Day 4: What to do with your old Xbox?

Posted by Chris Leckness on Jun 19, 2006

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After a short weekend break it’s time for Day 4 of What to do with your old Xbox! Today I am going to work on the setup of the Software Modifications (Xbox Media Center).

To start, lets take a look at the guide over at XboxScene.com. Over the last few years many methods of Software Modifications have come and gone, and finally there is a fairly reliable way to do it without needing anything but a computer and Xbox.

 

The specific tutorial that I am going to use is located here. This tutorial walks through the steps of making a bootable cd that we will boot in our computer. Then we will hotswap (switch the IDE cable) on the Xbox Hard Drive while the PC and Xbox are booted up.

Before I start explaining, do note this. Software Modifications are risky at best, they can leave you with a totally non-working Xbox. Softmods tend to be even more risky than a ModChip as if a softmod gets screwed up, there is no recovery method. There also are different versions of Xbox (v1.0 – v1.7) and softmods can behave differently on different versions and setups of Xboxs. DO NOT come to me blaming me for screwing up your Xbox, this is just an informative guide and you are on your own (besides going to the Xbox Scene forums) when you do this.

I deceided to take the plunge into the softmod world with my v1.6 Xbox and that is what I am going to be talking about here today.

First a little background info.
The Xbox works like a computer, and in fact is very close to a computer having a Pentium CPU, Hard Drive, Disc Drive, Power Supply, etc. It also works like a computer in that it has a Bios. A ModChip is a physical item that you install into an Xbox (or other gaming system) to circumvent the Xbox’s Bios and let you boot whatever you like from the Xbox Hard Drive (which the stock Bios will not let you do). This is great, but requires you to buy and install (lots of soldering) a modchip in the Xbox. I choose to go the other route, softmodding. Softmodding takes advantages of security loop holes in the Xbox System Software that let you boot your own software.

Another thing to know about the Xbox is that it uses a completely different format on the HDD (fatx) instead of the standard formats we use on our computers (that is why we need to make a special boot disc for the computer so that it can read/write to the Xbox HDD). The Xbox also uses its own sorts of files for system files. The main type of files on the Xbox  are .xbe files. These are like .exe files on your computer and are really programs. For example, the Xbox Dash (what you get to when you do not put a disc in) is just an Xbe file. Also, programs that we are going to add like Xbox Media Center are Xbe files. There are other files that the Xbes use to run, but those are usually included in a folder or something and never need to be touched (where as Xbe files need to be executed when you want to run the program). Finally, most of the programs are known as DashBoards (like the Standard Microsoft (MS) DashBoard, XBMC DashBoard, etc.). Dashboards let you launch other applications, change settings, and many other things (depending on the DashBoard).

Now onto the softmodding! The first step is to make the bootable CD that I will boot on your computer. This CD includes the modified files that will be copied onto my Xbox to make it softmodded and is customized (see the tutorial) to your Xbox and what you want on it. I choose to do pretty much what was said in the tutorial (just a fairly basic install of the softmod which will be good for most users).

After making the CD, I turned off my PC and booted to the CD. It will come up with a MS-Dos (raw text) looking menu that walks you through the steps of softmodding the Xbox. To actually softmod the Xbox I needed to have my Xbox right next to my computer and able to be plugged in to a TV/Power. I had a small 13" TV that I setup with my Xbox right next to my computer. I then needed to turn on the Xbox without a game in it, go to the Music Manager, copy a song to the Hard Drive, play the song off the Hard Drive for a few seconds (I played it for around 15 seconds) (this is to unlock the Hard Drive so files can be copied to it), and finally swap the IDE cable connected to the Xbox with the one connected to my computer (while the computer is booted into the menu from the bootable CD). This is all covered in the tutorial.

After making a backup of the HDD via the software (it backs up the HDD to a folder on the Hard Drive so you can restore it to stock later if you like) and proceeding to softmod the Xbox, I attached the Xbox IDE cable back to the Xbox Hard Drive and put the Xbox back into its normal spot in my living room.

The softmod in the tutorial is what is known as a dual boot softmod, this means that you can boot to the standard MS Dashboard or the included softmodded DashBoard known as UnleashX. To boot the standard MS Dashboard, when the Xbox is off, you press the eject button. To boot into the softmodded Dashboard, when the Xbox is off, you press the power button. You will be greeted with the Ring of Light changing to Orange (instead of standard Green) and the following screen:

This is the Default Skin of the UnleashX Dashboard. From this Dashboard I can change system settings, load other Programs, and most importantly get FTP Access to your Xbox. FTP Access allows me to transfer files to my Xbox over your network via an FTP client and is the main way to put programs/files onto my  Xbox.

UnleashX is very flexible in that it can be fully customized via an XML file (that I can access via FTP), plus it can easily be used with different skins. I use the Xbox180 skin that looks like this:

The next step for me was to get Xbox Media Center (XBMC) installed so that I could play music and videos on my Xbox (my reason for softmodding it in the first place!). This is easily done by connected to the Xbox via FTP, copying the XBMC files over from my computer to a new folder on the Xbox, and then going to Applications in UnleashX and selecting Xbox Media Center. This boots up Xbox Media Center (that actually can also be used as a Dashboard) that looks like this:

XBMC can use different Skins as well, but I like the default skin the best. I can then go to My Videos, My Music, etc. and browse for media on my network shares.

I can even look up the weather for some of my favorite vacation spots:

When I want to play a game on Xbox Live, I simply need to put the disc in the Xbox, turn off the Xbox, then turn it on again. It should boot directly into the game and the Ring of Light should remain green. There is still a small risk of being banned from Xbox Live, but for most that would be doing this to their OLD Xbox (now that they have a 360), you would not even need to go on live or play games on the Xbox.

 

I hope you enjoyed my look at spicing up your old Xbox if you received a Xbox 360 and have no idea what to do with that old Xbox laying in your closet. The Xbox is a very versitile platform that with a community of active modders, has become a device that can do much more than play Xbox Video games!

If you missed the other days, check them out here:
Day 1: Intro
Day 2-3: Physical Mods

A final picture of my Xbox completed:

Chris Leckness (4418 Posts) - Website | Twitter | Facebook


Chris Leckness is a Microsoft MVP, Mobile Devices and a member of the exclusive focus group, Mobius. Chris has been a big time supporter/user of Windows Mobile since the Dell Axim days when it was Pocket PC 2002. Chris loves Zune, but also owns 3 iPhones too. His personal blog is chris.leckness.com.

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  • Fahd Al Zarooni

    LOL, Xbox OLD…=D

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