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How to Save Your PS3 Data (and Gigabytes) From the 3.21 Update

Bobby Travis

This is a post by Bobby Travis, who wrote with me at 40Tech from 2009 through 2012. Bobby has since moved on to bigger and better things, but I've left all of his great contributions up on the site. - Evan
Bobby Travis

image You may remember that the first generation PS3  allowed your system to be partitioned and function as a (limited) Linux computer. In fact, it was a major selling point of the PS3. However, if you haven’t heard, in version 3.21 of the Playstation 3 firmware, released on April 1st (and thought a poor joke by many), Sony has removed the capability to install or even access the OtherOS functionality of the original PS3 system. This will cause the gigabytes of data you have locked into your Linux installation to be inaccessible.

Not to worry though! It is a fairly simple process to backup your PS3, format your drive, and then restore your Playstation 3 with all save files, personal files, and system settings intact.

Key things to remember:

  • It is always better to backup your PS3 before any firmware update – just in case.
  • You’ll need an external USB hard drive (formatted as FAT32) with a fair amount of free space (at most as much space as your Playstation 3).
  • If you have any files on your Linux install, make sure you back them up to an external drive, or they will be gone forever.
  • You can always choose not to install the update – but with several caveats listed below.
  • This update does not affect owners of the PS3 slim in any way.
  • If anything goes wrong, don’t blame me – call Sony.

You Don’t Have to Update – But You Probably Will

Sony does allow you to keep using your system without the update. There are a few limitations you will quickly discover, though, if you choose this route:

  1. You can’t sign in to the Playstation Store or Network via your console.
  2. You will not be able to play any PS3 games that require the 3.21 firmware or above.
  3. You will not be able to play any Blu-Ray movie that requires the 3.21 firmware or above.

Why This Is Happening

Sony says the 3.21 firmware update for PS3 is to resolve some security issues. These issues are likely not for your personal security, however, so much as for the security of their console and publishing copyrights. There was an announcement not too long ago that the Playstation 3 has finally been hacked, possibly opening the door for playing pirated (or “backup” for the semantically aggressive) of PS3 games. Many believe that this is the real reason Sony has removed the OtherOS functionality, as a pre-emptive strike against hackers.

How to Backup Your PS3 Data

The backup process is a simple one:

  1. Plug in your USB hard drive – the one with lots of space that we mentioned earlier.
  2. Go to Settings menu on your PS3
  3. Navigate down to System Settings –> Backup Utility –> Backup
  4. Follow the prompts to find your external USB hard drive. If you can’t find the drive, it is probably in the wrong format – check in your computer’s Disk Management utility to be sure that it is formatted as FAT32 – don’t change the format if there is other data on the USB HDD as the data will be destroyed in the format. See this guide for specifics on how to properly format an external drive for PS3.
  5. Press X
  6. Go have lunch, hang with your friends, get something productive done or otherwise WAIT. I say it in capitals because you will be waiting for several hours, depending on how much data you have to back up/how large your PS3 partition is.

How to Restore Your PS3 Hard Drive and Remove the OtherOS

If you have not yet updated to 3.21:

  1. Navigate to Settings –> System Settings on your PS3.
  2. Select Format Utility and format your drive, making sure to allocate all hard drive space back to the Playstation OS.
  3. Accept the warning that all data will be deleted as the hard drive is formatted to its original state (if you haven’t backed up your PS3 or Linux data at this point, it will all be gone forever or extremely difficult to get back — Quick Format will allow possible data retrieval after the fact, Full Format will not).
  4. Wait.
  5. Your system will restart and you will have to enter your basic setup settings to get back to the main screen.
  6. Your system is now back to stock.

If you have already updated to 3.21 and lost your access to the Linux partition, you may find that you will still be missing gigabytes of space, even after returning your PS3 to factory defaults via Settings –> System Settings –> Restore PS3 to Factory Defaults. If that happens, you may have to follow this guide to remove your PS3 hard drive, place it in an external hard drive enclosure and follow this guide to format your drive, remembering to delete any other partitions. This way you can reclaim all of your hard drive space and start from scratch.

How to Restore Your Playstation 3 From Your Backup

(This Brings Back Your Original Files, Saves and Settings)

  1. Navigate to System Settings in your PS3.
  2. Select Restore from the Backup Utility menu.
  3. Follow the prompts until you find your external USB hard drive and the backup file on it (it will be a long number that is actually a timestamp like 201004021911)
  4. Press X
  5. Wait – but for a much shorter time than it took to backup the data in the first place, thankfully!
  6. Your Playstation 3 should now be returned to how you remember it, sans the possibility to access your OtherOS functionality.

Hopefully this guide helps the 3.21 update to be less stressful for those of you with an original PS3 who have dabbled with the former Linux capability.

If you have anything to add or any thoughts on the guide or the update, please let us know in the comments!