Hacker Challenges MemoryStick To A Fight And Wins

An assortment of MemoryStick cards and devices, some of them, arguably cursed, like a MemoryStick-slot-connected camera.

It’s amazing when a skilled hacker reverse-engineers a proprietary format and shares the nitty-gritty with everyone. Today is a day when we get one such write-up – about MemoryStick. It is one of those proprietary formats, a staple of Sony equipment, these SD-card-like storage devices were evidently designed to help pad Sony’s pockets, as we can see from the tight lock-in and inflated prices. As such, this format has always remained unapproachable to hackers. No more – [Dmitry Grinberg] is here with an extensive breakdown of MemoryStick protocol and internals.

If you ever want to read about a protocol that is not exactly sanely designed, from physical layer quirks to things like inexplicable large differences between MemoryStick and MemoryStick Pro, this will be an entertaining read for hackers of all calibers. Dmitry doesn’t just describe the bad parts of the design, however, as much as that rant is entertaining to read – most of the page is taken by register summaries, struct descriptions and insights, the substance about MemoryStick that we never got.

One sentence is taken to link to a related side project of [Dmitry] that’s a rabbithole on its own – he has binary patched MemoryStick drivers for PalmOS to add MemoryStick Pro support to some of the Sony Clie handhelds. Given the aforementioned differences between non-Pro and Pro standards, it’s a monumental undertaking for a device older than some of this site’s readers, and we can’t help but be impressed.

To finish the write-up off, [Dmitry] shares with us some MemoryStick bit-banging examples for the STM32. Anyone who ever wanted to approach MemoryStick, be it for making converter adapters to revive old tech, data recovery or preservation purposes, or simply hacker curiosity, now can feel a bit less alone in their efforts.

We are glad to see such great hacking on the MemoryStick front – it’s much needed, to the point where our only article mentioning MemoryStick is about avoiding use of the MemoryStick slot altogether. [Dmitry] is just the right person for reverse-engineering jobs like this, with extensive reverse-engineering history we’ve been keeping track of – his recent reverse-engineering journey of an unknown microcontroller in cheap E-Ink devices is to behold.

24 thoughts on “Hacker Challenges MemoryStick To A Fight And Wins

      1. As if that’d prevent the bastards at Sony from initiating a lawsuit…We know that Sony is an evil company ever since the Bleem! times so the fears of a lawsuit are not unjustified at all.

  1. Ehmm isn’t Memory Stick just a different physical format to SD cards? Hence you can get microSD – MS adapters since the electrical protocol is identical, or…

        1. My guess is he hasn’t ever seen one of the SD to MS adapters. I use them on my PSPs. I haven’t opened one yet, but I’d be surprised if they were more than just traces to pads and MAYBE a resistor or two.

          1. @CoolKoon

            Apparently there are differences according to this article. However from the fact that I bought a microSD – MS adapter from a high street retailer in Sweden for about €3 strongly led me to believe this was nothing more than a plastic shell with some wires inside, no passives and certainly no actives.


            Having given away the adapter + microSD, I too am curious to see if there’s more to them. simple uCs can be got for pennies these days so it’s not impossible they feature a uC for protocol conversion.

          2. My understanding of those was that they required software modded PSPs that communicated SD over the MemoryStick pins, and the adapter was just wires. I’ve never had one myself though, and it’s been some time since I looked at any of them.

          3. Thanks Dmitry, I wish I had seen your reply before scrolling so much. :) I posted a couple links of the internals down below, but it’s trapped in had moderation hell.

    1. According to the linked article, memory stick has a completely different electrical protocol. It looks like SD to MS adapters have active components to translate between the two.

      1. Fingers crossed John checks one of his adapters and reports back. Another possibility, MS devices quite happily talk SD. So the MS protocol is different, but MS devices are bi-lingual.

          1. Nice, indeed on the one hand surprising it’s so cheap for an active device… on the other hand there’s not much too it so why should it be expesnive :)

  2. How about hacking WPA/PSK2 support for Palm devices other than the T|X with the “enterprise” addons? Dunno why Palm didn’t produce a WPA/PSK2 driver for all their devices with WiFi. I tried the T|X driver in a Tungsten E2 and a LifeDrive. It doesn’t work.

  3. Ah, Sony. Always looking for a way to pad the bottom line.

    See 3.5″ drives in the BetaCart for an example. They modified the standard wiring on a 3.5″ floppy drive, swapped it around inside the frame so that it wouldn’t read a disc from anything but their factory purchased drives.

    Thing is, they didn’t count on some of us opening up the drives and seeing the modifications. couple of cut traces and rewiring and viola….50 dollar fix versus 800 bucks!

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