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XBox (Games) Entertainment Games

Xbox Hackers, Linux, the DMCA, And Modchips 343

HardcoreGamer writes "The New York Times has a long article on Xbox hacking, why Microsoft hates it, and who does it (Google). 'Xbox hackers are exploiting Microsoft's business model, which is to sell Xbox hardware at a loss...' but Microsoft doesn't make the money back on software -- as it planned to -- if you decide to load up Xbox Linux. Where else can you get a PIII-733 with graphics and audio for $180? The reporter talked to the IDSA; Andrew Huang, author of 'Hacking the Xbox: An Introduction to Reverse Engineering'; a Manhattan exec who hacked his Xbox and said 'The reality is that if you could bypass Microsoft's operating system you would end up with a fairly powerful computer for less than $200;' and others. The article discusses the DMCA, modchips, the Xbox Linux Project and lots more. A good -- if long -- read. A shorter version of the story is at the International Herald Tribune. Best quote? 'Microsoft is a company passionate about innovation and creativity. We are also very committed to respect for others' intellectual property and we request the same respect applied to our innovations.'"
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Xbox Hackers, Linux, the DMCA, And Modchips

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  • by period3 ( 94751 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @10:30AM (#6423519)
    Here []
  • *sigh* (Score:3, Informative)

    by tom taylor ( 610506 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @10:31AM (#6423523) Homepage
    Where else can you get a PIII-733 with graphics and audio for $180?
    Oh man, not another thread where we have to go through and total up the components until someone believes that PC prices have actually dropped since the X-box came out! Come on, someone get the calculator out :)
  • Re:Respect ? (Score:2, Informative)

    by dook43 ( 660162 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @10:43AM (#6423570)
    There's no flaws in the hardware design of the xbox. There are flaws in the savegame handling of 007: Agent Under Fire (and various other games, not Microsoft's fault) that allows unsigned Linux to be run. As for modchips, you can stick a xilinx PLC in between any parallel bus structure (read bunnie's book) and find out exactly what signals are being sent between the northbridge and the processor. Duplicate those signals, and voila! You have a hacked xbox. As bunnie mentions, however, as a parallel bus gets faster and faster it becomes more difficult to trap signals. Also, you could use a extremely high speed serial bus with undocumented protocols to avoid hacking (I'm seeing data pass by, but where is the start and the end of the bitstream). Something like this is probably better implemented via a custom set of serial-connected chips rather than sending the data between the processor and north bridge (nVidia SPP in this instance) until your fsb frequency can scale beyond 1GHZ+.
  • by Ian Jefferies ( 605678 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @10:55AM (#6423612)
    People want to use the XBox as a multimedia center for their living room. A quote from another article related to this one (I refuse to read NYT) said something along the lines of, "the XBox looks excellent next to a TV in your living room, it's more silent than a typical PC, and its small form-factor make it perfect. Not exactly what Bill Gates had envisioned."

    The quote was also in the NYT article, it's from Michael Steil of the Xbox Linux Project.

    That the XBox has a small form factor, looks good next to a TV, and doesn't make much noise, is exactly what you want from a device you're going to put near a television. I'm sure Bill Gates saw the device exactly that way.

    What wasn't envisioned was the Linux part.

  • by vjzuylen ( 91983 ) <vjzuylen&hotmail,com> on Saturday July 12, 2003 @11:24AM (#6423708) Homepage

    The EFF's Fred von Lohmann made an interesting point in the article:

    "Others will say that this is about piracy and all that, but they forget that the principle of tinkering with the stuff that you own was the principle on which the entire personal computer industry was founded," he added. "This is basic business and basic science in the technology world and we think that this right to tinker, this freedom to tinker, remains legally protected."

    While I certainly believe in the right to tinker with an Xbox you paid for and use by yourself, I see a shady area when it comes to interaction with other (unmodified) Xboxes - like on Xbox Live. I'm talking about cheating here, but I think the same can be applied to use of compromised software in an online environment.

    Online PC games have been plagued by cheating players since day one, because of the ease with which their client software can be modified. Xbox Live does not have this problem yet (so far cheaters have been exploiting existing flaws in Xbox games), but I fear this will not last for much longer if easy, modchip-less Xbox hacks become commonplace.

    Which brings me to my point: just how far should your right to tinker extend? What if it interferes with my enjoyment of the product? Especially since I paid for the product too, and I'm using it for its intended purposes while you're not?

    This is one of the main concerns of many Xbox Live users like myself, and I haven't seen this issue addressed properly by either the media or the Xbox hackers. Can anyone enlighten me? How do Xbox hackers feel about this matter? Are they taking it into consideration?

  • by kungfujew ( 682569 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @11:34AM (#6423756)
    According to Linux Journal, the xbox runs off a celeron processor. I also highly doubt microsoft is still taking a loss on manufacturing these things... the cost of hardware has been halfed since microsoft first introduced the system.
  • Re:Form Factor (Score:3, Informative)

    by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @11:37AM (#6423768) Homepage Journal
    But XBox isn't a quality DVD player either. But then, there aren't any really good DVD player programs as they only read the DVD's progressive flags, they just weave or bob. Weave often gives you combing, and bob simply blurs the image on a bad flag or a video sourced image.

    For $200 one can get a real DVD player that reads 3:2 pull-down cadence and fixes it in real time. Or for $80 you can get a real interlaced DVD player that can at least read problem discs better and have better MPEG decoding.

    I did build an HTPC too. There are a lot of good looking computer cases, some are even indistinguishable from standard consumer A/V hardware. Sure, they cost more, but it's well worth it. Besides, I don't like the XBox appearance, but the same goes for most consoles, except maybe the upcomming "PSX".
  • by dackroyd ( 468778 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @11:40AM (#6423776) Homepage
    How many USB/FireWire ports?

    Four USB ports. The Xbox controllers are USB devices, just with a different connector. The Xbox-Linux people sell usb-Xbox convertors.

    Sure, you get for $300 a full powered server machine...but it has no AGP slot. So much for gaming...

    Ex-squeeze me ? It's an nForce motherboard with a builtin GeForce 3 type card (Geforce 3 + a bit extra). So yeah you can't upgrade it to the latest card, but it's more powerful for graphics than 80% of the PCs in use for games today.

    Are there updated drivers for the XBox video card available at all?

    I believe the standard nVidia linux drivers just work on the XBox.
  • Who needs a modchip? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Trigun ( 685027 ) <> on Saturday July 12, 2003 @11:41AM (#6423784)
    From Full Disclosure:
    Clickable link [] e/ 2003-July/010895.html

    For an unknown reason this check is not performed on the audio (.wav) and font (.xtf) files. Unfourtunately for Microsoft there exists an exploitable integer underflow vulnerabilitiy within the font file loader which can be exploited with a malformed font file. When the XTF header is processed the dashboards reads a 4 byte blocksize field from the font file. This is expected to represent the size of some datablock including the 4 bytes of the size field itself. The blocksize is then allocated and the sizefield is copied into the beginning of the buffer. This is already a possible overflow bug when the field contains the values 0..3. Due to memory alignment this is not exploitable. But then the blocksize is decreased by 4 because the dashboard wants to read the rest of the block into memory. Obviously values of 0..3 will underflow when decreased by 4 and this results in the dashboard wanting to read up to ~4 gigabytes of data from the font file in a f.e. 3 bytes buffer.
    Because the XBOX malloc()/free() implementation is also storing control information inbound and is similiar to the Windows 2000/XP heap allocators this bug is exploitable and allows execution of arbitrary code. The attached proof of concept code shows that exploiting is possible with offsets that are equal on all dashboards and XBOX versions known.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 12, 2003 @12:03PM (#6423876)
    s'already been done
    Windows on Linux on X-Box []
  • by DarkMan ( 32280 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @12:14PM (#6423914) Journal
    It comes from two sources. Firstly, standard practice in the console biz is to start selling the thing at a loss, with the expectation that you can optimise the production pipeline, so that you can make a profit on the boxes sold later. That's actually quite a specific price bracket, and is chosen to reduce the cost of entry, maximising profit from the system in totality (including game royalties). In effect, the hardware is being subsdised from the game royalties. Note that Sony started like that for both the PS1 and PS2, and now makes a small profit (I think it's around £20 a box) on the PS2.

    Second piece: The original market price of the Xbox, claims that they were not going to drop the price, and then the round of price cuts. That's circumstansial, but if they were not selling the boxes at a loss [0] after those steep cuts, I'll be very surprised.

    Interesting economics point: How many games does the average console owner have, per console? I'll take a stab at 4. Therefore, the correct thing to look at, from a business point of view, is not the profit per console - but the profit from console + 5 games. Me, I'd price the box so that the initial loss on the hardware is around the profit on 4 games [1]. Keep the initial cost's low, more adoption, and leach the money out of the customer base over time.

    Now, that's all well and good, but none of that says how much profit is made on each box right now , only what they would have done at launch (loss), and near the end of the xbox lifetime (profit).

    I'm going to accept that after the price dropped to 200, they were making a loss per box. They seemed quite forced into it, mainly by Sony, who had probably already improved the manufacture of PS2's, so they were not worried by the price cut.

    Do they make a loss now?

    Let me evade that for a moment, and discuss the development costs of the console. Aught they to be included in the 'cost' per unit sold? From a strictly business point of view - yes. You need to make back that money, before any profit is generated. From the 'does the manufacturer lose money on this sale' point of view - no. You can make the dev costs back from other sales. This complicates the whole question.

    Note that this is based on economic arguemnts, and this sort of anaylsis will applie to any sales model that has a buy in cost that is greater than the per unit cost (printers, razor blades etc).

    Let me link to a few facts: BBC: Microst loose $177 million []. Note that that's from September last year, and is for 3 months preceding, off revenue of $1.28 billion

    Q4 2002 (CNET) [] made a $348 million loss for the division.

    Next quarter (Q1 2003) [] at CNET, and it's $190 million loss.

    And it's too early for Q2 2003 data (rember that we need by divisional break downs, not overall profits for this).

    So, they're definitly making a loss somewhere in their buisness, within the division that handles the Xbox. Is that on the xbox itself, or something else? [2]

    No one can answear that. Apparently [] Mircosoft have confirmend that they make a loss on the hardware.

    I'll take a different take to the linked article. The initial launch price was $300. Assume microsoft get $7 per game (average of the 5-10 range), and that would put the manufacturing costs at $330, or so; consistant with the analysts estimates in the above link.

    They were forced to drop the price to $200 before they wanted to - I think that's clear. So suddently they were makeing over $100 loss per system. How much had they managed to reduce costs by? The above link trys to assert that they drop in lines with Moores law - that's crap [3]. My guess is that the cost is sliding down into the $220 to 250 range, based off the fact the M
  • Re:Respect ? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ( 645325 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @12:27PM (#6423962)
    it might not make sense for printers, but i'm not sure that i agree with your comment about the ink cartridges, b/c why couldn't you buy generic cartridges and circumvent giving the manufacturer any money back????

    Because the printer manufacturer puts a chip in the cartridge that makes sure you can only use the manufacturer's ink, and then invokes the DMCA [] when a generic manufacturer attempts to circumvent that "feature." Pay attention.

    Generic cartridges are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

  • Re:Respect ? (Score:5, Informative)

    by fiftyvolts ( 642861 ) <mtoia@fiftyvolt[ ]om ['s.c' in gap]> on Saturday July 12, 2003 @12:32PM (#6423981) Homepage Journal

    I would like to point out that the above post provides incomplete information. Console companies have done this for a long time, but all it has done is run their profits into the ground.

    "Lies!" you say? well its not. Take exhibit A: the case of Sega Saturn vs Playstation. While Sega was trying to make the "Ultimate 2D machine," Sony was flexing its CE muscles and spending millions on researching how to manufacture their own chips cheaply and quickly for the playstation.

    When they both were released the Saturn retailed for $399 and the playstation at (drum roll please) $299. Sega attempted to get in on the market by selling their product at a loss and match the $299 tag on the PSone. Sony on the other hand was _making_ money on the console because it had spent its time and effort on mass producing its own components. The Saturn, as we all know, was a business failure.

    The same goes for the DreamCast and N64 which were both also sold at a loss. Time will tell on the XBox and GC. I think Nintendo might have learned their lesson and will tred more carefully, but MS... well, let's just say that the odds of the XBox making them money is quite low.

    Sony is not selling the PS2 at a loss either, keep that in mind...

    By the way the above can be read about in more detail on this site []. It's more entertainning there anyway.

  • cost (Score:2, Informative)

    by 56ksucks ( 516942 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @01:47PM (#6424298) Homepage

    Where else can you get a PIII-733 with graphics and audio for $180?

    Well I can build a 1.3 GHz Duron with graphics and audio for about $200-$300, does that count?

  • Re:*sigh* (Score:3, Informative)

    by dboyles ( 65512 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @02:15PM (#6424415) Homepage
    Can I watch DVDs on this machine with my HDTV (after some hacks to enable progressive-scan)?

    This isn't exactly relevant to your post, but the Xbox is horrible when it comes to DVD playback. I have a 3+ year old Pioneer DV-525 that blows it away. I find the picture that the Xbox produces, even with component video and nice cables, is unacceptable for anything other than casual viewing. If I want to actually sit down and watch a movie, I'll use the DVD player. The Xbox is so bad, I considered returning the $30 DVD playback kit.

    That said, I love playing games on my Xbox, and I think it's reasonably priced for what you get.
  • Re:heh (Score:3, Informative)

    by Oloryn ( 3236 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @04:27PM (#6424910)
    I honestly can't think of a single thing they've done that could be labelled "innovative".

    They've taken this technology made by others, and incorporated it into a new product. In marketing-speak, that's 'innovating' (remember that Microsoft is really more of a marketing company than a technology company, and as far as Marketing is concerned, technology doesn't really exist until it has been incorporated into a sellable product). It's not innovation in the ordinary or technical sense of the word, but marketing people don't care about that. They love being able to make a statement that they know is only true in the limited sense they mean by it, all the while knowing that most people are going to take it in a different (and more marketable) sense.

  • Wrong processor (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 12, 2003 @04:59PM (#6424996)
    The Xbox processor is a 733mhz Celeron, not a P3.
  • by ( 582779 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @05:33PM (#6425120) Homepage
    In addition to the main article, the NYTimes also has a sidebar that describes the obstacles "bunnie" Huang faced trying to get his "Hacking the Xbox" book published [].

    Wiley Technology Publishing -- which often works with Microsoft to publish guides for Microsoft products, like the Xbox -- agreed to publish Huang's book then backed out, citing DMCA concerns, but says they would not ask Huang to return the advance they paid him.

    Unable to find another publisher, Huang self-published and began selling copies out of his garage. The Electronic Frontier Foundation then stepped in and helped Huang find a new publisher.

    There's more in the article, including some discussion about the chilling effect recent legislation has on intellectual freedom.

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson