Retro FAQ: Microsoft Xbox

Discussion in 'Retro & Arcade' started by WuZMoT, Aug 12, 2020.

  1. WuZMoT

    WuZMoT Member

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    This is a partner series to our Retro Let's Play FAQ, aiming to assist people finding ways of playing old games from these old systems. All talk of resolutions, PAL vs NTSC and upscaling are covered in the Retro Display Solutions thread.



    The Microsoft Xbox (or "OG Xbox") was released in all regions between November 2001 and March 2002. Unquestionably a well backed maiden voyage into the console market at a time when Sony, Nintendo and Sega were still it. The system sold 24 million units world wide but saw very poor sales figures in Japan compared to other regions. An interesting excerpt from wikipedia: "For the week ending July 18, 2004, the Xbox sold just 272 units, even less than the PSOne had sold in the same week." Keeping in mind the PS1 hardware was close to a decade old at this point.

    The OG Xbox was the first home console to include a built in hard drive eliminating the need for additional memory cards in order to save game progress. The hard drive could also be used to store personal music ripped from your own cds and integrated as custom soundtracks in some games. It also shipped with 10/100 ethernet as standard. While it didn't include a built in digital audio output this was entirely possible with the appropriate cables or breakout box.

    The systems architecture was more directly comparable to desktop PCs of the time than it's competitors and even ran a heavily modified version of windows 2000 at its core. It was also the starting point of Xbox Live launching in November 2002. The accessibility of online multiplayer further garnering the success of the system.

    The console itself only saw internal hardware revisions and was well known for it's relatively large physical size. The controller was revised from the original (or "duke") controller to the smaller S controller. The duke controller also shared some meme attention along with the system but is still preferred by people with larger hands. The somewhat affectionate ridicule turned free publicity and further solidified the success of Microsofts console contender.

    Here's a half hour borderline-slide show of clips showing games on the system.


    The system outputs video from it's proprietary AV port and is capable of 480i (NTSC) / 576i (PAL) resolutions in all games. Almost all NTSC titles support 480p with some outlying support for 720p and 1080i. The majority of PAL games also support 480p or can generally be patched to force 480p if they do not. 16:9 wide screen support is a mixed bag with some variance in how well it is implemented. Some titles are 4:3 aspect only.

    A relatively complete list of display mode support can be found here.

    An important note on PAL vs NTSC
    A PAL system/BIOS can only output interlaced resolutions. NTSC systems have access to higher resolutions and progressive scan mode outputs. A PAL system bios can be freely switched to NTSC relatively easily with a (soft/hard) modded console. This enables the complete list of modes as long as the appropriate cable is detected by the system. As you would expect the ability to switch the BIOS also negates region locking for games as long as you switch to the applicable region for your disc.

    The AV multi port is capable of:
    Composite and Svideo (480i/576i)
    YPbPr Component (480i/576i/480p/576p/720p/1080i)
    RGB SCART (480i/576i ONLY) - I'm not 100% sure on this.

    Two first party breakout box adapters were released for the system:
    The 'Enhanced' AV pack which included Svideo and Optical audio ports along with the standard composite video and audio ports.
    The 'High Definition' AV pack which provided YPbPr Component ports, Optical audio and composite audio ports.

    These fetch an increasingly high price in the second hand market.

    Playing the original system today

    The xbox emulation scene hasn't exactly caught up to its competitors so original hardware is still the best and really only way to enjoy the console. Second hand units are still kicking around at reasonable prices. They seem to be a dime a dozen in many other countries - particularly America. S Controllers can be easily refreshed with replacement xbox 360 thumb caps.

    It is advisable to go with a modded system (soft/hard) and use an internal hard drive to load games from to reduce load on the aging optical drives which can be extremely hit and miss. Not only do they suffer similar degradation to PS2's where they will stop reading CD OR DVD media (or both!) they can also stop physically opening. They can be cleaned and serviced to function again but since the system will natively support an internal hard drive there is no reason to persist with such a struggle.

    Backwards Compatibility
    Should a particular game you want to play be supported by Xbox360 or Xbox One backwards compatibility this can often be the most easily accessible way to play it. Xbox 360 and XB1 hardware is somewhat more plentiful and reliable and the inclusion of some upscaling/enhancements some games can actually be better. Some games however suffer from glitches so this is not always the case.

    List of Original Xbox games playable on Xbox One

    List of Original Xbox games playable on Xbox 360

    Preventative Maintenance

    Aside from a clunky old disc drive if you are in the market for an OG Xbox you should be aware of the following issues that inevitably can cause a system to become completely inoperable.

    Enter: Clock capacitor.
    In xbox revisions 1.0 through to 1.4 the clock capacitor is responsible for maintaining the date/time setting when the power cable is removed. It can and will leak inside your xbox and destroy surrounding traces and components. It can be replaced but can also simply be removed with the only side affect being that your xbox will lose its date/time setting when disconnected from mains. This isn't particularly important unless you care about date/time stamps on your save files but some dash boards support network time syncing when they boot anyway.

    1.6 consoles are not affected by the clock cap but also have limitations on hard mods that can be performed and usually require an actual physical modchip to be added.

    EEPROM and unique HDD keys.
    Every xbox has a unique HDD key stored in its EEPROM used for signing save files and unique xbox live identification. This key is also responsible for 'linking' the original disk drive to the mainboard. This means that the HDD from one xbox will not work in another. By default an xbox HDD is locked to this HDD key and is unlocked then locked again at boot time.

    What this means is that if an xbox is not modified to circumvent this and its HDD fails it is particularly difficult to resurrect. There is a way to extract the EEPROM data and there in the HDD key from an Xbox mainboard with a Pi connected directly to it via GPIO pins. Ideally you would perform a hard mod on the xbox prior to the disk failing which is not without its specific requirements.

    Modding
    Softmodding is possible through a handful of games that have save game exploits but require a specially configured USB flash drive to act as a memory module. This also requires the appropriate USB to Xbox controller port cable, cheaply available on ebay. The real struggle with softmodding is sourcing a compatible USB2 drive that is detected by the xbox. Soft modding is possible on all console revisions.

    Modchip installation circumvents the HDD key check and also allows booting of permanently "unlocked" drives. It is 2020 however and the market for such chips is less prominent than it once was. Modchips can be installed on 1.0 - 1.6 but 1.6 revisions require an 'LPC rebuild' to facilitate the required connections.

    Fortunately there is another method for 1.0-1.4 revision consoles. the TSOP flash.
    This is essentially flashing the original system BIOS with a modchip BIOS. This allows booting the system from a utility disc with a blank HDD connected and installing all required files to boot a custom dash. This is your surest bet to ensure operative longevity.

    Typically you would:
    1. softmod a stock system to enable booting of burnt media
    2. bridge the required points to enable writing to the system BIOS
    3. boot a burnt utility disc to custom flash the BIOS

    At this point HDD failure becomes a non issue as long as your ODD can still boot the utility CD and setup a clean HDD.

    Essential links...


     
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  2. Vanne

    Vanne Member

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    Amazing write up. Top notch.
    I had a hard modded XEcutor one in 2004.. loved that thing. It's where I was introduced to such a thing called 'Vice City!".

    Very cool console. Wish I had kept mine.
     
  3. power

    power Member

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    MVG has a particular fondness for the console and has even ported a game to it - xbox devkit systems found in the wild will often be treasure troves of developer code and even unreleased games!

    Having only recently come into xbox ownership (via Eddies Retro ;) ) I was quite impressed at the power of the machine and the great video output compared to the PS2, if there is a multi-plat title in this era, you want the xbox version most of the time.

    There is also a movement to bring back the most important and game changing feature of the original xbox - xbox live.

    never a better time to buy, prices are still good!







     
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  4. elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    Brilliant write up, than you WuZMoT !

    You also inspired me to TSOP mod my softmodded 1.1 after our recent chats, which also got me a nice hard disk upgrade from 8GB IDE to 1TB SATA.

    Also I note that retro expert website RacketBoy is continuing to show love for the platform, and putting out an XBox version of their "rarest and must valuable" series:
    https://www.racketboy.com/retro/the-rarest-most-valuable-xbox-games

    There's also their usuals, like the defining games:
    http://www.racketboy.com/retro/games-that-defined-the-microsoft-xbox

    And hidden gems:
    http://www.racketboy.com/retro/the-best-undiscovered-xbox-games
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2020
  5. power

    power Member

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    hey and if you get an OGX360 you could even use another controller! ;) ;)
     
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  6. elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    Considering it, although I've been given a few busted third party gamepads that I reckon are an easy fix, and might do me.

    There's only a handful of XBox exclusives I want to get through. I gave Buffy a red hot go after the TSOP flash, and ho boy was it terrible hahaha! :lol:
     
  7. power

    power Member

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    haven't we all wanted to?

    Seriously, I quite like this game as a fan of the show. The voice actor stand in they got for SMG is very good and the rest of the cast are all there to talk to.

    The game has that simple linear progression and feel of the era and sometimes that's all you want.
     
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  8. OP
    OP
    WuZMoT

    WuZMoT Member

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    I've glossed over Xbox Live which was obviously a huge part of the OG xbox but back then I was getting my multiplayer fix from local PC LAN groups.

    In all honesty I was a PC elitist at that point but time makes fools of us all.

    Like much of the gear we appreciate on this sub forum a mature retrospective is particularly appealing.

    The HDD keys in all of my xboxes have been nulled for maximum flexibility so I can swap locked disks between them and they will all function 100%. If Insignia gets developed enough I might have shot myself in the foot as I would need to restore at least one unique HDD key to play online - Assuming they include the HDD key as part of unique identification. That being said I'm not holding my breath on Insignia. It's cool that they are doing it but I have little interest in it and am happy to play single player games and some 2 player system link. It's my understanding that individual games will need a degree of focus to get them up to speed as well so it won't simply be "xbox live 1.0 is back" overnight.
     
  9. Grant

    Grant Member

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    This needs a little mention of XBMC as well, I used an OG Xbox as my HTPC for a long time, and still run Kodi on my Linux HTPCs now. There were first- and third-party IR remotes available for the XBox, which made it great for that purpose.
     
  10. power

    power Member

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    xbmc has evolved into one of the most visually pleasing and comprehensive dashes too in xbmc4gamers.

    The Original XBox subreddit is also still very much alive with thousands of fans new and old keeping this console alive. https://www.reddit.com/r/originalxbox/

     
  11. OP
    OP
    WuZMoT

    WuZMoT Member

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    I'll chuck some more info in when I feel like writing again. There's so much to cover with this console really and I just wanted to focus on the main part: playing its games today.

    XBMC contributing to the Xbox's success is somewhat similar to the DVD drive contributing to the PS2's success.
     
  12. power

    power Member

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    XBMC is kind of a beast and outgrew it's original home on the xbox, quite a legacy if you ask me. It's worth a mention but yeah it's almost a topic unto itself.
     
  13. theSeekerr

    theSeekerr Member

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    And, while notable, nobody is going to bring an OG Xbox out of retirement to run an ancient build of XBMC in this era of cheap SBCs and Amlogic TV boxen. Retro is one thing, but I don't think anyone is nostalgic for "it played video surprisingly well, considering!"
     
  14. power

    power Member

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    oh - you'd be suprised!!!
     
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  15. theSeekerr

    theSeekerr Member

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    Perhaps I should have said "nobody who hasn't already..."
     
  16. OP
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    WuZMoT

    WuZMoT Member

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    Assuming I still have some simpsons/futurama xvids kicking around on an old drive somewhere it would be a novelty to put them on one of my CRT connected xboxes for kicks. But getting analog output from something with a plex client would probably be less steps and not require sourcing xvids.
     
  17. elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    I'm with you, but I know talk like this generally gets met with some rather passionate rebuttal.

    Fact is an XBox is a single core 733MHz system with a rather ancient GPU and 64 MegaBytes (i.e.: 1/16th of a GigaByte) of RAM.

    1.2GHz quad core RPi3 systems with hardware h264 decode and 1GigaByte of RAM ; and newer 1.5 GHz quad core RPi4 systems with h265 and 4K support and 1, 2, 4 or 8 GigaBytes of RAM (the latter being 128 times what an XBox has) quite objectively decimate an XBox for both video playback performance, power consumption, built in RAM, and anything else that isn't purely "playing XBox games".

    That doesn't prevent people using consoles purely because they can, of course. But again, in 2020, there are better media playback choices that an OGXBox.

    And I have the same criticisms of any other console - not hating on XBox here. I see people turning Wiis, PS2s, PS3s, XBox360s and more into media centres or emulation boxes, and ask "why?". These are killer games systems for their native games (including first party emulation and backwards compatibility), but anything else is kind of pointless.

    As for the software, XBMC (XBox Media Centre) has morphed into Kodi, and is available in minimal RPi distros like LibreElec. You get all the functionality with even more features and better modern codec support.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2020
  18. OP
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    WuZMoT

    WuZMoT Member

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    Just finished this one up for a mate.
    Did most of the work (dust blowout, clock cap removal, thermal paste, softmod, TSOP flash) about a week ago just had to replace 3 CPU/GPU caps and install the SATA gear tonight.

    stock config:
    IMG_20200813_170933.jpg
    Board overshot (this is a 1.4):
    IMG_20200813_171204.jpg
    Clock cap was here:
    IMG_20200813_171254.jpg
    TSOP solder bridges seen here:
    IMG_20200813_171840.jpg
    Bad CPU/GPU caps / New Caps:
    IMG_20200813_171959.jpg IMG_20200813_180349.jpg
    Goodies:
    IMG_20200813_182132.jpg
    Final build (not my neatest):
    IMG_20200813_184038.jpg
    BIOS switched to NTSC:
    IMG_20200813_185331.jpg
    HDD cloned from mine (dual SATA dock with built in sector clone function) no pesky FTP queuing here!:
    IMG_20200813_185956.jpg
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2020
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  19. elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    What tipped you off to do this? Crashing/artifacting? Or just cap bulging?

    This was another reason I want to TSOP (other than the hard disk insurance and upgrade). NTSC gives you a bunch of higher resolutions and 16:9 options that PAL titles don't.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2020
  20. OP
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    WuZMoT

    WuZMoT Member

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    I just noticed the bulge and had some caps left over from one of mine that's also a 1.4. these cap ratings can vary between different board revisions too.

    I bought 10 caps when I recapped one of mine and figured I'd have spares to do more. It's caps were actually leaking at the top and it was still stable from what I had run on it.
     
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