Reviewed: May 1, 2004
Type: Hard Drive
Inside the Box
PlayStation 2 owners have been teased with the promise of a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) for their beloved console as far back as October 26, 2000 when the system launched. Sony promised us great expandability with our new console and once Final Fantasy XI was announced the promised looked like it would finally materialize into reality.
Four long years later as we enter the “golden years” of the PS2 we finally get our hard drive, but is it too little too late, and what about Sony’s interesting marketing model for this new piece of expansion hardware?
At least for now, the only way to get a PS2 HDD is to purchase the $99 ($88 if you shop around) box bundle that also includes Final Fantasy XI. While it makes sense to bundle the HDD with a game that "requires" it, what about people who have no interest in a MMORPG game that is going to take up nearly half the HDD is ships with and cost $12 a month to play.
Arguably, there is very little reason at the moment to own the HDD unless you are playing Final Fantasy XI. A few games like SOCOM and Resident Evil: Outbreak make use of the new storage space for caching and storing mods, and even though your older titles can’t save data to the HDD you can go in and offload your memory cards to the drive. With a little file management you probably won’t ever need to buy another memory card.
So whether you are buying a $90 game and getting a free HD or buying a $90 HD and getting a free game is up to you to decide, at least until Sony gets smart and decides to offer the hardware by itself, or better yet, already pre-installed in a deluxe PS2 package. They already have the network combo version, so what’s stopping them?
Installation - 10
A 7-year old with a quarter can install this hard drive. As a computer tech and network administrator for over 20 years I’ve seen some pretty slick hardware installs, but the PS2 40GB HDD redefines the term, “plug-n-play”. The entire process takes less than two minutes and no “tools” are required. You probably don’t even have to read the manual, but you probably should.
Remove the back expansion plate cover by loosening the two large screws (and yes, you really can use a quarter), or if you already have the Network Adapter installed you’ll need to remove that. The HDD requires the PS2 Network Adapter (sold separately for about $39 SRP), even if you have no intention of playing Final Fantasy XI or any other game online. Snap the drive to the network adapter and slip the entire assembly into the back of the PS2 until it clicks in place then tighten the two screws and you are done.
The next time you turn on your PS2 a HDD icon is now added to your browser screen right next to any installed memory cards or CD’s that might be in the tray. You can access the data on your HDD via icons just like you are used to doing on your memory cards. You can even create new directories and transfer files between the drive and memory cards.
The PS2 HDD also comes with a Utility CD that has tools for repairing and optimizing (defragging) your hard drive. You won’t need to use these until you have put some miles on your HDD so tuck this away in a safe place. This disc also contains all of the pre-installed software, so if you ever have to re-format your HDD you can restore the contents back to the way it was when you purchased it – you will LOSE all personal data on the drive if you format.
Aesthetics – N/A
Once the HDD is installed there isn’t much to see other than a flashing amber light through the front grille. The drive looks pretty cool out of the box as far as hard drives go, but this device is all about function. The setup screens are nicely done with easy-to-read menus and pleasant blue backgrounds with plenty of high-tech animation.
The documentation is also laid out nicely in two separate multi-lingual manuals, one for installing and one for operation and troubleshooting.
Durability – N/A
Once installed, this is pretty much one of those devices you tend to forget about. Users should take note that the HDD adds substantial weight to your PS2, so if it falls from any distance the odds of breaking something are greatly increased. The manual also recommends not moving or changing the orientation (vertical or horizontal) of the PS2 while the unit is on or for 30sec after you shut it down to avoid possible HDD errors or damage. This is basically nothing more than a PC hard drive so treat it with the same respect and care and it should last just as long.
Performance - 7
I must admit I was looking forward to the PS2 HDD more for disc caching than playing Final Fantasy XI. My main motivation for even bothering to install the drive (other than this review) was to improve the load times on Resident Evil: Outbreak, which are downright unplayable without the HDD. Outbreak doesn’t actually cache the levels the way an Xbox game might. Instead, it loads the entire 1GB-plus game onto the HDD and plays it from there. You are still restricted by the limited PS2 RAM, so the only benefit you will see is the improved access time of the HDD over the DVD, which is noticeable, but not terribly impressive.
Copying data between memory cards and the HD also doesn’t appear to me remarkably faster and there is no way to select the entire content of a card so you still have to go to each file one by one and walk through several menu selections to move files around.
The drive also ships with FFXI pre-installed so don't be too shocked when you see your 40GB hard drive only has 26GB of space on it out of the box. I remember joking with my friends back before CD-ROM's about the day games would get so big they would just ship on their own hard drives. That day has come.
Value – 5 (10 if you were planning on getting FFXI anyway)
The PS2 40GB HDD reminds me of the old Star Raiders game that came out on the Atari 2600 way back in 1982. The game came with a piece of hardware that was virtually exclusive to the game and if you didn’t like the game you had no use for the hardware. At least that is how the PS2 HDD is being marketed for now. It shouldn’t be long before Sony starts selling the HD separately or perhaps even in another bundle.
As it stands now, if you want to add the HDD to your PS2 you should probably be a fan of Final Fantasy XI since you are going to get it anyway (and pay for it anyway), and you are also going to need a $40 network adapter, whether you play online or not. By the time you add on the cost of the network adapter and the monthly fees for FFXI you have a pretty expensive package here.
Currently, there are only a few titles that even use the HD and with no support for directly saving games to the HD or ripping music MP3’s (like the Xbox) for custom soundtracks, this is a tough recommendation. Of course, if you are wanting to play Final Fantasy XI then the HD is required and the bundled price is quite attractive.
Overall – 7.0
The PlayStation 2 40GB Internal Hard Disk Drive, at least for now, is a highly specialized piece of hardware narrowly targeted to online gamers and those who desire to play Final Fantasy XI. For everyone else, you will be getting a lot more than you need or want, although I suppose you could offset the cost by selling your FFXI on eBay, but then again, whoever bought it would need a HD and already have a copy.
Perhaps, it is still too early to properly evaluate the worth of this unit. Specialty hardware is no stranger to the PS2. People buy dance mats, microphones, keyboards, steering wheels, and other game-specific equipment all the time, but when you are dropping nearly a $100 for a major system upgrade I just feel there needs to be more support for that device at the time of purchase.
If you are ready to lose yourself in the wondrous fantasy adventure that is Final Fantasy XI (reviewed separately) then grab your bundle today and never look back. It’s a great piece of hardware at a fair price. Everyone else should probably sit back and wait for the HDD to come in either a standalone package or at least in a bundle that suits your gaming taste.