How to Hack Your PSP
Since humble version 1.0 in late 2004, Sony has churned out scores of PSP firmware updates. Remarkably few of those updates have made the portable a better gaming machine. Highlights have included an awful Web browser, a PlayStation 3 "Remote Play" feature that even Kaz Hirai has never used, and Internet Radio! (It's like radio, but on the Internet! Wow!)
A few upstart hackers got the idea that the PSP should be improved with new features that are actually cool and/or fun. This of course infuriated Sony, who never intended that the PSP be enjoyable to use. Yet the hackers have managed to work around Sony's numerous roadblocks to release "custom firmware," or CFW, that unlocks new potential in the PSP.
Custom firmware allows you to rip UMDs to a Memory Stick for dramatically faster load times, run emulators, play all manner of video files, and use "homebrew" apps and plug-ins. But please don't use CFW to pirate games; that's not cool.
Here's an overview of the general steps you'll take to load custom firmware on your PSP. Be warned: The CFW universe can be dazzlingly complicated, and a misstep can "brick" your PSP, rendering it useless. Don't try this unless you're positive you know what you're doing.
1. Determine your model of PSP. The PSP has had three models, the "Fat," "Slim" and "Brite," to use the parlance of our times. Find the serial-number sticker on the bottom of your PSP and check the last four digits. Numbers ending in 100x are Fatties and eminently hackable. The 200x models are less of a sure thing -- it depends on the motherboard version. The 300x "Brite" models are hackable. Whichever model you have, don't upgrade your firmware to the latest Sony version. That will only make your life harder.
2: Trust, but verify. This is the point at which you'll need to start digging around the Web for nitty-gritty details. The state of the PSP hacking art is always shifting, and the accumulated wisdom is scattered throughout countless barely literate message-board threads. Trust your gut. Ignore advice from seemingly sketchy sources, and when you settle on a course of action, try to find at least two sources that verify it'll work. Google is your friend; use it liberally.
3. Get a Pandora's Battery and a Magic Memory Stick. No, I didn't make up either of those marvelous names. A Pandora's Battery is a modified PSP battery that places the unit in service mode, opening it to all your darkest desires. The Magic Memory Stick is a specially formatted stick that puts the Pandora's Battery to use. You can make both pieces of the puzzle from a normal battery and Memory Stick. In fact, there's a dazzling array of hacks for this step, ranging from software chicanery to cut-open-the-battery-and-mess-with-the-circuit-board madness. There are also plenty of places that will sell you a pre-fab Pandora and an MMS -- very handy if you're a huge wuss.
4. Install the CFW. Custom firmware authors don't build the firmware from scratch; they use the data from Sony's official firmware updates (known as OFW) and modify it with a snippet of custom code. Clever! So you'll need both the CFW file and its associated OFW file from Sony. Both are readily available from places like PSP-Hacks.com. Look for custom firmware with "M33" or "GEN" in the version number, as these are made by the mod community's top minds. Once you have any custom firmware on your PSP, the unit is essentially "unlocked," so it's easy to switch versions -- i.e., you'll never have to go through this rigmarole again. Savor that whiff of rebellion and enjoy your liberated PSP.
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