The Mac That Helped Build the Xbox Rides Again

The original Xbox, released in 2001 by Microsoft, was notable for being built out of largely off-the-shelf PC components. With a custom Pentium III CPU and IDE peripherals, the console was much closer to a contemporary desktop computer than any of the dedicated game consoles which had come before it. Which of course makes perfect sense if you think about it. Microsoft would want to use technology they were intimately acquainted with on their first foray into gaming market, and if there’s anything Microsoft knows better than forced system updates, it’s x86 computers.

But for their follow-up system, the Xbox 360, Microsoft decided to go with a PowerPC processor they co-developed with IBM. Naturally this meant they needed PowerPC development systems to give to developers, which is how Microsoft ended up briefly distributing PowerMac G5’s. [Pierre Dandumont] came into possession of one of these oddball Microsoft-branded Macs, though unfortunately the hard drive had been wiped. But with the help of a leaked drive image and some hardware sleuthing, he’s now got the machine up and running just like it was when Microsoft was sending them to developers between 2003 and 2005.

Since you’re reading this on Hackaday, you might have guessed there was a little more to the story then just downloading an ISO and writing it to the hard drive of a PowerMac G5. There’s apparently some debate in the community about whether or not it’s some form of rudimentary DRM on Microsoft’s part, but in any event, the development kit operating system will only run on a G5 with very specific hardware. So the challenge is not only figuring out what hardware the software is looking for, but finding it and getting it installed over a decade after its prime.

Most of the required hardware, like the Intel 741462-010 network card or 160 GB Seagate ST3160023AS hard drive were easy enough to track down on eBay. But the tricky one was finding a Mac version of the ATi Radeon X800 XT. [Pierre] ended up getting a much more common ATi FireGL X3 and flashing it with the Mac X800 firmware. This is a little easier said than done as depending on which manufacturer made the memory on your specific video card you have to fiddle with the clock speeds to get a usable image, but in the end he found the wining combination and the development kit OS booted up with his hacked graphics card.

So what does all this get you in 2019? [Pierre] admits nothing terribly useful, but it’s still pretty cool. The system lets you run Xbox and Xbox 360 binaries, and even features the old Xbox 360 “blade” style dashboard. He says that he’s only had limited success getting retail games to actually run on the thing, but if your goal was running Xbox 360 games in 2019 there’s certainly better ways to do that anyway. Like, buying an Xbox 360.

We’ve previously talked about the Xbox 360’s rather unusual processor, but around these parts we more often see projects which involve tearing Microsoft’s sophomore console apart than digging into how it actually worked.

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Xbox One X Gets Aluminum Laptop Makeover

While many a gamer was willing to brave hand-to-hand combat this Black Friday just to get a few bucks off of Microsoft’s premium-tier game console, [jomega] was already cutting his to pieces from the comfort of his own home. Not dissuaded by the system’s fairly high sticker price or relatively limited modding scene, he decided to transplant his Xbox One X into an incredibly slick laptop-style aluminum enclosure.

Turning a game console into a “laptop” is hardly new, Ben Heck has been doing it for over a decade now, but in general they tend to look pretty clunky. With a few exceptions, the builder’s goal is not so much to make the final result look sleek and professional, but simply to take their favorite games on the go. But from the start [jomega] wanted something that would not only allow him to take long walks in the park with Master Chief, but look gorgeous doing it.

One of his goals was to make the final device thinner than the original system, so the first step was to assemble virtual representations of the Xbox’s principal components in CAD to find the most efficient placement for everything. Long before the first pieces of aluminum were cut, [jomega] already knew where each part and screw was going to end up. The time he invested in planning out the build in CAD more than made up for itself when it came time to assemble the final product, and also means this design is highly reproducible should he decide to build another one on commission.

Even though the final system seems impossibly thin, no hardware or functionality had to be left out. Even the optical drive, which on the stock console is something of an afterthought to begin with in an era of digital downloads (rumor has it the next Xbox will drop optical discs entirely), has been retained. Special consideration did need to be given to cooling the 4K powerhouse though, and [jomega] warns that running the system with the case open or the fans off can have dangerous consequences.

Thanks to the Xbox One’s wireless capabilities (for both Internet connection and controllers), there’s a notable lack of ports on the case. This made the design a bit easier, as [jomega] really only needed to have a connector for the AC power cord in the back and a couple of holes for the system’s power, eject, and controller sync buttons. He did add in a USB port for convenience, but even that could be skipped to make things easier.

In the past we’ve seen some rather husky Xbox 360 laptop builds, and at least one attempt to build a more slimline version, but this latest entry in the long line of portable-ized Xboxen has set the bar very high.

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How the Xbox Was Hacked

The millennium: a term that few had any use for before 1999, yet seemingly overnight it was everywhere. The turning of the millenium permeated every facet of pop culture. Unconventional popstars like Moby supplied electronica to the mainstream airwaves while audiences contemplated whether computers were the true enemy after seeing The Matrix. We were torn between anxiety — the impending Y2K bug bringing the end of civilization that Prince prophesied — and anticipation: the forthcoming release of the PlayStation 2.

Sony was poised to take control of the videogame console market once again. They had already sold more units of the original PlayStation than all of their competition combined. Their heavy cloud of influence over gamers meant that the next generation of games wasn’t going to start in until the PS2 was on store shelves. On the tail of Sony announcing the technical specs on their machine, rumors of a new competitor entering the “console wars” began to spread. That new competitor was Microsoft, an American company playing in a Japanese company’s game.
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This Xbox 360 is Powered by Steam

Now that we’re far enough into the next generation of home video game consoles that we can’t really keep calling them that anymore, yard sales are sure to be full of lonely Xbox 360s and PS3s that have been put out to pasture. You’ll probably even find a Wii U or two out there that somebody accidentally purchased. This is great for hackers who like cramming new electronics into outdated consumer gear, and accordingly, we’re starting to see the fruits of that generational shift.

Case in point, this Xbox 360 which has been transformed into a “Steam Box” by [Pedro Mateus]. He figured the Xbox 360 was the proper size to fit a full PC plus PSU, while still looking contemporary enough that it won’t seem out of place in the entertainment center. Running SteamOS on Fedora 28, it even offers a traditional game console experience and user interface, despite the decidedly PC internals.

On the outside, the only thing that really gives away this particular Xbox’s new lease on life (when the purple LEDs are off, anyway) is the laser cut acrylic Steam logo on the top that serves as a grill for the internal CPU cooler. Ironically, [Pedro] did spray the Xbox white instead of just starting with a black one, but otherwise, there wasn’t much external modification necessary. Inside, of course, is a very different story.

It’s packing an AMD Ryzen 5 2400G processor with Radeon RX Vega 11GPU and 8GB of Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 3200MHz RAM. Power is provided by a Seasonic SS-300TFX 300W, and a Noctua NH-L9a-AM4 keeps the system cool. Even with all that gear in there, the thing is probably still quieter than the stock Xbox 360.

[Pedro] helpfully provides quite a few benchmarks for those wondering how this hacked-up Xbox fares against a more traditional gaming setup, though peak performance was obviously not the goal here. If you’ve got 45 minutes or so to spare, you should check out the video he’s put together after the break, which goes over the machine’s construction.

We’ve seen it done with the original Xbox, and now the Xbox 360. Who will be the first to send in their build that guts a current-generation Xbox and turns it into a PC for Internet fame?

[Thanks to Mike for the tip.]

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Modern PC Crammed Into an Original Xbox

When the original Microsoft Xbox was released in 2001, one of the most notable features of its design was that it used a number of off-the-shelf computer components. Inside contemporary offerings from Nintendo and Sony you’ll see almost nothing but proprietary components, whereas cracking open the Xbox reveals an IDE hard drive, a customized PC DVD-ROM drive, and an Intel Pentium III CPU. Depending on which team you were on, the Xbox’s close relation to PC hardware of the day was either a point of honor or ridicule in the early 2000’s console wars; but regardless of politics, it ended up being instrumental in all of the hacks and mods the console got over its lifetime.

In that light, [P8ntBal1551] managing to jam a modern computer into the shell of an Xbox is like having the last laugh in this nearly two-decade-old debate. Wanting to build an HTPC that wouldn’t look out of place in his entertainment center, he figured the Xbox would make a suitable home for his Intel 4460 powered build. Not to say it was easy: getting all of the hardware and associated wiring inside the case took a bit of cheating, but the end result looks good enough that we’ll give him a pass.

The key to this project is the 3D printed structure inside the Xbox’s case that holds everything together. Painstakingly designed to align all of his components and cooling fans, it took over 58 hours to print just the base plate alone on his CR-10.

Even with all of his primary components installed, [P8ntBal1551] still had to wrestle with an absolute rat’s nest of wiring. He couldn’t find smaller versions of a number of the cables he needed, so he had to resort to some creative wire management to get everything packed in there. In the end, there was simply too much gear for the Xbox’s case to legitimately fit, so he ended up printing a spacer to fit between the bottom and top halves. Though in the end even this worked out in his favor, as it gave him a place to mount the integrated FLIRC IR receiver without having to cut a hole in the original front panel. The end product looks close enough to stock to be almost unnoticeable to the casual observer.

Its been a while since we’ve seen a hack for Microsoft’s original black and green monster, most of the Xbox projects we see are in relation to its significantly more popular successor. It’s always nice to see people keeping the classics alive in their own way.

[via /r/pcmasterrace]

Open Gaming To Everyone With A Controller Meant To Be Hacked

Gaming controllers have come a long way from an Atari 2600’s single button and digital joystick. As games grew more sophisticated, so did the controllers. This development had a dark side – controllers’ growing complexity have made it increasingly difficult for different-abled bodies to join in the fun. Microsoft has extended an invitation to this audience with their upcoming Xbox Adaptive Controller.

Creative minds have been working on this problem for a while, building an ecosystem of controller hacks to get more people into gaming. These projects require solving problems in two broad categories: the first is to interface with input devices that match a specific user’s needs, the second is then integration into target game device’s control infrastructure.

The value of XAC is eliminating the second category of work and making it reliable: it takes care of all the housekeeping overhead of creating a custom Xbox controller, from power management to wireless communication. As for input device interface, every control needed to play on a Xbox is individually mapped to a standard 3.5 mm jack. Some are pure digital ports, others can transfer an analog value. A 3.5mm plug is a proven consumer-friendly interface that’s easy to work on by anyone who wants to pick up a soldering iron, making this array of jacks a wide-open gateway to limitless possibilities. The 3.5 mm jacks make it easy to build specific configurations, and make it easy for less-technical people to reconfigure for a different player or different game.

We love to see our hacker creativeness applied to help people live normal lives. Making it easy to hack up a custom gaming controller may not be earth shattering, but don’t underestimate the importance of letting people feel included. It does transform lives, one at a time. Plus, it looks like fun to play with.

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Rejecting Microsoft’s Phaseout of the Kinect

You might not be aware unless you’re up on the latest gaming hardware, but Microsoft is trying to kill the Kinect. While the Xbox One famously included it as a mandatory pack-in accessory at launch (this was later abandoned to get the cost down), the latest versions of the system don’t even have the proprietary port to plug it in. For a while Microsoft was offering an adapter that would let you plug it into one of the console’s USB ports, but now even that has been discontinued. Owners of the latest Xbox One consoles who still want to use the Kinect are left to find an adapter on eBay, where the prices have naturally skyrocketed.

Recently [Eagle115] decided to open up his Kinect and see if he couldn’t figure out a way to hook it up to his new Xbox One. The port on the Kinect is a USB 3.0 B female, but it requires 12V to operate. The official Kinect adapter took the form of a separate AC adapter and a “tap” that provided the Kinect with 12V over USB, so he reasoned he could pop open the device and provide power directly to the pads on the PCB.

[Eagle115] bought a 12V wall adapter and a USB 3.0 B cable and got to work. Once the Kinect was popped open, he found that he needed to supply power on pin 10 (which is helpfully labeled on the PCB). There’s just enough room to snake the cable from the AC adapter through the same hole in the case where the the USB cable connects.

With the Kinect getting 12V from the AC adapter, the Xbox has no problem detecting it as if you were using the official adapter. At least for now, they haven’t removed support for the Kinect in the Xbox’s operating system.

The Kinect has always been extremely popular with hackers (it even has its own category here on Hackaday), so it’s definitely sad to see that Microsoft is walking away from the product. The community will no doubt continue pulling off awesome hacks with it; but it’s looking increasingly likely we won’t be getting a next generation Kinect.

[via /r/DIY]