Watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GZO7CsC85A
Ultimate OG Xbox Upgrades! Internal HDMI With XboxHD+, OpenXenium, SSD & Noctua Fan
Bringing my OG Crystal Xbox into the 21st Century with an internal HDMI mod from MakeMHz (XboxHD+) with support for 720P upscaling, a stealth SSD upgrade, and OpenXenium to make it all work happily together. I’ve also added a silent Noctua fan using a 3D printed bracket from RetroFrog, and I’m running the XBMC4Gamers dashboard which adds loads of cool functionality including DLC, homebrew, emulators and all the media playback features you’d expect from XBMC.
Big thanks to WhatHoSnorkers for your amazing voice acting skills!
This is the crystal Xbox that my girlfriend bought for me when we were poor students way back in 2004. It’s part of the reason she’s now my wife. I mean, girl buys you an Xbox, it’s the least you can do.
And as someone who was a big fan of PC gaming throughout the 90s - as well as the Dreamcast of course - the Xbox was the logical choice, and it served me very well indeed for all of those Halo LAN parties. But, as one of the last holdouts of the analog, standard definition generation, the OG Xbox is starting to show its age and could do with a spruce up.
I’ve also started picking up some of the games that I missed out on back in the day, and I’ve been looking forward to getting stuck into those.
So I plugged it all in for the first time in years, hooked it up to my RetroTINK-5X HDMI upscaler and - while I didn’t manage to catch the actual explosion on camera - I did manage to get the incredibly foul-smelling smoke that came out of it.
So evidently I had some capacitors to replace, and while I was in there I installed an OpenXenium modchip, upgraded the hard drive to a much bigger SSD, fitted a new, quieter fan, put a custom dashboard on there, and - perhaps most importantly - gave this old box the modern video output it deserves with an XboxHD+ kit.
Getting into the case is just a case of 6 T20 Torx screws, and as you can see, I removed the internal metal shielding years ago because - well, let’s face it - it looks so much cooler. Come to think of it, how come transparent electronics aren’t a thing anymore?
Anyway, we need to get the motherboard out, and that’s just a case of removing the drive trays and then the board itself using a Torx T10 screwdriver.
At this point I also removed the CPU and GPU heatsinks and cleaned off the remains of that 20-year-old thermal compound. Having those out of the way will make the board easier to handle and of course getting the thermals sorted is always a wise move.
So here’s the capacitor that generated all of that smoke, mocking me alongside its little posse of bulging buddies. Well, we’ll see who’s laughing once I’ve fitted this recap kit that I bought from ZedLabz. They’re modern Panasonic capacitors, but because this is a 1.6 revision board, it doesn’t include the infamous clock capacitor, and in fact ZedLabz themselves don’t recommend changing it in this hardware revision if it’s working OK.
You see, a capacitor basically acts like a battery, and Microsoft fitted one that would keep enough juice flowing when the power was disconnected so that the Xbox wouldn’t forget the time and date when it was unplugged. This was known as the “clock capacitor” for obvious reasons. Unfortunately the Xbox was a product of the great capacitor plague of the early 2000s, and in earlier revisions this one can leak its corrosive innards and destroy the motherboard.
Thankfully, Microsoft used a higher quality Nichicon cap on the 1.6 boards that isn’t prone to leakage, and as it’s still holding a charge and working as intended I won’t be replacing it today. As for the smaller caps - well, they didn’t come in the kit either so I’ll keep an eye and do those as needed. I don’t want to spend all weekend replacing capacitors after all.
So after that’s dealt with I need to fit the modchip - this is a requirement for the HDMI upgrade I’ll be doing shortly and it’s also made by MakeMhz, the same people who made that very upgrade, so who am I to argue.
It’s not all good news for 1.6 owners, however, as by the time this revision rolled around Microsoft had cottoned on to people using the LPC debug port for nefarious purposes, and removed it. So I had to fit a pin header - easy enough - and rebuild the LPC, which up to this point was some of the tiniest soldering I’d ever done. In fact, I was concentrating so hard that I forgot to hit record. But here’s the finished product!
Oh, and by the way, MakeMHz now sells a Quick Solder Board for this purpose, and unless you really enjoy this kind of fine soldering, I can highly recommend it.
So with the OpenXenium modchip in place and the CPU and GPU heatsinks temporarily refitted with some cheapo thermal compound, let’s give all of this a test to make sure it boots up and nothing else goes bang.
At this point there was a lot of flapping around and timewasting, if I’m honest, on account of the fact that I’ve never done one of these mods before and had no idea how the hard disk stuff was supposed to work. There is a DVD that you can burn called Hexen that automates all this, but I decided to save a 5 minute trip to the local shop to buy DVD-Rs and tackle it on hard mode - and waste an entire day working it all out.
So here’s the process that worked for me in the end:
First up, I needed to unlock the original hard disk using the OpenXenium menu. The disk is locked to the console using a unique serial number, and nothing else will be able to access it without this step.
Then, over on my Windows machine, I downloaded FATXplorer, and hooked the old mechanical hard drive up using a USB to IDE adapter to back up all of my old save files and whatnot. After all, I really don’t want all of the hours that student Rees put into Burnout Revenge going to waste.
I used the same utility to format the new drive - a Samsung 250GB SSD that came out of an old work machine. I used the default settings to format it with all the usual Xbox system partitions, plus a single F partition for game rips and whatnot.
Then - again with FATXplorer - mounted the drive in Windows and copied over my old files, the dashboard, and the XboxHD configuration and update app for the HDMI upgrade.
The next thing I needed was a modified BIOS, and I went with M8+ EvoX, again mainly because that’s what MakeMHz, the makers of the HDMI upgrade I’m going to be using, recommended.
The BIOS needs to be patched to support the upgrade, and that’s done using a combination of EVTool and Lunar IPS. Unpack the BIOS with EVTool, apply the patch using Lunar IPS, repack the BIOS, make any other tweaks - ie the filename of the dashboard that you’ll be using - and then use the web server running on the modchip to upload and install everything.
So I was originally going to install the 2.5” SSD using some drive rails, but with this being a crystal Xbox, I think it would have ruined the original looks. So I found this awesome StarTech drive caddy that looks like an old mechanical hard drive. Couple that with an IDE to SATA adapter and an 80-pin IDE cable and we’re in business.
I mentioned earlier that the OpenXenium modchip is made by a company called MakeMHz, and it’s actually a modern clone of a much older modchip that still runs the original firmware from 2004. But, they’ve recently started releasing their own modified versions, so let’s get it up to date. Oh, and their firmware also works on original Xenium chips, if you still have yours from back in the day.
After checking the network settings to get the FTP username and password, I copied the updater file over, and then booted into XBMC4Gamers dashboard - more on this later - and used its file browser to manually run it. As you can see, it successfully detects the modchip and updates the firmware. So far all they’ve done is remove some old self-destruct code designed to stop clones and make the menus look a bit prettier when using the chip with the XboxHD+ HDMI upgrade, as well as adding an option to remove a malfunctioning BIOS using the web interface.
So with everything finally coming up Milhouse…
I wanted to get a feel for how big 250GB actually was as well as making sure that all the disk stuff was working properly. I know a dual layer DVD can hold up to 8.5GB, but I guessed that most original Xbox games wouldn’t be anywhere near that and it turns out that I was right. I ripped a few old favourites from my original collection and sizes ranged from 1GB to just over 5GB, with the 10 random games I picked taking up a total of around 27GB. With an average size of 2.7GB, it looks like the remaining space on this SSD should be enough for around 70-odd games, which will be more than enough for my original games and anything new that I want to check out.
I can go up to 2TB with this setup if I wanted, and there are modern kernels that support up to 16TB, but as I’m not really interested in using this for emulators or media playback, I think this SSD should be plenty for now.
Plus the disks are right here so, you know, I could just load stuff up the old fashioned way.
One final thing to check before the HDMI upgrade goes in - the modchip is now updated with XboxHD+ support so we’ll be able to see what we’re doing up to that point at least, but we need to make sure that the patched BIOS is detected properly. Also, for the upgrade to work, we need to change the video standard to NTSC and the game region to US / Canada.
It’s important to make sure all of the software side is in place before installing the upgrade as it will save a lot of headaches. So running the official app shows that the kernel patch has been detected and the app itself is fully up to date. If the region stuff I mentioned a second ago is wrong, it’ll shout at you about that as well.
Ask me how I know.
So with the software side sorted, off came the CPU and GPU heatsinks - again - and then I also had to carefully remove the motherboard clamp that holds them in place, as there’s a ribbon cable that will run under this. The next job was to remove the original proprietary AV connector, which this mod replaces with a modern HDMI connector. There was actually an official Xbox add-on called the “High Definition AV Pack” that enabled those games that supported it to output 480P, 720P and even 1080i, but of course it was still an analog solution using component cables - although it also added a digital SPDIF audio output, and we’ll pick this up for the new upgrade shortly.
The cool thing is that the modified BIOS allows the XboxHD+ to patch games on the fly, forcing them into 480P and even an upscaled 720P mode, even adding widescreen support to games that didn’t originally have it, so this mod isn’t just limited to the small handful of games that supported HD out of the box.
Of course it can’t do much for pre-rendered FMV and menu items that were designed with standard definition in mind.
Anyway, once the AV connector is gone there are a couple of tiny bridge wires that need to be soldered in to fool the Xbox into thinking that one of those HD packs is connected, so I’ve added those and hopefully got my eye in for the really tiny stuff.
You see, the XboxHD+ upgrade takes the raw YPbPr video signal from the GPU, and along with the digital SPDIF audio I mentioned a second ago, runs it through an Analog Devices ADV7511 HDMI transmitter to output a true digital-to-digital HDMI signal with zero lag.
But to pick up those video signals we need to solder a ribbon cable onto the world’s tiniest resistor array - here it is in position ready to go. I’d like to say that everything went to plan but - well, what you’re seeing on screen was my very first attempt - so instead I’ll show you MachNacho installing his, and if you’re looking for a detailed tutorial showing the installation step-by-step, I can highly recommend his video and I’ll link it in the usual places.
Anyway, after that complete dog’s dinner my final attempt didn’t end up looking too bad - especially as I’ve never done this kind of fine soldering before - but whether it actually works remains to be seen.
There are also a few other wires to solder to the motherboard which you can see here - easy peasy after that resistor array - and now the CPU and GPU heatsinks can be refitted. I’m using this Cooler Master Mastergel Maker as I’ve had a lot of luck with it in the past, and of course the trick is always to apply exactly the right amount in exactly the right configuration for optimum cooling.
It’s recommended that the motherboard is installed back into the case to fit the XboxHD+ so everything’s firmly held in place and who am I to argue, so that’s exactly what I did to finish hooking up those last few wires. Tidy!
A big shoutout is in order to my brother-in-law for 3D printing this fan shroud for me - he was there at those Halo LAN parties all those years ago and he’s come through for me once more. Also to Todd of RetroFrog who designed this thing and many other 3D printed accessories for these old consoles. He’s been a patron of the channel since pretty much the very beginning so thanks Todd! You can check out the link to RetroFrog in the usual places.
The new shroud allows the proprietary 72-ish mm fan with those weird plastic lugs to be replaced with a personal favourite of mine - a Noctua 60mm as used in various projects on this channel. It should keep this old console cool for years to come and it’s practically silent too.
Finally it’s time to connect everything back up and put the drives back in - and now the first boot.
So, with that all up and running the first task is to play some games… Well, no. I guess I should update the ancient firmware on my XboxHD+, as it’s running on version 1.2.1, with 2.1.10 being the latest release. The official app handles all of this and while it’s a long-winded and dangerous process, it proceeds without a hitch, with the first flash taking me up to version 2.0.
But - then something strange happens. The screen is black no matter what I try. After all that hard work and that initial success, I’m scuppered by a firmware update.
Well, to cut a long and very panicked story short, it seems the cheapo HDMI splitter that I’m using to feed the signal into my Elgato CamLink is backfeeding power into the inputs, as evidenced by the LEDs on the XboxHD+ board being lit up even when the console is off. Turns out that unplugging this and letting it work passively - which I didn’t even realise was an option - solves the problem. I’m not quite sure why the original firmware was happy with this arrangement and the new one wasn’t, but hey, it works and that’s all that matters.
A further update - thankfully much quicker this time and without the panic attack brought on by the blank screen - brings me up to version 2.1.10, and this offers a lot of cool stuff.
For example, we can choose which video mode we want to target by default for dashboards and whatnot, play around with the audio settings to enable or disable cool stuff like Dolby Digital AC3 and even DTS, select whether we want to use the built-in universal 480P patch or even upscale to 720P, and this is handled by the renderer on the Xbox itself so it’s basically native, force widescreen, change the colourspace, check for updates, and a lot of other stuff that I don’t understand.
But I know what you’re really interested in is the games - so let’s have a look at some side-by-side comparisons. I captured the original footage using the best option I had to give the Xbox the best possible chance - and that was an RGB SCART cable through an OSSC upscaler.
I’m sure you’ll agree that the difference is subtle but it is there, and this is the absolute best case scenario through quite an expensive setup. Do bear in mind that with the XboxHD+ we’re also getting that native upscaling, digital audio, and the convenience of HDMI without an external device. Also the output is true 16:9 widescreen - I had to scale the original captures to stretch them because the Xbox originally used anamorphic widescreen by default - squishing the image into 4:3 - and I couldn’t even work out how to correct this on my monitor or by playing with the settings on the scaler, leaving me with a squished image.
Back to hardware for a second, and it seems my longer 80-pin IDE cable finally arrived, and I wanted the routing to be the same to keep the Xbox looking as stock as possible. Microsoft actually installed these cables backwards, but it seems they also managed to get them custom made with the centre connector for the DVD drive reversed. I got one with all of the connectors facing the same direction, but it turns out that you can just carefully unclip the middle one, flip the cable over, make sure it’s lined up perfectly, and then clamp it back down to re-crimp it on the other side of the cable. And in my case, it worked!
There are specific tools for this, but as this is a one-off I found that the hand clamps that I use to hold my filming lights up did a perfectly sufficient job.
So then it’s just a case of folding the new cable to match the original one, and nobody would ever know that it had been modified. Refitting is the reverse of removal as they say, and that’s the case all reassembled for hopefully the final time.
I also wanted to give a quick mention to the XBMC4Gamers dashboard, which is still very much under active development and supports the native 720P output of this particular upgrade, so it looks super sharp. It also has some really cool built-in features, like a game artwork downloader, the ability to download the original DLC for various games which of course we lost access to when the original Xbox Live went offline in 2010, as well as emulators and homebrew and of course all the excellent media playback stuff you’d expect from XBMC. Oh, and like all of these modern dashboards, it includes an in-game reset function to take you back to the dashboard without having to turn the console off and back on again.
But anyway, that’s probably something to look at in more detail in a later video once I’ve got my head around it all and of course if this one ends up being well received.
So I hope you enjoyed this journey down memory lane with my old console and indeed the massive hardware and software overhaul that had to happen to make that possible. Big thanks to my patrons, Ko-Fi supporters and YouTube channel members, now I’m off to play some Burnout Revenge so thankyou for watching and I’ll hopefully see you next time.
Relevant Links & Further Viewing:
XboxHD+ Video by Macho Nacho Productions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UztpHh_xsAg
This one by MrMario2011 was also useful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICRS3yHICKQ
XboxHD+ tests and comparisons by RetroRGB: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgMurkMqH0U
Lunar IPS: https://www.romhacking.net/utilities/240
XboxHD app: https://github.com/MakeMHz/xbox-hd-plus-app
XboxHD BIOS patches: https://github.com/MakeMHz/xbox-hd-plus/tree/master/patches
XboxHD OpenXenium Firmware Upgrade: https://github.com/MakeMHz/xenium-fw-update
Parts & Tools (genius links are affiliated):
ZedLabz Cap Kit: https://www.zedlabz.com/products/motherboard-capacitor-set-for-original-xbox-console-version-1-6-replacement-zedlabz
LPC QSB: https://makemhz.com/products/lpc-rebuild
OpenXenium Modchip: https://makemhz.com/products/openxenium
“Mastergel Maker” Thermal Compound: https://geni.us/Aud4
SATA Adapter: https://geni.us/ItlxeqF
Drive enclosure: https://geni.us/OkmN
IDC crimper: https://geni.us/VT4g
iFixit Screwdriver Set: https://geni.us/jzcfAin
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