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Hacking The Xbox


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A presentation I gave many moons ago to my local Linux Users Group on how to hack the original Microsoft Xbox. Mostly of historical interest today but maybe you ran across a cheap used Xbox at a garage sale somewhere and want to be able to do something neat with it.

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Hacking The Xbox

  1. 1. Hacking the Xbox By Donald Burr <>
  2. 2. What We’ll Discuss <ul><li>What is an Xbox? </li></ul><ul><li>What can you do with a hacked Xbox? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Upgrade hard drive </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Back up games onto hard drive </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Emulators </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Media players/media center </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Linux </li></ul></ul><ul><li>How to hack the Xbox </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Hardware vs. software hacks </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Running Linux on a hacked Xbox </li></ul>
  3. 3. What is an Xbox? <ul><li>Video game console marketed by Microsoft </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Introduced in Fall 2001. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Basically an embedded PC. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Pentium III Celeron @ 733 MHz </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>64 MB DDR RAM </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>8 GB hard drive </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>DVD-ROM drive </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>10/100 Ethernet </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>4 x USB 1.1 ports </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>NVIDIA NV2X custom graphics chip (Roughly equivalent to a GeForce 3 MX) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>OS based on Windows 2000 </li></ul></ul><ul><li>You get all of this for $150 ($110 or lower if used) </li></ul>
  4. 4. Opening the Xbox
  5. 5. The Innards Exposed!
  6. 6. The motherboard itself
  7. 7. Backside of motherboard
  8. 8. Why do you need to hack it? <ul><li>If it’s basically like a PC, then why can’t you just toss in a Linux disk or whatever? </li></ul><ul><li>It’s because of the Microsoft BIOS (TSOP) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It will only run “signed” software </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Public key cryptography </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>You need to get around this in order to run third party (“unsigned” software) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Unless you have the Microsoft Xbox SDK, which can generate signed code… </li></ul></ul>
  9. 9. What can you do with a hacked Xbox? <ul><li>Play games made for other regions (Europe, Japan, etc.) </li></ul><ul><li>Play DVD’s made for other regions (Region-Free DVD player) </li></ul><ul><li>Back up games onto the internal HD and play them from the HD </li></ul><ul><ul><li>No more lost/broken game CD’s </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Doesn’t work with Xbox Live games – you still need the original CD for those </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. More hacked Xbox tricks <ul><li>Emulators </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Atari, C-64, Arcade machines (MAME), PlayStation, ADAM, Apple ][, N64, SNES, GameBoy, and many, many, many more </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Media Players and Media Center </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Xbox Media Center (XBMC) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Plays audio and video file formats </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Network aware (can stream content from a server) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>And, of course, you can run Linux on it! </li></ul><ul><li>More applications being made every day </li></ul>
  11. 11. Caveat Hacker!!! (The Disclaimer of Doom) <ul><li>Strictly speaking, hacking/modding your Xbox is ILLEGAL </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Thanks to that lovely piece of legislation we know and love (NOT!), the DMCA </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The Xbox BIOS can be seen as a “digital encryption device” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>And according to the DMCA, circumventing such a device is illegal </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>That having been said, I have NOT heard of any cases where individuals were prosecuted </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Microsoft has gone after some companies that sell mod chips, however no individuals who have bought modchips have been prosecuted. </li></ul></ul>
  12. 12. More Disclaimers <ul><li>Neither I, nor SBLUG, can or will be held responsible if you screw up, destroy, or maim yourself or your Xbox </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Remember, you ARE voiding your warranty! </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Nor can we be held responsible if anyone takes legal action against you </li></ul><ul><ul><li>However, both we and the Xbox community think that this is highly unlikely. </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. Fight for your Rights! <ul><li>This is an excellent example of “Fair Use” and why we should fight to protect our Fair Use rights. </li></ul><ul><li>See the EFF for more info and to get involved </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Another VERY IMPORTANT new law that WILL affect things like this – The INDUCE Act </li></ul><ul><ul><li>So important, it deserves its own slide </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. The INDUCE Act <ul><li>This all stems from the Sony v. Universal Supreme Court decision ruled in 1984 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Universal sued Sony over the Betamax VCR – because it could be used to copy/pirate movies </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sony argued that VCR’s have legitimate uses and so shouldn’t be banned </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The Supreme Court agreed in this landmark decision </li></ul></ul><ul><li>However, this ruling is now being threatened by Big Media </li></ul>
  15. 15. How does this affect me? <ul><li>It’s a matter of legal precedent </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The Betamax decision set the precedent that allowed the development of other digital devices </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>iPods </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>TiVO/ReplayTV </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>CD and DVD burners </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Computers </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>And yes, hacked Xboxen too… </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Big Media doesn’t like this! </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>They want to control what content you can get, and how you can use it </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>This would effectively stifle technical innovation and Open Source projects under a mass of legal red tape </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Fight the Power!!! </li></ul>
  16. 16. Hacking the Xbox <ul><li>Two methods </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Software hacking </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hardware hacking </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Which one you use depends on several factors </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Vintage of your Xbox </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Your skills at soldering </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Availability of software hacks/exploits </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How daring you are </li></ul></ul>
  17. 17. Software hacking <ul><li>The easiest hacking method </li></ul><ul><li>Requires no additional tools (except for the software that the exploit needs). No disassembly required. </li></ul><ul><li>Typical hacker stuff – exploiting vulnerabilities, buffer overflows, etc. in software (games) to get the Xbox to run your own code </li></ul><ul><li>Problem is, with the latest OS upgrades (esp. Xbox Live!), they have patched a lot of these vulnerabilities. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>So they only work with older/unpatched Xboxes and software. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>You’ll have to resort to hardware hacking instead… </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. Some example software exploits <ul><li>Splinter Cell save-game exploit </li></ul><ul><li>MechAssault Audio Exploit </li></ul><ul><li>Bert + Ernie Font Exploit </li></ul><ul><li>Many more </li></ul>
  19. 19. Hardware hacking <ul><li>Works where software hacking doesn’t </li></ul><ul><li>Hardware hacking requires a “mod chip” </li></ul><ul><li>Mod chips available for all Xbox versions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Even those where software hacking doesn’t work </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Some assembly required </li></ul><ul><li>Requires you to open the Xbox </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Hence voids your warranty. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Some soldering is required for new Xboxes </li></ul><ul><li>Special precautions required when using Xbox Live </li></ul>
  20. 20. Some terminology <ul><li>TSOP </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The Xbox’s built in BIOS </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Does not allow third party/unsigned software to run </li></ul></ul><ul><li>LPC </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Low Pin Count – a sort of “bus” that mod chips hook into </li></ul></ul><ul><li>D0 pin </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A pin on the motherboard that is used by a mod chip to “interrupt” the normal booting of the Xbox, to insert its own BIOS in place of the standard Xbox TSOP BIOS. </li></ul></ul>
  21. 21. How it Works <ul><li>Normally the Xbox runs the code in TSOP when it is turned on </li></ul><ul><li>Mod chip triggers the D0 line, interrupts the normal boot, and runs the code on the mod chip </li></ul><ul><li>Mod chip contains a flash memory chip that you can flash your own BIOSes on </li></ul><ul><ul><li>1 MB = 4 x 256K BIOSes </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Mod chip allows you to select from any of these BIOSes, or boot the standard Xbox TSOP. </li></ul>
  22. 22. Types of BIOSes <ul><li>TSOP </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Original Microsoft BIOS on motherboard </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Only runs signed code </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Required for Xbox Live </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Live checks BIOS checksum when logging in </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>If it doesn’t match, your Xbox is BANNED from Live </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>You can buy an EEPROM code that can un-ban your Xbox, but that is a risky proposition </li></ul></ul></ul>
  23. 23. More BIOSes <ul><li>EvoX BIOS </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A hacked version of the Microsoft BIOS (TSOP) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Removes the encryption check </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Allows signed and unsigned code to run </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Lets you play standard Xbox games as well as other software (Linux, emulators, Media Center, etc.) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>WILL NOT work with Xbox Live (fails the checksum test) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>You WILL get banned!!! </li></ul></ul></ul>
  24. 24. Yet Another BIOS <ul><li>“Cromwell” BIOS </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Completely engineered from scratch </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>More or less like a standard PC BIOS </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Will NOT run standard Xbox software, signed or unsigned </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Used for booting and running Linux ONLY </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Only use if you intend to dedicate your Xbox to Linux </li></ul></ul>
  25. 25. Mod chips <ul><li>There are many mod chips out there </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Xecutor </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Xenium </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Chameleon </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>SmartXX </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>X-Chip </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>And a whole bunch of others </li></ul></ul>
  26. 26. I went with the Xenium <ul><li>Xenium ICE is my recommendation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Solderless (unless you have a 1.6 Xbox) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No DIP switches – everything is software programmable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>1 MB BIOS chip </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Allows you to flash up to 4 x 256K BIOSes </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Easy to use, menu driven interface </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Software protection against accidental “bad flashes” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Only mod chip out there now that works with v1.6 Xboxes </li></ul></ul>
  27. 27. What you get Solderless kit LED display connector Pin header for motherboard Mod chip USB port converter LED display
  28. 28. How to install it <ul><li>You have to download the instructions!! </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>For V1.0-1.5 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Remove solder from LPC points (if v1.0) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Install rivets (optional) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Seat solderless adapter </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Insert D0 wire into D0 point </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Seat Xenium chip on solderless adapter </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Installation for v1.6 Xboxes is a bit more involved, and requires soldering </li></ul>
  29. 29. Installing on a v1.6 Xbox <ul><li>Rebuild the LPC port (if you have a V1.6 Xbox) </li></ul><ul><li>Install the pin header in the LPC port </li></ul><ul><li>Seat the Xenium chip on the pin header </li></ul><ul><li>Solder wire from D0 point on motherboard on D0 point on Xenium </li></ul>
  30. 30. The LPC port
  31. 31. Rebuilding the LPC port
  32. 32. Installing Xenium and D0 wire
  33. 33. Modchip Installed… Now What? <ul><li>Time to go software hunting! </li></ul><ul><li>Go to EFnet IRC channel #xbins </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Good EFnet server – port 6667 </li></ul></ul><ul><li>/msg xbins !list </li></ul><ul><li>Follow the directions </li></ul><ul><li>Bookmark that IRC site </li></ul><ul><ul><li>You WILL need to go back there and do the “/msg xbins !list” if you want to FTP stuff in the future </li></ul></ul>
  34. 34. What should I get? <ul><li>EvoX hacked BIOS </li></ul><ul><li>Slayer’s EvoX Install Disk </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The “Knoppix” of Xbox modders </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>One disk that contains the “best of the best” in Xbox software </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Makes it very easy to install </li></ul></ul><ul><li>A Linux distribution </li></ul><ul><ul><li>GentooX is easiest to install </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Xebian takes a bit more effort to install </li></ul></ul>
  35. 35. First, install the BIOS <ul><li>Boot your newly modded Xbox </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Xenium OS menu should appear </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>If nothing happens, or the Xbox light flashes red, check your connections! </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Now we need to find a way to get the BIOS file onto the Xbox </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Xenium OS has a built in FTP server </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>FTP the BIOS file onto the internal hard drive </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Or you can burn a CD or DVD with the BIOS file on it </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Or, easiest yet, whip out your USB pen drive! </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Use the Xenium menu to add an entry for the new BIOS </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Might as well add an entry for the default BIOS (TSOP) too </li></ul></ul>
  36. 36. Slayers EvoX Install <ul><li>Burn it to a CD or DVD </li></ul><ul><li>Boot your modded Xbox with the hacked BIOS, with this disk in the drive </li></ul><ul><li>Follow the on screen prompts </li></ul><ul><li>If you want to upgrade your Xbox’s hard drive, do this now!! </li></ul><ul><ul><li>SAVE YOUR ORIGINAL HARD DRIVE – you may need it! </li></ul></ul>
  37. 37. It’s time for some demos! First, the non-Linux software (but it’s still Open Source!)
  38. 38. Installing Linux <ul><li>Get the Linux BIOS file onto the Xbox (same procedure as with getting the EvoX BIOS on there) </li></ul><ul><li>Burn the install disk </li></ul><ul><li>Boot install disk using the Linux BIOS </li></ul><ul><li>Follow the directions </li></ul><ul><li>If you can’t see the screen, you can continue the install by SSH’ing into the box </li></ul>
  39. 39. About Keyboards and Mice <ul><li>If you intend to use your Xbox as a Linux console, you will need an adapter to plug in a USB keyboard and mouse. </li></ul><ul><li>Xenium ICE kit comes with one </li></ul><ul><li>Also one is available from Microsoft for free (+$6.95 shipping/handling) </li></ul><ul><li>Xbox controller can be used as a mouse-like device, but it’s not good for fine grained cursor control. </li></ul><ul><li>If you’d rather use a PC monitor instead of a TV, there are Xbox VGA converter boxes. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Check here – </li></ul></ul>
  40. 40. And now some Linux demos Cool things you can do with Linux on an Xbox
  41. 41. Some Final Notes <ul><li>Xboxen tend to be rather picky about the burned media that they can read </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Some Xboxes don’t work with CD-R’s, but work fine with CD-RW’s </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>There are even some Xboxes that work with only specific brands of media </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>If CD media doesn’t work, try DVD media. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Use –RW’s to avoid burning through blank disks </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Forget about –RAM, no Xbox will support it </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>If your burn doesn’t seem to work, keep trying! </li></ul>
  42. 42. For More Information <ul><li>Xbox Scene </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The mother of all sites - you can get EVERYTHING here </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Including links for purchasing modchips and downloading software </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Great FAQs and forums too </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Linux on Xbox (in general) </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>GentooX </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Xebian </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul>
  43. 43. More Resources <ul><li>Microsoft USB Keyboard Adapter </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Lik Sang – source of other Xbox accessories, including VGA adapters </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>EFF – fight for your rights! </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The INDUCE Act – Fight the Evil! </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Feel free to e-mail me </li></ul><ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul></ul>
  44. 44. The End Thanks for coming!