Ramblings of a Tampa engineer

I was going through some old boxes I grabbed from the parent's house and I stumbled upon one of my Xecuter 3CE mod chips for the original Xbox. This mod chip was quite advanced and I'd argue personally the best in the market ever for the original Xbox. So I wanted to dig up some old memories and research to put together a post about the mod chips of the era.

Pictured above is a poorly staged collection of random Xecuter parts I have. So I did some research and learned that the Xecuter 3CE was a fourth generation mod chip. So I was curious what the other generations meant and represented.

Xbox Scene has since shut down, so it was off to the Wayback Machine to dig up some old web pages. Turns out that helped for additional details, but the Wikipedia article helped with some quick breakdown of the generations.

1st gen mod chips

  • These worked off snooping on the HyperTansport bus, which could be used to remove region restrictions from games and DVDs.
  • Complicated to install, requiring about 29 solder points
  • Only worked on the initial Xbox hardware (v1.0)

2nd gen mod chips

  • Not much of an enhancement from 1st gen, but cut in half the amount of solder points
  • Gained the ability to prevent the console restarting when the game tray was ejected
  • Still only worked on the v1.0 hardware

3rd gen mod chips

  • First generation to allow upgrading the hard drive size
  • Allow installation of mod chip on top of board, thus requiring only 1 wire to solder
  • First generation to include "kill-switch" so online play could occur without a ban
  • Some models could not be updated, so stuck with hardware v1.1 or less
  • Other models that could update could support v1.3, v1.4 and v1.5

4th gen mod chips

  • Final generation to support v1.6 hardware
  • Additional memory banks to support multiple BIOS flashes

So lets do this again, but record the chips that belong in each category.

1st gen mod chips

  • Enigmah
  • Xtender
  • XIOS & Devilmod
  • RegionFree

There chips were difficult to install for any novice with an insanely large amount of solder connections required. For a novice attempting to install ~30 different solders - chances are quite high of damaging the board and breaking the console.

We can't talk about Gen 1 though without mentioning NEO-X which would have been the first mod chip for the original Xbox, but the news and promise to remove region locks from games attracted Microsoft. Rumor says legal notices went out and NEO-X was never produced.

2nd gen mod chips

  • MessiahX
  • TitanX
  • Pandora1

These chips spammed the market with websites that had nearly 3000 different comma delimited words. My guess is the early 2000 SEO market was quite different than it is today. These chips cost less money than the previous generation, but were less prone to messing up during installation due to a much easier install process.

Around this time two large things happened in the community, that I believe led to the big boom of chips that were to come.

1st, Bunnie (Andrew Haung) produced reports and a detailed website about the hardware of the console. I have a feeling the folks and companies behind mod chips probably didn't need this too much, but either way. This was very early into the release of the Xbox and was good enough dump of information that Microsoft even got involved to remove some of the published materials.

2nd, a bounty went up for two tasks valued at $100,000 a piece. The challenges were booting Linux and producing a system exploit without hardware involved (softmod). The person behind this turned out to be Michael Robertson, who was behind sites like mp3 and lindows.

3rd gen mod chips

  • Xecuter 1.x
  • Xtrmod 1.3
  • SmartBox Pro
  • Pandora2
  • Matrix
  • Cyclone

Now around this time of these 3rd generation chips being dropped. A bunch of things happened that are worth noting. First off, the Xbox-Linux team got Linux booting and won $100,000 dollars. Xbins, the home brew release FTP, was released to help support all the software being built.

The first public game save exploit emerges (007: Agent Under Fire) and earns the remaining $100,000 bounty for a software only exploit. The technical breakdown occurs for this hack, which starts many many more:

This lead to the famous 3 game save exploits being developed which were used for years and years to come.

  • 007: Agent Under Fire
  • MechAssault
  • Splinter Cell
  • (later on) Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4

4th gen mod chips

  • Xecuter 3 / 3CE
  • Xenium
  • SmartXX
  • X-Chip
  • X-Lite
  • X-Changer
  • SpiderGX

These 4th generation chips had quite the feature set and became very easy to install. Normally just laying on top of the LPC ports and soldering 0 to a few wires. Most of these chips also had an extra price point if you wanted a truly solder-less install. I still have the reminder on my finger decades later from a soldering accident, so maybe I should have used the solder-less.

Xecuter 3 - Final Install

Around this era the final set of hardware was released. Xbox's could now come in between v1.0 and v1.6b, which isolated your preferred mod chip to one that could support all versions. All 4th generation mod chips easily supported all types of hardware.

The legality of each mod chip in this generation was also a point of discussion. Some software was based on the XDK and others on pure Linux. It was quite the legal gray area to include "hacked" portions of the Xbox onto software that was sold. This led to some chips being sold with a bare minimal legal OS and being told to "look in the usual places" for the real software. This became the phrase to refer to Xbins.

If you wanted to obtain one of these. There was no Amazon yet, so you needed to either visit the popular Divineo or Modchip/ModchipStore to purchase a chip. However, not all chips were listed on these sites and that meant if you wanted to buy like a SpiderGX - then good luck. I have no idea where those were sold, but it sure wasn't any popular site that I remember.

Once again, I have to draw attention back to the Xecuter series. They had a powerful public documented website for all iterations of chips. High quality images, a large support forum and tutorials/downloads readily available.

Justice.gov - Indictment

Team Xecuter continued to live on to more and more consoles. They made a crucial mistake though. When devices for the Nintendo Switch that were clearly used for piracy went up for sale, they may have been marketed for running personal designed games, but the Xecuter website told a different story. You had to purchase a license to enable piracy on this software. That was it, the FBI got involved and a few were arrested and Team Xecuter website went offline.

So if we bring this back to the Xbox. Sure, the Xecuter 3 and nearly every other mod chip enabled piracy by running games you didn't own. However, with communities built around Linux, XBMC and Halo hacking - my personal experience with this hardware was piracy was never the intent. I had 20-30 different versions of Halo 2 on my Xbox.

While I dabbled in the emulation of other older handhelds - I was playing games I owned in the past, so didn't feel bad playing them again in an emulated setting.

If you try and find mod chips for the original Xbox in 2021 - you won't find much.

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