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PCSX2 Tutorial

Last updated January 21, 2023

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About PCSX2

PCSX2 was the first PlayStation 2 emulator. Through persistent development, it has remained the best one around! It's capable of playing most titles without any major glitches. It conveniently comes equipped with its own plug-ins, which can be customized. PCSX2 requires a fast computer in order to run well. You might have trouble with it if you're using a budget laptop or a Windows tablet.

One drawback with PCSX2 is, out of the box, it runs barebones with its defaults and doesn't have any enhancements enabled. In this tutorial, after I help you get PCSX2 running, I show you how to enable graphical enhancements to benefit from the hottest features that modern emulation has to offer for PlayStation 2.

With other emulators, you can get away with using your keyboard for gameplay. However, with PCSX2 it's pretty difficult, given the PlayStation 2 controller's mini joysticks. I strongly recommend purchasing a gamepad for this emulator.

Downloading PCSX2

Downloading PCSX2 from their website Downloading PCSX2

You can download PCSX2 from the official homepage. Click on the blue Latest Stable button. You'll be prompted with options for “32bit installer” and “32bit portable”. What's the difference?

  • The Installer version - This is an easy install wizard that installs PCSX2 like a normal Windows app. If in the future you want to uninstall PCSX2, you can do it through Windows.
  • The Portable version - A 'portable' program is one that can be placed anywhere on your computer. The program is self contained in the folder and saves everything within that folder. Hence, that is the nature of PCSX2's portable version. However, although a portable program can be placed anywhere, it's still important to only place it in a common location on your computer such as Documents, Downloads, or create a folder on your desktop. If in the future you want to uninstall PCSX2, simply delete its folder.

Installation

As pointed out above, you have two versions: 'installer' and 'portable'.

Installing via the installer

  1. Double-click on the install EXE for PCSX2 .
  2. On the first screen , PCSX2 will ask you if you want to do a Normal install or Portable install. You've already decided to use this install wizard, so let's proceed with the normal install - click Normal Installation then Next.
  3. Next, Windows will prompt you to ask if you want to give this 'unknown publisher' permission to make changes to your device. Go ahead and allow PCSX2.
    • Don't let this scare you. Windows always prompts you with this when you install a new program. It's a common protocol.
  4. On the Choose components screen, you can choose to opt out of a PCSX2 shortcut on your desktop and in the Start menu. You should keep it in the Start menu, but having it on your desktop or not is your preference. When you're ready, click Next.
  5. On the Choose Install Location screen, just click Install.
  6. That's it! PCSX2 will install. Click Finish when it's done.

Installing the portable version

Installation is simple: just extract PCSX2 from its zip file. To make things clearer, check out the video below that shows how to 'install' a portable emulator (it shows Snes9x, but PCSX2 is the same process). It's pretty straight-forward - all that you're doing is extracting a zip file while doing a little bit of folder management. If you want to 'uninstall' a portable emulator, simply delete it!

In the video, I'm recommending “Documents” to house your emulators. But, you could also place emulators in “Downloads”, a folder on your desktop, an external HDD, or a thumb drive. These are common locations with full read/write access. Keeping it on your computer is better than external storage because it runs better & faster.

The BIOS

The PlayStation 2 BIOS is required in order to boot games. This is a separate download after you've downloaded PCSX2. Below you can download this BIOS.

  • PlayStation 2 BIOS (12.7 MB). Download by right-clicking the download link and go to Save Link As. When saving, rename the “_ip” file extension to “zip”. If you don't see the file extension, try showing them. I also made this GIF animation to show you how to change the file extension.

Continue reading below for what to do next after you download the BIOS.

First Time Configuration + BIOS setup

  1. Open PCSX2. If you used the install wizard, you can double-click its icon on your desktop or find PCSX2 in the Windows Start menu. If you opted for the portable version, double-click on PCSX2's EXE.
  2. PCSX2 welcomes you with the First Time Configuration screen . Click Next.
  3. Next is the plug-ins screen . You don't need to do anything here, so click Next.
  4. Next is the BIOS screen. Click Open in Explorer, as shown below: Select 'Open in Explorer'
  5. Minimize the bios folder for now. Download the BIOS if you haven't already, unzip it, and drag its contents to the BIOS folder. It should look something like below:
    The BIOS files in the BIOS folder
    It's very important that you match the above screenshot on your end. Don't place the bios files in a sub folder within the BIOS folder!
  6. Return to the “First Time Configuration” window. Click the Refresh list button (circled below). You should now see the Europe, Japan, and USA BIOS files appear in the white box.
    Click 'Refresh list', then click on your preferred country
  7. Click on your desired country to select it. Then click Finish.
  8. That's it! PCSX2 is now fully installed and configured.

Setting up the keyboard or gamepad

PCSX2 is pre-configured for gamepads. Again, I urge you to purchase a gamepad since the PlayStation 2 controller has a lot of buttons. Using just the keyboard is a frustrating experience. If you insist on using the keyboard, or if you want to reconfigure gamepad buttons, keep reading.

Here's how to configure (or reconfigure) the buttons for Player 1:

  1. Go to Config > Controllers (Pad) > Plugin Settings, as shown below:
    Accessing the Input configuration
  2. You'll see tabs for General, Pad 1, and Pad 2. Pad 1 is Player 1 and Pad 2 is player 2. Click on Pad 1 and you'll arrive here:
    The Input configuration
  3. Notice the heavily buttoned area within the red outline. These are all the buttons you can configure. Click a button in this area, then press the keyboard key or gamepad button that you wish to configure it to. When successful, you should see the configured button appear in the “Device/PC Control/PS2 Control” panel on the left.
    • For example, see this picture where I configured the face buttons to keyboard keys. The configured keys appear in the left panel.
  4. Click OK when you're finished configuring all the buttons.

Using a PS2, PS3, or Xbox controller

PCSX2 doesn't require any special directions for using a PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, or Xbox controller. However, the first time you plug one into your computer, it needs to be properly setup or requires special instruction for connecting. There are lots of videos on YouTube showing you how to do this:

Loading a real PS2 game you own

To load a real PlayStation 2 game that you own:

  1. Pop your game into your DVD-ROM drive.
  2. Go to CDVD menu and select Disc - as shown here . Then go to CDVD again and in Drive Selector make sure the drive that your PlayStation 2 game is in is selected.
  3. When you're ready go to System > Boot CDVD to start your game.

Note: I do not recommend playing your games via your DVD-ROM drive. PCSX2 is a rather demanding emulator on your CPU. Running the game from your DVD-ROM drive will slow it down and lower its performance. Rather, I recommend ripping your game to an ISO. I have directions for that towards the bottom of this guide.

Loading a PS2 ISO

  1. To begin with, you can place your PlayStation 2 ISOs wherever you want on your computer. PCSX2 doesn't care where. I recommend the PCSX2 folder in Documents.
  2. Your games need to be extracted from their 7Z, RAR, or ZIP archives. These days, ISOs are most common in 7Z. You can use 7-Zip to extract them (it's free). If you need step-by-step help with extracting 7Z files, check out YouTube.
  3. Once your games are extracted, look at their file extension. PCSX2 only supports ISOs in the following formats: ISO, BIN, IMG, MDF, and NRG. If you game is not in those formats, read here.
  4. Go to CDVD > ISO Selector > Browse, as shown below:
    Selecting the ISO Selector
  5. Navigate your computer for your PlayStation 2 ISO. Click on it, then click Open. We've only selected the ISO, so nothing will happen. Keep reading.
  6. Go to System > Boot ISO (fast). Wait a few moments and your game will load. Enjoy!
  7. PCSX2 will keep every ISO you previously opened in the ISO Selector list. See:
    The game list in ISO Selector
    So then the next time you open PCSX2, you can just select the game you want to play from this list.

Increasing the resolution

By default, PCSX2 renders graphics in the native PlayStation 2 resolution. On our sharp HD monitors, this resolution looks very blurry (see below). However, you have the option to upscale graphics by increasing the resolution.

Upscaling graphics

Here's how to increase the resolution:

  1. Go to Config > Video (GS) > Plugin Settings, as shown below:
    Accessing the video plug-in's settings
  2. Select the “Internal Resolution” drop-down selection, as shown below:
    Increasing the size of the internal resolution
    Choose a higher resolution, then click OK > OK to return to the game.
  3. See if the higher resolution is to your liking. Also, play the game some to find out if your computer can handle it at this higher resolution. You'll likely need to return to the video settings and test other resolutions to see what looks good and runs well.
  4. Lastly, you may run into visual issues once the resolution has been increased. Continue reading below.

Fixing upscaling issues

Visual issues in God of War Visual issues in God of War Visual issues in Phantasy Star Generation 2 Visual issues in Phantasy Star Generation 2

Now that you've increased the resolution of the game, you may notice weird graphical issues. See the examples to the right. These graphical issues are normally made up of obstructive vertical lines. This has an easy fix!

  1. Go to Config > Video (GS) > Plugin Settings.
  2. Put a check in Enable HW Hacks (as shown here ), then click Advanced Settings and Hacks.
  3. Follow this picture:
    Visual obstructions in God of War
    Put a check in Align Sprite, put a check in Merge Sprite, and set “Half-pixel Offset” to Special (Texture - aggressive).
  4. Click OK > OK to return to the game. The graphical issues should be gone now.

Q: Games get stuck at loading screen!

You may find that some games get stuck at the loading screen when you try to load them. There are several possible factors to this problem. Try running through this checklist:

  1. Download other games and try loading them. Rule out if this is a game-specific issue or a global issue with all your games. If it's a global issue, PCSX2 may not be setup correctly or PCSX2 may not be compatible with your computer.
  2. Make sure the file format of your game is supported by PCSX2 and extracted from its archive. I talk more about this below in My PS2 game is not an ISO. Help!
  3. It's possible the problematic game is partially corrupt or a bad file. Try downloading it from other websites.
  4. You may be able to fix it by tweaking around settings. Try YouTube videos about black screen troubleshooting.

Q: I hear sound but get a black screen!

If you load a game and you hear the game's audio but get a black screen, you possibly either have a BIOS issue or a video issue.

Resolving BIOS issues

  1. Firstly, I recommend using my BIOS files. Just to rule out if the BIOS files you downloaded from another website are no good.
  2. Go to Config > Plugin/BIOS Selector. Then click the BIOS icon.
  3. You'll arrive in the BIOS section . Select the BIOS according to the region for the game you're trying to play. For example, if you're trying to play a USA game, select the USA BIOS.
  4. Click Apply then OK. Then restart your game.

Resolving black screen video issues

  1. Go to Config > Video (GS) > Plugin Settings.
  2. In “Renderer”, select OpenGL - as shown here .
  3. Click OK then restart your game. If this is a video-related issue, this should fix it.

If it's not fixed, perhaps try Software as the renderer. If that doesn't fix it, I'm afraid PCSX2 may not be compatible with your device. However, if the black screen is the result of the game crashing (you don't hear audio), that's a different issue. Try black screen troubleshooting.

Q: My PS2 game is not an ISO. Help!

PCSX2 only supports games (a.k.a. disc images) in ISO, BIN, IMG, MDF, and NRG. Or more specifically, the filename of your game needs to be “Shadow of Colossus.iso”, “Shadow of Colossus.bin”, etc. Keep reading if the PS2 game you downloaded is not in these formats.

Wait, I don't see file extensions

Windows hides file extensions by default. Here are directions on how to enable them.

If your game is in ZIP, RAR, 7Z

These formats are forms of compression, and your PS2 game is inside of it! You need to extract it. Windows can extract ZIP files by default: here are directions. To extract a RAR or 7Z file you can use 7-Zip (it's free).

If your game is in UIF, DAA, CDI, XBX, B51, BWI

These ISO formats are exclusive to specific burning software. Google around to find what program is associated with that format. Once found, install it and burn the game to a DVD. However, if you want my opinion, I say just forget about it. You should try to download the game from somewhere else to get it in ISO or BIN format. Working with these proprietary ISO formats is too much trouble.

Fullscreen

Press Alt+Enter to enter fullscreen. Press Alt+Enter again to go back to window mode. You can also double-click on the screen to toggle between window mode and fullscreen.

Improving speed

This section is only necessary if you've increased the resolution, found that your computer isn't fast enough to handle the high resolution well, but you insist on keeping the high resolution. Or maybe you're using an old computer and it can't even handle the default (blurry) native resolution. Keep reading if you want to explore PCSX2's speed hacks.

PCSX2 makes adjusting game performance very easy with a simple slider. First, access the video plug-in settings by going to Config > Emulation Settings, as shown below:

Accessing the speed hacks

Look towards the bottom left for this slider shown below:

The Speed Hack Preset

The default setting is “2 - Safe (Default)”. Hovering over the slider pops up this information:

Presets apply some speed hacks that may boost speed on underpowered systems, or speed up games that have unusual performance requirements. Uncheck this box to apply settings manually.

1) Safest - No speed hacks. Most reliable, but possibly slow setting.

2) Safe - Default. A few speed hacks known to provide boosts, with minimal to no side effects.

3) Balanced - May help quad core CPUs.

4) Aggressive - May help underpowered CPUs on less demanding games, but risks causing problems in other cases.

5) Very Aggressive - May help underpowered CPUs on less demanding game, but is likely to cause problems in other cases.

6) Mostly Harmful - Harsh application of speed hacks. May help a very small set of games that have unusual performance requirements, but have adverse effects on most others. Not recommended for underpowered PCs.

Try moving the slider to “3”, click OK, and see if your game is running better. If it's still slow, try “4”. If that doesn't help, then I hate to break it to you but your system is not fast enough to handle PCSX2.

Q: My game isn't running slow, it's running fast!

If you have the problem where your game is running too fast, make sure you didn't accidentally press the Tab key to enable fast forward. Otherwise, adjusting the slider to a lower number should help correct the game's speed (perhaps “1 - Safest”).

Save states

Save states is a feature that saves the exact spot you are in any game. You can use this feature manually by going into the File menu or by quick keyboard shortcuts.

Using the save state feature via the File menu
  • Capturing a state: To capture a save state go to System > Save state and choose any of the 10 slots. These slots are reserved to allow you to save up to 10 different save states. The keyboard shortcut for saving states is F1.
  • Loading a state: To load a state you previously saved, go to System > Load state. Then choose the slot where your save resides. The keyboard shortcut for loading saves is F3.

New to emulation? If you're new to video game emulation, I don't want to confuse you into thinking that save states are what you're supposed to use as the only means to save your progress with PCSX2. Save states are an optional feature. You can still save your game at save points as you would on a real PlayStation 2. Although I do recommend using both save states and in-game saving so that you always have a backup. In-game saves are loaded at the game's title screen (like on a real PS2) - they're not loaded via the System menu.

Fast forward

Fast forward is the feature that speeds up the game. To access it, press the Tab key. To end the fast forwarding, press the Tab key again.

Hiding the annoying console window

The console window

Unless you're an advanced user who cares about console logs, this thing is an eye sore. You can hide it by going to Misc > Show Console.

Capturing screen shots

Simply press the F8 key to capture a screenshot. PCSX2 will save the screenshot in your current resolution and with your current video settings as a PNG image. The screenshot is saved to the “snaps” folder. To find the snaps folder on your computer, go to your “Documents” folder then “PCSX2” > “snaps” - as shown here .

To capture a screenshot via the menu, go to Capture > Screenshot. PCSX2 won't give you an indication that the screenshot was captured.

Backing up your PS2 games to ISO

Perhaps you prefer using your own PlayStation 2 games instead of downloading them from the Internet? Or maybe you just want to keep backup copies of your PlayStation 2 games? Whatever the case, here's how you can dump your games:

  1. Download & install RetroArch for Windows. It's the #1 multi-system emulator. I have a tutorial for RetroArch for Windows as well.
    • Note: During RetroArch's installation, setting a custom destination for RetroArch matters. It'll be easier for you to find RetroArch if you select an easy-to-find folder such as Documents. Otherwise, RetroArch defaults to your AppData folder deep in your C drive, which can be a little annoying to locate.
  2. Put your game CD in your computer's DVD-ROM drive.
  3. Open RetroArch and select Dump Disc - as shown here
  4. On the next screen, select your DVD-ROM drive (the first option, most likely).
  5. You're going to see this progress bar appear on the lower-left of the screen:
    Progress bar for dumping an ISO
    Depending on the speed of your DVD-ROM drive, this will probably take 5-20 minutes to finish.
  6. When RetroArch finishes dumping your game CD, the progress bar will disappear. It doesn't prompt you with an alert sound or anything. If your DVD-ROM was humming during the dumping, you'll know RetroArch finished when your DVD-ROM's humming sound stops.
  7. RetroArch dumps the ISO of your game CD in its Downloads folder. So the next step is locating the Downloads folder. This is why in step #1 I noted to install RetroArch in an easy-to-find location. If you installed RetroArch in, say, your Documents folder, go to Documents > RetroArch > Downloads to find your game CD's ISO file. Otherwise, RetroArch is in the AppData folder. Here's how to find it:
    1. Open the Windows File Explorer. The easiest way to open it is to click the folder icon in your home row of apps. If a folder icon isn't present, you can also do this: in the “Type here to search” area type “file” and you'll see a File Explorer app appear at the top of the search results - as shown here .
    2. In the left panel, look for Local Disc (C:). Click on it, then in the main panel click Users - as shown here .
    3. Next, double-click on the folder for the user you are currently signed in as.
    4. In your 'user' folder, currently “AddData” is hidden. We need to make hidden folders visible. Click on View then Options - as shown here . Then click the View tab then click the radio bullet for Show hidden files, folders and drives . Click Apply then OK.
    5. The “AddData” folder should now be visible . Double-click on it. Then double-click on Roaming > RetroArch > Downloads.
  8. Now we're in the Downloads folder! You should see a BIN file and a CUE file with a weird filename like “cdrom-200000-1000000” - as shown here . Double-click on the CUE file and choose to open it in Notepad. You'll see the text that's shown in my picture.
  9. Next, rename the CUE file and BIN file to the name of your game. Open the CUE file in Notepad to rename the ISO as well. You can name these files to any name you want. The only requirement is that both files & the name in the CUE file must be the same exact name. Look here - these three instances need to be changed to the same name.
  10. That's it! You've successfully dumped your PlayStation 2 game. You can use it with any PlayStation 2 emulator or any multi-system emulator that supports PlayStation 2.

Q: I get 'CDVD plugin failed to open' error

Sometimes when PCSX2 is force closed it gets screwed up and spits out this error every time you try to load a game:

CDVD plugin failed to open. Your computer may have insufficient resources, or incompatible hardware/drivers.

To fix this you need to force close PCSX2 (again) and select a different graphics plug-in. This video shows you how.

Finding ISOs

In my links page, I have some good links to sites where you can download ISOs. If you want to try to find more sites than what's in my collection of links, just Google around. For example, if you want to download Shadow of the Colossus just Google “download shadow of the colossus ps2”.

However, an even better use of Google is to search Reddit. People upload PlayStation 2 games to cloud platforms all the time. You'll only find these links to such valuable resources on Reddit. Try search phrases such as “reddit download playstation 2”.