Game development, coding, old games and indie games

The Original Xbox is Slowly Dying Out

When I was about 8 years old I was obsessed with getting an Xbox. I really liked playing with computers, and hence, using Windows, so I assumed Microsoft were amazing and must have made a really cool games console. I spent ages browsing Amazon, looking at all the sweet games I could get. I thought Blinx the Time Sweeper, the failed mascot of Xbox, looked like the absolutely coolest thing. I also really wanted Midtown Madness 3, because I loved Midtown Madness 1 & 2!

Apparently I failed to ever mention this to my parents, who had no idea I wanted an Xbox. Eventually, I got into Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon and got a PS2 instead. Turned out to be a good choice, since Ratchet and Clank and Jak and Daxter have become some of my favourite games of all time!

I’m 28 now, I can buy what I want, so one day I bought an Original Xbox from a charity shop for the low, low price of £15. It was pretty beaten up, with a disc drive that literally had a crack all the way through it. It didn’t work particularly well and stopped reading discs after being booted up a while, so I returned it. At the time I didn’t know that failing disc drives were pretty common for Xboxes and I should’ve probably kept it to fix it up. Sadly, it’s probably sitting in a landfill site, such is the fate of many broken consoles.

Faulty Clock Capacitors

You may already know about the faulty clock capacitors in original Xboxes. The clock capacitor is used to store the time when the system doesn’t have power for short periods of time. They were made from poor quality capacitors that eventually start to leak acid all over the motherboard, eating your Xbox from the inside out. This affects all revisions of the Xbox apart from the very latest 1.6 revision. Fortunately you can pull them out and cause basically no problems. I literally just snapped the legs off, no need to even de-solder it unless you want to be neat. It means your Xbox won’t keep the time when it’s unplugged, but dead Xbox or Xbox that can’t keep track of the time whilst unplugged? I know which I prefer.

After my failed charity shop Xbox, I picked up a new one from CeX. It was in extremely good condition and looked barely used, it’d never even been opened! Anyway I pretty much immediately took it apart, ripped out the clock capacitor, and put it back together. Even the internals were looking great, no dust, no corrosion, the clock capacitor hadn’t even leaked so it was looking great!

When I put it back together I found out only 3 games out of about 12 games I had worked and I’d ruined my chances of returning it by opening it and messing around with it – I guess I trusted CeX far too much to send me an actually working console. I now had an Xbox that only played Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, Blinx the Time Sweeper and Worms 3D.

Failing DVD Drives

Another known problem with Xboxes are failing DVD drives. I took a look and the lens rail is glued in place, so I don’t want to touch it and risk breaking any irreplaceable plastics. Not only that, but lens replacements don’t seem to exist. Cleaning it up did nothing to help. So I’m stuck with a broken drive.

Replacement DVD drives for the Xbox are basically impossible to find now. You can replace them with a generic DVD drive, but it will only read burned discs, because for some reason the Xbox drive spins backwards.

I’ve seen you can flash some DVD drives with custom firmware, but the compatible drives are also next to impossible to find as well. I had to move onto the next option – get another Xbox and borrow the DVD drive from it. You can just pull the drive from one and put it in another with no ill-effects.

Some very explodey looking capacitors

This time I saved myself a lot of hassle and bought a hard-modded Xbox so I could actually play some games. I still wanted to fix up the other one and save it from ending up in a landfill site. Opening up this new one I found even more failing capacitors, three of them this time. They’re nasty-looking and corroded and will need replacing, which is a big ask from someone who only owns a soldering iron because I had to remove an anti-static point once.

Bad Rips

As an aside, this hard-modded Xbox is so sick. It’s kitted out with a 2TB hard disk filled with arcade games, emulators and all sorts of cool stuff. You can put movies, tv shows and music on it and use it as a full media centre. It also plays Xbox games directly from the hard disk, so no need to worry about the failing DVD drives! This, unfortunately, isn’t totally fool proof.

I’m now the proud owner of two Xboxes

Archive.org has a full list of HDD ready Xbox games you can download and drop on your Xbox’s hard disc. The problem is, some of these don’t work perfectly.

Voodoo Vince is just one example of this – it crashes not far into the game, throwing a “dirty disc” error (obviously nonsense because I’m not running from a disc). Running from a disc is also not great, because the temporomental disc drives also throw “dirty disc” errors sometimes. I actually ended up ripping the game myself and this was the only way I could play uninterrupted.

This has poor implications for the future – do I have to rip every game I’m ever going to play myself to ensure my games are future-proofed? I’m constantly discovering new games for system as old as the original Playstation, so it’s sad to know my time to play original Xbox games may be running out.

There is a HD remaster of Voodoo Vince, so you’re not reliant on running old hardware, but for a lot of games this isn’t the case. Take Midtown Madness 3 for example – I want to play this game and it doesn’t exist outside of the original Xbox. Unlike many Original Xbox games, you don’t even have the option of playing it on an Xbox 360 (or Xbox One, which I don’t own). You have no way of knowing whether the HDD-ready games will work until you start playing them.

Failing Hard Disks

The next piece of hardware that’s liable to fail is the hard disk. These things are ancient and obsolete IDE drives, so if you replace it, you’ll need an adapter to be able to put a SATA drive in.

Actually replacing the hard disk is by no means straight-forward. The process requires “hot-swapping” the DVD drive with your replacement hard disk. The Xbox won’t boot without a DVD drive connected, so once it’s booted you unplug the DVD drive and plug in your hard disk instead. Not all hard disks even work, because they’re required to be locked to the console. I didn’t even know hard disks could lock, but apparently some of them don’t, and without the ability to lock, your Xbox will reject it.

You also need to have your console modded so you can run custom software which will complete the process for you. As far as I know, without modding, you’re stuck with your 20 year old hard disk.

As an aside, I recently upgraded my PS4’s hard disk. I backed it up using the PS4’s included backup utility, swapped my hard disk without even having to fully open the console, then installed the system software from a USB drive and restored my backup. Completely painless in comparison to this!

Softmodding and Futureproofing

At this point I realised you had to mod your console for it to survive. It’s a necessity, or something in your console is going to fail and your Xbox will become one huge paperweight. Once it’s modded you can put games on the hard disk using the previously mentioned dvd2Xbox utility, so no need to worry about inconsistent DVD drives.

To soft-mod the console you can use save game exploits on a few games, and the process is amazingly painless. You literally put a bunch of save games on a USB drive, load them to your console, load the save game and everything sorts itself out, completely painless!

You can hard-mod your console with a little bit of soldering, and ultimately that’s the path I’ll probably go down. I have little to no soldering experience, but it involves bridging two points on the circuit board. No mod-chips or jumper wires required. You can then install a hacked bios from a DVD, which removes the necessity for locking hard disks and helps to future-proof your console.

Hard-modding your console and upgrading it will ensure you’re able to enjoy your Original Xbox for many years to come. There’s a huge modding scene surrounding the Xbox, still going strong even today!

Useful Links and Additional Information

I’ve found that my “failed” DVD drive will still run DVD-R discs, so I can install additional tools and applications using burned DVDs.

My drive is a Philips drive and please note that this will very likely not read DVD+R’s, so make sure you specifically use DVD-R (yes, it turns out there’s different types of DVDs).

2 Comments

  1. JustWall

    I miss my old school xbox, but it was not without it’s issues. I remember the giant ass controllers they first came with. LOL

    • Edward Atkin

      The duke! I got one of those with my Xbox 😆 what were they thinking

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