Not long after releasing the PlayStation 2, Sony developed a Linux kit that would effectively turn the console into a personal computer. As wild as that may sound, the kit included everything (minus the monitor) you needed to accomplish this. For the modest sum of $299, you got a mouse, keyboard, 40GB IDE hard drive, a network adaptor, the Linux software discs, and a special VGA cable that was unique to this kit.
Interestingly enough, when Linux was installed on the PS2, it would output an RGB signal with sync on green (RGsB). Many VGA monitors of the day were not compatible with this standard, further hampering the kit’s use.
Now, finding a complete Linux kit on the second hand market can be a pricey affair when you are lucky enough to come across one. The cheaper alternative is to only acquire the Linux software discs which, while less expensive than the entire kit, can still be quite pricey. So one may ask, how do you supplement all the other components? Well, as I demonstrate in my video (linked above), so long as you can source an official Sony Network Adaptor and accompanying IDE hard drive as well as a simple USB mouse and keyboard, you are 90% of the way there.
Where the issue lies is that special VGA cable as well as sourcing a monitor with sync on green. Both of which are fairly uncommon, especially the VGA cable which rarely ever appears on the second hand market independent of a full Linux kit. So, how does one get past this issue? Well, I reached out to Bob (founder of RetroRGB) and he knew exactly how to solve this problem.
Bob suggested using an Open Source Scan Converter (OSSC) which would accept the RGsB signal coming from the PS2 and convert it so that a standard HDMI monitor could properly display the video. It is a very simple and elegant solution to this problem. Bob has a great video which goes over all the basics of the OSSC which I strongly suggest you watch if you are interested in learning more about this quality zero lag upscaler:
So now that the video output issue is resolved, installing Linux was as simple as following the onscreen prompts (well a little experience with installing Linux is helpful as it is not the most intuitive process).
Once Linux is installed on the PS2, you are greeted with a really cool graphical interface called GNU Window Maker. Now you may be wondering, what can Linux on the PS2 do? Well, not surprising, it can’t do much (at least for a novice/inexperienced Linux user like myself). The PS2’s hardware is very much a limiting factor as to what applications you can run on the console. The PS2 only has a measly 32MB of RAM. This limitation makes the overall system sluggish as was evident when I was using some of the pre-installed software. For example, GIMP, a graphics editor much like Photoshop, did struggle to run on the PS2’s hardware. However, all of the included text editors ran fairly well (such as Emacs). So simple word processing is something you could definitely do.
Now, I caught myself asking, who was this kit for? Well, from what I understand, the kit was great for programming hobbyists and a great platform for learning your way around Linux. While there were many other more practical and efficient ways to run Linux back in the day, having it run on the PS2 is pretty darn cool.
I have to say, while Linux on the PS2 has rather limited application, I still think it’s very interesting and forward thinking of Sony to offer such a product to their customers. For more information and a live demonstration of how to get Linux up and running on a PS2, check out my video linked above.