Putting it all Together

Modding the XBOX is really the simple part. We received a solderless SmartXX v2 from www.bmmods.com. These generally run for $75 if you get the solderless adaptor or $60 for the solder option. Other mod chips work well for installing a Linux distribution, but the SmartXX comes with an XBOX version of Debian (Xebian) and is the most mature chip for running a Linux distribution.

Opening up the XBOX and getting at the mainboard was fairly simple. The SmartXX comes with PDF manuals that demonstrate how to unscrew all of the components. Below, you can see the process in a few quick steps. Opening the XBOX just requires an Allen wrench.

Opening the XBOX

The next step is to remove the hard drive and DVD drive so that we can get at the D0 pin hole on the motherboard. This will allow us to put the XBOX into debug mode.

Removing the drives

Now, we have the SmartXX finally mounted correctly. If you look carefully at the image below, you can see the copper wire from the pin pad to the D0 lead that gives our mod chip all the magical power.

Inserting the mod chip
Click to enlarge.

Total time for our installation was about 15 minutes, although a solder option would probably take a little but more than a half hour. Adding the mod chip to the XBOX was far simpler than any of us had originally thought, and after doing the process just once with a solderless option, we feel like we could easily do the process again with a solder option. This would save us a bit of cash if we were considering distributing our XBOX on a massive scale.

The SmartXX

SmartXX is unique in that it actually runs its own copy of embedded Linux. Before the XBOX has a chance to bootstrap its own BIOS, the SmartXX kicks in and bootstraps itself. The SmartXX chip then opens to the menu displayed before. Our SmartXX chip contains 4MB of memory, which can be configured to run various BIOS images to bootstrap the XBOX again. We can save multiple BIOSes in the built-in memory or revert back to the original Microsoft BIOS included with the XBOX. Below, you can see the BIOS and configuration chooser below.

Click to enlarge.

Inside the SmartXX configuration, we can actually specify and then terminal into the XBOX to configure options via a command line interface instead. We can also specify the default location of where the XBOX should boot; just another step while verifying our install went OK.

Click to enlarge.

Costs Advantages and Drawbacks of the Design
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  • Nepsir - Thursday, November 11, 2004 - link

    I was just wondering if you will do a test with mental ray on the cluster (I think you mentioned something about Mental Ray in the article). It would be really interesting to see the results of that since me and a couple of friends got modded X-Boxes and I have a 3dsMax6 license (Mental Ray is included).
  • gibson042 - Thursday, November 11, 2004 - link

    You might want to look at the "mini-cluster" project (http://www.mini-itx.com/projects/cluster/) when planning/designing/building your EPIA cluster. It's a 12-node (originally 6) cluster developed by Glen Gardner, and appears to be the same size or a little smaller than a stack of an equal number of XBOXes. Of course, the frame is custom built and the hardware is exposed to the world.
  • Aikouka - Thursday, November 11, 2004 - link

    I can say that I love having a modded xbox, because the capabilities are so much greater. As discussed earlier, a software mod can be a great way to do it (although it usually requires a game unless you want to take your HDD out, which is NOT a fun method unless you love swapping IDE cables.)

    It's also good to note that you should be careful when modding these or even make a backup of the hdd on your system, because things can go wrong, and if you like to fiddle with things, then your chances will be a lot higher. I know at one point I was stuck in error 16 and had to pull the HDD out and unlock it using the IDE swap method.

    Are there plans for an article on modding something such as the PS2? I just recently tried a no-solder modchip in the PS2, and it doesn't seem to be going along too well. Maybe it's time for a flip-top.
  • Scarceas - Thursday, November 11, 2004 - link

    "We crimped our own cabling as you can see in the image below."

    I'm still looking for the image, I know its there somewhere!
  • bleugh - Thursday, November 11, 2004 - link

    If anyone wants their xbox motherboards upgraded to 128 megabytes of memory, I can do it

    I'm UK based and use BRAND NEW samsung memory chips

    I can upgrade your existing motherboards, sell you ready upgraded boards, or even just the chips!

    if one of the anandtech team wants their xboxes upgraded i'll happily do it at cost, please contact me to discuss

  • LotoBak - Thursday, November 11, 2004 - link

    First, XBox live banning....

    Basically this is how it used to work. When your on live it does a hash of your bios. A mod replaces your bios. If you bios is not the retail ms bios the serial (eeprom) is blacklisted. NOW since halo2 has been released it appears that MS has changed a while bunch of shit on us. Preliminary information indicates that MS is banning by hard drive serial+model numbers, xbox serial, and flagging the gamertag as 'potential pirate'. Thus to unban the xbox both a new hdd and eeprom are needed. Then you must cancel and create a new xbox live account. There are more details about how it all works but bottom line is we dont know how it works now. They can throw new stuff at us anytime now. Rumors are flying that hdd capacities are being scanned as well. For all intents and perposes xbox + modded xbox's do not mix.

    Yes there is a PS1 emu for xbox. That said xbox DVD drives do not read cd-r (or retail ps1 games) Therefor all games must be transfered to the xbox hdd in bin/cue or iso format

    When comparing mods remember, the mod contains no modded bios stuff. They are useless in them selves. You will need to aquire a modded bios for your xbox (online, free). What this means is that every mod can contain the same bios's. Therefor they all contain the same base features (mostly booting unsigned code). Hardware features and support is where you want to base your decision on. If you want cheap + no manufacterer support there are 10$ solutions around for you(enabled/disables with power button). If you want support with a mod with a few extra hardware features (2 bios's, external switch) that'll cost around 30-40. Fancy Shamcy lcd support, 8 bios banks, blah blah blah fancy external thing thoes are up to 75ish. But in the end they all allow you to run the same software on the xbox.

    if you want to learn read some beginner tutorials at http://tutorials.xbox-scene.com
  • Omega215D - Thursday, November 11, 2004 - link

    After seeing Halo 2, it makes me wonder if they really need Pixel Shader 2.0. Its pretty cool that I can play old games on the XBOx through emulators though but i wanna see when the next XBOX kicks off before spending $200.
  • ViRGE - Wednesday, November 10, 2004 - link

    #12, probably not. The Xbox's GPU is a GeForce 4 class GPU - the lack of Pixel Shader 2.0 features can really be limiting.
  • euph - Wednesday, November 10, 2004 - link

    is there any way to use the gpu for the pov-ray rendering?
  • ukDave - Wednesday, November 10, 2004 - link

    Little quote that sums up the SmartXX XBL saga:

    Q: just bought a Smart XX mod and I still don't know if i'll be able to play xbox live so please somebody tell me if i'll be able to play it.
    A: There is no easy way to answer this question. First of all, it all depends on circumstance. Have you upgraded your hard drive? Has your Xbox ever been banned before? And, for newbs, are you thinking about playing on live while using a bios from the chip.

    If you answered yes to any of these questions you've won a lifetime ban from Microsoft!

    Sleep time :) And i don't even use XBL :D

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