Hard Times for a PS3 Hard Drive (Sony PlayStation 3)
by Ashe Collins on December 12, 2013

ps3drive500I became a PS Plus member around the time I picked up my PS Vita over a year ago. They had some good games out there in the instant game collection and I figured I’d rotate through them fast enough on my handheld to keep things going. I ended up getting a second 8GB stick and am probably going to get another bigger stick. Right now I’ve got one memory card I’m trying to use for PS Plus titles and the other for games I actually own with mixed results. My bigger issue there is getting a bigger memory card and I’m thinking the 64 GB is just not going to cut it. But Ashe, you say, your article is about the PS3 right? Well yeah, I was just getting to that. Swapping out for bigger memory on the Vita is as easy as swapping a memory card if you forked over the cash for an extra or two, but the PS3 requires a hard drive swap. This isn’t big news you say, but, I figured I’d write a little about my experiences and reasoning behind choosing what I’ve got so if you’re looking to swap out hard drives you can have some idea what you’re getting into.

Before we really get into it, here’s a quick checklist of everything you’ll need to pull this off:

PS3 Hard Drive Swap Checklist
One PS3 with insufficient hard drive space
One 2.5” Laptop sized internal SATA hard drive
USB Mass Storage device formatted FAT32 with as much space as your current PS3 hard drive:
– External USB Hard drive
OR
– USB Memory stick
Latest PS3 Firmware downloaded to FAT32 USB Storage
2 USB cables 1 for controller, other for hard drive
1 flat-head screwdriver
1 phillips-head screwdriver

Why I Changed Out My Hard Drive

As I mentioned, I ended up subscribing to the PS Plus shortly after picking up my PS Vita, mainly for extra games. I’d since fallen in love with the automatic updating and cloud storage for save games and the ever-revolving door of PS3 games to go along with the PS Vita games. So after being on PS Plus for over a year I have access to a plethora of titles and the list keeps getting bigger. I didn’t get in on the PS3 generation until 2009 when I picked up my first PS3. That one was I believe an 80 GB model but most of the titles I was getting were on disc and still are. There’s been a shift in my habits and especially with review copies as coming in digital, usually for the handhelds but I’ve gotten a few more for the PS3 lately as well. Well in 2010 my house was broken into. Laptop, PS3, Wii, hard drives, camcorder, memories on those devices, gone in a flash. We ended up replacing the PS3 with a newer model, a 160 GB that I still have now and has been a great little workhorse for me in the living room.

PS3-slim-consoleMy problem, however, is PS Plus, and it’s a good problem to have. My current roster on my PS3 160 GB drive from PS Plus was, before my upgrade, XCOM Enemy Unknown, Kingdoms of Amalur, Saints Row 3, Dragon’s Dogma, and I had Binary Doman downloaded, but then I went and won a digital copy of The Last of Us and had to make room. Along with a few games I’d bought and had for review and a few small TV episodes of Transformers and game save data and mandatory data installs, I had less than 7 GBs left on the hard drive. Let’s just say that’s not enough. Hell I couldn’t even reinstall the Assassin’s Creed II trilogy I have because there’s no room unless I deleted some games again. I mean I could have deleted Saints Row 3 as I’ve got it on PC and I’ve been playing and enjoy Saints Row IV on the PC even more, but I do like firing it up to blow off some pent up aggression when I don’t feel like running as Shepard in Mass Effect or fighting with puggers in Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer on the PS3. This is, of course, when I’m not playing something on my PC instead of the PS3 and am watching a movie or something or other on Netflix. To make room for the ever-growing collection of PS Plus titles I’d already wiped Resident Evil 5 and a few others in the past few months to make room and I just have gotten tired of trying to manage what I’m playing versus what I want to play or just trying to make room on a cramped drive. So what did that leave me? Not many options really, other than what I’d read about several times and thought about doing but didn’t have a need, upgrading my PS3’s hard drive.

But the PS4 is out you say! Why upgrade old tech? I’m not getting rid of my PS3, like, ever. I’ve got too many games, it still works fine, and I’ve still got my first generation PS2 (even though it barely works) and the PSOne. I keep my old consoles and this will give her some life yet without making me tear my hair out. Besides that, when I do get my PS4, probably sometime next year, I’m expecting to tear that hard drive out and slap in a 2 or 4 TB hard drive at the very least. 500 GB with mandatory installs for games is ridiculous. My Steam library can’t fit on a 500 GB and it’s a mix of 80 games of generations past and present and I’ve had to uninstall games I hadn’t played there for months to make room for new. My laptop has two 500 GB hard drives in it and the Steam installs are spread all over both of them, not including the Origin and regular no service required installs. The 500 GB hard drive is about the only thing I don’t like about the PS4, but really going higher for them would have drove up the price and I’m betting we see 2 and 4 GB releases further down the road for it as prices drop.

Go Big or Go Home

Got to talking about the situation on Twitter and started weighing my options. The PS3 is very specific when you need to replace the hard drive. It has to be a laptop sized hard drive which automatically raises the base price because they’re smaller in size, in this case the 2.5 inch, but it also has to be SATA as nothing else will work. That being said, there are options when it comes to hard drive speed and that can drive the cost up significantly. One of my Twitter friends is looking at going for a bigger hard drive but is looking at a solid state hard drive that’s bigger instead of going with the default on the PS3 which is 5400rpm. Yes, the hard drive will pull the information faster. Much, much faster. But the issue I have is a little tidbit in the support section of upgrading your PS3.


“Speed of the hard drive does help when reading and writing data to the PS3, however, the system will still determine the overall speed of the system.”

So yeah, you’ll be a bit faster, but there’s nothing to say that you won’t hit a data roadblock when you’re loading as the pipeline from the hard drive to the brains of the PS3 gets clogged up. The safe bet for saving money and getting a little boost would probably be the 7200rpm hard drives, but there is a cost increase. Not nearly as significant an increase over the solid state hard drives which have dropped a bit in pricing, but only a little bit. I decided to play it safe and just shopped for the cheaper 5400rpm laptop models and ended up finding a bit of joy on a Black Friday deal that was $30 off on a 1 TB hard drive. While I think the 2TB would have been amazing, I’ll never play all the PS3 games I can keep stored on a 2TB. If you take an average of 10-15GB per game, you’re looking at 130 to 200 games on a 2TB. I think 66 to 100 games stored on my PS3 which doesn’t get as much game time use as my PC is plenty and I won’t have to delete games I haven’t had time to play to download more nearly as often.

Back the F#$k Up

So with my 1 TB hard drive ordered, I was left to wait for it to arrive, but there are a few things to do before you ever slap that hard drive in, and that’s back-ups. On top of back-ups, you’re going to need a copy of the latest PS3 firmware as well. So not only do you have a hard drive need, but you’re going to need either a big USB stick or an external USB hard drive to dump your stuff too if you’re not upgrading cold turkey. Here’s where there’s a wrinkle: not everything on your hard drive is going to be backed up to your external drive or USB stick so you may be downloading all over again even with a back-up. Just what did back-up off my PS3 then? We’ll get to that in a minute, but for those who follow me on Twitter you already have the answer to that. First a few things about what you’re using to back up your PS3 with.

ps3 slimFirst off, you have to have something in a USB set-up. It can be a hard drive or memory stick, but it has to be formatted FAT32. I ran into this little road block after I spent four or five hours cleaning hard drive space off a 320 GB external USB Hard drive. I got it so I had 160 GB open to dump the PS3 to, and hooked it up and went to back it up and found out my PS3 wasn’t seeing it. A quick hop online and there it was staring me in the face in a forum post, FAT32. Sure enough my hard drive was formatted NTFS. I’m of course not going to want to dump off 160 GB to my laptop or over the network to my networked hard drive, so I dug up one of my wife’s extra externals and found some files she’d stashed away but it was much smaller than the 160 GB I’d have to clear off of mine and started copying it off so that I could format it as FAT32. This is not something mentioned in the section of the manual I pulled up in the backing up section for the PS3. I think is a big issue considering that most tech people are going to format NTFS for bigger storage devices as FAT32 has fallen by the way side and isn’t nearly as flexible. While my wife’s spare was copying files off like a madman I downloaded the PS3 OS update so that I could copy it over and actually have the PS3 function later. Getting all this set-up, I did end up getting the new hard drive before I could do a back-up but I waited until I had time to do a back-up.

With that little hurdle out of the way, I plugged in the newly formatted external and started my back-up. Now they don’t go into specifics about what will and won’t get copied in your back-up and simply say that ‘some copyrighted material may not get backed-up.’ Aside from being extremely vague, I initially took that to mean films, but maybe even PS3 themes as well. Then I started thinking it might include games which basically defeated my whole purpose of backing it up in the first place as all the game saves I give a damn about right now are all out on the cloud. Yes, there are some things the cloud is useful for.

IMG_20131207_103057_598Now I was going to get all technical on what copied and what didn’t for the article, but the truth of the matter is that nothing copied. When I ran the back-up the first time, I got two hours into an estimated four hour back-up which was about 56% done and I got the wonderful “The backup operation could not be completed. (80010038)” error. Well then, I thought. I’ve got time. I’ll just try that again. I’m used to programs failing and a retry working anyway. This is on Friday afternoon going into Friday night. I actually have Saturday off and I wanted this done before Sunday at the latest and maybe even Saturday so I could actually enjoy the hard drive space since I’m currently working a Sunday through Friday work schedule. The second back-up made it to 57% and two hours into the back up before throwing up the 80010038 error. At this point I decided it was probably the formatting on the external hard drive. I’d done a quick format and if there was a bad sector that wouldn’t have found it, so back on my PC it went for a long format. It was too late to do anything else, so now my Saturday was going to be relegated to watching a backup screen for 4 hours instead of Netflix while I played around on PC. Meh.

Saturday morning hits, the external is formatted and I hook her up and fire it up and get involved with other things, come back in a few hours and bam, there is the error again. Much cursing later and a small fit of rage on Twitter and swearing up and down that I’m just going to throw the new hard drive in and screw the back up. So I ended up Googling the error and found out that it’s a recurring problem going back to 2007 that really has no clear solution as it seems to be caused by two things, corrupted data on the PS3 or something copyrighted erroring it out. This leaves you two methods to fix it so you can back it up. Number one is to pull all the games off and install them again one by one until you find the culprit. This method completely negates the whole point of me backing it up, however, as I was trying to back it up so I didn’t have to download the myriad of games off the PSN and back onto my PS3. So I basically said screw it on that idea. If I was going to have to re-download everything again anyway I might as well just slap the new hard drive in and start fresh. But there was another hope. And that hope was false.

Let the Hard Drive Hit the Floor

There’s a way to put your PS3 into safe mode to do a number of things. Usually this is to fix a major screw up in the current OS install without wiping it entirely, but you can also use it to fix corrupted data and restore factory defaults. It involves holding down the power button on your system for five seconds for one beep and then another five or so for a double beep and then it pops up into safe mode. From there you have the option to reset the UI to factory default which also deletes PSN data from the system, restore file system which attempts to repair areas on the hard drive where data is store, for example, wiping corrupted data, rebuilding the database basically wipes extra crap that’s added up on your system like messages and the like and gets rid of them. I wasn’t going to use the restore or system update so I stuck with the three that had promise, restore default settings, restore file system and rebuild database. This took about fifteen minutes to do and I hooked the hard drive back up to try the system back up one last time. My wife and I went out for a Hobbit breakfast at Denny’s and came back with about an hour or so to spare and played a few games on our laptops and sure enough, at 56% again, the backup failed.

ps3safemodeI suppose I could have wiped game data and kept the game downloads and tried the back up again and then tried deleting downloaded games and kept going until I got a clean one, but like I said, if I was going to have to go full bore and download it all over again anyway, there was no reason to keep trying and expect it to work. The backup process might work for some, but for me, this attempt at salvage and copy was over. I threw in the towel, grabbed my screwdrivers and disconnected the PS3 from her cables and flipped her on her back. I’ve got the model just before they went super slim, so the gloss is gone and the hard drive access for me is right in front but you have a screw on bottom to remove before you can even pull the panel off to get to the hard drive cage. The cage holds the hard drive snug with 4 screws and isn’t designed with too many complications and even has a cute little handle.

Once I had the old 160 GB out I popped the 1TB in. Now with the 160GB you actually had something around 140GB of space to play with if I remember right. This will be important in a few. I got my wife’s external, uploaded the update to a folder labelled update in another folder marked PS3 and hooked it up with a spare USB cable. You’re going to need a second for your controller. I fired it up and predictably it couldn’t find an operating system so I pointed to the update on the USB hard drive and it gave me an option to format the installed terabyte drive and then run the install. This ended up taking about half an hour in total before I was in and actually setting up my account on the PS3 again. Now, I should have checked it before I started installing my movie apps like Vudu and Netflix and downloaded my save games and trophies again along with queuing up some downloads, but I didn’t. It actually also took me less time to download and install the apps and my save games than it did to install the trophies again which took forever. I’m talking almost twenty minutes or more. After I had all that done though, I did go in and check my hard drive space before any game downloads off the PSN finished. So how much space do you actually get with a PS3 formatted terabyte hard drive? 931 GB. That’s actually not too bad. What boggled my mind though was that without any games completely installed, just video apps, game saves and trophies, and a bunch of games nowhere near downloaded I only had 827 GB available of those 931 GB. Wow. I guess that maybe that space is already allocated by the downloads that haven’t actually arrived but it seems like too much wasted space compared to the smaller hard drive.

I Still Function

After getting my account information plugged back in my PS3 was more than happy to help me start downloading my games, video apps, and any themes I could find in my download list. Having a bigger hard drive is helping to store more games and other stuff, but the PSN Store still runs like crap and there’s no way to organize your download list other than how they dump it to you and with over 313 items on my download list, it’s a bit of a chore to go through. If I had to do this over, and by over I mean forming up my download queue for the next three or four days, I’d have started with smaller titles and skipped the RPGs entirely, except for maybe Disgaea D2, which is only 2.2 GB. The others are huge to download compared to most action titles, and there is a limit to how many downloads you can have in your queue at a time. It’d be even more helpful if I could download and watch Netflix on my PS3 at the same time, but alas that’s probably never going to happen in the PS3’s lifetime either.

ps3drivepullI am a little disappointed at how much space is wasted on the hard drive, but I do think the 1TB will be plenty for the remainder of my PS3’s lifetime. I do however think that before I do much of anything with the PS4 I’m going to look at putting at least a 2TB hard drive in that one when I eventually get one. 500 GB isn’t enough for a system you have to install every game on. The PS3 accesses the new TB hard drive just as fast as the 160 GB one and the installs take about as much time as they ever did. By the luck of the draw I ended up getting a Toshiba hard drive which is the exact same brand that was in my PS3 to begin with. I hadn’t actually checked before I bought the new one.

Should I have gone for a 7200rpm though? That’s a good question. For backups and loading up things from the external to the internal it wouldn’t have made a lick of difference. The USB ports I think are just standard USB and not USB 2.0 which is part of why it would take four hours to transfer the same amount of data a PC could do through a USB cable in a third of the time. I was going for space and cost-cutting though and I’m more than happy with the added space I really wish I could have more than one game downloading in my queue at a time so this would go faster. This wasn’t a painless upgrade by any means and given that I don’t have an external drive large enough to back this hard drive up in the future, it’ll be a moot point should this one fail. I’m just going to keep all my saves in the cloud and hope nothing goes wrong and enjoy having access to games at more my speed.



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Ashe Collins

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  • Joker003

    Nice article. I have been trying to work out an easy way of backing up the data for my impending HDD upgrade and came across your story. Having read it I don’t think I will even bother trying. I have nothing on my PS3 bar a few old saves I don’t use and as I am a PS Plus user all my recent saves are covered. I have an original 60GB machine and downloading things like Uncharted 3 at 48GB is slightly impossible, especially when you need twice as much space to download it! I did discover, from the font of all knowledge (a google search), that the PS automatically allocates 10-15% of the HDD for PS system type things. This would explain the difference when upgrading and is something to keep in mind when going larger with your future PS4, as I imagine the same principle will apply. While it probably will not matter on a 2-4TB HDD but at least you will know why between 300-600GB of storage has disappeared!

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