The early models of the original PlayStation 2 are... difficult. That's my PlayStation 2. It was "refurbished." Which is why it ended up in Goodwill with disc read errors. Last January when I first started this blog, I had bought a slim PlayStation 2. I ended up hating it and buying a fat shortly after. Since the slim PlayStation 2 has a flip top lid instead of a DVD drive with a tray, it has some problems. Hoping to prevent the disc swap piracy circumvention of the PSX (and even the PS2), Sony put two lid sensors in the slim. One sits in the front corner of the disc area and one in the back. This wouldn't be a real problem, except for the fact that the rear lid sensor doesn't stay depressed very well. I was putting a book on top of it to keep it from thinking that the lid opened, and even then it didn't always help.
On top of this, the PS2 slim has compatibility issues with some games. The original PS2's processor was 294mhz, with the slim coming in at 300mhz. This breaks a few PS2 games and the slim has more compatibility issues with original PlayStation games, you can see these games here. Really, the fat PS2 is anything but a downgrade.. not to mention out of the box HDD support (some PS2 slims support the HDD with modding).
HDD support is one of the lesser known features of the PS2. It was pretty well supported in Japan, with games featuring installs and caching to speed up loading. In the US, it was pretty much only used for Final Fantasy XI. There are US games which take advantage of the drive, but it's nowhere near what it was in Japan. We'll get into that later.
The PS2 is not a difficult console to work with, but it is finnicky. I think about older consoles like this somewhat like classic cars. You either can't be afraid to get your hands dirty, or you need to find a good mechanic who won't charge too much and will be honest with you. First, let's address one of the most blatant and annoying problems.
Not all PS2 games come on DVDs. Some come on CDs, particularly the earlier games. CDs come on blue backed discs and DVDs are silver/gold. I think everyone has a copy of Tekken Tag Tournament, and I think everyone has probably also noticed that playing the game results in a pretty horrible squealing noise coming from the PS2. I googled this and it apparently has to do with the fact that CDs read at 12x and DVDs read at 6x (those speeds may not be accurate, but CD is faster and that's what's important). The higher rate of speed causes the magnetic locking..top part.. thing of the drive to slip. There's a pretty ghetto solution going around:
Put tape on the top of the disc to give the the top part a better grip. Yeah.. I don't want to tape up all of my CD based games. If you look closely at that picture, you can see near the center of the disc that some of the printing has rubbed off where the spindle contacts the disc and it's even more apparent on my copy of Tekken Tag Tournament. This needs to be fixed if it's actually damaging the disc. Instead of putting the tape on the disc, I decided to put the tape on the top part.
Some simple painters' tape fixed the problem right up, and now I don't have to tape all of my discs like some kind of psychotic. I don't have to hear a banshee squealing anymore, either.
The next problem is the laser. Early models of the PlayStation 2 used the KHS-400B laser. This is the laser that lead to all of those infamous disc read errors. The first 3 revisions of the PS2 use the KHS-400B. The 400B was later retired in favor of the KHS-400C, a much more reliable piece of hardware. The 400C can go into most consoles with the 400B, but there are issues with the length of the flex cable which puts stress on it, causing a worse problem. Luckly, I have the 4th revision. It had a 400B in it, but the 400C goes in without problem.
I had originally replaced the laser with another 400B. It worked, but it had issues. CD based games started quickly, but DVD based games took a while to boot. In addition, there could be some hiccups with loading things fast enough. I got tired of it and decided to pop in a 400C. The 400C works much better. DVD and CD based games load in a similar time and there's no issue with loading assets quickly enough in game.
Don't forget to remove the antistatic solder.
The fat PS2's teardown is a bit more involved than the slim, but there's plenty of guides out there. Replacing lasers is pretty much the same for every console, though. Get in there, unplug the old one, drop the new one in. We've now addressed two of the most critical problems with the original PS2. Now, let's improve.
Here's the back of the PS2 network adapter. These are common as hell and cheap, too. The official PS2 HDD kit had a 40gb HDD paired with... just this network adapter. Well, the good news is that we don't need the official Sony kit. Those are standard connectors that any IDE HDD will have. There is a company that sells a SATA upgrade as well, which you basically just plug right into the existing network adapter. Their website is a little sketchy, though.
If you're into modding and whatnot, then you've surely heard of FMCB for the PS2. It exploits a memory card function to load custom code. I don't have anything against FMCB... but there's a better way. That's the HDD OSD mod and it is really easy. I actually used that guide myself. For actually playing games, there's a few different options. OPL is the best option, but I don't really like it aesthetically. Thankfully, there's HDLGame Installer. If you've never used a PS2, the memory card screen has these nifty little 3D icons for each game that are usually characters in the game animated somehow. The PS2 HDD uses this same interface, and it lets you install games to the HDD and launch them from the PS2 browser and associates the little icon with the game as well. Neat.
There's actually a lot of cool stuff you can do with the HDD mod. My favorite thing is probably the ability to back up memory card save files to the HDD (this works for PS2 and PS1 saves). For getting games on the HDD, WinHIIP is probably your best option even though it's a bit old. There's also a PlayStation emulator called POPStarter that you can use to load PS1 games on the HDD. HDD installation doesn't work with all PS2 games, but the compatibility is high. POPStarter doesn't work with all PS1 games either, but that's to be expected since it's an emulator. The HDD mod here is probably not for the faint of heart though, as it's not easy to work with in some regards. It's definitely more involved than an Xbox mod. On the other hand, it's not as pants shittingly terrifying as the Wii softmod with its risk of being bricked with anything you change on the system.
This video kind of shows what it's like. Now your HDD mod is working and you've put it in your PS2... but contrary to what everyone online said, it's not a very good fit. The official PS2 kit had HDD rails which held it steady. Obviously, we don't have that. This bothered me quite a bit as you could hear the HDD rocking around if you just slightly bump the PS2. Let's fix that too.
This is shielding from an original Xbox 360 HDD. It's pretty malleable, and already has holes drilled in it that will be the right size for the holes on any HDD. There's really not a lot of space in the PS2 HDD bay, so we'll just need to cut a thin strip of this and mold it to the side of the HDD and screw it in.
Now that PS2 warrants the refurbished sticker.
Just kidding, I removed it.