PS2 Memory Card ISO Loader Offers Classic Gaming Bliss

It used to be that to play a console game, you just had to plug in a cartridge or put a CD/DVD in the optical drive. But these days, with modern titles ballooning up to as much as 100 GB, you’ve got no choice but to store them on the system’s internal hard disk drive. While that can lead to some uncomfortable data management decisions, at least it means you don’t have to get up off the couch to switch games anymore.

Which is precisely why the MC2SIO project for the PlayStation 2 is so exciting. As [Tito] explains in his latest
Macho Nacho Productions video, this simple adapter lets you connect an SD card up to the console’s Memory Card slots and use that to hold ISOs of your favorite games. With the appropriate homebrew software loaded up, your PS2 becomes a veritable jukebox of classic games.

Connecting the SD card to the SPI-compatible interface is easy.

Now, loading ISOs on the PS2 is nothing new. Owners of the original PS2 can install an IDE drive in the system’s expansion bay and play titles that way, and even if you have the later “slim” edition of the console that deleted the expansion capability, you could put your trove of games on a USB flash drive.

But pickings are getting pretty slim for IDE drives these days, and the available bandwidth of the PS2’s USB 1.1 ports is only just up to the task of streaming game data, and can falter in some games. In comparison, SD cards are ridiculously cheap and the Memory Card interface is actually considerably faster than the console’s USB ports.

On the hardware side, things are surprisingly straightforward. The PS2 uses a serial interface called SIO2 to communicate with peripherals like controllers and Memory Cards, which just so happens to be compatible with SPI. That means the physical adapter doesn’t need any active components, and just needs to connect up the appropriate pins. All the magic is done in the software, and thanks to existing projects which let you run homebrew code from a specially formatted Memory Card, you can run the whole thing on a completely stock console.

The ready-to-use SD adapter is being sold for $20 USD, but big surprise, they are currently out of stock. That said, the adapter can reportedly be made from a sacrificial Memory Card, and [Tito] does an excellent job of explaining the software side of things. So if you absolutely must play Katamari Damacy off of an SD card right now, you could probably toss your own version together without too much trouble.

As with the software exploit for the original PlayStation that was found last year, we’re always pleased to see hackers still cranking away on these older systems. Even more than 20 years after release, folks are still finding new ways to bend the hardware to their will.

30 thoughts on “PS2 Memory Card ISO Loader Offers Classic Gaming Bliss

    1. That’s a decent option, and faster than the memory card interface, but it’s a lot of complication. Even if you use a Pi powered by the console’s USB ports or something. This is about as plug-and-play as it gets.

      1. It is very common to use a 3G/4G mini router, as they cost between 15 and 18 dollars, they provide SMB in the necessary version, and are compact like flash drives, in addition to the device’s network functions.
        Less complicated, lots of tutorials on youtube.
        (There is a question about the version currently supported by the OPL, there is a project to migrate the version or replace it with another technology, but the rigid memory limit prevents almost all protocols)

        In Brazil and Latin America in general, playstation 2 is still a very used console, the cost is very low, many games, and millions of devices for sale, and even the defective ones in the player are usable through OPL.

        Almost all games never had a subtitled version in Portuguese, today fans subtitled most games at the top of the rank, many are dubbed by fans with relative quality (Example resident evil 4)

        1. I don’t know why I never even thought about network. I have a couple of NEXX routers laying around with USB that would be perfect for this use. Appreciate the direction! Now I just need to find me another PS2. :)

    1. Wikipedia claims 2MHz (2Mbit/s) for original PS2 memory cards with MagicGate, which would be slower than USB, but has no info on maximum clock rate.
      Forum discussions seem to say that the SIO2 peripheral can do up to 24MHz clock for the data interface, so that might twice as fast as USB1 full speed then.

      1. Interestingly apparently the newer powerpc-based IOP (Deckard) is giving lower speeds due to undetermined hardware differences:
        “This means 40ns(24MHz) * 8bits = 320ns; 320 + 352 = 672ns per byte., which means 1453kB/s is the maximum bandwidth of the SIO2 on a PPC-IOP, while on the MIPS-IOP it is 1969kB/s.”

    1. You still need a Free McBoot memory card, and the normal one won’t do for this SD card adapter. To make your own FMB card to use with the SD adapter you need a regular FMB card to start with, and a blank memory card that *must be* Magic Gate or compatible. One that is not Magic Gate will not work.

      Easiest option is to buy the SD adapter and already made Magic Gate FMB card. Then it’s plug and play to start playing games off SD cards.

  1. This adapter has about the lowest acceptable play speeds.

    Internal harddrive of a fat model is the fastest, followed by SMB, followed by this adapter, last is USB. PS2 USB is super slow.

    If you’d like to also run PS1 games, you have to convert them to VCD.

    PSXVCD converts PS1 bin/cues to VCD, but uses normal file names.

    OPLManager converts PS1 VCDs into a file name that OPL can read and adds cover art scraping like retroarch.

    There are recent builds of retroarch for PS2 as well, recent as in 2/2022.

    Not every game will / can run, but most can.

    1. Unless it was added since the video went up in the past two or so days, “MX4SIO” is in the title and description of the video, along with the psx-place article link.

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