The fact that the original Microsoft XBOX can be modified into a potent media center computer has been well known by many for years; however, a number of the once useful guides scattered across the Web have become cryptic and outdated. Here I will attempt to provide a fully updated guide for those who still wish to transform their outdated gaming system into a piece of hardware worthy of the entertainment center. This guide will review the procedures needed to modify the console via a popular software exploit as opposed to using a mod chip. The steps listed below come from various sources on the net as well as my own personal experience (see the sources section).
A softmod results in the original operating system or “dashboard” being replaced with a homebrew one like UnleashX or EvolutionX, which was the first modified dashboard available. Some of them are rather limited in functionality by themselves, but can be greatly enhanced by launching applications from them like XBMC (which can also be used as a native dashboard). XBMC is a media center program first developed for the original XBOX, but has since been designed to run on numerous computer devices. The official version of XBMC in its current form no longer supports the XBOX, but others have continued its legacy by developing a modern version of the program designed specifically for the console, now known as XBMC4XBOX.
What can a modified XBOX do exactly? The original dashboard is limited to managing game saves on the hard drive/external memory cards, playing audio CDs, launching commercial game discs and playing region-specific DVDs with a proprietary playback kit. With a modded XBOX running applications like XBMC, on the other hand, you can do the following tasks (listed in no particular order):
- Copy DVDs and games directly to the internal hard drive or networked computer
- Play games/videos from the internal hard drive or videos from a networked computer
- Region-free DVD player (even without the playback kit)
- Play classic video game emulators
- Watch videos streamed from YouTube, Apple Movie Trailers and dozens of other sources
- Run custom Python scripts and Linux bootloaders
- Check the weather and view RSS feeds
- Transfer files to/from the XBOX via FTP or Telnet
- Upgrade the internal hard drive to gain extra space for your files
- …and more!
The only downside to modding the system used to be that XBOX Live gameplay was no longer possible. Microsoft has since discontinued online support for the console though, so mod away! Follow this guide at your own risk. I am not responsible for any errors or problems that arise.
- Original XBOX console + controller, A/V & power cables
- An official copy of Splinter Cell (*any version of the original game but not the sequels)
- Action Replay kit for original XBOX (somewhat difficult to find) -OR- memory card preloaded with the necessary softmod files (check eBay)
- Router w/ available port + Ethernet cable
- An FTP client like FileZilla
*Specific versions of 007: Agent Under Fire and Mech Assault games also work, but are not covered in this guide.
1. Download and extract the softmod files
I cannot provide a direct download link to the softmod here because a certain company is still surprisingly vigilant about quashing usage of the files. For now, you’ll have to Google around or check out the article linked in my references below to obtain the download. If you have a pre-prepared memory card with the necessary softmod files (obtained through eBay or other means), ignore this download and continue on to step 2. Otherwise, the ZIP archive contains 3 important files:
Extract the ZIP archive to a convenient location. The first file inside of it will later be used as the source code to install the new dashboard (using the Splinter Cell game). The NTSC and PAL files contain a special save profile necessary to launch the installation of the new dashboard. Your XBOX’s video region will determine which of the two region files you must use (generally speaking, North America and some of South America use NTSC and Europe uses PAL).
2. Download XBMC4XBOX (patience… the link may take awhile to respond)
The XBMCSVN site has the latest builds of XBMC4XBOX available for download, the most recent of which is version “3.0.1 Stable” provided in the link above. Don’t be confused by older guides that refer to the original T3CH version of XBMC from 2006. Extract the ZIP archive to a convenient location on your computer so that the appropriate files inside of it can be sent to the XBOX later on.
3. Copy the softmod files onto a memory card via Action Replay (section a) -OR- Use a pre-prepared memory card (section b)
a. If you have an Action Replay kit for XBOX, install the included software CD onto your Windows PC (compatibility mode or other tricks may be necessary for versions of Windows newer than XP). Plug the included USB cable and 8MB memory card into your PC. Drag and drop the
SID.Splinter.Cell.v2.0.NTSC.Xbox-HQ.zip files from the extracted ZIP archive downloaded in step 1 into the “PC Database” column of the Action Replay software (or the PAL version where needed). This process will create a “LINUX_Profile” saved game in the Splinter Cell folder and a separate “Linux Installer” folder. Next, drag and drop the “Linux Installer” folder into the software’s “Memory Card” column.
b. If you have a pre-prepared memory card mentioned in step 1 which contains all of the necessary (and compatible) softmod files, you are set. Continue to step 4.
4. Transfer the Linux installer files onto the XBOX hard drive.
Remove the memory card from the Action Replay kit (or your pre-prepared memory card) and plug it into an XBOX controller connected to the system. Verify the disc tray is empty and start up the XBOX so that the factory dashboard loads. Navigate to the memory area and continue down the file hierarchy to the active controller’s memory card. When you see the “Linux installer” (or similar) saved game, hit the right button-pad once to select the game, then select the “Copy” function from the menu to copy it to the system’s hard drive. With the pre-prepared memory card, copy both files to the system and continue to step 5.
Shut down the XBOX and go back to the Action Replay program on your computer. Repeat the same process with the “LINUX_Profile” file in the Splinter Cell folder of the Action Replay program. Copy it to the memory card (you’ll have to delete the Linux Installer from it first because the memory card capacity is too small to accommodate both folders) then plug the card into the controller, boot up the system and copy the saved game to the XBOX hard drive. Turn off the XBOX and continue to step 5.
5. Install the dashboard
Once the files are on the system hard drive, insert and run the Splinter Cell game. In your game save profiles you will see a new entry named “Linux” or something similar. Go into it and select “Check points.” Shortly thereafter you will see an install screen for the new modified dashboard. Before installing the actual modified dashboard, be sure to run backups of the original Microsoft dashboard and/or your EEPROM. When all of this is complete, select the option to install the softmod to the XBOX. At some point you will be given a choice to install either EvolutionX or UnleashX dashboard. I personally recommend UnleashX, but either will serve you well enough. If the dashboard offers more than one patch version, read help notes on the screen to decide which is best for your needs.
6. Configure the dashboard + FTP client & Install XBMC
Woot! The new modified dashboard has some cool features on its own, but the real power comes with XBMC. Plug the XBOX into a router via Ethernet cable. Go into the dashboard network settings and verify that the system is set to DHCP mode (this will cause the router to automatically assign it a LAN IP address) and that FTP is enabled. The settings on your network may vary. Next, download and install an FTP client like FileZilla on your computer. This will allow you to transfer files to and from the XBOX. In the FTP client, set the host address in the connection fields to the IP listed on the modified XBOX dashboard. The username and password are “xbox” by default on most modified dashboards. Leave the port field blank or type in 21 if necessary.
When a successful connection has been made, you will see the XBOX’s files displayed in a file tree. Navigate into the /E/Apps folder. Copy the entire folder named “xbmc” within the unzipped file folder from step 2 into the XBOX Apps folder. Reset the XBOX and navigate to the Apps menu on the modified dashboard. Select XBMC to launch it. All done! Now you can configure everything to your liking, including setting up network shares and viewing local/streamed multimedia content! The configuration of XBMC can be extensive, so I recommend checking out the XBMC4XBOX Wiki or other sources for help and recommendations.
All done – happy entertaining!
Although much of this guide comes from my own experience, I could not have done it without this Lifehacker article written by Gina Trapini in 2007.