Nike+iPod Internals

Curious how the Apple/Nike+ iPod accessory set works, the hackers over at SparkFun have taken apart both the shoe insert and the iPod receiver. You can check out all the details here, including some discussion of the hardware choices Apple made.

Interestingly, the shoe insert is transmit-only, whereas the little white gadget that plugs into the iPod’s dock connector has a chip capable of both reception and transmission. With the right hacking, it might be possible to get iPods to talk to each other over a short range — surely not fast enough to transfer music, but “now playing” info is within the realm of possibility.

Advertisements
Nike+iPod Internals

Mac Meet Xbox: Part 3

Mac Meet Xbox

Welcome back to the “Mac meet Xbox” series, Part 3, where we finally get to the good stuff. With the Xbox opened, modded, and ready to run beautiful, open-source, and decidedly non-Microsoft software, we’re going to format and install Xbox Media Center.

Getting XBMC

Yet again we run into the issue of legality in the Mac meet Xbox series, as Xbox Media Center is compiled from source code using Microsoft’s XDK (Xbox Development Kit). The XDK is a series of Windows programs, drivers, and Xbox software which allows developers to write and debug software for the Xbox. It is supposed to be available only to game publishers, however copies of it have leaked out onto the internet. The source code for Xbox Media Center is freely available and open source, but when you compile it into an Xbox program (an .xbe file, akin to Windows’ .exe files), you’re using copyrighted software, thus the resulting executable contains a portion of copyrighted code. Distributing such a copyrighted work violates the DMCA in the U.S., however laws in your country may vary. For the sake of this tutorial, I’ll leave the legalities up to you, but you should be aware of why the Microsoft XDK is publicly considered “off limits” in most discussion areas. For more details, you can visit the XBMC wiki page regarding the XDK and its involvement with Xbox Media Center.

Building Xbox Media Center from source code with the XDK isn’t a great option, let alone an easy one. Thankfully, a few charitable people build and post copies of XBMC around the net. I’ll have to leave you to your own devices to obtain a copy. As of this writing, the latest version is 2.0.1, and it can be found on popular sites. Like the BIOS files mentioned in the previous Mac meet Xbox part, XBMC is also distributed in RAR format, which must first be decompressed.

Dashboard Swap

With a shiny new build of XBMC on your computer, you’ll need to prepare the Xbox to receive the files. The community that has developed around Xbox modding decided upon one of the best choices for file transfer — FTP. We’re going to run an FTP server on the newly modded Xbox, browse through it’s carefully arranged system files, and replace a bunch of them with Xbox Media Center. First, though, you’ll need an FTP server.

In the early days of Xbox modding, a replacement for Microsoft’s Xbox “dashboard” was created, EvolutionX, and it served a number of needs: launching programs, flashing the Xbox’s onboard BIOS, changing settings, and running an FTP server. While others have since been developed, and even our very own Xbox Media Center is capable, we need something simple and easy to get off the ground. The easiest way to run an FTP server is to boot a prepared EvolutionX disc, which automatically starts the FTP service. Again, you can find discs to do the job all over the web. Burn the disc image to a DVD-R, DVD+RW, or CD-RW, which are three of the most compatible disc types — CD-Rs tend not to work well. Pop in the disc, reboot your Xbox, and marvel at the first non-Microsoft application running on your Xbox. By the time you see the spinning “EvolutionX” text, it’s ready to accept FTP connections at the IP address displayed in the Utilities menu (assuming your network setup is the same as in Part 2).

There are several Mac FTP programs that will work for the next task, however I strongly recommend Panic’s Transmit client, which has proven to work reliably with the built-in FTP servers of the Xbox programs we’ll be dealing with. Launch Transmit, and connect to the IP given by EvolutionX, with the universal Xbox FTP login:
Username: xbox
Password: xbox
Of all your passwords, this should be the easiest to remember.

When connected, you’ll be presented with a list of folders much like that of a Windows “My Computer” view: C:, D:, E:, and a few other drive letters. Not surprisingly, the folders correspond to similarly arranged devices — C: is for the main Xbox system files, D: is the DVD-ROM drive, E: is for extra files like game saves. If you’re curious, you can browse the contents of the optical drive by peeking inside D:, however the real guts of the Xbox’s system lie in the C: folder. Unlike Windows, however, the Xbox system files are stores right inside C:. Opening it will list a number of important files, but the one to note is xboxdash.xbe. This file, along with its associated fonts, sounds, and textures is the heart the Xbox software. It’s the green screen you’re used to browsing through when you have no game inserted in the console or are about to play a DVD movie. At this point, I would advise backing up all the contents of the C: drive to a safe folder on your computer, should you need them in the future. Go “up” a directory where you can see the drive list again, and simply drag C: to your Mac, and wait for it to copy over. (If you’re so inclined, you might also drag over E: to back up your saved games and other data.)

Once the contents of C: are backed up and safely tucked away, promptly delete everything in the C: folder. That’s right. Blow it away. Doing so will rid your Xbox of its Microsoft dashboard and prepare the space for XBMC. Short of re-copying the files you just backed up, you won’t be able to get back to the standard Xbox dashboard any longer. If you’re going to make this machine a media center Xbox, you might as well go all the way and make the media center the default system. With that, highlight everything in C:, and click Transmit’s “Delete” toolbar button.

Some moments later, your C: folder will be empty, ready to accept new software. At this point, if you were to reboot your Xbox without the EvolutionX disc inserted, you would receive an error stating that your Xbox needs serious repair by trained Microsoft professionals. Slim chance of that happening any time soon, after all, you’re an Xbox modder now. Browse to the contents of the decompressed Xbox Media Center folder and find default.xbe contained within. Upload this file and all of its sibling files and folders, ensuring that the default.xbe is directly inside the C: drive. This may take some time, as XBMC totals over 100 MB and has quite a few small files which can slow down the overall transfer. Upon completion of the upload — and this is important — rename default.xbe to xboxdash.xbe. You’ll note that the original Microsoft dashboard had the same file name, thus we’ve replaced it with Xbox Media Center’s main program. Without an xboxdash.xbe to launch, the Xbox will produce an error screen. Renaming Xbox Media Center’s main program to match what the Xbox expects to find effectively tricks it into launching the new software at startup.

The Final Test

To ensure you’ve properly installed Xbox Media Center, open the DVD drive, remove the EvolutionX disc, and restart your Xbox. If all goes well, you’ll hear a startup tune and be greeted with the Xbox Media Center splash screen, and a brand new menu system. Movies, music, pictures, programs — it’s all here.

If you’ve made it this far, consider yourself an official Xbox modder. You’ve successfully opened the console, modified it to run non-Microsoft software, and installed your own replacement system. Getting this far took countless hours of cracking and coding on the part of some very dedicated hackers, and you’ve managed to follow in their footsteps to assemble your own home media center.

Mac Meet Xbox: Navigation

Part 1: Why Xbox + Choosing Chips
Part 2: Cracking the Case + Installing and Flashing
Part 3: Installing XBMC
Part 3.1: Networking in Detail

Mac Meet Xbox: Part 3

iPod 5G Hard Drives

iPod 5G Hard DriveLately I’ve been working with some 5th generation iPods trying to come up with a way to really test the hard drives in them. Unlike the previous full-size iPod models (excluding the mini and shuffle), the 5th gen uses a hard drive with a different connector. Generations 1 through 4 used a Toshiba drive with a 1.8″ IDE connector. The new drives are still manufactured by Toshiba, however they use a ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) connector instead of pins which were big enough to solder to. The new ZIF connector they’ve employed works exactly like the LCD connector on the 4th generation iPods, holding the thin ribbon cable tightly until the plastic lever is flipped up parallel to one of its long edges. Designing a connector this way — as opposed to the previous version with pluggable pins — not only allows electronics to get much smaller, but significantly reduces the amount of physical stress created when plugging and unplugging cables. Unfortunately for us, this makes current adapters useless for testing 5th gen iPod hard drives. With a new way to connect hard drives, what can be done to adapt them to IDE just as before? Up to this point, it’s all theory until I can get my hands on some more hardware, but I have a plan.

The first step in determining whether adapting is even a viable option was to read Toshiba’s data sheet on the new hard drives, which details the signals of each miniscule pin. I was hoping that, like the 2.5″ to 1.8″ shrink, nothing major had changed. Indeed, nothing but the new connector had been modified, making future work that much easier. The IDE pins remain intact, just…much smaller. The new drives run on 3.3v, but like other adapters, the drop from 5v to 3.3v is trivial compared to the task of finding or making an adapter to scale down the size of the pins.

Hitachi AdapterKnowing that the signals are the same, I started hunting for a pre-made adapter to see if something that fit my needs already existed. It seems the topic of adapting these new Toshiba drives is one hardly touched upon. The only useful result was an expensive adapter from YEC, which is intended for Hitachi ZIF hard drives and includes a ribbon cable to connect the drive to the board. It looked close enough, so I investigated some more by emailing the company and posting on their message boards. As it turns out, the Hitachi hard drives use the same pin configuration as the Toshiba drives, but the ribbon cable that ships with the adapter is too thick. Hitachi drives are designed to take a slightly thicker cable than the Toshiba models. YEC’s adapter board is pin-compatible with the Toshiba drives, but they don’t yet offer the all-important thin ribbon cable. Curious, I asked if the Hitachi cable would be thin enough to work, perhaps even with some modification, but they responded that it is simply too thick to work with the Toshiba drives. YEC plans to offer a Toshiba ribbon cable in the near future, but as of this writing they have no availability date. (I should note at this point that I already intended to buy an adapter from them if it would fit, as I was amazed to find myself communicating with one of the engineers at the company — unheard of in today’s corporate environments!) Short of a fully functional adapter that I could buy now, I thought I was out of luck, since finding a compatible ribbon cable in a random electronic device is a pretty slim chance. Or is it?

Mere hours after I had scoured Toshiba’s website for pinouts, I found that engineer and Xbox hacker extraordinaire Andrew “bunnie” Huang had received and disassembled a new Zune (as I noted on MacUser). Looking at his pictures, you’ll note that the Zune uses a new Toshiba ZIF hard drive, just like Apple’s 5th Gen iPods. No surprise there. The drives are reliable and small enough to accomodate most handheld players. However, the ribbon cable Microsoft uses appears to be the exact piece required to adapt the YEC adapter to the Toshiba ZIF hard drives:

Zune Logic board

Gathering all the pices to assemble a Toshiba ZIF adapter looks to be quite costly at the moment — $120 for the board (which is nothing more than a few cheap components) plus $249 for a Zune. My hope is that I can find a broken one on eBay to scavenge for parts. Unless I find a better alternative in the meantime, I think I may be forced to wait for YEC’s ribbon cable to be made available. I’ll keep this post updated with any future findings.

(I also feel compelled to make a note of bunnie’s book, Hacking the Xbox, an affordable and incredibly detailed look at the work that went into reverse engineering all the security mechanisms of the original Xbox. If you’re interested in reverse engineering and want to get a feel for what it takes, or are curious exactly how the Xbox was cracked, check it out.)

12/30/2006 Update
The folks at Addonics replied to my email and reported that they will offer a 1.8″ ZIF to IDE adapter in January 2007, so be sure to look for one very soon.

3/11/2007 Update
The adapter from Span works, but it still a little pricey, and — like the iPod 5G itself — fragile. It gets the job done, though. I’ve yet to try a Zune hard drive cable with it, as the included cable is a little thick for Toshiba drives. For interested hardware hackers, here’s a very high res image of the Zune hard drive cable I scanned (about 1.1MB in size).
Zune Hard Drive cable

iPod 5G Hard Drives

Mac Mini/G4 Cube Hack

123macmini is featuring a mod in which the guts of a new Intel Mac Mini have been transplanted into a beautifully repainted G4 Cube, seen at right. To attain the “new Apple product box” look, the internal casing was removed and painted matte black. When the core of the computer is slid back inside the clear plastic cube, it looks very much like an Apple-designed piece of electronics, especially with the white illuminated logo.

The real achievements of this hack, though, are the technical ones inside the box. Like the original G4 Cube, the redesigned model had to be carefully packed into quite a tiny space, which is why the Mac Mini was an obvious source for donor components. To overcome some of the storage limitations, the stock 2.5″ laptop hard drive that shipped with the Mac Mini was replaced with a 3.5″ 500 GB desktop SATA hard drive, which brought much more storage and speed than laptop drives currently offer (as well as better video playback and recording, as you’ll see in a moment). However, a small 5v/12v power supply was required to run the new hard drive, as it draws considerably more power than the 2.5″ drive. Wiring in the cube’s touch-sensitive power switch was a bit trickier than the plug-and-play hard drive, and required some rather detailed electronics work and reading up on the data sheet for the sensor. When completed, both the Mac Mini’s power switch and the Cube’s touch-sensitive switch can turn on the machine.

With power and storage out of the way, cooling was the next problem to tackle, as the Mac Mini’s fan didn’t push enough air to cool the whole assembly. A separate Zalman fan — originally intended for cooling video cards — was modified to lower the temperature of the Mac Mini’s CPU. To finish off the mod, an EyeTV Hybrid was attached externally to provide DVR capabilities, as well as Apple Remote integration. This G4 cube hack is one of the best looking and well executed Mac mods I’ve seen in a long time, so you’ll undoubtedly want to check out all the detailed step-by-step pictures.

Mac Mini/G4 Cube Hack

iPod Breakout Card

Just recently, I received my iPod Breakout Card, and I finally finished assembling it tonight. By using a the same JAE manufactured connectors as the official iPod ones, each pin from the Dock connector can be individually run to a much larger pad, making it easy to interact with the iPod. I intend to install a row of pins on each side and allow the entire card to be snapped into a breadboard for easy prototyping.

While I’m not sure what kind of hack I’ll be using it for yet, I do intend to post some code written for the BASIC Stamp II, as I don’t yet have any PIC experience (I should write about the BlackBerry-like devices a buddy and I made years ago using a pair of BSII chips and wifi transceivers! A story for another day…)

You, too, can order and assembly your very own iPod breakout card from Ridax in Sweden. It took a few days for my parts to get to the U.S., but they arrived well packed and ready to be used. This should be the start of some more interesting iPod hacks!

iPod Breakout Card

Mac Meet Xbox: Part 2

Mac Meet Xbox
Welcome to Part 2 of my multi-part introduction to setting up a Xbox-based home media center in a Mac environment. So far, the Mac has been absent, but the Xbox hardware must first be set up to communicate on your home network. This section will cover opening the Xbox, installing the modchip, and loading the necessary firmware.

Void Your Warranty

Cracking the Case

To begin modding, you’ll have to open your Xbox. This will void your warranty. If you send your Xbox to Microsoft for repair after tampering with it, they will refuse to work on it. However, if you have even basic computer hardware skills, then there’s no reason to be alarmed — there is a great Xbox modding community that has developed and will gladly help you out of a jam. I can’t say enough about the importance of like-minded individuals who can help you through impossibly complex situations involving small wires, config files, and unsupported hacks. Like everything technological, Xbox modding is an involved topic, but there’s plenty of help available.

I should note that I’m aware of “softmod” solutions that do not require a modchip, but I’ve found that installing a modchip is the safest and most feature-packed path to choose, especially if you haven’t done anything like this before. In the past, I’ve killed a few Xboxes with a bad flash, and resurrecting them took more time, effort, and research than most would be willing to invest. The Xecuter 2.6 CE Lite chip I recommended in Part 1 sports a number of features to help you avoid this situation, and protect both your Xbox and your modchip from being turned into paperweights.

Screwdriver in hand, it’s time to get to the heart of the matter by cracking the case and dissecting the system. As the Xbox is quite similar to a PC, disassembly should be an easy task if you’ve ever taken apart a computer. The case is held together by six T-20 Torx screws which hold the top and bottom plastic shells together. Peeling back the feet and stickers on the underside will allow access to the screws, as they’re concealed from initial observation. If you prefer, you can avoid leaving a thin veneer of stickiness by simply poking your screwdriver through the stickers instead of peeling them off. With the screws out, the top case can be lifted off the bulk of the components. Three smaller T-10 screws hold down the 8 or 10 GB hard drive and DVD-ROM. After unplugging the power and IDE cabling from both drives, lift them straight out to expose the Xbox motherboard. Eleven more T-10 screws fasten the motherboard to the chassis. Remove them all, including the ones beside the A/V connector, and gently lift out the motherboard. If it gets stuck towards the back (as it often does), lift the front first, while keeping controller port wires out of the way. You can then set the case and power supply assembly aside and focus on the motherboard.

Xbox Versions

Because of the changes made in various revisions of Xboxes, it’s necessary to categorize the Xboxes into groups which are modded using the same procedures. The earlier Xboxes are version 1.0 through 1.5, and the newest is 1.6. The latest version requires the “patch” circuit mentioned above, as well as an alternate source of power (which is readily available all over the motherboard). If you’re following along, you can easily check which version you have just by taking a look at the video encoder chip on the motherboard, right next to the A/V output. If you find that the chip has “Xcalibur” with an Xbox logo stenciled on the surface, your Xbox is a 1.6 and requires the additional circuit.

Installing the Modchip

The installation procedure for the Xecuter 2.6 CE chip is nearly identical to that of the more expensive Xecuter 3 chip, so I’ll provide the installation instructions here. However, you can stop reading at page 16, as the rest doesn’t apply to the 2.6 CE. Team Xectuer does a great job of detailing all the intricacies of installing the chip, so be sure to double-check your work. Also, check out out some of my Xbox Hacks photos on Flickr for some ideas on how to install the front panel switches without cutting into the case.

Installing the modchip will probably be the most tedious part of the project, so be sure to take your time on this step. There will always be questions, so I’ll leave comments open indefinitely on this post.

Choosing a BIOS

Now that your modchip is installed and working, it’s time to choose the code that will allow you to run non-Microsoft software, which includes our target program: Xbox Media Center. This isn’t a terribly important decision, as it will be nearly invisible. However, you will want to look for a few key features: Enabling use of hard drives greater than 137 GB, and the ability to stop the Xbox from resetting upon ejecting. My personal favorite BIOS (and there are dozens to choose from) is the Xecuter 2 build 5035, as it reads all important settings from a config file stored on your hard drive, whereas other BIOSes require you to patch the code and reload them onto your chip.

Unfortunately, this and other Xbox BIOS software isn’t technically legal. Most are modified versions of the official Microsoft BIOS, which, no matter how small, are still copyrighted. Modification and distribution of copyrighted code is illegal, but progress often doesn’t stop in the name of law. The Xecuter 2 5035 BIOS can be found all around the internet. It’s usually distributed in RAR format, so you’ll need either UnRarX or MacParDeluxe to extract the contents (Windows users can use the free 7-zip).

Booting and BIOS Flashing

When you first power on your newly modded Xbox, you’ll hopefully be greeted with the FlashBIOS screen. If your Xbox fails to boot properly, perhaps flashing alternating red and green lights, have a second look at the modchip installation instructions and make sure you followed each step for your version Xbox (taking careful note of the D0 point on your motherboard). If all went well, FlashBIOS’ blue screen will be displayed, and you’re now ready to load the non-Microsoft firmware onto your modchip. The easiest way to accomplish this is via the chip’s network flashing capabilities.

The absolute easiest way to flash the BIOS over the network is using a simple home router, nearly all of which assign IP addresses to any attached device. Connect your Xbox to your router using a length of straight-through Ethernet cable, your Mac via Ethernet or AirPort, and choose Enable Network Flashing from the FlashBIOS menu onscreen. FlashBIOS will bring up the Xbox’s networking hardware and provide you with an IP address to which you should direct your web browser. On the page that loads, you can choose a BIOS file to upload, which will then be flashed. In my case, I chose the X2 5035 “.bin” file and uploaded it to the Xbox. It’s worth noting my much earlier post about slicing and combining BIOS files on the Mac — the Xecuter 2.6 has two 1 MB banks, so you may need to double-over the BIOS to completely fill the bank adjacent to FlashBIOS. After FlashBIOS has written the file to the chip, flick the Bank Select switch on the front panel board, and reboot from the new BIOS. If it worked, you’ll be greeted with “Xecuter Rox My Box” under the Xbox logo. Your Xbox will appear to boot up like normal, or so it seems…

This concludes the second, and undoubtedly most complicated edition of “Mac Meet Xbox.” If you’re following along and having troubles, or simply unsure of a detail, feel free post a comment below. In the next installation, we’ll be covering installtion and formatting of a new hard drive, and laying the foundation for Xbox Media Center.

Resources

Modding a v1.6 Xbox in 10 Minutes (softmod)
Xbox-Scene Forums

Mac Meet Xbox: Navigation

Part 1: Why Xbox + Choosing Chips
Part 2: Cracking the Case + Installing and Flashing
Part 3: Installing XBMC
Part 3.1: Networking in Detail

Mac Meet Xbox: Part 2

Portable Xbox

A creative hacker at portablesystems.net managed to carefully pack the contents of an Xbox console into a portable form factor. It’s yet another project that makes me exclaim “I had that idea!” However, the creator did a far better job than I could do with the tools at my disposal. His hack includes creating a custom vacuum-formed case, hooking up Li-Ion batteries to power the system, and wiring a PSOne LCD to the video output. It’s a masterfully executed hack that sets the standard for his other portable video game creations, and is a must-see for any Xbox hardware hacker.

Portable Xbox