The earlier 20GB and 60GB models actually have the CPU and GPU of a PS2 onboard, so it's practically working natively, and that'd be the best approach.The newer firmwares do not disable this functionality.One of the most annoying things about the Play Station 3 is its lack of backward compatibility on some models.
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The support isn't 100% across the board for any variant of the systems - there are a few games that are buggy.
The hard drives are upgradeable relatively easily, and there's built in backup and restore functionality. The 60GB launch PS3, however, most certainly will, due to it's hardware backwards compatibility, as you know.
Glevand's boot_ps2 does work (sort of) but not on anything higher than 2.50 (again, assuming, I tried 3.15 afterwards, and no go) What I did: 1) I have a QA flagged console on 3.55KMEAW 2) I used recovery mode to install 2.50 OFW (you can downgrade when you set "System Update Debug" to enabled in QA Debug settings) 3) Realized that even though I had the FSM pkg installed, it doesn't work on 2.50 4) Remembered I had boot_ps2 installed, so figured what the hell.
Place the Lv2(NOT THE lv2diag1.self) and the PS3UPDATE. Well, I just figured out all the pieces to the puzzle, thanks to this OP and a bit of dumb luck.
But in just a few minutes, you can install this PS2 software emulator to make your PS3 backward compatible.
You can download the file here, but before you get started, you may want to make a backup copy of your /dev_flash folder since you'll be replacing some files.
Since this PS3 has the guts of the PS2 inside it, firmware updates do NOT affect it's compatibility.
Personally, I have two launch PS3's, and they both make no fuss whatsoever, no matter what game I play.
I have tried to keep them updated as needed, although I'm not OCD about it. As for hard drive replacement, as @RESPAWN said, the PS3 has tools for data backup, and as long as you have a laptop SATA HDD, you're good to go.
Pop off the side panel, remove the screw, the casing with the HDD just slides right out.
I tested the games: Ratchet and Clank, Ratchet and Clank Going Commando, Jak II, and ATV Quad Power Racers. Trying 2.70 (ps3devwiki has 2.60 fw under the 2.70 directory, thus me trying 2.60 in the first place) downloading it from here instead.