Desktop Performance

There are several routes that we can take if we are just interested in converting our XBOX into a desktop. Our first option is to just boot the XBOX via the Xebian LiveCD bundled with the SmartXX mod chip. Xebian is a modified Debian LiveCD that comes with Freevo, Mozilla, GCC and a few other goodies. Choosing the Linux CD option in the SmartXX Linux boot brings us to this screen shortly before automatically launching X:

  Welcome to the : Xebian                
  Version :      
  Author : Edgar Hucek (
  Hostname : xbox.localdomain.local     
  Linux Ver. : 2.4.26                    

The first time that we ran Xebian without the Ethernet connected, the XBOX actually hung when we launched Mozilla. There is not much denying it - the XBOX PC is not any sort of workstation replacement. Performance benchmarks are not going to be very good at all, particularly compared with some other hardware solutions available today. However, for $200 bucks, the total system cost packs a "little" bit of a punch. For reference, we benchmarked a few small utilities here, just to show a point of reference on performance. Obviously, some of these systems use CPUs that cost more than the entire XBOX PC. Don't expect the XBOX PC to win any awards, but notice how well it performs for the price.

After running Xebian, we blew away the hard disk and installed a stripped down copy of SUSE 9.1 without the X window system. SUSE runs on the 2.6 kernel while Xebian runs on 2.4. Installing SUSE 9.1 was not very difficult; we cannibalized most of the modules and dependencies from Xebian and then essentially merged SUSE into the Xebian install. This gets a little messy, but provides us with a somewhat uniform platform for comparing our other benchmark machines. We compiled gzip from scratch using GCC 3.4.2 on both configurations. Below, you can see the machine gzip the same 700MB file that we use for our other gzip tests.

xbox:/mnt# time gzip 01.wav -c >/dev/null

Gzip 1.2.4 (GCC 3.3.3)

We also decided to encode an MP3. Below, you can see the command that we used to encode the MP3, and playtime multiplier is listed in the graph.

# lame sample.wav -b 192 -m s -h - >/dev/null

lame 3.96.1 (GCC 3.3.3)

We can see from here that the performance is a tad faster running the OS from the hard drive rather than the LiveCD. Xebian lags heavily to do much of anything, including just email. Xebian does not come with an office suite, although when we installed Open Office, we had a bit of difficulty using it effectively. Running a local install onto the hard drive was significantly faster and recommended instead of running the Xebian CD.

Keep in mind, the system and video card share the same memory; tasks like Mozilla are incredibly slow, since we are taxing the system memory and the video memory at the same time. If you plan on running X on this type of system, you may be better off grabbing a minimal desktop like Blackbox or something that does not rely as heavily on video memory.

The Test and Initialization XBMC
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • 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

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now