How To Back Up And Play Your Wii Games From An External Hard Drive

Connecting an external hard drive to your Wii to backup and play your games is a simple way to keep expensive discs out of harms way, decrease game load times and organise your collection with swanky cover art. Here's how it works.

Last year we shared two guides with you that other people had written — the original and a revision — on how to back up and play your Wii games from an external hard drive. Unfortunately, like many things on the internet, the guides faded into the digital night (read: they were taken down). Setting up your Wii with an external hard drive is a wildly popular topic, however, and since the old guides went offline, we've received daily emails on the topic. In response to the demand, here's our own complete guide to setting up your Wii to play games from a USB hard drive.

When laid out screen-by-screen this guide is quite lengthy, but the process itself only takes about 10 minutes start to finish — if you're not stopping to take lots of screenshots and write a tutorial along the way! This guide will show you how to activate an exploit on your Wii to allow more advanced Homebrew software to run, how to setup and format an external USB hard drive to play nice with your Wii, and how to manage the process of backing up your games and displaying them in cover-flow inspired style. When you're done your games will be load fast, be immune from scratches and mishandling, and be displayed in a way that will make your friends envious.

Before you delve into the project why don't we take a peek at this video demonstration of the interface to help you decide if it's worth it — it's so worth it, but who's going to say no to a video tour?

Ready to call in sick and spend the day setting up your Wii? No? Watch the video again.

Precautions and the Necessary Hardware:

Before we get started, let's review some necessary cautions and the tools we'll need. Anytime you mess around with a piece of closed hardware like a Wii and start monkeying with the guts you risk bricking your toy. Have we ever bricked a Wii? No, despite modding Wiis and all sorts of consumer electronics, we've never bricked anything. Is it possible to brick your Wii? Yes, the risk is always there and you should proceed with appropriate caution and respect for the process. Every step and every tool used in this entire guide can easily be looked up on Google if you want to read more about it.

Precautions provided, let's take a look at the tools you'll need:

  • An SD card (this is a perfect job for an old 512MB or 1GB SD card)
  • An external USB hard drive (Wii games take up around 2GB on average, so select a drive according to your collection)
  • A Wii with the Homebrew channel installed (We're not going to recap how to install the Homebrew channel in this tutorial, so check out our step-by-step guide to installing Homebrew on the Wii without Twilight Princess if you need to Homebrew your Wii.)

Getting Started by Softening up Your Wii's Defenses:

If you have an older Wii with an out-of-date menu system (3.2 or lower), you can skip this section about the Trucha Bug since your system still has it. (If you're not sure what version you have, click on the Options button in the lower left corner of your Wii's main menu and then on the Wii Settings icon on the right hand side of the screen; the version number is displayed in the top-right corner of this screen.) If you have a newer menu system, you'll need to read this section.

The Trucha Bug is just a code vulnerability that existed on early versions of the Wii operating system (referred to in Wii-hacking documentation as IOS). As of the 4.0 Wii menu update, the Trucha Bug was eradicated; luckily for our hacking purposes, you can easily reintroduce it in order to exploit it.

Download DOP-Mii v12 and extract the zip file onto your SD card keeping the folder structure intact. Pop the SD card back in your Wii and launch the Homebrew channel.

Run DOP-Mii and select Install I0S36 (v3351) w/FakeSign from the menu:

The next series of screens look similar to the above screenshot. On those screens you will apply — press A to say yes to — the ES_Identity patch, the NAND Permissions patch, and then you will download the patches through your Wii's internet connection like so:

After the screen above, DOP-Mii will ask you if you want to restore IOS15 to v523. Again, click A to confirm that you would. DOP-Mii will complete the modification and kick you back to the Homebrew channel. Note: In some instances this tweak can invert the Homebrew screen, a strange quirk. You can fix it easily by reloading the Homebrew installer.

The next step is to introduce a new IOS to your system. Download the cIOS installer here. Extract the zip file, again keeping the folder structure intact, to the /Apps/ folder on your Wii SD card. Pop the SD card back in the Wii and launch the Homebrew Channel:

Launch the cIOS installer. On the initial screen use the right and left Wiimote directional pad to switch the ISO number to ISO36. Press A to confirm:

On the next screen, use the keypad to select Network Installation. Press A to confirm. The cIOS Installer will churn away for a minute or so and then confirm a successful installation. Press any button to reboot the Wii.

Prepare Your External Hard Drive and Install the Boot Loader

At this point your Wii is ready for all the fun Homebrew antics you can throw at it — Homebrew by itself is really awesome, but Homebrew with a custom IOS under it is even better. At this point I'm going to explain how to prepare your external hard drive to work with your Wii, so grab that external drive, plug it into your computer, and let's get cracking.

We need to go grab copies of the USB loader and WBFS manager we'll be using. For this tutorial (and on our personal Wii consoles) we're using USB Loader GX — a great USB loader packed with features and eye candy. We'll also be using WBFS Manager. WBFS Manager is Windows-only, but don't be discouraged if you're running Mac OS X or Linux. Visit this list of WBFS managers to pick out a WBFS manager for your operating system.

WBFS stands for Wii Backup File System. It's possible to use some of the more advanced loaders with NTFS formatted disks, but it's dicey and not worth the headache. Stick with the Wii's native file system for maximum stability. You'll want to plug your USB drive into your computer and fire up your WBFS tool of choice at this point — for the tutorial we're using WBFS Manager. Select your USB drive from the pull down menu and click the format button. Just like using the regular format tool this is serious business. Make sure you pick the right drive.

Although WBFS Manager is packed with features, we don't need it right now for anything but formatting. You can revisit it later to backup your backup drive and other nifty tricks, but for now you can shut it down and unplug your USB drive from the computer and plug it into the bottom USB port — the one closest to edge of the Wii and the little rubber foot (the other port is reserved for games that require USB accessories like Rock Band).

Head back to your computer computer point your browser to the download section of the USB Loader GX site. If you're on a Windows machine, scroll down to the bottom of the file list and grab a copy of USBLoaderGX_1.0_Installer.exe — it's a simple application that will update and install the USB Loader GX files on your Wii SD card for you.

If you are grabbing them manually, go to the top of the list and grab the most current .DOL and .WAD files. — as of this writing that would be r929.dol and r929.wad. Place the .DOL file on your SD card at /apps/usbloader_gx/ and rename it to boot.dol and put the .WAD file in /wads/. While you're at it download the USB Loader GX Forwarder here and put it in /wads/ also. You'll need it later for the extra credit portion of the tutorial. Put the SD card in your Wii and boot back into the Homebrew Channel.

Launch USB Loader GX:

Looks lonely in there. Pop in a game and click "Install". Depending on the game it can take anywhere from a minute to several to rip a game. Wii Sports, for example, is only 0.31GB in size, whereas Super Smash Bros Brawl is 6.93GB. The average Wii game is around 2GB or so — though you'll be surprised to see how many games are really tiny. After you've ripped one you might as well work your way through the stack in front of you. Soon your loader screen will look like this:

It's not lonely anymore but it sure is boring looking. Press 1 on your Wiimote. This menu will pop up:

Cover downloads? Yes ma'am! The covers will download automatically — they're stored on your SD card, if you're curious. After you've downloaded the covers your default interface should look like this:

Clicking along the bar at the top of the screen gives you new layouts like the one at the top of this article and this one:

Not only is USB Loader GX a beautiful loader to look at, it has tons of features under the hood. You can favourite games to make a "Best Of" list or sort them by number of plays so your most frequently played games rise to the top. You can even set a parental lock so that children playing games on your Wii can't load the Mature rated titles — do you really want to explain why your nephew is playing No More Heroes instead of Super Paper Mario?

Extra Credit: Put Your Loader on the Front Page

So far things are looking pretty good. You're rocking Homebrew, you've got a USB hard drive with all your games hooked up to your Wii, and it's all controlled by a beautiful cover-style loader. What could be better? Not having to launch the Homebrew Channel and then launch the loader, just to get to your games. Let's put the loader front and centre.

We're going to need a few more tools so grab that SD card. We need a WAD manager, essentially a file manager for the Wii that handles installation bundles. You can't go wrong downloading Waninkoko's Wad Manager; you'll find a copy here. Extract the zip file to /apps/wad manager/ and remember to rename the .DOL file to boot.dol. Throw it back into your Wii and boot into the Homebrew Channel. Run the Wad Manager. You should see a screen that looks like this:

Select IOS249 as the IOS version — it should already be selected. On the next screen select "Wii SD Slot" as the source device. The next screen should look like this:

Select the USB Loader GX-UNEO_Forwarder.wad, click A to install it. After the installation is complete, hit the home button on your Wiimote to boot back into the Wii. Exit the Homebrew Channel and on the main screen you should be greeted by the addition of the USB Loader_GX icon:

From now on whenever you boot up your Wii you'll be one click away from your awesome collection in all its cover-flow glory.

Before we break from the tutorial we have some links to share with you. The following sites have astounding amounts of information about the Wii, modding the Wii, and the inner workings of the Wii. If you can't find the answer to your Wii-related questions among them you probably won't find it anywhere.

Have a favourite Wii-related resource? A great piece of Homebrew software to share? Whatever Wii tips or tricks you have up your sleeve, we want to hear about them in the comments.


Comments

    Does it matter if it is an IDE or SATA USB HD?

      Nope, I don't think so.

      But check out these pages for games (http://wiki.gbatemp.net/wiki/index.php?title=USB_Loader_v1.x_Game_Compatibility) and USB hard drive (http://wiki.gbatemp.net/wiki/index.php?title=USB_Devices_Compatibility_List) compatibility.

      No - USB, but do follow up on the formatting. NTFS can cause issues

        i have a big question... i downloaded a scrubbed wii game in iso format. and im putting it on my external harddrive using wbfs manager. do i need to convert the iso cause it says total size 1.26gb and isosize 4.37gb. will it work or do i need to convert cause its only takin up 1gb on it. reply quick thanks

          do exactly what this guy says , and it will work , even 4.2 in my case is working perfect ,

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKPEgwbCFa8

          dont need to do this from lifehacker , its too complicated , follow this guide on youtube and you will not have problems :D

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKPEgwbCFa8

          have fun playing

    Great Guide, thanks so much :)

    One of these HDD's is ideal (http://www.officeworks.com.au/retail/products/Technology/Data-Storage-and-Recordable-Media/Hard-Drives/Pocket-Hard-Drives/WDBR0320BK).

    I've 'backed up' about 50 games and it's only half full.

    i'm having problems with the install.

    I run cIOS38r17 installer from HBC
    Select
    Press A at Disclaimer
    Select

    The install seems to be going fine, until towards the bottom it says,

    [+] Installing Custom IOS, please wait...
    >> Install ERROR! (ret + -1035)

    I pressed any button and continued back to HBC.

    In hope, i ran USB Loader GX in HBC

    to get the message,

    ERROR!
    USB Loader GX needs unstubbed cIOS 222 v4 or 249 v9+

    I found
    222 = 0
    249 = 0

    Go figure out how to get some cIOS action going on in yiur Wii and come back and see me.

    Can someone help, tell me where i went wrong?

    Wii = Ver. 4.2E

      I got the same thing Josh. Running the newest version of wii OS.

      Still trying to figure it out

      Hi Josh
      was able to fix that error by following instructions for offline install:
      http://sites.google.com/site/completesg/cios/waninkoko

      I downloaded the ios38
      put that on the root of the sd card

      then I ran v19 of the cios app
      installed over ios 36
      chose the replacement ios38
      wad installation.

      That ran for a minute and it wad right!!

        James, could you go through it maybe step by step... like for us dumb people... i am up to this stage also..

    James, You're a hero!

    Cheers for the guide (98%) and James for the work around (2%)

      No worries,
      glad you were able to follow the instructions and it worked. What a great system thats running now!!!

      Thanks Lifehacker!

    Hey guys i was wonder. I was wondering if someone could help. Basically when i go to rip a game it just freezes. It says install disc and i click the button but it immediately freezes. any ideas?

      Yeah Kowai, same thing's happening to me. System menu music keeps playing but all that's on the screen it the background of USB Loader GX. The power button won't work and I have top unplug the Wii.

        so i did everything this guide told me to do. but i can't really figure out how to play the games i've downloaded on my wii ?

        and tried to insert the wii sport and install it with usb loader, but the screen just went blank, and nothing else happend? anyone ?

        While reading some of the documentation attached to some of the files (can't remember which one) I ran across an answer for you. The "insert disc" type games require you to insert an actual disc to the Wii. Doesn't have to be "the" disk, just "a" disk. The author claimed to have used simply a blank dvd to get the required input to the game.

        Understand this comment is over a year old, but maybe this can help someone having the same problem.

    I had an issue at the Custom IOS installer stage. The download seemed to time out, with an error-2 messgage. I simply restarted this section and it completed on my 3rd attempt.

    Just a thought, but it might help to have numbered section references for people to work/refer to.

    Other than that hiccup, everything else works great.

    For reference, mine is an Australia unit, system is 4.1E. I'd used a previous article to install an older usb-loader, so this was really an upgrade for me. The icon on the main screen was something I could never get working with the previous version. It seems like a little thing, but for my kids, it's a huge bonus not having to go via the home brew channel each time.

    hey, im having all sorts of problems. i have homebrew istalled and works perfectly with everything else but booting games. i have like 5 USB loaders but they all crash in there own way including cIOS38r14 witch comes up with the same message:

    "[+] Installing Custom IOS, please wait…
    >> Install ERROR! (ret + -1035)

    I pressed any button and continued back to HBC.

    In hope, i ran USB Loader GX in HBC

    to get the message,

    ERROR!
    USB Loader GX needs unstubbed cIOS 222 v4 or 249 v9+

    I found
    222 = 0
    249 = 0

    Go figure out how to get some cIOS action going on in yiur Wii and come back and see me."

    i tried the walkthru James posted but the .WAD file doesnt show up on my Wii!

    also i dont understand what you do with NUS downloader after you check the box...

    "1. Run NUS Downloader. Check Pack -> Wad
    * NUS (IOS > IOS 38 > v3867 &WAD)"

    what doe the bottom line after the astrix mean?!

      G'day Paddy,
      check out this site http://sites.google.com/site/completesg/
      i had the same issue as you with the error and it was easy to follow. it also describes how to use the NUS downloader

    Great guide and it worked perfectly in combination with another guide that included info regarding using an ofline Wii. Any idea how i can get the game cover artwork without having my Wii hooked up online?

      Which guide has info with regards to an offline Wii, i dont have a wifi connection? Thanks

    My HDD won't format I get an error that says error occured while formatting

    hi i have just chipped a wii system 4.3e through yugi patch it works to the fact that i can load the hard drive and stuff plus install the game it will finish then goes to load the usb loader screen again and gets an exception error can anyone help me please

    Hi. I got a WII that was already softmodded with USB Loader GX 4.3E. I got games to work on HDD (finally, after days of getting my young hair grey) and everything`s good exept as soon as game starts it`s in white and black only. I lose all colours. What`s wrong? When I start Super Mario or any other game from the disc (orig) then all colours are back. Same as soon as I get to WII Menu or Homebrew channel menu. Any idea what could be wrong?

      Your game may be PAL. Go to game settings and switch to force NTSC.

    This is an awesome guide.. I followed it step by step to the "T" and in 10 minutes all the installs are done... I will try the HDD this evening and report back.

    I had the same issue of "Go Figure" in the USB install - followed the other link on cIOS and worked like a charm.. Folks - to reiterate, all the s/w works, just be patient and do a lot of reading before you start.. Cheers

    It says:

    ERROR!
    USB Loader GX needs unstubbed cIOS 222 v4 or 259 v9+

    I found
    222 = -36868
    249 = -36868

    Go figure out how to get some c IOS action going on in your Wii anc come back and see me.

    --I have read the forums and tried different things but still can't seem to get it working. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks!

    Joe (and everyone getting the "Go figure out how to get some CIOS action going on" message):

    "James" was very kind to post upthread the single most valuable link for Wii modding I've ever run into:

    http://sites.google.com/site/completesg/cios/waninkoko

    Seriously, just go there and follow that page's simple instructions. I recommend doing the "online install" as that's what I did. It even told me how to fix the error I kept getting.

    Merry Crossmas.

    For a replacement Guide that is written for all versions of the Wii This will do the Trick.

    http://www.wiihacks.com/recommended-faqs-guides-tutorials-only/60921-guide-softmod-any-wii.html

    Also, it has a different USB loader installed, but there is no reason why you can't load the one from this guide.

    Hi all, just loaded all the software as per article with only a few glitches, however games do not load when trying to play them from the hard drive, it only takes me back to the main Wii menu. I have version 4.2 on my system. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks

    Hello everyone,
    I had a problem when running the USB loaderGX, everything went fine till it said " No WBFS or FAT/NTSC/EX partition found, you need to selec or format partition" and shows both Select and Format options, even though i click them, I will just see an empty screen with the only clickable option of shutting system or returning to the wii menu.
    Could anyone help, pleazze?
    thanx

    Thanks Life Hacker !!

    I have my wii softmoded but I ve just been playing burnt games playing right off an external hard drive is not something I thought you could do.

    I got my softmod done form

    http://www.howtosoftmodwiiguide.com/

    They had a great review on wii unlocker ultra.

    Do you guys have any word on if the wii U will be softmod able ? You guys are usually the first to know

    Hi All,

    Pretty awesome guide, but for anyone out there like me who has the latest version of of the Wii software on their Wii, then they will run into a bit of trouble.

    Using the latest versions of cIOS and DOP-Mii is fine, as long as you grab the DOP-Mii version that isn't the WiiBrew edition.

    The download page is at https://code.google.com/p/dop-mii/downloads/list and as of this posting it is the top download.

    It seems like they removed the part that we need to install the patched IOS in the WiiBrew Edition.

    After you have done that, you will need to remove atleast IOS 249, as with the latest versions of the Wii Software, Nintendo have added in 'stubs' where we want to install our cIOS to.

    You will have to follow the guide at the bottom of this site https://sites.google.com/site/completesg/hacking-guide/trucha/trucha-old so that you remove the 'stub' IOS from the slot that we want to use.

    Using the latest version of cIOS (http://filetrip.net/f23351-cIOS-Installer-Xr21.html)is fine.

    Just make sure that you use IOS36 (the one that we just patched). I just left the base IOS version at what it came up with (IOS 58, i think) and get it to put the new cIOS into slot 249 when it asks for it.

    I have just finished ripping Lego Pirates of the Caribbean and it works pretty flawlessly.

    The only problem was that after I had put it on the hard drive and tried to load it, it dumped me back to the Wii Menu and the disk channel said that I needed a firmware update.

    I did it and then it played from the disk and the hard drive fine.

    Hope that helps anyone else who is following this guide.

      And I should add that all the errors that I was getting with cIOS (1035 and a couple of others) were because of the 'stubs' being there from the latest update.

      If you don't have the latest version, then you will be fine, otherwise you will have to remove the stubs.

        i fixed this error extremely simply. just go into dop-mii and choose load from or use ios 36 to install other ios's then wait for the loading to complete and go to ios 249. just press - on that to uninstall and now you can run cios installer like on the goude and you wont receve the error 1035 anymore

    Hi Guys, I have softmoded the wii version 4.3. I have loaded pretty much everything I need. The issue is that when i launch a game from the usb loader, i get a blank screen and then need to reboot my wii. the controller goes dead. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

      hey keith. ive been having the same prob. any chance you found the solution? ive been searching for a few days now, no luck :(

    This is my 1st attempt at hacking my wii. I have version 4.3U with hombrew. But that is as far as I got. I want to be able to back up and play from the external hdd, But I have a few questions. Is it going to brick my wii if I play certain games? What if the external hdd I have is formatted in NTFS??? Will it still work? ALSO do you have to have the wii conected to the net first? I used letterbomb to get homebrew. I would like all the help I can get.

    I have a black WII with version 4.1 on it now. I used letterbomb to softmod it.
    All works like a charm, and I can play any of the 54 games I have on the external USB drive. The only problem I encountered is that I can not play the WII sports and WII sports resort that came with the WII. I used USB Loader GX to install the game to the USB drive, and when I start the game I get redirected to the main WII menu. After using the same method to copy WII fit plus to the USB drive I can start that game without any problem.
    Is there a special way to treat the WII sports and WII sports resort when installing it to the USB drive?

    Hi i had mine done for me at a swap meet but want to connect the wii to the internet. Will it mess the homebrew set up if i update the wii? please help.

    i have the wii sport on my wii hdd but it wont play, when i click on it, it freezes up so i cant delete it. what else can be done

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