Formatting an external hard drive for the PS3

I ran out of space on my PS3 drive! I didn’t think that I would given that it’s 60GB, but I’m guessing it may have something to do with Home along with a few demos and games that I’ve loaded onto it. But the nice thing about the unit is that you can purchase a compatible laptop drive and use that instead, so that’s what I’m hoping to do this week. A 320GB drive is on its way, but I need to get a few things ready first before I can use it such as backing up my stuff.

I finally had an external hard drive formatted for my PS3 and in trying to do it, I’ve discovered that there are a number of methods where either not enough information was provided or it simply seemed too convoluted to follow. So, here’s the process that I followed. I’m still on Windows XP, so the steps or applications below may or may not work on Vista or Windows 7, but they worked fine for me.

With that caveat, here’s one more: I’m not responsible nor give any guarantees against any weirdness, damage, lost data, or anything unexpected that might happen in following these steps.

This is simply recounting what I did to get my drive working and back up my PS3. If you don’t feel confident in doing this, find a techie-friend that is to be on the safe side. After working with so many clients over the years, I’ve come to expect that despite planning for the worst, you can never predict what someone else might do. Why do you think warning labels such as “Remove child from stroller before folding” exist?

What I needed:
* SwissKnife V3 – a disk utility for my FAT32 format
-> if you have Vista, here are three alternate tools:
Partition Logic
fat32format
HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool

* a hard drive with lots of space and an enclosure; I’ve read posts where you need to have an external HD with its own plug…apparently not enough juice is supplied through the PS3′s USB connection, so keep that in mind.
* a usb cable
* patience

Arts and Crafts (or what I needed to do on my end with the parts I had)
The first thing I needed was a hard drive and I had a spare WD1000 lying around (100GB), though most any other type will do depending on what you’re planning. For me, I just needed a drive for my backup which my PS3 estimated to take up to 46GB. You can get a cheap 160GB for this purpose for less than forty bucks on Newegg if you want, or grab a 160GB external for $70 bucks (at the time of this article). Yes, Microsoft makes megabucks off of their overpriced drive.

If you’re planning to use it as a media drive for your PS3, though, you might opt for something larger. I don’t think there’s an upper limit on how large of a drive the PS3 can see as I’ve seen a user format a 1TB drive to serve up movies, so it’s completely up to you on how crazy you want to go on space but when in doubt, always do a discrete check on Google to be sure.

The next thing I needed was a drive enclosure, although it seems that most will work without problem. Again, you won’t need an enclosure if you opt to just buy one off the shelf.

Alright, so now I have an enclosed drive. I’m ready! Well, almost. First, a word about FAT32.

FAT32, without getting too technical, is the disk format that your drive has to be in that tells it how to organize its data. You can’t switch it out, either, as easy as it might be to copy or erase files. This is something that happens when it’s formatted which means wiping out everything on the disk. FAT32 also has a few limitations that will have to be worked around.

Windows XP can format disks to FAT32, but only if the size of the disk or partition is 32GB…which didn’t help me. I could force it from the command line, but it didn’t work in the end. I finally settled on CompuApps’ SwissKnife application that did the trick and ignored the partition/drive size limitation.

On Vista, though, I’ve read that users can’t format their drive into FAT32 because it uses exFAT or NTFS…both of which the PS3 can’t read. So you might want to check out the other tools I’ve listed above or, as one other user noted, find a friend with a Mac that can format it since Apple’s OS doesn’t seem to have the same hang-up about FAT32.

The Steps
Okay, the steps I followed were…

1) I hooked up my drive to my Windows XP PC via USB.

2) I installed SwissKnife V3 and fired it up.

3) SwissKnife found my USB drive. This next part is very important: MAKE SURE IT IS SEEING THE DRIVE YOU WANT TO FORMAT.

Once you format a drive, that data is gone so if you’re not using a new one, make sure that it doesn’t have your wedding pictures, the birthday photos of your kids, savegames, or school projects hiding away on it unless you need some grief in your life. The best way to avoid this is to name your drive.

In this picture, the HD I have selected is named Hello. I found it by clicking on its icon under the USB tree on the left and you can see it listed above in the bigger window on the right panel.

5) At this point, I told SwissKnife to Delete the partition by clicking on the “Delete” button beneath the window showing the drive I wanted (Hello).


It will ask you once if you want to delete the partition. And only once.

6) Once that was done, I now had a drive ready for formatting. I set the File System option to FAT32 and you can also enter a name in the “Volume label” field if you want.

7) At that point, I clicked on the “Create” button at the bottom of the window and let it format the drive.

8 ) Once it was done, I closed out of SwissKnife and explored the drive through My Computer.

9) You’ll need to set up four folders on the empty drive or the PS3′s backup utility won’t work. You can’t do this from the PS3, so this is why we’re doing it from the PC. The folders you need to create are: VIDEO, MUSIC, PICTURE, and GAME. Here’s a picture of what it looks like:

These four solders are needed for your drive to be seen by your PS3.

10) Now that we’ve got our folders created, it’s time to take our external drive over to the PS3, so I went ahead and stopped my USB drive in Windows and unplugged it.

11) With your PS3 started up, go ahead and hook up your HD. From the XMB, go Settings – System Settings – Backup Utility

12) Follow the prompts after selecting Backup Utility, and you should be on your way to backing your PS3 up. It will take awhile, too, so be sure that you have something else to do unless you want to be bored watching the screen. For my backup, it estimated it at around an hour and 40 minutes.

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