Original Xbox Gets The Steam Overhaul

When Microsoft released the original Xbox, it deviated from the design of traditional game consoles in that it used several off-the-shelf computer components. The fact that Microsoft would want their game console to resemble a PC isn’t particularly surprising in hindsight, but we doubt anyone at Redmond ever imagined folks like [Ryan Walmsley] would be cramming in full-fledged computers nearly 20 years later.

[Ryan] tells us he was looking for a way to play some older games from the early 2000s, and thought it was a good opportunity to put together a quiet set-top computer. The final hardware is more than capable of running older titles, and can even be used with Steam Link to stream newer content from his primary gaming computer.

Even with a diminutive Gigabyte GA-H81N Mini ITX motherboard, things are pretty tight inside the Xbox. Fairly tight wire management was required to prevent any airflow obstructions, especially since [Ryan] decided to put the system’s 80 watt laptop-style power supply inside the case. While this made the build a bit more complicated, it does make the final product a lot cleaner and makes it feel just that much more like a proper game console.

Benchmarks show the machine has decent performance, all things considered. [Ryan] says there are some potential upgrades down the line, but as with most gaming PC builds, cost is the limiting factor. Until he’s ready to spend the cash on revamping the internals, he says that streaming newer games over the the network has been working great.

For those looking for a slightly more modern alternative to this project, we’ve also seen a gaming PC shoehorned into an Xbox 360 with similarly impressive results.

28 thoughts on “Original Xbox Gets The Steam Overhaul

      1. It isn’t common knowledge…nobody around here knew that. This absolutely blew my mind. I thought it was called the Xbox because the console was for generation X. Someone else said they thought it was because the console is shaped like an X, but I assume that was a design aesthetic. I had no idea Xbox even used DirectX. That’s pretty cool.

        1. Whats even cooler is the origin of the name DirectX. according to Craig Eisler:

          ‘we called the first beta the “Game SDK”. We got the idea to name it DirectX because some reporter made of fun of how we had DirectDraw, DirectSound, and DirectPlay – Direct “X” they wrote. We took it and ran with it’

        2. “I thought it was called the Xbox because the console was for generation X.”


          No one ever built or marketed anything with Gen X in mind! Are you crazy? This world belongs to the Boomers and the Millenials. If you are stuck between those two you don’t exist!

      1. Oh, that’s what the X was meant to stand for.
        I always assumed it meant “cross” (CrossBox).
        Nah, just kidding. ;)

        For us non native speakers of English
        language, this X thing is always confusing,
        I think.
        You never know when it’s meant to be
        X, a placeholder, Cross or 10 (Latin numerals).. :(

        1. Didnt know it was a linguistic issue. ‘X’ or ‘x’ has many meanings. Not just an excessively abused variable.
          In context it can also symbolize bad or negative. As in wrong, dont, or stop. In severe instance its often accompanied by a human skull pictogram symbolizing death. Often used on poison and lethal/dangerous substances.
          Could turn it in a more positive standing by rotating the whole thing from center or intersection by 45° but is likely to pop or slide the poorly soldered BGAs when it gets hot. To avoid this issue a 360 version was made. Nothing much changed in a full circle on any axis. Following the same identity issue led to an X1. Waiting for X( -i) generation to see if anything gets better.

    1. 1) Great handle. I prefer chair-to-keyboard interface (CKI), but PEBKAC’s a classic.
      2) I never knew this. I had toddlers and no time for gaming when Xbox came out, so I paid no attention.

  1. So… using an Xbox shell as a case for a totally different computer? I don’t think you can properly call this an Xbox running Steam, when the only Xbox thing about this is the shell. More of a case mod than anything else.

    1. Too bad I don’t think the steam-for-linux client would have ever run on the original hardware. I wonder if anyone installed Steam-circa-2003 on XP-on-Xbox…

      1. The original XBox used a Pentium III CPU, which quickly lagged behind state of the art in desktop and laptop PCs. No idea why Microsoft used PowerPC in the 360. If they’d stayed with Intel it would’ve been a piece of cake to have 100% perfect backwards support for original XBox games on the Xbox 360. Most likely by having nVidia design the GPU to include full GeForce 3 support and the OS adapted to the new hardware. Pop in an OG XBox disc and it’d boot the old OS or even better load an application layer for the old games. Then Microsoft could’ve integrated old and new Live services.

        Could have used an Intel P4 Extreme Edition CPU. Or perhaps a customized AMD Athlon X2 with a 3rd core. AMD was just starting dual core CPUs in 2005. Working with Microsoft on the 360 would’ve given them a leg up over Intel, who was also just getting into dual core CPUs at the time.

        But instead they chose a way to make it as utterly difficult as possibly by changing CPU architecture and switching GPU brands from nVidia to ATi.

        1. You answered your own question no?

          During the development period for the 360 PowerPC offered far more in the way of calculation per watt.

          The cheapish 6 thread 3 core 3.2GHz PowerPC processor would massively outperform any contemporary intel processor (what was the era of the first Intel Core Duo’s I believe circa 2005).

          It was the GPU that was a heat fiend and caused the RROD.

          1. It was *LOW GRADE SOLDER* that caused the RROD. This was thoroughly confirmed.

            Yes, the system ran on the hotter side, and even the last generation of those units did, but when they finally identified that issue and got those old boards out of production and repair cycles, the famous RROD finally got under control. Shame it took them so long, but the manufacturing company (FOXCONN) told Microsoft that all materials being used were 100% to the contract specifications… Then they quietly cut corners for extra savings without telling MS. Sure, we can all think of ways that we could identify lower grade solder on the board, but its visibly going to be a very subtle issue and if you don’t KNOW that was the cause you’d probably skip over it too. Funnily enough, the solder really isn’t one of the most manufacturing components, so it’s not like FOXCONN was even saving that much money by getting cheap there.

            As heat in the system caused the mainboard to fluctuate, Microsoft’s engineers had tested with the materials that had been spec’d in the contract. In extreme heat, the mainboard could ‘flex’ a bit, but didn’t surpass acceptable limitations, as the [intended] solder was more than strong enough to keep contacts exactly where they needed to be, and wouldn’t give until a much higher temperature than would ever exist in an otherwise functional system during proper use. When the system cools off, the internals would quickly return to their normal state. This meant that if you tested with the case open, airflow differences would prevent you from seeing the issue as it naturally occurred, and if you ran the system closed in it’s casing till it got hot before opening it, you’d have precious little time to tear in and see the uneven warping issues before they returned to normal. Unfortunately, the boards returning to their normal state didn’t mean that the solder was back to where it should be, and tiny gaps would cause shorts and the RROD. The flexing caused by uneven heat distribution (which occurs in tight spaces like that by necessary design, not as an oversight), would effect some parts more than others, depending on air flow and hardware usage at the given time.

            Some might remember the infamous “towel trick” with those systems. If you had a day one system with RROD, there was a remarkably high chance that you could actually FIX the issue by wrapping the system tightly in a towel, and leaving it on for about 20-30 minutes… Which sounded (and still sounds) like a recipe for a fire. But, this forced more even heat throughout the ENTIRE unit, so that everything warped/flexed more uniformly, and by allowing it to slowly cool from that uniform state (ie: by not removing the towel for as much as an hour afterward), many of the units had small enough gaps that the process could return them to a working state. Unfortunately, this process is murder on hardware in general, and it couldn’t fix more severe gaps in some cases. Microsoft never acknowledged the fix, but it was widely accepted by many users at the time, and largely confirmed to have worked (really, go back to forums in ’06 and you’ll find countless users reluctantly trying, then confirming the trick). And of course, this little trick didn’t address the core cause of the problem, because as soon as you fixed your system and resumed normal use, you were likely to get the issue again. Many users would repeat this process several times until they were unlucky enough to get those larger gaps that even the towel trick couldn’t reasonably fix. Or, they left it for too long, and literally burnt out other portions of the hardware. Good times.

        2. “No idea why Microsoft used PowerPC in the 360”

          Fact: PowerPC architecture could be licensed and customized. Microsoft did this to build 360’s Xenon CPU, Sony did the same to build PS3’s Cell.

          Speculation: Intel was not interested in playing this game. Or at least not at the low profit margins necessary for a consumer electronics device.

          We don’t know if AMD was unwilling and/or unable to play at the time, but eventually they got there. Xbox One and PS4 both used AMD chips customized to their own individual specifications.

          Cell was infamously difficult to write code for, and Microsoft might have decided customizing CPU architectures themselves wasn’t worth the trouble: https://hackaday.com/2018/01/08/speculative-execution-was-a-troublemaker-for-xbox-360/

      2. I think technically, the minimum for XP was 64MB, but it was nasty on anything with less than 256MB, and even then you only had a few dozen MB free. By the time it was patched to SP3, it would eat 350MB of 512.

        So, I think you’d have to hack in a RAM expansion, 256MB or better to run XP comfortably enough to load anything else, if going to the bother though, do 512 for actual headroom.

        However, while we’re at it, let’s get an interposer socket to stick a Pentium M 765 in there and fiddle with the PLL to bump FSB to 143 from 133 and get 3GHz, *Tim Allen noises*

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