Fail Of The Week: Hackaday Writer Attempts XBox Repair

Like a lot of Hackaday readers, I pride myself on being “the fix-it guy” in my family. When something breaks, I get excited, because it’s a chance to show off my skills. It’s especially fun when something major breaks, like the fridge or the washing machine — repairs like that are a race against time, since I’ve got to get it fixed faster than it would take to hire someone to do it. I usually win the race; I can’t remember the last time I paid someone to work on something. Like I said, it’s a point of pride.

And so when my son came home on Thanksgiving break from his first semester away at college, eager to fire up his Xbox for some mindless relaxation from his biochemistry studies, only to be greeted with a black screen and no boot-up, it was go-time for me. I was confident that I’d be able to revive the dead box in time for him to have some fun. The fact that he’s back at school and the machine is still torn apart on my bench testifies to my hubris, but to be fair, I did get close to a fix, and may still yet get it done. But either way, the lessons I’ve learned along the way have been really valuable and worth sharing.

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Play Doom Or GTA V With Your Own Custom Controller And Xbox Emulator

[Arnov] is bringing his own custom-made controller to the party and it is sure to impress. The design appears to have been inspired by the Xbox controller layout. Two joysticks for fine control of game characters, 4 face buttons, and two shoulder buttons. He opted for all through-hole components to make the assembly easier. No messing with tiny surface mount components here. We really appreciate the detail given to the silkscreen and the homage paid to a staple of retro gaming.

We were pretty impressed with how smoothly the controller translated to the game. He mentioned that was a huge improvement over his previous design. His original design had buttons instead of joysticks, but switching to joysticks gave him much better in-game control. That could also have a lot to do with the Xbox controller emulator running the background, but still.

Given that gift-giving season is upon us, you could really impress the video game enthusiast in your life with this as a custom gift. You could even run Retro games like Doom if you hook it up to a RetroPie. That ought to get a few people’s attention.

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Morrowind Rebooted The Original Xbox Without You Ever Noticing

The original Xbox was well-known for being based on basic PC hardware, and among developers, well known for having just 64 megabytes of RAM which even at the time wasn’t a lot to be working with. In a recent podcast, [Todd Howard] of Bethesda related an anecdote from the era, claiming that Morrowind occasionally invisibly rebooted the Xbox without user’s knowledge in order to free up RAM. [Modern Vintage Gamer] wanted to determine if this was true or not, and began an investigation.

The investigation begins with the aid of an Xbox Development Kit. Noting that the original anecdote mentioned the reboots occurring during the loading process, the devkit Xbox was soft rebooted after executing a load. Rather than going back to the title screen of the game, it kicked straight back into the loading screen and brought up the last save game instead. This suggested that the game was indeed capable of rebooting in the midst of the loading routine.

[Modern Vintage Gamer] had a hunch that this was being achieved with the use of a routine called XLaunchNew Image, a piece of the Xbox API that could be used to soft-reboot the console and start an executable. Upon decompiling Morrowind, a call was found that fit the bill. Further analysis showed that the game was indeed calling XLaunchNewImage upon loading and launching a new game, and was confirmed by finding an *.ini file that contained flags to enable this behaviour.

Presumably, the reason for this behaviour was that it was simpler to boot the game fresh when loading a save, rather than trying to unload all the game assets in memory from the current game. It’s a neat trick that likely made the development team’s lives much easier once they implemented it.

We don’t often talk about The Elder Scrolls series around here, though we’ve seen someone modify an exercise bike to work with Skyrim. Video after the break.

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PS2 Emulation On The Xbox Series S: A Story Of Walled Gardens

It’s hardly a secret any more at this point that today’s game consoles from Microsoft and Sony are essentially AMD gaming rigs packed up into a custom package and with tweaked system software. So it’s not too surprising that enterprising hackers got the Playstation 2 emulator of RetroArch running on an Xbox Series X|S game console despite Microsoft’s attempts to stop them. (Video, embedded below.)

It’s possible to sneak the RetroArch app past Microsoft’s security checkpoints by shelling out $19 for a Microsoft Developer Account, setting up Developer Mode on the XBox console, and getting the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) port of RetroArch from the official website. This has the advantage of it being a blessed-by-the-Redmond-gods approach. But one cannot play retail games in Developer Mode and large games due to a 2 GB limit.

More recently, a hacker by the name of [tunip3] found a flaw in the Xbox app distribution system which allows one to download a ‘retail’ version of RetroArch. This involves marking the RetroArch app as ‘private’, allowing it to skip a review by Microsoft. People whose email address is on a whitelist are then granted download permission for that app on their Xbox console. The advantage of this ‘retail’ approach is that it does not feature the 2 GB filesize limits. The disadvantage is that Microsoft is free to take the app down and ban [tunip3]’s developer account.

My Way Versus the Highway

A lot about this comes down to a simple question of ‘why?’. Why even jump through these hoops to set up a limited, possibly ToS-breaking emulator on what is ultimately a gaming PC running Windows 10? Why not use that Raspberry Pi 4 or NUC system that’s been giving you sad eyes for the past months from where it’s been stuffed into a dusty corner?

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Save Your Original Xbox From A Corrosive Death

Fans of retro computers from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras will be well aware of the green death that eats these machines from the inside out. A common cause is leaking electrolytic capacitors, with RTC batteries being an even more vicious scourge when it comes to corrosion that destroys motherboards. Of course, time rolls on, and new generations of machines are now prone to this risk. [MattKC] has explored the issue on Microsoft’s original Xbox, built from 2001 to 2009.

Despite looking okay from above, the capacitor inside the Xbox had already started leaking underneath. Leaving this in the console would inevitably cause major damage.

The original Xbox does include a real-time clock, however, it doesn’t rely on a battery. Due to the RTC hardware being included in the bigger NVIDA MCPX X3 sound chip, the current draw on standby was too high to use a standard coin cell as a backup battery. Instead, a fancy high-value capacitor was used, allowing the clock to be maintained for a few hours away from AC power. The problem is that these capacitors were made during the Capacitor Plague in the early 2000s. Over time they leak and deposit corrosive material on the motherboard, which can easily kill the Xbox.

The solution? Removing the capacitor and cleaning off any goop that may have already been left on the board. The fastidious can replace the part, though the Xbox will work just fine without the capacitor in place; you’ll just have to reset the clock every time you unplug the console. [MattKC] also points out that this is a good time to inspect other caps on the board for harmful leakage.

We’ve seen [MattKC] dive into consoles before, burning his own PS1 modchip from sourcecode found online. Video after the break.

Edit: As noted by [Doge Microsystems], this scourage only effects pre-1.6 Xboxes; later models don’t suffer the same problem, and shouldn’t be modified in this way.

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Xbox Series S Teardown Photo

Xbox Series S Teardown Shows A Glimpse At The Future

Console launch season is upon us. A time for billion dollar corporations ingratiate themselves with “Johnny Consumer” by promising the future of entertainment is finally available to one-and-all. The focus of this new generation of consoles has been the battle for 4K supremacy between Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Interestingly, Microsoft also created another iteration of their Xbox Series for those satisfied with games in 1080p, and thanks to [Dimitris] we have been able to see the internals of the Xbox Series S (XSS).

Xbox Series S Teardown SSD Photo
The Xbox Series S features standard m.2 slot that could be used for future storage expansion.

Microsoft’s choice to produce an all-digital console has greatly affected the internal design of the XSS. With the lack of a disc-drive there is only a single cable, the fan cable, tying the components together. The heat sink covering the 197mm² AMD APU takes up nearly 60% of the motherboard surface area. Though the XSS may be diminutive by modern console standards, its cooling fan is huge, somewhere in the 140 mm range. What little space is left by the heat sink and fan assembly is taken up by the internal power supply. As a fun nod, the PSU sports a Master Chief insignia to denote the location of the two-pronged connector beneath.

On the underside of the motherboard lies the biggest surprise of the “little brother” console. The system storage SSD is socketed rather than directly soldered to the board itself. The primary design goal of the XSS was to provide a cheaper alternative for players, but this standard m.2 slot reveals that Microsoft has plans for future expansion. This SSD, while not user-accessible in a traditional sense, will likely provide an alternative method to expanding storage outside of Microsoft’s proprietary external offerings. For a look at the teardown in process, [Dimitris’] video from his Modern Vintage Gamer YouTube channel is below.

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Xbox PlayStation Logos Wood Grain

Console Identity In The Age Of PlayStation 5 And Xbox Series

Consoles are obsolete the minute they are released. The onward march of silicon innovation ensures that consoles never are able to keep up with the times, but technical superiority rarely results in being remembered. That kind of legacy is defined by the experiences a device provides. A genre defining game, a revolutionary approach to media, or a beloved controller can be enough to sway popular opinion. But really…it all boils down to a box. All the spurious promises of world-class hardware specs, all the overly ambitious software ship dates, and even the questionable fast-food crossover promotions exist in service to the box. The boxes vying for attention in 2020 A.D. are the PlayStation 5 (PS5) and Xbox Series X/S/Seriessss (XSX or whatever the common nomenclature eventually shakes out to be). These boxes likely represent the minimum spec for the next decade in big-budget video games, however, it is the core identity of those consoles that will define the era.

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