Fun projects for a first-gen Xbox with a dead hard drive?
March 26, 2020 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Our family has had a first generation Xbox console in occasional use — a friend gave it to me with an emulator installed so we could play old video games from time to time. The hard drive just died (it was manufactured in December 2001!), everything else still works. My son and I disassembled it carefully to learn about electronics and now he wants to do something cool with it. Any ideas or guides?

We would love to make some kind of Frankenstein machine out of this — maybe with another old video game system emulator on a new hard drive? Or something else, like a weird media server? What fun self-isolation projects could we do with this console?
posted by Stevia Agave to Technology (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Chia pet!
posted by Maisie at 5:42 PM on March 26

Too old. Buy a raspberry pi.
posted by LoveHam at 8:53 PM on March 26

Try and put Xebian on it?
posted by oceanjesse at 9:10 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]

I have done this and unfortunately it was more of a pain than fun. Xbox hardware CPU by default checks all code for a Microsoft "signature" and rejects all un-singed code. The Xbox needs to be modded, have a chip that bypasses the signing soldered in. Your friend may have done this to allow it to run an old games emulator.

As for hard drives, the stock hard drives are also restricted, the hard drives are "locked" to the Xbox to prevent them from working on other equipment. If the modding was done correctly by your friend this may not be an issue and you could be using an unlocked hard drive.

Add to that - there are no standard USB ports anywhere on the machine. Only an ethernet connector, all other ports are proprietary. The controller ports are actually USB protocol with an added wire and non-standard connector, but soldering is required to make them into standard USB.

So the built in CPU, hard drive, and ports are all hostile and designed to prevent easy access to other standard computing. But, if you see these three things as an exciting challenge, and not frustrating barriers, then this site may help. Full disclosure - the author eventually gave up and switched to doing this all on a standard PC.

If you want to go ahead, you will need to buy an old style parallel-ATA hard drive to replace the broken one. It will be slow and possibly difficult to find, and will never be useful for any device in the future. You will have to set jumper pins on the drive.

I would strongly suggest taking the money towards that obsolete hard drive and buying a raspberry PI 3 or 4, and two SD cards, and two game controllers:

1. Use one card to install Retropi - this will allow you to run all your emulated games, but with a device with HDMI output for modern TV's. You'll need to find game Rom files - your friend can probably help with that.

2. Use the second card to tinker with - to use as media center, a mini PC, a PiHole, a WordPress site, or any other fun project. Doing a shutdown and swapping cards changes the role of the computer.

3. Enjoy a friendly community of Raspberry Pi users with forums and blogs that resemble a clean well-lit space. Xbox modding required a lot of code that broke copyright or IP laws - so most of the forums were black and green and have lots of gamer-133t designs and veiled references to getting key pieces of software from "the usual places" and hanging out on IRC chat rooms waiting to get an IP address of a secret FTP server.

4. I like these wireless game pads.
posted by sol at 6:09 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]

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