Xbox softmodding is a process by which an original Xbox is made to execute arbitrary code without the use of a modchip. Softmodding allows you to play game backups (and store them on the HDD), run emulators, use homebrew software, use Xbox Media Center to watch videos, and upgrade the HDD.
The topic of softmodding the Xbox is covered extensively by Xbox-Scene, and most of the tutorials available there are still relevant. However, most of the guides are nearly a decade old: the Windows of the time was XP, most hard drives used IDE cables, and floppy drives were common. Several of the programs used for softmodding, especially those used to upgrade the HDD, will not work properly on modern OS's. The purpose of this guide is to walk you through the entire softmodding process using modern hardware.
Softmodding works by exploiting flaws in the MS Dashboard and certain games. By transferring a hacked save file to an Xbox memory card through a USB device and then loading the file from the game, a program which allows full access to the Xbox, called a Dashboard, can be booted. From there, an FTP connection can be established between your PC and Xbox, allowing you to modify system files on the Xbox HDD, which will enable you to boot the Dashboard of your choice either upon boot or from the MS Dashboard, without the need for the game whose save file had been exploited.
The entire process should proceed in three phases:
- 1. Get a hacked save file onto a memory card and confirm you are able to trigger the exploit by loading the file from the game.
- 2. Backup the original HDD and prepare a new one (not required, but highly recommended).
- 3. With the new HDD in the Xbox, use the game save exploit to install a permanent exploit.
Softmodding an Xbox is... involved. You need a few pieces of equipment that may be hard to come by (i.e. an Action Replay), several programs, and a suitable PC environment to go from start to finish. To make things easier, you should ensure that you have everything you need before you get started.
- A legitimate copy of 007 Agent Under Fire, Mech Assault, or Splinter Cell. (Note that not all versions of these games support the exploits.)
- An Action Replay or some other method of transferring save files to an Xbox memory card
- An official, Microsoft-branded memory card (while the Action Replay does come with a memory card, it's cheaply made and is likely to become corrupted)
- Some technical know-how
- How to use FTP
- How to add/remove IDE HDD's and set the jumper
- How to access xbins, where most of the files you need are located (explained below)
Xbins is a website which serves as a stockpile of all the exploits and apps you need and want for your softmodded Xbox. You won't find any of the files on the site, though; they are located on an FTP server to which you must obtain a temporary username and password by visiting the #xbins IRC channel. It is very important that you learn how to use xbins.
To access xbins, you need an IRC client and an FTP client. Just about any IRC client will work (I use mIRC in Windows and Konversation in Ubuntu), but xbins is very particular about the type of FTP client you use: it requires an FTP client that does not attempt to use multiple connections to download files. It recommends FlashFXP, SmartFTP, and CuteFTP.