Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How-To: Turn a standard Xbox 360 video cable into a VGA cable for make benefit your wallet

Every so often, that console-modding Benjamin Heckendorn wanders away from his lair at to share some interesting projects with Engadget.

Recent Xbox 360 updates have allowed the system to spit out resolutions up to 1080p, and with the new HD DVD add-on drive there's more reason than ever to use a high quality VGA signal instead of the more standard 3-cable component. However there's a bit of a catch -- VGA cables for the 360 cost about $40. According to my calculations, that's about 2 pizzas and a case of beer less to game with. WE don't know about you, but we find that a pretty scary proposition -- yours buddies that swing over for game night probably do too.

In this How-To we'll describe how you can turn your existing Xbox 360 video cable into a "multi-out" device capable of VGA. You don't even need to hack inside the Xbox itself, just the cable. Total cost is around $7, including the Radio Shack project box shown above. Ready to save some cash? Let's get in there!

The following mod allows you to use a standard Xbox 360 cable to create a special VGA cable that would normally be purchased separately. The reason we can hack the standard cable in this way is because Microsoft was kind enough to put every pin in the normal connector, even ones the cable doesn't use. Standard plugs on other systems (notably the PS2 and Gamecube) only have the pins the plug needs.

Thank you Microsoft.

Main Tools You'll Need:
  • Small pair of tweezers (very useful).
  • Metal cutting pliers, tin snips, something along those lines.
  • Soldering iron. A lighter powered, 15 watt range one is best.
  • Solder... WITH lead works best. We know that sounds awful but it'll help you "convert" the lead-free solder inside the Xbox connector and make it much easier to work with.
  • Multimeter, with circuit testing option. The kind where if you touch the two probes it beeps to indicate a connection.
  • Hot glue. Oh yeah, that's right! Don't leave home without it.
  • Small, thin flat-bladed screwdrivers, a larger flat-bladed screwdriver.
  • X-Acto Knife
  • Desoldering iron (optional, see instructions).
  • Dremel (optional, see instructions).
Where is the "Parts I need" section, you ask? We'll cover them specifically later on, depending on which type of VGA cable you'd like to build. (Breakout box, as shown, or straight VGA cable depending.)

Alright let's get going on this sucker.

Step 1 - Take Apart Your Xbox 360 Video Cable

The Xbox 360's video cable assembly doesn't use screws but luckily it's still pretty easy to take apart. Here's how:

  • Insert a small, thin screwdriver at the seam shown in the above photo.
  • Press in and towards the label (also as shown) to get around the inner lip.
  • Once you breach the lip you should hear a crack. You're in!
  • Make a few more breaches like this next to each other, then insert a larger screwdriver as shown below. Twist it and the casing should pop open nicely.

Next, insert the big screwdriver at the seam near the main cable, and twist the case open at this place as well. You can now pull off the bottom portion of the plastic, and then pull the guts out of the top portion. The "TV / HDTV" switch will fall out at this point, save it if you ever plan to revert the cable to its original form (which is becoming less and less likely as this progresses).

Use your small screwdriver to pry up the metal near the TV/HDTV switch, as shown below.

Now pry the metal up and right off the optical audio jack, and bend it down on the right side, as shown below. You can now pull the main piece of shielding metal up away from the rest of the jack. Snip the shielding free of the main cable using your metal cutters.

Now you should come across a piece of material that looks amazingly like electrical tape. (Don't worry, we're sure it's certified next-generation electrical tape.) Remove it and the jack should now look like the below photo. On the left you can see the little circuit board containing the optical audio port and TV/HDTV switch, on the right is the connector itself with all the wires going to it.

Next we need to remove the circuit board from the metal. It is held down by 3 tabs. You can desolder the tabs with a desoldering iron, or wedge your small screwdriver under the board and pry up as you heat the tabs with the regular iron. Since everything on the Xbox 360 uses that lead-free solder, it might help to mix some fresh (ahem leaden) solder onto joints to help them melt. Once you get to the side with 2 tabs (near the TV / HDTV switch) you'll need to snip the metal shielding free of the cables before you pry up the PCB.

  • Once the circuit board has been desoldered from the tabs you can unplug the little connector on it and pull it from the main assembly.
  • Finally, take your thin screwdriver and stick it between the black plastic and the thin top shielding as shown below. (Sorry the photo's a bit blurry, bigfoot musta been nearby.) Pry the metal up a little and you'll be able to pull the black plug out from the shielding. Be sure to save this piece of shielding for later.
The plug pieces should now look like the following.

Finally, cut the end portion off the metal shielding and lay down some electric tape inside it as shown below:

Step 2 - Make the wiring connections

Before we start making the wiring connections you'll need to carefully remove the glue stuff covering the pins, as shown below. Use your tweezers and be sure not to pull the blank pins up with the gunk. If they do bend up, simply push them back down. The glue is pretty easy to remove.

With the glue removed you can remove all the wires from the plug. Simply heat up the solder on each wire until it easily pulls free.

At this time you should put a small bit of fresh, new solder on each of the pins. This will make attaching new wires much easier.

Shown below is the end view of the now wireless plug and a drawing of which pins we'll be using for this VGA mod. Keep in mind this pinout refers to the WIRE end of the plug, looking at it from behind as it would go into the console. The numbering might look a bit weird but it refers to how the connections are labeled on the 360's motherboard.

Note how every pin is either long or short, and almost every other pin goes to ground (GND)

Before we go any further, here's the wire-end view pinout of a VGA port. Pins that we don't need for this project are simply called N/C (no connection). Most VGA-type ports also have the pin numbers etched into the plastic for your added reference.

Download a large PDF version of these pinouts, suitable for framing.

Since we're going to start re-attaching the wires to the connector, you should now decide what sort of VGA cable you'd like to build...
  • Breakout box type adapter. As shown at the beginning of this article. Requires buying a few parts (the aforementioned seven bucks worth) but is more useful in the long run.
  • Single cable coming off the Xbox. For this you can use an old VGA cable. Slice off the computer end of the plug so you can connect the wires directly to the Xbox 360 video connector. You'll also need some left and right audio cables, plus a yellow cable if you'd still like the option of using composite video.
Figure out which is best for you (I recommend the breakout box 'cause it's cooler, but that's just me) and use the directions below:

Method 1: Soldering wires to the connector port for a straight VGA cable (sort of like the one that costs $40 at Best Buy)

Parts you'll need:
  • 2 position selector switch (if you want the cable to switch modes). You can use the Radio Shack Catalog #275-409, or just desolder the switch from inside the Xbox component cable.
  • Left and right RCA phono plug audio cables, such as those from a stereo system. You'll need these since the VGA plug doesn't carry audio. If you plan to just use the optical audio, we'll describe how to wire it in the breakout box section.
  • Yellow composite (crap) video RCA phono plug cable. You'll only need this if you want the cable to switch modes. A great source for both this and the audio cables are old PS1, N64 or GameCube cables.
What to do:
  1. Cut off the computer end of the VGA cable if you haven't already. Strip the main coating off to reveal the wires inside. The main connections you'll need are red, green, blue, horizontal sync and vertical sync. They may or may not be color coded. H and V sync may be a shade of white. Put a little solder on each wire to keep the strands together. This will also help when attaching it to the Xbox connector.
  2. Using the multimeter, test which wires in the cable go to the correct pins on the end of the VGA cable and connect them to the Xbox connector accordingly. (Use the above VGA pinout for reference.) Please note, they'll be several wires inside the VGA cable that you won't need to connect to the Xbox, such as the data lines used for monitor ID detection. (Labeled N/C in the pinout drawing.)
  3. All the shielding around the wires you find inside the cable is ground. Also note that a lot of the pins on the VGA connector are ground.
  4. Solder the wires from the VGA cable to the Xbox 360 connector using the pinouts provided to match up the signals. You can connect all the VGA ground shielding to a single ground spot on the Xbox connector to make it easier on yourself.
  5. Strip the ends of the audio cables to reveal the inner wires and copper shielding. Attach the inner wires to the left and right audio spots on the Xbox connector (pins 16 and 15) and the outer shielding to any ground.
  6. If you're attaching a composite video option, strip and attach the composite (yellow) video cable in the same way to pin 7 of the Xbox connector.
  7. The selector switch (either the Radio Shack model or the one from the connector itself) has 3 leads on it. Connect the center lead to ground and the side leads to pins 20 and 24 on the Xbox connector. The switch can now "ground out" one of those two connections to set the video mode. Pulling pin 20 to ground sets the Xbox to VGA mode, putting 24 to ground sets it to composite.
  8. If you don't want the cable to select a video mode and just be VGA, connect pin 20 to any ground. This can be done by simply blobbing solder from it to pin 18 or 22 (they're both ground)
  9. Note: You HAVE to select a mode regardless, if you don't the Xbox won't boot and you'll get 4 red lights as a "Video Cable Missing" warning. (Strange that 3 lights is worse than 4, but whatever.)
You can now insert the black plastic Xbox connector back into the metal shielding we removed earlier and plug everything in to see if it works. (See "Setting the Xbox to VGA", below.) If you have a problem, check out the Troubleshooting section at the end of the article.

Method 2: Making a VGA/Composite Breakbox Box

Parts you'll need:
  • Breakout Box. I used Radio Shack Catalog # 270-1802 cause it was the smallest and cheapest.
  • D-sub 15 female connector (VGA port). Radio Shack Catalog #: 276-1502, Digi-Key: T815FE-ND Mouser: 523-G17S1510110EU If you have an old PC video card you can desolder one off that if you wish. But a new one is pretty cheap and easy to use.
  • 2 position selector switch, if you want the box to switch modes. You can use the Radio Shack Catalog #275-409 or just desolder the switch from inside the Xbox component cable.
  • 3 RCA phono jacks, for the audio and composite video. This is the type found on the back of DVD players. Radio Shack Catalog #274-346, Digi-Key: CP-1413-ND (red) CP-1414-ND (white) CP-1415-ND (yellow) Mouser: 161-4319-E. As with the VGA port you may have some old electronics you can pull these off.
  • Shielded wires from inside the Xbox video cable.
  • Some standard thin wire. Old floppy/IDE drive cable works great and is, best of all, free. Free is great -- it saves you money for things that aren't. Like beef jerky.
  • Standoff screws from a PC. These are the type with a "screw within a screw" that are often used under the motherboard.
  • Some drill bits. Sizes of 1/8th, 3/8th, and 1/4th-inch will be helpful.
Supplier websites:

Start by slicing open your Xbox video cable. Remove the main metal shielding to find the individual shielded wires inside:

The shielded wires from the Xbox 360 cable, or as I call them "Buck Rogers Spaghetti."

These will work great for the inside wiring of the breakout box. Cut each wire to about 6-inches long for now, we can trim them shorter later as needed. You'll need 8 of them.

Start by sliding off some of the shielding and stripping the end of the inner wire. Dab a bit of solder onto it to lock all the strands together - this is called "tinning" and will make soldering it to the connector much easier. You can also put a little solder at the end of the shielding to keep it from fraying apart.

Solder a shielded wire to each of the following pins on the Xbox connector, or a regular thin wire as noted. Attaching them in the order specified works best, or reverse if you're left handed.

Top of connector:
  1. Red (pin 3)
  2. Composite video (pin 7)
  3. Horizontal Sync (pin 11)
  4. Right audio (pin 15) -- shielding not essential
  5. Optical audio data (pin 25) -- use a regular thin wire for this.
  6. Optical audio ground (pin 27) -- regular wire
  7. Optical audio +5v (pin 29) -- regular wire
Bottom of connector:
  1. Green (pin 4)
  2. Blue (pin 8)
  3. Vertical sync (pin 12)
  4. Left audio (pin 16) -- shielding not essential
  5. Set VGA (pin 20) -- regular wire
  6. Set Composite (pin 24) -- regular wire
When everything is wired the connector should look as shown below:

Now you can slide the black Xbox connector inside the metal shielding. Be sure there's a layer of electric tape inside in case any connections hit the metal shell.

Step 3 - Install ports in your Breakout Box

With the wires soldered to the connector we can get the breakout box itself ready.
  • Set the connector against the lid of the box and trace the outline of it with your knife. About 1/4 of the way from the side is best, as shown below.
  • Cut out the hole using either a Dremel or by making several deep cuts with an X-Acto knife and then "popping" the shape out by pressing on it with a screwdriver.

The lid of the project box with the trapezoid connector hole.
  • Stick the connector through the hole and see how it fits. Adjust the hole as needed. Test this rig by plugging into the Xbox 360 and adjusting the tilt of the lid to the curve of the Xbox, as shown.
  • Once it fits fully into the Xbox 360, put some hot glue (yes!) on the inside of the lid to temporarily secure the connector in place. (Don't worry about the hot glue, your 360 is fully accustomed to heat.) Once it's cool and secure, remove the whole shebang from the XBox.

  • On the bottom of the main portion of the box carve and cut a hole for the VGA port. Once the hole's big enough stick in the port and drill 1/8th" holes in the plastic to match its mounts. Then you can screw in some standard PC motherboard-style screws to hold down the VGA port, just like on a computer. For added security screw on somes nuts on the inside (or just dump in a bunch of hot glue if there's no room for that).
  • Drill (3) 3/8th-inch holes for the audio and video RCA ports. Space them evenly.
  • Be sure to keep these ports on the side of the box away from the Xbox 360 connector. That way you know they'll be enough room inside.

  • Desolder the optical audio port from the small circuit board from the connector. It may help to "freshen up" the solder first before you try to remove it.
  • Make a square hole for the port on the opposite side of the box from the VGA port. This can be done by drilling a 1/4th-inch hole and then carving corners from it.
  • Insert the optical port as shown below. The pinouts of the 3 center pins are also provided for when you attach it to the main connector. The two side tabs of the optical port don't need to be connected.
  • Secure the optical port using... get this... hot glue! Hey, it works.

The business end of the optical audio port. We actually think it's called a TOSlink but optical audio port sounds more... um, universal. TOSlink sounds like some dude from Lord of the Rings.
  • Drill a hole between the optical port and the audio ports that will fit the shaft of the selector switch. A 3/8th-inch hole will work for the Radio Shack switches mentioned above, or a slightly smaller one if you're using the switch from inside the connector itself.
  • Install the switch using yet more hot glue. Of course be careful not to cover the 3 pins of the switch. Even though it'll be near the Xbox connector this switch isn't big enough to cause a space problem.
The inside of the breakout box should now look like this, give or take 5 pounds of hot glue. As you can see I've wired the grounds of all the ports together.

We can now wire the Xbox connector to the various ports on the breakout box using the pinout charts located several stories above. Some notes:
  • Place the pieces of the box together as shown and begin by wiring up the optical port. Cut the wires as short as you can so it's easy to stuff everything in the box.
  • Connect ground to the center pin of the three pin selector switch, pin 20 of the Xbox connector to one side, and then pin 24 to the other. This allows the switch to select between VGA and composite modes.

  • Connect audio (pins 15 and 16) and composite video (pin 7) to the middle pins of the RCA ports next. The outer rings of the RCA ports should all connect to ground.
  • After wiring the RCA ports cover the connections with electric tape. This keeps them from shorting out on all the shielding around the main VGA wires.

  • Speaking of that, connect the 5 VGA wires next. Red, green, blue, H-Sync and V-Sync. Check the above VGA port pinout for reference.
  • You can now close up the box. Smush the halves together, arranging the wires as you go to make sure everything will fit.
  • Screw the case shut -- you're done!

Step 4 - Setting the XBox to VGA
  • Ok, plug in the breakout box, or cable, or whatever you ended up making, to your monitor / VGA-enabled TV and Xbox.
  • Make sure the selector switch is to "VGA" (pin 20 grounded)
  • Switch all your stuff on. You should see the Xbox boot up (it might take a hair longer than usual). If not, skip ahead to Troubleshooting.
  • Once you're in, go to Dashboard, then goto the System blade and hit "Console Settings", and "Display"
  • You can now select a resolution and aspect ratio to fit your screen. The 360 works best with widescreen displays although you can still make it work with square monitors as well. Strangely enough it'll letterbox the game whilst the dashboard and message panels will take up the whole screen. Weird, huh?
  • Boot up Gears of War or some other awesome looking game and drool 50% more than usual.

Just think -- now you might be able to read the text in Dead Rising.

Addendum - Troubleshooting

Oh noes! You followed all the instructions but something isn't quite right - is it any of the following by chance?
  • 4 red lights (but not of death). Since we've all heard of the dreaded "3 lights of death" a whopping FOUR lights could cause instant heart failure. But don't worry, it's actually just a "Video Cable Missing" warning. Check that the Pin 20 and 24 connections are correct. If neither of them are switched to ground the Xbox doesn't know what video mode to use and assumes there's no cable at all.
  • Inversed, Andy Warhol-esque colors. Suddendly the Dead or Alive girls all have blue skin... Anime? A strange STD? Nope, you just got your some of your RGB wires mixed up. Now we bet you're glad you didn't slather all the connections in hot glue yet - right?
  • Ghosting. If you see some ghosting of images on the screen you probably have insufficient shielding. Make sure all the shielding is connected to a ground someplace. If you use a decent VGA cable this really shouldn't be a problem, unless you live in the Bermuda Triangle or something.
  • Optical audio problems. Be sure you have the ground, +5v and data pins wired to the connector correctly. Is the Xbox set to output this type of signal?
Alright well sorry if this how-to seemed a bit long, we just wanted to make sure you knew exactly what to do. Enjoy your sparkling new, crisp, hi-def, life-like (insert your own superlative here) video!
Flashing the Firmware of your Xbox 360 DVD-Drive

I decided to write this Tutorial after attempting to mod my own Xbox 360 and I take no credit for the information contained within this Tutorial as I did not figure any of this out, I simply trolled the various forums and found many topics written to cover the process. I am simply presenting what I think is the easiest way to accomplish the task at hand which is to flash the DVD drives's firmware. I have also found links to all the software you will require for this tutorial and links are provided throughout when needed.

Important: you can break, fudge, kill or maim a perfectly good Xbox 360 if you are not careful so I warn you in advance don't complain or cry to me it you make a mistake, the steps I will describe worked for me and countless others, proceed with caution and make sure you fully understand the process before attempting it.

NOTE: this firmware modification will only allow you to boot Back-ups, no other programs or emulators can be installed using this firmware modification

First lets check which DVD-drive your Xbox 360 contains, eject the drive tray and compare against the photo below to determine which DVD-drive you have. Compare the circled areas against your drive to determine which model you drive is and proceed accordingly. The Phillips DVD-drive has just been identified (June 28-06) so no firmware is available for this type of DVD-drive yet.

Tools and Items you will require:

  1. Knowledge of which DVD-drive your Xbox 360 contains (see above photo)
  2. Extreme firmware for the drive you will be flashing (see the section below)
  3. Torx 7,10 and 12 screwdrivers to open the Xbox 360
  4. A PC with a suitable SATA chipset (click Here to check known compatibility)

Get the right files

All of the files you require are available from one site but a free registration is required to access the downloads section please visit them and register before clicking on the following links or access to the files will be denied click Here to register the link will take you to registration screen. Important All the files you will download use a compression called '.rar' so you will need a tool called Winrar to decompress the files it can be downloaded from Here.

  • Hitachi DVD-drives
    Xtreme Firmware Hitachi 4in1 which supports
    Hitachi 36, 46D, 47D and 59 DVD drives and the Flasher tool for Windows is included.
    Click Here to download from
  • Samsung DVD-drives
    Toshiba-Samsung TS-H943 DVD drive and the Flasher tool for DOS included.
    Click Here to download from
    You'll also need the FreeDOS boot floppy which can be found Here
  • Phillips DVD-drives
    No Firmware is available yet

Removal of the DVD-drive from the Xbox 360

You'll need to crack the Xbox 360's case in order to get access to the SATA cables connected to your DVD-drive if you need instructions on opening the Xbox 360 click Here

Three methods of getting the DVD-drive recognized by your PC

We need to tell the DVD-drive to enter a mode known as 'Mode B' or the PC will not be able to see the drive and we need the PC to see it before we can do any firmware updates. Three methods are available to accomplish the task, choose your method and read how it's done.

  1. Slax CD if your SATA chipset is compatible (click Here to check known compatibility)
    Click Here for instructions
  2. Crossed Wires Method requires adding some wires to the DVD-drive
    Click Here for instructions
  3. Xecuter Connectivity Kit needs to be purchased for around $30 online
    Click Here for instructions

My DVD-Drive has been sucessfully flashed now what?

We need to obtain the security sectors of the Xbox title we wish to create a back-up for. Only the Toshiba-Samsung DVD-drives are currently able to perform this function. and it requires flashing a different firmware to the drive to enable this particular function to work. users with the other drive types will have no choice to obtain .iso images that are 'Xtreme' firmware ready meaning the security sectors have been injected correctly into the back-up by someone else. You can also find the current sectors for most games available as a download if you look around. Remember the Xbox 360 requires you use the correct version so if you have a NTSC Xbox look for a NTSC version and of course PAL users need a PAL version.

For users who wish to read the security sectors for now you'll have to look around for instructions until I get this part done.


How-To: Make an Xbox 360 laptop (part 1)

The making-of How-To for the Xbox 360 laptop will be in three parts. In today's segment we'll discuss the parts list, stripping down an Xbox 360 motherboard, and modding / reattaching the DVD and hard drives. The next installment will cover case design, construction and hacking the LCD display, as well as wiring the video. Part 3 will then describe wiring all the separate parts together, troubleshooting, and finishing up the unit. Full design files will be including along the way. Let's take a look and prep to get started!

Can't make an Xbox laptop without some parts, so let's see what we'll need.

Parts list
  • Xbox 360 Premium system - Or whichever version you wish. With the Elite you could, in theory, make an HDMI-DVI converter and input that into a LCD. The model LCD we used had DVI but, of course, the XBox we used is still analog. Rats.
  • Westinghouse LCM-17x1 17-inch widescreen monitor - Same as on the first Xbox laptop we did in 2006. However, by the time we started construction on the second laptop, these have all but disappeared from the stores. Thankfully there were some still available online, namely from places like eBay. Alternatively, most 17-inch widescreen LCD monitors should work. They're plummeting in price since the 19-inch LCDs are dirt cheap these days. This monitor also gives us a sound amplifier and built-in speakers we can use. The resolution of this screen is 1280 x 768 so it fits the high def resolution of the 360 nicely.
  • Xbox 360 WiFi module - Here's half the cost of the project alone! Ha ha, we kid, we kid. But when you're making a "portable" unit, the less wires the better. I've seen these adapters sell used for as low as the "bargain" price of $75. I've heard certain model "thumb" USB WiFi adapters work, but we haven't tested any as of yet.
  • Small, flat USB keyboard - we suggest one such as this. If you can find one with a built-in USB hub that's even better since you'll actually gain a USB port by using the keyboard.
  • Male headers - These are used to interconnect things between circuit boards. You can pull them off old motherboards or buy them new. Here's a link to one on Digi-Key.
  • Ribbon cable - As usual I'd suggest the type from old floppy drives and IDE disks. However, for rewiring SATA connections it's best to have thin (as in Ultra ATA 33 and up) solid-strand wire. You can tell if it's solid or stranded by bending the cable -- solid wire cable holds its shape much better than stranded.
Tools you'll need today
  • Soldering iron. As usual we suggest a low wattage type to avoid damage to parts.
  • Desoldering iron. To remove parts, and is also useful to solder large items that the lower wattage iron can't handle.
  • Dremel tool - With the ever-important cutoff wheel to slice up things.
  • Wire clippers, small screwdrivers and tweezers - All very handy.
  • X-Acto knives - Again, quite useful for doing delicate (and sometimes not so delicate) hacking work.
  • Multimeter - Or "voltage meter", whatever you'd like to call it. Very useful for detecting circuits to discover pinouts.
Stripping down an Xbox 360 motherboard

I'm not going to cover how to take apart the somewhat Pandora's Xbox-esque 360 case since it's covered elsewhere on the 'net. We'll start by assuming you have it disassembled and down to the motherboard and drives.

Removing parts from the motherboard

We don't need to get into how to desolder in this article since we've covered it before. Some tips on removing these parts from the motherboard:
  • It is important to note that the Xbox 360 is RoHS compliant, meaning it uses unleaded solder.
  • In general it's tougher to desolder parts in the RoHS world, so for best results apply some new solder onto a pin, then heat it with the desoldering iron for longer than you normally would (so about 4 seconds) before sucking up the solder.
  • Be especially careful with pins that connect to inner ground or power planes, they're also difficult to remove. This is also true of the ground connections on a jack that connect to the main surface of the board, such as a USB jack.
  • Use a clean, brand new desoldering iron tip for best results. Heat up a pin for a little longer than normal to ensure all the solder in the through-hole is melted before you try and suck it up.
Side RoHS conspiracy theory - While we were doing the Wii Laptop hack we noticed it was very easy to desolder parts off the motherboard, unlike most other modern electronics. Could the Wii have been non-RoHS compliant, thus explaining the shortages?

The front USB ports. It connects with two rows of pins (for the USB signals) and metal tabs off the shielding on the side. The best way to get this sucker loose is to rock it back and forth slightly while heating the large metal mounting tabs. It also helps to chop off any plastic posts from the plug that are going through the board. The photo above shows the pinout for future reference. The left column of pads is port 1, the right column is port 2.

Here's one of the memory card connectors. It uses a pinout much like USB, but uses +3.3 volts instead of 5. Since these take up a decent amount of space it's best to remove them, but use the pinout above should you desire to reattach them remotely.

Next comes the top-mounted hard drive connector. Be sure to desolder all of the pins before you try and pry it off, you don't want to damage any of the thin traces on the motherboard for the data signals. We'll cover how to wire directly from here to the hard drive a little later on in this article.

One one the trickest parts to remove is the remove Ethernet / USB port. Shown above is the pinout for the USB portion of it.

To the left of this is the big audio / video port. Since this port is fairly thin it won't get in the way, and since it has so many pins it would be quite difficult to remove if you tried. Connections to it can be made via a hacked A/V cable (as with our Xbox 360 VGA hack) or by soldering to the points on the bottom of the board. More on this, as well as removing and rewiring the big power input jack, in Part 2.

Capacitor Flattening

Even in this high-tech age of supersonic jets and microwave ovens many electronic devices still employ large electrolytic capacitors ("caps" for short). These are the can-shaped objects on a circuit board, usually colored blue or dark brown, and are usually the largest components as well. While we can't remove them we can "flatten" them over to save some vertical space.

Flattening caps:
  • Decide in which direction you'd like to flatten the cap. Keep in mind that if you're flattening many caps you'll need to make sure there's going to be room to lay them all down.
  • Heat up the leads on the cap at the bottom of the motherboard (also called the solder side). Once they're hot, you can bend over the cap. You can heat one lead, bend the cap a bit, heat the other lead, bend it, wash rinse repeat until the cap is tiled over on its side.
  • In some cases you may need to move the cap and not just bend it over. Desolder the cap and then use small bits of wire to attach the leads to the original spot.
Be sure to check polarity when working with caps. On the motherboard one of the leads will be marked with a "+", this is positive. The other lead may have a white stripe as shown above, this is negative. On the cap they'll be a strip on one side or end -- this indicates the negative terminal. Check that you rewire caps correctly. Doing them wrong can result in a 3 red lights of death scenario, though if you go in and fix the caps you'll be ok. (So the 3 red lights aren't always a death knell.)

Hacking up the WiFi module

Next let's hack up the worth-its-weight-in-gold WiFi module. Like many electronics these days, it's literally glued together (which is why we don't feel bad about our own hot glue fetish). It does take a bit of work to crack it open, though.

Start by using an X-Acto knive to cut a groove along the seam of the module on one side. Make several cuts until the groove is deep enough to fit a screwdriver inside.

Next, as you may have guessed, stick a flat headed screwdriver in there and twist. This should pop open at least a portion of the shell. Once you have a bit of purchase you can wedge the rest of the shell off. Just don't push the screwdriver in too far or you may damage some of the components.

Here's the WiFi module with the shell opened. Not much too it really. Not let's rewire the plugs to make it easy to use in a laptop portable.

Here's the original USB port. As you can see it plugs into the PCB via a mini-USB port, similar to a digital camera. Desoldering this port would be a bit tricky, so we're simply going to attach new wires for the USB connection on the other side of it.

Shown above is the solder side of the mini-USB jack.
  • Using a multimeter, test the each pin inside the big USB jack while it's connected to this PCB to see which pins on the back of the board are which.
  • To identify them, first find which pin on the big USB port is ground. This should connect to all ground points / shielding on the WiFi PCB, including the shielding of the mini-USB jack itself.
  • Once you've found ground, the next 3 pins over are Data +, Data - and then +5 volts.
  • Solder a piece of ribbon cable to the pins on the mini-USB port and mark the opposite end of the cable for future reference. Typically we suggest black magic marker for the ground wire and red for +5 volts.

Next let's extend the WiFi antenna wire. It starts out fairly short but with some careful modding we can change that.
  • Cut the wire at the middle section. This wire contains an outer shield (ground) and an inner coated wire which is the signal itself. This is very much like the WiFi we hacked back during the Wii laptop tour de force.
  • Strip a small bit of plastic off the inner wire and dab some solder onto the wire. Twist the stranded shielding wire together and solder it into a single piece as well. This is the kind of work where you'll be glad you used a low wattage iron and not something that melts everything within a two foot radius into mush.
  • Solder a length of wire to each of these connections. For best results cover each connection with a bit of thin heat shrink tubing (available in the electric aisle of your friendly neighborhood hardware store).

Re-attach the snap connector to the other end of the wires in the same fasion. Take care with this type of soldering since with the short existing wire there's not much room for mistakes.

The hacked WiFi module. Note on the right side I've attached a 4 pin male header to the end of the USB wire. This will allow me easy connections to the rest of the motherboard further along in this project.

Modding / reattaching the DVD and hard drives

Now let's modify the DVD drive to fit in a smaller case, and prep the hard drive as well.

Start by using the Dremel cutoff wheel to remove the extra length of the 4 black plastic posts on the bottom of the DVD drive. Cut them off so they'll flush with the base of the drive. The holes remain inside the post, allowing us a way to secure the drive to the final case. A size 8 screw will fit tightly into it.

Extending SATA cables for the DVD and hard drive

In the original Xbox 360 the DVD drive sits atop the GPU heatsink and has a stubby SATA cable for its connection, along with a power cable very similar to the one for the DVD in the original Xbox.

The stubby SATA cable from the 360.

To place the DVD drive beside the motherboard for a laptop we're going to need a longer SATA cable. One option is to simply buy one, but even a short cable might be too long and bulky for the confines of a case. Here's how to hack the existing cable into a longer one:
  • Start by cutting the SATA cable in half length-wise. Note that the cable is in 2 halves side-by-by, one half is the A+ A- signals, the other is B+ B-. You can peel these halves apart like string cheese, which is fairly tasty unless it's sat in your lunch pail too long.
  • Using an X-Acto knife, carefully slice away about 1/2-inch of the plastic covering. This will reveal a tin foil like material.
Carefully peel this away to reveal 2 bare wires (both are ground) and 2 coated wires (data signals).

Solder a piece of solid wire thin ribbon cable with 4 strands to the SATA wires. This preserves both the ground signals and the data (either A or B). Use a minimal amount of solder for the connections. Insulate the connections and repeat the procedure for the other half of the cable.
Reconnect the other end of the cable to the ribbon cable in the same way. To place the DVD player as seen in this laptop you'll need to extend this cable by about 4 to 5 inches. The cable should now be ready to go!

DVD drive power connector

The other cable going to the DVD drive is the power connector. It also includes an "Eject" signal.

This consists of a group of black wires with a white plug on each end. It's longer than the DVD's SATA cable but still, in stock form, not long enough to move the drive very far. Note that the pinouts at both ends of the cable are the same, thus the wires "flip", or cross each other from end to end. You can tell which way the cable is meant to be inserted by the small tabs on the side of the plug. More on this later.

The cable cut in half. Doubles as a modern art spider.

Cut the power cable in half. Don't worry about keeping track of which wire goes to what, it's pretty straightforward. Strip a bit of plastic off the ends of the wiring and "tin" them with a bit of solder.
  • Cut (2) lengths of ribbon cable with 5 strands each. About 5-inches long should be good.
  • Solder each of the ribbon cables to the 5 wires on both sides of the plug, as shown above.
  • Insulate the wires with electric tape or small bits of heat shrink tubing. Of course you'll need to remember to slide the tubing on before you make the connection. Regardless, heat shrink tubing gives it a nice clean look when done. We usually do ours with a lighter, the tubing shrinks before the wires burn.
  • Connect each of the plug ends to each other with the ribbon cable. In this photo the tabs are placed as such to have their tabs both on the right, to ensure the connections are made correctly.
  • Note that the plugs are the same shape and have the same pinouts. Thus, the 5 wires on the "Left" side of the first plug connect to the 5 wires of the "Left" side of the second plug. This is what causes the wires themselves to "flip" or criss-cross between the cables.

The finished extended DVD drive power connector

Hard Drive Connector

Now it's time to extend the connector for the hard drive. This is similar to the DVD method but we have to determine some of the pinouts manually.

Above you can see the pinouts for the 360's hard drive. There's really only 6 wires to make the connection since most of the pins are ground. For this example we'll use some standard size stranded ribbon cable for the ground and power, and thin, solid Ultra ATA ribbon cable for the data, like we did with the DVD drive.

You can take apart the Xbox 360 Hard Drive enclosure with the same type of tools required for the main case itself. Inside you'll find a 2.5-inch SATA laptop-style drive, a power / data plug going into it (item above on the left) some short wiring and then the plug which goes into the top of the Xbox (right).
  • Cut the wires off close to the Xbox plug end. We'll be reattaching them by color code and pin testing, so no need to check how they connect on the Xbox plug.
  • Twist and solder together the white, blue and yellow wires - these are all +5.
  • Likewise, connect black, green and orange together, these are all ground.
  • As with the DVD drive's SATA cable, peel back the foil on the other wires to reveal the data lines and their ground wires. Unlike the DVD cable it's not very clear how to rewire the data lines, we'll cover that shortly.

As with the DVD drive, solder a piece of 4-strand ribbon cable to each data strand. 2 of the wires will be ground, 2 data. We'll determine which signals they are in the next step.

Here's what the extended hard drive SATA plug/cable should look like. We've used a bit of electric tape to insulate the data connections, thin heat shrinking tubing would have also worked if we would have had some around. For this project we've added about 5-inches of length, and without the aid of prescription drugs.

Pinout of a SATA plug.
  • We need to discover what the pinout is of the wires on the other side, but it's kind of hard to fit the probes of a multimeter into a jack like this. Use a small bit of stiff wire (such as that clipped off a resistor) to insert into each pin of the jack for easy testing.
  • Use the multimeter to test which wires at the end of the newly extended cable are A+, A-, B- and B+. You may find it handy to label them using different colored magic markers, or by putting a bit of Scotch tape on the end of the wire and making it with a pen.
  • Solder the cables to the motherboard using the pinouts shown at the beginning of this section, as well as making the +5 and ground connections.

Here's how the extended SATA/power cables should look when soldered to the motherboard. Notice how we've "doubled up" the ground and power with 2 stranded ribbon cable wires each. This ensure enough current gets through. Sure it's just a 500mA laptop hard drive and not, say, an electic pizza oven, but it's good to make sure anyway. Alternatively you could use slightly thicker gauge wire but that's not always as convienent, and tends to be a bit stiff and unwieldy.

Also note that the 2 ground connections per data cable had been soldered to ground (lower connections on the left and rightmost sides). You can never have enough grounds!

Once you've had a chance to make sure that it's working properly it's a good idea to "lock down" the wires with some hot glue. You don't need to cover the connections, just glue the wires down someplace nearby. What this does is keep the wires from pulling or breaking free of the motherboard since the "hinge point" becomes where you've glued them down, not at the connection point. A good general-purpose tip for any kind of electronics hacking.

Here's the final combo unit. We have the DVD drive with the hard drive attached at the rear. On top of this is the WiFi module we hacked earlier, and everything has convienent ports for connecting to the main motherboard. This modular approach is a big help when assemblying and troubleshooting a unit. The extra time it takes to add plugs and ports now will save time later when you don't have to desolder or cut wires later.