Inside Microsoft’s Xbox 360

This is how it all starts. AnandTech has done a great job disassembling an Xbox 360 and documenting it along the way. It actually looks like it may be easier to disassemble than the original Xbox, provided you have the right tools.

I’m impressed with the change in Xbox controller styles. While I was not one of the many who complained about the sheer size of the original Xbox controllers, I find the new style to be a delight to use. Wireless capabilities are a nice touch, too.

I read elsewhere that the Xbox 360 also has a battery to retain the date and time settings, which caused some problems with previous Xbox softmods. It can also be configured to use a network time server, such as time.microsoft.com (or time.apple.com, if you prefer “Apple time”).

The launch is less than a week away, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to pick up one of these new machines with minimal hassle. We’ll see about that.

Update: AnandTech posted another article, this time covering the Xbox 360 motherboard’s layout, ICs, and buses.

Inside Microsoft’s Xbox 360

Apple’s “Black Stick”

In all the official Apple Service Source guides, where detailed take-apart information for every Apple product is listed, they make references to a tool called only the “black stick.” It’s used for prying open plastic cases without chewing up the edge like a metal screwdriver would. However, they don’t mention what this tool really is or where to obtain one. RadTech, makers of my favorite iPod cases and polishing solutions, sells what seems to be the tool Apple uses. However, they sell this nylon pry tool for a ridiculous $7. For a strong plastic stick. Being in need and not knowing where else to get it, I ordered one not too long ago. After receiving it and noticing some information stamped on it, I did some searching and found out they’re manufacured by Menda, makers of various lab tools. I also managed to find an online distributor with a website that works. So, if you’re in need of an iPod opener that won’t mark up the case, and which doubles as a handy soldering tool, get your “black stick” from ESD Systems for $1.59.

Update: Buy this stick from Stanley Supply (mentioned in the comments). It’s sturdier than the pointy stick and makes opening iPods and Mac hardware a breeze.

Apple’s “Black Stick”

Sony Rootkit Roundup

BoingBoing has a great timeline of the Sony “rootkit” fiasco that’s recently made news around the world. I’ll leave the details up to them. For a great audio summary, download the related Security Now! podcast. The EFF has also posted an open letter, asking Sony to make good. Here’s hoping that Sony receives legal action as a result of their spyware-like tactics. Lastly, Wired magazine is calling for consumers to boycott Sony copy-protected CDs until they come clean and recall all the infected discs.

Sony Rootkit Roundup

Xbox USB Adapter

Here’s a quick Xbox hack I did a long while ago when the 007: Agent Under Fire exploit first debuted. The hack called for an Xbox memory card or a USB flash drive to transfer the files. At the time I did not own a memory card, as the Xbox ships with an 8 GB internal hard drive for storing game saves and caches. However, I did have a 32 MB USB 1.1 flash drive, which is small by today’s standards. I had read that the Xbox would easily format most flash-based media, so I decided to build a little adapter. Internally, the Xbox uses USB for all its controller I/O, including the overpriced, low capacity memory cards.

To build this adapter, I purchased an extra $5 breakaway cable replacement, cut the cord in the middle, and snapped open the green plastic connector. You could also use the same piece from an existing controller. Regular computer USB cables have four wires in them, but the Xbox has a fifth for powering light guns and other devices — its wire stands out a bright yellow. Jameco sells the necessary female USB A connector, but one can be acquired more quickly by de-soldering one from an existing device. In my case, this was a dead USB hub. Following a pinout of the USB standard, I soldered the appropriate wires to the matching color of the Xbox connector, simply skipping over the yellow wire.

To finish up the hack, I fit the whole assembly into the original Xbox controller plug with a little Dremel work. (What hack would be complete without a Dremel?) Only a small few bits of plastic at the end needed to be removed to fit the USB connector into the space where the cord used to protrude. The halves can be snapped or glued together to hold the plug secure. The finished adapter can connect USB flash drives, keyboards, and mice to the Xbox. A hub can also be attached to use all three within Xbox-Linux.

You can see larger images in at Flickr.

Xbox USB Adapter

MAKE Magazine

I finally got around to subscribing to MAKE, a magazine about technology related do-it-yourself projects ranging from household things to in-depth circuitry. I’ve put it off for so long mostly because of the $35 price tag, but I recently got a small promo code pushing it down to $29, and so I made the jump. In the long run, both prices are cheaper than buying most magazines off the shelf (MAKE is published quarterly), and I’ll bet that none are as jam-packed with information as MAKE. While I have yet to receive my first issue, I have been a fan of Associate Editor Phil Torrone‘s work since his first Engadget Podcast. He also featured a hack of mine on G4TV not too long ago, which was a welcome surprise. I look forward to doing many of the MAKE projects in the near future!

MAKE Magazine

Xbox VGA

Reading about the XBox’s video output, I’ve decided to build an adapter that will allow use of a VGA monitor, such as a fine new LCD. There are a number of hurdles involved related to video sync signals, but the Xbox-Linux wiki comes through again, detailing how to (among other things) use the Xbox’s internal sync signals and external red, green, and blue connections to build an adapter which provides a perfect display. It’s noted that this is the most difficult to build, but I’ll surely document it along the way for others to follow. My intent is to build everything inside the Xbox, secure the circuitry under the DVD-ROM, and have only a simple VGA connector showing on the back. Any recommendations or deals on a new VGA LCD?

Update: For reference: detailed Xbox AVIP Pinout (local copy)

Xbox VGA

HandBrake 0.7.0

A new version of Handbrake is out, which supports the iPod’s video specifications. It also fixes some bugs such as the one I run into — not recognizing certain titles. It also adds basic queue support and multi-thread H.264 encoding. I’m glad to see that this great application is still being developed, as it’s one of my favorite video encoders.

HandBrake 0.7.0