Returning to the Original XBOX

Welcome to my page documenting my expereinces returning to the original XBOX in 2019.

stock xbox

When I was still in high school, in the early 2000s, XBOX was hot on the market. I don't remember exactly how I acquired my original one (probably Christmas) yet, I can definitely say that I devoted a substantial amount of time with one (as a game console) in high school. It was and still is the only game console I have ever really owned. Up until I sold it, all of it, after high school, to a CD shop in Minneapolis, for way too cheap. I decided didn't have the time for it after high school.

Nearly 20 years later, as a CIT undergraduage, I took a computer forensics course and all of a sudden I was highly motivated to gain a much deeper understanding of digital artifacts. Something such as an XBOX was now much more than just a controller and graphics on a TV. Near the end of the semester I started shopping for an OG XBOX online just to see if I could even find one let alone if it might still be possible to relive those nastalgic feelings that were only in my memory.

As I shopped online for an XBOX in 2019 I was surprised by their abundance as well as the reality that many of them were sold already modded. Little did I know the history of modding this console. First, not only is one of the mods necessary for the preservation of it but I also soon realized that there was a rich abundance of knowledge out there about its security systems considering the now nearly 20 years of history behind it.

Disclaimer

Before you get started modding I recommend some basic electronics trobleshooting and soldering knowledge and experience.

The first one I found on ebay I was lucky to find unopened. When I learned a little more I also determined that it could be a revision 1.0 (more on mainboard revisons later). Even though the internet told me that 1.0s were the most common at the time, I still didn't want to mod an unopened 1.0, so I put it away and bought another one (that had already been opened) to make mistakes on. November 2019 I worked on that a while, had some fun, then I gave it away to my brother. I still had my 1.0 and in October 2020 I bit the bullet, broke the stickers, and opened it up.

More on the shoulders one stands on when opening one of these up for the first time:

One exciting yet challenging thing I learned from working on and modding an original XBOX was not only that I was working with legacy software and hardware to begin with, but the online tutorials and tools available are not necesarily tested to the same quality standards that mainstream production software is. Generally because the tools availalbe are built by hobbiests and enthusiasts in their free time.

First

There are a few beginner things you'll learn when you first start to mod the original XBOX. First, is how to identify the mainboard revision. OG XBOX mainboards went through several revisions/versions ranging from 1.0 - 1.6b. To start, interestingly, there are a few external clues that can be used to point you in the direction of the version before the need to open it up. For example, one way would be using a combination of the year made on the barcode sticker, and the shape of the DVD tray. Here is one page with more info. Next, the clock capacitors on these are known to deteriorate. XBOX broke the norm by using a capacitor instead of a lithium coin cell battery for the clock. It is advised to remove the capacitor. I just wiggled it free and broke it off on my version 1.3 and 1.0.

Softmod

Eventually I stumbled on an easy guide illustrating how to perform what is called a softmod. The goal of a softmod is esentially to gain privilages to the operating system that will make it possible to run software that was not originally intended by the manufacturer. The ultimate goal of an XBOX softmod is to install a persistant modified operating system. The shell to the operating system in XBOX terms is called a dashboard. There are quite a few guides to accomplish this goal - some of which require more complex steps than others. The obscure items I needed were a 512 MB USB thumb drive which I luckily already happend to have, and a USB XBOX controller adapter. Apparently the XBOX controller is essentially a modified USB device. Although there are other possible ways to softmod an XBOX; I have found this "XBOX Softmodding Tool" to be the most mainstreamed. I do have one warning before softmodding. The afformentioned tool comes with a function to reverse the softmod - nearly bringing your XBOX back to a factory state. However, it does leave behind a file that I have yet to find a way to delete from the restored manufacturer's dashboard. If you have concluded that it is worth it to sftmod there are a couple of steps to bring the hacked savegame files over to the XBOX via your new equipment I mentoned above but once that is complete you'll find your XBOX softmodded before you know it. The first thing to do with the softmodded XBOX is familiarize yourself with the partition and file system structure. There is at least a C, an E and X, Y, Z partition. You'll find more about F and G partitions later. C and E are user partitions but X, Y, Z are used by the system for cache. There are also UDATA and TDATA folders. Those folders store settings and save files for games. It took me a while to get used to how the partitions are setup. In each partition there can be folders named "Applications, Games, Emulation, Dashboard" etc. It doesn't matter to the shell (I like UnleashX) which partition the folder is on all of the similarly named folders will appear to the shell as one. The filesystem and system files look a little chatic at first. All modern shells include a handy "File Explorer" app to brows the actual folder and file structure. It provides all the necessary functions one would expect from a file system. The File Explorer app is split down the middle which was an element of learning curve. Both sides are the same file system. To move or copy a file or directory navigate to the file of interest on one side (either side) then to the destination on the opposite side, press start and make your selection. The opposite side from the selection is interpreted as the destination.

This was fun! I had a "modded" XBOX! The "Softmodding Tool" includes allot of useful functionaly. It includes a dashboard called XBMC-Emustation which is where one might spend most of their time with a working modded XBOX. XBMC-Emustation includes allot of popular emulators built in. The emulators I had the most luck with were SEGA Genesis, NES, SNES, and PSX. One of the most important emulator to me was the Genesis emulator. The best place I found for Gensis ROMs is the-eye. I was impressed that I could run some PSX games as well. In this case XBMC-Emustation uses a port of PCSX for the PSX emulator. When using this emulator however it is important to note that some games require very specific settings that need to be correctly set the first time the game is started. It is trivial to delete the config files and try again but just something to keep in mind.

I soon saw that the next mod I was going to need was a HDD upgrade. This took some gathering of more specialized equipment but again the process was not impossible.

Hardmod

The softmod is all that is necessary to add tons of useability to an original XBOX. I consider everything above to be a part of the softmod because no soldering was required yet. I didn't see any reason to do any hardmodding until I wanted to play the Half-Life homebrew 128MB version. This comes in a 64MB version but character textures are removed to accomodate limited memory. The 128 MB version works on units that have been hardmodded to increase the RAM available. One day I stepped outside of my comfort zone and began the project which turned out to be allot of fun. The first thing that has to be done is short the write protection out to the TSOP which stores the firmware. There is only one spot on the top and bottom of the 1.0 motherboard to solder. When that was done it was as simple as installing the XBlast_OS_v0.56 BIOS onto the TSOP. XBlast_OS BIOS allows the XBOX to boot with RAM quantity that it would normally fail to boot with. When the BIOS was flashed I simply soldered the RAM I bought on ebay onto each open position testing each one as I went using XBlast_OS. I surprised myself that I succeeded in upgrading the RAM on an original XBOX!

Unfortunately the fun didn't last all that long but the project did become more educational and interesting. to be continued