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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  • TimPope - Thursday, May 12, 2005 - link

    not bad information but i would have liked to see some kind of real world performance using openmosix.. a single x box on its own as a pc is slow but stick 2-4 together using open mosix could make a reasonably good machine and still be pretty cheap
  • Halz - Wednesday, November 17, 2004 - link

    The rule followed in the article for the -j option, "number of proccessors + 1", overlooked the logical proccessors of the Xeon's Hyperthreading.. -j should have then been something around 5 instead of 3
  • Halz - Wednesday, November 17, 2004 - link

    Simply compiling on the Opteron and Xeon with the same number of threads as the full cluster would have illustraighted a difference.

    More testing should have gone into finding how many threads was the ideal number for the given platforms.
  • artifex - Saturday, November 13, 2004 - link

    Aikouka, can't you just use one of those "HD Loader" type programs WITHOUT a modchip?
    I'd be all for modding my PS/2 if I thought I could actually do something useful with it, like stream audio/video from a PC or a ReplayTV or something.
  • KristopherKubicki - Saturday, November 13, 2004 - link

    Halz: what should it have been?

  • Aikouka - Thursday, November 11, 2004 - link

    23, yes, you can still do just about anything. I know with the software mod that I use, I've been having problems getting the original MS Dash to load up, but I've gotten around that using other programs for the original dashboard's functionality (dvd etc).

    You know, you can also replace the HDD with just a software mod, and it's not that hard. So, if you don't want to hardware mod and want more space, you can still put in a bigger HDD. As much as some people don't like the XBOX, in my opinion, it's probably the best console to mod.

    24, 2) Modchips also allow hdd loading if you have the PS2 HDD (using HDDLoader.) Also, it lets the warez'ers download and play games on the PS2 that they don't really own.
  • artifex - Thursday, November 11, 2004 - link

    1) what we really need is a usb-based tv tuner that actually works. That would be excellent for adding functionality both to XBoxen as cheap PVRs (though I'd still just use XBMC to stream from my ReplayTV, most of the time), but also would be great for iMacs. I'm sure if someone came up with a decent open architecture design, the community would come up with drivers for both types of systems.

    2) what are modchips for PS2s useful for, other than playing import games? Especially with the new PS2s having no drive (is there still a header on the new board style to add one back?)

    3) did I miss the obligatory dnetc test? You gotta do that, you know.
  • Booty - Thursday, November 11, 2004 - link

    I don't even own an Xbox, but reading this article has me reaching for my wallet...

    But first, I want to get this straight - I can mod the Xbox and still use XLink, right? I doubt I'd get a Live subscription anyway, but it'd be nice to have that option possible.

    Ideally I'd like to throw a bigger hard drive in there and then run XBMC, without losing the normal XBox capabilities.

    So if I can do that, I'm goin' to the store this weekend... :)
  • Halz - Thursday, November 11, 2004 - link

    The compile options for the Opteron and Xeon were starving the CPUs; the number of jobs (-j) was no where near optimal.
  • Halz - Thursday, November 11, 2004 - link

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