ExBox 360 : Return of the King

Right, so the XBox 360…

I was going to do this thing about the background of the console, why it’s the king of its age, how I missed out on that era of console gaming, and my rationalizations for deciding to get my hands on the actual console long after its reign had ended, but nobody wants to slog through that to get to the good stuff.

Okay fine, the bullet points then:

  • I want to experience some of what happened while I was otherwise engaged working my ass off to pay the bills, but even though this era of gaming has been left behind commercially, collectors are continuing to ensure the costs of entry are damn near the original retail levels. This is a free-time hobby, and I’m not overflowing with cash (I had to hock the jet to afford some Taco Bell). Also, second and third-hand title sales are such a crapshoot, with media that has near-invisible but game-breaking damage, and outright copy scams. It’s like buying a VHS tape from the guy at the union plant, only to find that “original “pristine” copy of Transformers The Movie has been dubbed over with porn. Ugh.
  • Emulation is not really there (yet). A great majority of the available games don’t work the way they should (if at all). I want to be able to be a virtual gaming butterfly, checking out titles without concern for whether I’ll actually be able to, you know, play them..
  • I have an XBox One S, which claims to have at least some backward compatibility with 360 discs, but personal experience shows that it doesn’t seem to be able to run most of the 360 titles named on the official compatibility list (which “somehow” changed from including the One S, to suddenly only mentioning the later Series models). Any better-performing third party emulation solution on that console is also painting a target on oneself for XBox Live account ban, too. I’m sure they want to reserve the right to “remaster” (port and release as-is) legacy titles for an additional profit injection. Lots of 360 titles are available for sale on the Live store, as “classic retro” games. :/
  • There are enough unique major titles to justify wanting to expend the effort to play them on the hardware they were originally designed for, rather than second-rate ports.
  • Oh, also, Microsoft announced they’re dropping the last thread of support (the Store) for the console in June.

Okay that’s out of the way, screw it. Let’s mod an XBox 360 console!

Modding it to play disc backups helps keep a physical media collection in good shape, and eliminates the hassle of swapping discs. I mean, they came with wireless controllers, but then set things up so we still have to manually swap the media? This isn’t the Atari age: we don’t sit on the floor with the console directly in front of the TV anymore.

Look, if you’re reading this, you’re probably already well aware of where we’re going with this. Obviously I’m going to recommend you legitimately own the titles you want to back up for play on this system. There are plenty of sources for content online, but that’s your choice to make. If you’re planning to follow this through to its conclusion, then your fingers aren’t broken and you’re old enough to read, so figure out how to Google things. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Where do we start? First, look through the various methods and settle on one that appeals the most. I will be using a method known as the Reset Glitch Hack (v3) to replace the bootloader and dash, as it works reliably, doesn’t require buying and installing a special chip, and is well-documented.

So which console to use? There are a few models, with variations within each to complicate things further. Thankfully, choosing a hack method also helps limit the choices a bit. I’m going with the “S” (Slim) model, as it has the best compatibility for the route I’m choosing. The “E” model looks appealing for its simplistic design, but it is probably the most difficult of the line to mod (the most common motherboard version codenamed “Winchester” in the E line is completely un-moddable).

Xbox 360 ArcadeXbox 360 ProXbox 360 EliteXbox 360 SXbox 360 E

The original video for the process I followed is here, if you’d like to get a sense for what’s involved. I highly recommend a video “dry run”, so you can at least be familiar with what specific steps should actually look like, first. This video shows the mod being performed on a “S” model, Trinity board (most easily recognized by the power draw of 10A shown on the label).

Donor Console

XBox 360 “S”, purchased from eBay. The board was identified as a Trinity before purchase by verifying the power draw value for the 12v rail on the back label. If you have a board in-hand already, you can do a visual match with this site to identify it.

I very much don’t like buying things off eBay any more than I have to, because it can be such a swamp of scams and theft. However, it is usually the best place to find a deal for something like this, so it’s a matter of being patient and thorough, and of course doing lots of comparisons, because there are plenty of people offloading these things right now! If you’re in the market, you can find them refurbished and verified from stores, but the nice deals are the individuals just looking to recover some entertainment center space.

Relying on yard sales, garage sales or estate sales is a frustrating lesson in patience and effort; you have no idea when you might find what you’re looking for. However, it’s possible you’re here because you already scored an awesome sale find, in which case: congratulations!

Any pawn shop or (really any secondhand retailer) is going to be out to make as much money as they can, making the prospects more expensive than it has to be. The exception to that statement would be charity shops like Goodwill or Salvation Army. That said, there is an argument to be made for the value of something that has already been tested and verified to be fully functional before you, you know, completely tear it apart.

In the end, the final call is yours. It all comes down to how much you’re willing to spend to get this show on the road, in the first place.

Tools and Supplies

A couple of the components we need are unique to this endeavor (you can click the images for links to purchase sources):

A couple of items that may help you out a bit later:

  • Desktop magnifying glass OR
  • Phone or webcam tripod (whichever you may have that provides the best zoom capabilities for super closeup (macro) shots/video

After that, it’s the standard list of electronics stuff (not shown because you’re supposed to be experienced with this kind of stuff, so you should already have most of it, right?):

Soldering iron, finest tip you have (and all the related supplies like flux, solder, etc)
Heat shrink tubing
Torx driver set (or at least T-8 and T-10 size torx bits!)
Kapton tape (optional but highly recommended)
99% IPA (Isopropyl Alcohol)
QTips (cotton swabs/buds)

So one change I made from the recommendations in the video was to use straight jumper wires instead of a breadboard for the RPi Pico hookups. Why?

  • Depending on the breadboard you have available, connections may be unreliable, causing confusion and hassles during the NAND backup and programming phase.
  • You’re going to need to be able to flip the the mainboard around while the jumpers are soldered to it. If you have extra weight hanging from them, you run the risk of ripping pads off, which is very bad. If you arrange the wires right, you can very easily disconnect and reconnect the Pico as-needed during the different phases with very little trouble. Not quite so simple with a breadboard assembly (again, only a real issue if you got cursed with sub-par cheap Chinese breadboards).


Now, it gets interesting. It also gets more technical (which is interesting), so you might start to feel a little dizzy with all the jargon. That’s okay, just look things over, and if they feel like they still make sense in what’s being done here, you’ll be fine.

So let’s go get the software we’ll need. Organize it into a nice folder and rename the files if it helps keep things straight.

The stage is set, the star is prepped and ready for surgery, and the audience waits with bated breath- wait what?

Yeah, I said it: surgery. We gotta go pretty much Johnny 5 levels of disassemble to do what comes next, but if you have soldering experience, a steady hand and a cellphone with a stand, you’ll survive this just fine.

So let’s do this. Also, to be perfectly candid, you can actually do this whole process just following the video up there. That’s how I did it; I’m just offering up my perspective on minor little gotchas I discovered along the way.

We need to get access to the console’s mainboard, front and back. This means we’ve got to remove it from the console altogether, which in this case does mean we’re going to have to tear the console down to its base components before we can access the good bits.

iFixit has a great walkthrough on how to open and remove the shell.

End Trims

Right/Bottom Shell

Face plate

WiFi Card

Top/Left Shell

Optical Drive

Hard Drive Bracket and Fan/Duct

Heat Sink and Motherboard

Captured from TheWeekendModder at https://www.youtube.com/watch&v=C2n9BQZ2TKk
Bad day by screwdriver.
Captured from TheWeekendModder at https://www.youtube.com/watch&v=C2n9BQZ2TKk
Yeah, that’s dead now.

Get comfortable with the motherboard’s layout. Rotate it to match the biggie image below, with the heat sink area to the bottom-left, and the big round notch on the edge of the board to left side.

There are two connections to make back here, one is a bit challenging but perfectly do-able if care and patience are applied.

  1. The red line is a straight patch from one test point location to another. (Color isn’t important, of course. It’s just for identification.)
    • We start at FT5R2: 2nd point down the left column of that slanted set near the top-right heat sink post hole. It has almost like a comic book speech bubble pointing upward from it with the actual point designations.
    • We end at the right-most of two test points sitting above the label for R3R22, to the right of the heat sink area, about mid-way between top and bottom posts.
  2. The yellow line is the more involved one.
    • It goes from a via near C5R35, just below the bottom of the slanted column of points where the red line starts, through a resistor, and then all the way down to a test point by the label FT2V1, down at bottom-right of the board, just left of the Microsoft logo.
      • The actual position of the resistor on the wire doesn’t matter, but it will be more out of the way of other components if it’s attached down nearer to that bottom-right test point.

Okay, now it’s time to get our magnifying gear (if available) set up. You got this part; we just want to see the details of what we’re working on more comfortably. I used my phone on an articulating desk mount arm for my case.


PLL_Bypass to SMC_PLL Line

Back to the top side of the mainboard!

We are now going to create a means for our Raspberry Pi Pico to connect to the board and do some cool things. The contact groups outlined in red are our points of interest now.

Wiring up the probe points

Installing the Pico, prepping to pick the lock

Our console is back together and ready to go!

Well, almost. We need to get that hard drive loaded up and configured so we have somewhere to store the initial software and configuration files! I’m assuming you followed the components list above, and have a hard drive and XBox drive caddy in-hand.

So there you are. There’s actually quite a bit more the system can do, thanks to enhancements provided by plug-ins, such as streaming your games over network from a NAS, instead of on a local hard drive. There is also the ability to setup a FTP server to transfer your library that way, but I understand that method has the ability to introduce bugs in the games, or waste your time with errors and restarts at random points through the transfer process. The USB courier drive would seem to be the most reliable method to move things over, so far.

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