don't receive a list of alternatives. Oh well.

Memory and Performance
The PlayStation 3's 512MB is split in half, with 256MB of GDDR3 RAM and the other 256MB in XDR. Yellow Dog can only see one of these two halves (which half, we're not sure). There's also a bit of overhead somewhere, partly to graphics, so the system actually only has access to 196MB of RAM. This is obviously the main bottleneck with regards to performance, though when doing basic tasks it isn't bad.

Launching applications isn't instantaneous, but it isn't all that slow, either. Launching a brand-new session of Firefox may take five seconds or so, but once it's up everything is fairly speedy. If you have a number of applications open, things can begin to crawl, however. Again, this is certainly a RAM issue, so if a fix is found that'll let the system access the other 256MB, everything should become much faster.

Yellow Dog does indeed recognize the PS3's multiple SPUs, as indicated during its startup screen. When inside the OS and viewing its System Monitor, we're only shown a CPU History for the two threads that the main PPU can run. In other words, it looks like a dual-CPU or dual-core system. We're not sure how we would go about testing the SPUs out, though again, with the minimal amount of RAM that the system has access to, it's not processing power that we're worried about running short on.

Future Potential
As it stands, the PS3 can make for a decent simple task computer, allowing you to check email and browse the web with relative ease. It's not perfectly suited for media playback yet for a number of reasons, what with less than ideal video support and a minimal amount of RAM, not to mention the hassle of having to track down codec packages on your own. These same issues can be applied to gaming and other related tasks as well, at least for now.

We're hoping that the system will be able to make use of the other 256MB of RAM in there at some point in time, which will certainly boost performance. As it is though, it doesn't run too bad. We just wish that Linux was more user-friendly as a whole. Yellow Dog is certainly a nice flavor of Linux, though the base OS still has issues.

If you're interested in messing around with the OS, be sure to read the setup and introductory documents it ships with. If you pay attention it's pretty easy to get up and running. Beyond that, you're basically on your own, though the future is wide open.
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post #4 of 4 (permalink) Old 12-05-2006, 10:25 PM
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