Saturday, March 26, 2011

How to unbrick a PSP (Huh? what does that mean...)

Recently I bought my son a used Sony PSP 2000 for $50 from a friend as a birthday present. The next day he went to Gamestop, tried out Rapala Pro Bass Fishing, and the PSP stopped working. He brought it home to yours truly, a 50-something IT expert.

I know nothing about PSPs. Four hours of hard work, and this is what I figured out. The PSP was fully bricked!!!!

Huh? The verb "to brick" was not in my vocabulary two days ago. What does it mean, you ask? "When used in reference to consumer electronics, 'brick' describes a device that cannot function in any capacity (such as a device with damaged firmware). This usage derives from the fact that some electronic devices (and their detachable power supplies) are vaguely brick-shaped, and so those which do not function are useful only as actual bricks." This is according to Wikipedia.

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What happened? What did we do wrong? Well, looking back in hindsight, what we should have done first with the used PSP (or any such game device) was to update the firmware to the latest version. For a PSP, the instructions for doing this are at the Sony website here. (It wasn't easy to find the instructions, and they aren't so simple to follow, but that is another topic.)

Since we didn't know to do this ... when the Gamestop employee gave my son the Rapala Pro Bass Fishing game to try out, she should have asked whether his PSP firmware was up to date (of course she didn't). My son should have known not too, but he inserted the UMD disk for Rapala Pro Bass Fishing at Gamestop to try it out, it detected that the firmware on the PSP was an old version, 3.50. It said that it needed to upgrade to 4.0 or higher. I don't know if my son clicked OK (he should have known not too), or if it just went ahead and tried to do the upgrade. It tried looking for the upgrade on the memory card, on the UMD disk, and by way of connecting to the Internet (which wasn't enabled), and it couldn't find it. Meanwhile, it gave the helpful message:

 "Updating. Do not turn off the system, remove the memory stick or remove the ac adapter."

There was nothing he could do. He turned off the system. By doing so the PSP got bricked @$^& meaning that the boot firmware is corrupted and does not respond at all when you turn power on, so the display stays completely blank.

Enter the IT expert (me). After 2 hours I figured out what happened. I then figured out that 95% of PSP's (and other similar systems) can be unbricked!! There are dozens of youtube videos with suggestions how to do it, but the only method that really works is to shell out $32  and purchase a Pandora Battery and Magic Memory Stick. The PSP battery is not just a dumb battery, but has some electronics in it that somehow safeguards the firmware from being hacked. But when you are fully bricked you have to get around this anti-hack system. The Pandora Battery is a modified PSP battery that allows the system to boot from a memory stick instead of from the firmware. The Magic Memory Stick has custom code that downgrades your corrupted firmware to an older version. So when you go back to your old battery and memory stick and turn your PSP back on, the firmware will boot. This is called "unbricking" your system.

But I didn't want to pay $32 to see if this would actually work. So I tried the procedure in 3 or 4 of the more unusual youtube videos, I was downloading weird software onto my PC, trying to construct my own Magic Memory Stick, learned about how to open up your PSP battery and convert it into a homestyle Pandora Battery.

Two hours later, I finally figured out that we did not fit the 95% of users that could be unbricked. We were in the bad 5%!! The failed youtube videos plus another hour of google searches proved this - I figured out that part of that 5% are Piano Black PSP 2000 Slim with BARCODE starting with AB02. They cannot have custom firmware, because it has the TA88v3 motherboard. You cannot unbrick such a system. It is virtually hackproof. If you insist on trying to fix it, you will have to replace the motherboard, yeah, right!!

We're going to throw the PSP away, $50 down the tube. But this IT expert sure got an education....

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