Upgrading a PS3 hard drive

When I bought my PS3 (the slim model) I have a choice between the 160GB and 320GB models. As I had no intention of storing music and photos on it I thought the former, cheaper, model would be fine. I was wrong. I didn’t account for 2 things – 1) the size of games and 2) getting Premium membership, which means getting lots of free, downloadable games. As a result my drive space is regularly running out.

3422200689_2a7668c4a4_zAs it turns out upgrading the PS3 hard drive is quite an easy task.  However, when reading up on the subject I found lots of guides that missed out critical pieces of information or were just plainly confusing. So, this is my attempt at a definitive guide. I’ve not provided details on what key presses are required where these are mentioned on-screen – I found that some instructions were wrong, or had simply changed, so if it’s quite clear how to proceed then I don’t detail this. It may look quite daunting but that’s just so I can cover everything – it’s genuinely easy to do (and if you think otherwise I’d suggest you look up how to do the same on an Xbox!) and 99% of the time taken to do it will be waiting. Depending on the amount that needs backing up, the whole process (once you have a new drive) should be possible within 9 hours.

What Drive to Use?

So, you’re now looking to put a bigger drive in. There are various warnings to stick below 750GB drives, including from Sony, as not all work of higher capacities. If you want to “go big” though I’d always recommend a quick search on Google for your drive to see if anybody has tried it already.

There are, though, some restrictions…

  • It has to be a 2.5″ drive
  • It has to have a SATA connector (the PS3 uses SATA 1 but SATA 2 and 3 drives are backwards compatible, so you don’t need to worry about it. Equally you’ll get no speed benefit from using these drives)
  • It needs to be 9.5mm deep or less. Even 9.5mm may be pushing it for some drives and some have reported that in these cases you can get around it by not using the drive caddy that is used within the PS3 to hold the drive. I’d try to stick with 9mm and below (also be aware that some retailers round drive sizes, so may list a 9.5mm height drive as 9mm).

Personally, I’ve gone for the Seagate Momentus XT, which is a hybrid drive – a 500GB hard drive with 8GB built in SSD, which is automatically cached to for speed improvements. This has been tried in the PS3 by a number of people and all have reported big increases in speed. This drive is 7mm in height too.

Seagate do produce a 750GB and 1TB versions of the drive. The 750GB appears to be hard to get hold of and appears to be the older version of the drive (the original model ran at 7200 rather than 5400 rpm which, although quicker, would have led to a noisier and hotter running drive). The 1TB model is probably over-kill, particularly as it’s a lot more costly and, with a height of 9.5mm, is stretching the height limit. At £56 from Amazon, it’s a bit of a bargain.

Now, many people have asked the question as to whether a hybrid drive is worth it, bearing in mind that the PS3 only uses SATA 1, which has a maximum throughput of 150MB/s. The answer is yes. If you look at benchmarks for even the fastest 2.5 drives, you will see maximum (and remember that’s maximum) speeds of substantially under than 150MB/s limit. That leaves room for the SSD to push that bit further towards the SATA 1 maximum, and pushing every benefit out of the system.

StorageReview.com have done an excellent review of the drive. Their conclusion..

Seagate’s 500GB SSHD Thin drive at 7mm is a wallet-friendly alternative for users seeking new technology that provides low-power consumption, serious performance gains over conventional HDDs when in cache, and overall solid value per gigabyte.

What Else Is Needed?

Once you have your hard drive there are 4 further things you’ll need..

1. A Philips head screwdriver

This will be for removing the small screws that secure the hard drive in the PS3.

2. A Mini USB cable

This is to connect a controller to the PS3 after you’ve installed the new hard drive.

3. A USB memory stick

This is to store the latest Firmware on (basically, the Playstation’s operating system). It needs to have at least 200MB of storage available on it to store the firmware and needs to be formatted as FAT32.

4. A USB external hard drive

This is to store your game, and other applications, backups. The size of drive you need is dependant on how much you need to backup and you’re unlikely to get it onto a USB memory stick so an external 2.5 or 3.5″ drive will probably be necessary. I tried a USB 3 drive and it wouldn’t work (although it’s supposed to be backwards compatible, from the sounds it was making I think power was an issue).

To work out how much space you’re currently using (and therefore how much capacity your backup drive needs to be) go into Settings -> System Settings -> System Information.

Now, at this point you may have a problem. The PS3 will only recognise a FAT32 drive, but if the format of the drive is NTFS and you’re trying to change it then you’ll find that Windows won’t let you – it tries to enforce it’s own NTFS onto large drives. There are solutions to this, however.


So, before we start pulling out drives, there are a few things you can do in advance.

1. Prepare the firmware

Download the latest firmware from the Sony website – US or UK.

Format your USB memory stick as FAT32 and create a folder named PS3 with a sub-folder of UPDATE. Place the downloaded firmware within the UPDATE folder.

2. Check the hard drive

It might seem obvious but before we do anything with the PS3’s hardware plug your external hard drive in and ensure that the PS3 recognises it. Personally, I’d format it beforehand and stick some photos on and ensure that the photo browser finds them.

Backing Up

We now need to backup the PS3 to ensure no data is lost. Before commencing I’d ensure that you’ve performed a recent trophy sync and also, if you’re a Premium member, had an overnight backup of data to the cloud since you last played a game.

  • Connect your external hard drive
  • Navigate the XMB to System Settings > Backup Utility
  • Choose Backup from the list of options

The backup should now commence – depending on the amount it has to backup it may take a number of hours, so this may be something you’ll want to leave overnight. In my case it took about 4 hours to back up about 110GB.

Swapping the Drives

Up until now nothing has been specific to the model of Playstation. Until now. Each of the 3 models – “fat”, slim and super-slim – have their own method of removing the drives. Thanks to iFixit and Gamespot I’ve found 3 excellent tutorials on how to do this – depending on your model select the tutorial and follow it through to swap the old and new drives…

Original “Fat” Replacement (courtesy of iFixit)

Slim Replacement (courtesy of iFixit)

Super Slim Replacement (courtesy of Gamespot)

Restoring Your System

Your new drive is in place and now it will need re-building from the firmware installations and backups that you have.

Connect a controller to the PS3 via a USB cable and switch the PS3 on. It will recognise that the OS is missing and prompt you to plug in the USB memory stick that you prepared earlier with the latest firmware. The formatting of the new drive will now take place and the firmware will be copied on.

Once done the system will start as if brand new, taking you through various set-up screen, etc. Theoretically you can now stop – your system is usable and you can restore your games by re-downloading and re-installing them. If you have Premium your game saves can be restored from the Cloud. This is what you’d certainly do if you had a hard drive failure and hadn’t had a chance to take a recent backup. However, as we have been able to do, we’ll do that and get the system back to how it was before we commenced.

  • Plug in your external drive
  • Navigate the XMB to System Settings > Backup Utility
  • Choose Restore

This should copy your saved data back to the PS3 hard drive. For my 110GB it took about 3.5 hours.

I found that online passes often needed re-downloading and my initial trophy sync took an age to perform but, otherwise, everything was back to how it was.

27 responses

  1. Ok I have a ps3 slim and had hardrive firmware issues. I was told o get a new drive I got a new 160gb drive I have tried to go through the process and I hang at the 99% process. From what I have read it is suggested to format the drive with a pc but no one says if I should format it as FAT32 or NTFS with the computer then put it back in the ps3? Which should I use? This is for the internal drive replacement I have tried 4 drives all hang at 99% if I use the ps3 formatt built in first. Thanks.

    1. David Artiss avatar
      David Artiss

      Fletch – it answers this in the article. It has to be formatted to FAT32 and I list various ways to achieve this.

      1. I must just not be seeing it. I dont see where it says that you take the new drive that is going into the playstation and format it to FAT#@. I see it saying your usb stick needs to be FAT32 and that your external drive that you use for backup must be FAT32 but Im missing the part where it talks about taking the new harddrive that will be put into the unit directly had to be reformated from the standard NTFS to FAT32 before placeing it into the console and then putting the firmware on it from the usb stick then moving the backedup data fro the external drive to the new internal drive.

        1. It says it under the heading WHAT ELSE IS NEEDED and it’s point number 4. A USB EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE!

  2. Is there anything special you have to do in order to get a 7 mm height ssd inserted properly instead of the typical 9.5 mm.

    1. David Artiss avatar
      David Artiss

      Nothing special. The PS3 only has room for a 7mm drive (and a little bigger) so anything bigger simply won’t fit. A 7mm drive should just fit spot on.

  3. Ryan Llewellyn avatar
    Ryan Llewellyn

    ANy ideas on why i just cant seem to install new fireware. I have formatted a WD10JPVX to fat32 using aomei ntfs2fat32 program. I checked the drive is compatable with an old fat 40gb ps3. I have formatted a 2tb external HD to fat32 and put the 4.66 update file in a FOLDER called UPDATE in a folder called PS3 on that external and repeated the process on a 16GB Kingston memory stick also formatted to FAT32.

    When i start the ps3 it says connect controller and insert media with fireware 4.66 then press select and start. Have tried from both drives to the new hard drive with it saying nothing was detected. Al;so tried putting the software directly on the WD10JPVX in PS3 > UPDATE.

    I dont care about back up saves etc so thats no issue.

    I also tried converting WD10 back to NTFS hoping the ps3 would format it and from there I could at least achieve something but to no avail.

    1. David Artiss avatar
      David Artiss

      It’s definitely the memory stick that you need to put the firmware on. Are you sure it’s the full firmware and not the update?

  4. Why use a USB stick and an Ext HDD? I put both the Backup and the Update on the same HDD. Works perfect.
    Thx for a great tutorial.

    1. David Artiss avatar
      David Artiss

      A good point. I’ve done the very thing when I upgraded the HDD on my PS4.

    2. I’m glad you posted this response. So I should be able to use an USB to sata cable to install the OS directly onto a new HDD not yet installed, correct? Thanks in advance!

  5. I’m running into issues when my new drive is installed- I am asked to plug in the controller via USB when starting the PS3 with the new drive, but nothing seems to occur, except the controller lights all flash for a period of time, then stop.

    1. David Artiss avatar
      David Artiss

      Yes, you initially have to use the controller via cable. Are you using the original cable, though? I’ve had issues with other cables.

      1. Yes, I believe so.

        1. David Artiss avatar
          David Artiss

          In that case, once connected, you should only need to press the PS button to turn the controller on. If it’s flashing and doing nothing else then, tbh, I’m not sure what’s wrong. I’d try another cable, anyway.

          In response to the same issue on the Sony forums a user stated “Just change remotes and keep hitting the ps button. It will disconnect after a few seconds but just press it again”. I don’t know if that helps at all.

          1. I’ll give it a shot- I had done that to some extent, but probably need to be more persistent. =) I’m thinking that I may have initially powered up the PS3 with my remote controller instead of the controller, which may be an issue, but I wouldn’t know how, exactly. Thanks!

          2. After trying multiple pressing of the PS3 button, I decided to try a new cable, as you suggested. When I plugged it in, the lights on the controller would flash, but this time didn’t stop. After a while, while the lights were still flashing, I pressed the PS button again, and got to where I could start the update and restore processes. Thanks again, and I hope that this info helps someone else with this process. I was unaware of having to connect the controller in the first place after reading/researching three sites, until I came across your site, so kudos on your disseminating accurate info!

          3. David Artiss avatar
            David Artiss

            I’m glad you were able to sort it! As with the PS4 version of this article, I always do them myselves first – to ensure I get the process properly documented and try and capture any potential pitfalls. I’d reviewed other articles on the subject beforehand and found them to be inconsistent, something I tried to remedy with this.

  6. Very informative article, one of the better ones I’ve read. I have been searching pretty much all day to find the answer to this question. My hard drive died last week. So I’m about to buy a replacement HDD and a 3.0 USB to sata cable. My question(s) is this: I was planning on using the USB 3.0 to sata cable to try to install the os from the folder from my laptop directly onto the HDD. Can I do it this way? Or do I “have” to do it via USB stick? Also would you happen to know if there is a way to retrieve the data off of the dead HDD? I’d really appreciate a quick response if at all possible. Just wanna buy what I may need the first time around, you know? So I can get it fixed asap.Thanks in advance!

    1. David Artiss avatar
      David Artiss

      I can’t see a reason why you can’t install the OS this way. Obviously the folder structure will need to remain as required. However, the biggest issue will be that the PS3 will only read FAT32 formatted drives – your laptop is likely to be NTFS. Hence why it’s best to stick to the USB method.

      As for the dead HDD, it depends how “dead” it is, but if you’re swapping your drive out because it doesn’t appear to work then you may be stuck. Having said that, the contents on the drive are encrypted so once out of the PS3 it’s useless – you can only copy data over when it’s working inside the PS3.

  7. Hi, I am having issues with my son’s ps3, the internal 12gb hard drive Is full so I have plumbed for a 500gb sata drive.. the issue I have is that I wasn’t aware of all of the pitfalls of upgrading and now the game station is a large paperweight. Nothing loads I get a black sparkly screen with stars on and then the mustard yellow screen with a sparkly wave going through it.. that takes about 20 minutes I have formatted the hard drive once it powered on and that seemed ok. I went through the various screens and I am at this point .. what can I do? How do I do all of the steps mentioned above whilst being in limbo?
    Please help

    1. David Artiss avatar
      David Artiss

      How far have you got? I’m assuming you’ve followed the entire process above and afterwards is where you got to?

      1. I’m going to re read the advice and then have a look in the clear light of day. The hard drive we bought said it was a simple plug and play device and that the ps3 will do the rest. This doesn’t seem to be the case

        1. David Artiss avatar
          David Artiss

          None are truly “plug and play” – you need to copy on the firmware, if nothing else.

          1. So… i took everything out and started again, it now works.. but.. it now takes 7 minutes to boot up and load the menu screen.. half way there

  8. Just so you know, this post is still helping people (me) in 2018. 🙂

    1. That’s good to know 🙂

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