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June 12, 2008

XBox Project, Phase 2: Hardmodding

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This is probably the hardest step involved in this process. Two days of frustration and troubleshooting have resulted in two working XBox/USB hybrid cables, a fried XBox Controller, and a fried 512MB USB flash drive. Yes, fried, complete with that burnt electronics smell, and a distinct lack of functionality. But perhaps I should tell my story :)

I gathered my breakaway cable, 2ft USB cable, scissors, and electrical tape. Theoretically, this would be simple: strip the insulation off the cable, strip each of the four wires inside each cable, tape matching colored wires together, tape it up all nice, and voila. Not so. The first issue came when I opened up the USB cable; rather than the standard black, white, red, and green wires, I was greeted with red, blue, brown, and yellow wires. So I did a little googling, and found a forum user who had come across this same issue. He had mapped out the nonstandard colors to the standard colors, and apparently it worked for him. The combos were (from USB to XBox), red to red, brown to white, yellow to green, and blue to black. So, I connected up my wires according to his info, plugged my 1GB drive to the XBox male to USB female cable and ... nothing. Not even enough power to light up the LED on the drive.

So I posted to an XBox hardmodding forum asking for help and advice. The only thing we came up with was that the wires were not hooked up right. While it made sense that getting the power and ground wires mixed would be damaging, the person who responded to my post said that mixing the data wires wouldn't matter. So I found a multimeter that I could use to test power flow. I did a simple test; the power and ground cables connect to the outer pins of the connector, so I just tested for which pin was connected to the red wire (for power) to make sure I had the cables hooked up right. Contrary to my first source's info, the brown wire was ground, and the blue wire data. I swapped those and, while waiting for a response on my thread, constructed the other cable (USB male to XBox female). plugged the two USB connectors together and tested a controller on the XBox -- no go. So, in slight frustration, I plugged the USB male connector into my PC, just to see if it would work. Again, nothing (not surprisingly).

I unplugged the cable from the computer, disconnected the controller, connected the controller to my still-good breakaway cable, and plugged it into the XBox, and it started vibrating uncontrollably. Obviously not a good sign, and I hurriedly unplugged it. And then I notice the smell. I've smelled burnt out electronics (mostly box fans that stopped turning while the engine was still on), and that was what I smelled now. I plugged the controller back in, to test if any controls still worked, and nothing. So I now have a vibrating paperweight. I'm not sure if the controller was fried when I had the ground and data wires switched, or the power and ground wires switched, though I suspect it was the power/ground that did it.

At this point I was slightly frustrated, having fried a controller, when the horrific thought struck me: I had also had my flash drive plugged into these erroneous configurations. I quickly plugged the drive into my PC, fervently hoping that it would work. And it didn't. The LED came on, but the system wouldn't recognize it. Since I run on Kubuntu, I was monitoring my /dev directory for signs of device sdb and sdb1; these never showed up. At this, I fired up google to find a hardware support forum, and posted another request for help. The time I spent waiting for a response, I left the flash drive in my computer, in the hopes that it would somehow come back to life. And, lo and behold, it started working again shortly after I submitted the post. Of course, while the drive was not working, I also went and ordered a new 1GB U3-enabled Cruzer Micro from eBay, adding another $9 to the total project price. Figures.

Once I got the flash drive to work relatively stably (it was initially giving me all sorts of grief by being sporadically recognized by my system, and spontaneously inaccessible), I tried it again in my hybrid cable. At this point, I had solved the issue with the power and ground wires (turns out the red was ground and the brown was power, which was completely unintuitive), and figured the data cables were fine (switching them up doesn't matter, right?). The drive's LED lit up now, but it refused to be recognized by the XBox.

Fast forward several hours of switching between playing XBox games and performing various multimeter tests on every possible pin and wire of the cables. For some reason, in my intense frustration, I decide to re-swap the power and ground wires, just to see if that would work. In addition to my 1GB drive, I also have a 4GB and a 512MB. I wasn't about to fry my 4GB, and didn't want to chance my 1GB, so I plugged in the 512MB. No light, so I unplugged it, and yet again I smell that accursed smell of burn. My frustration building, I plug the drive into my computer, and nothing. No LED, no sdb, nothing. So, add a 512MB flash drive to the list of Fry's Electronics. Finally, I decided to swap the data cables (what've I got to lose, right?), aided with google-found diagrams of USB pins. Plugged in my now-working 1GB and, like magic, XBox says "memory card formatted". Good freakin' grief.

So, after much severe frustration, here are the CORRECT combinations for the wires, in case you come across an old USB cable with crap color codes:

  • USB to XBox
  • red to black
  • blue to white
  • brown to red
  • yellow to green

However, do not take my word for it!!! This worked for me, but that other color scheme apparently worked for that other user. The best thing to do is to get a multimeter, gather a bunch of USB pin diagrams, and test extensively before plugging anything in to your hybrid cables. Of course, if you manage to get a standardly-colored cable, consider yourself extremely lucky, and get those cables modded and wrapped up as quickly as possible.

Here's a picture of the final product: Hybrid cables You can see all the pictures I took during the process in my XBox Project Flickr photoset.

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