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Hacking the Xbox: An Introduction to Reverse Engineering [Paperback]

by Andrew Huang
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 2003 1593270291 978-1593270292 1

This hands-on guide to hacking begins with step-by-step tutorials on hardware modifications that teach basic hacking techniques as well as essential reverse engineering skills. The book progresses into a discussion of the Xbox security mechanisms and other advanced hacking topics, with an emphasis on educating the readers on the important subjects of computer security and reverse engineering. Hacking the Xbox includes numerous practical guides, such as where to get hacking gear, soldering techniques, debugging tips and an Xbox hardware reference guide.

Hacking the Xbox also confronts the social and political issues facing today's hacker by looking forward and discussing the impact of today's legal challenges on legitimate reverse engineering activities. The book includes a chapter written by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) about the rights and responsibilities of hackers, and concludes by discussing the latest trends and vulnerabilities in secure PC platforms.

Editorial Reviews Review

This--this being the attitude encapsulated in Andrew "bunnie" Huang's Hacking the Xbox--is why a lot of people got into the computer industry in the first place. These people liked taking things apart and figuring out how they worked, then making them serve purposes they weren't originally designed for and sharing the new discoveries with others of like mind. Sure, Huang's book is about how to how to turn Microsoft's game console into a high-performance, general-purpose personal computer with a small price tag, and it contains lots of details about the how the heavily advertised gizmo is put together. But you can get the technical material on the Web. What's valuable about Huang's work is that he communicates the pure joy of taking the Xbox apart, figuring out how it works--despite its many designed-in anti-hacking features--and making it do new things. This book reads like the journal of a seventeenth-century voyage of discovery.

There's a wealth of information in these pages about how to disassemble and reverse-engineer electronics, and Huang is careful to show you what tools you need, and how to use them (don't worry if you don't know how to use a soldering iron--that's covered here). There also are step-by-step guides (complete with photos) to a couple of projects, and interviews with key figures in the Xbox-hacking community. --David Wall

Topics covered: How to enjoy a Microsoft Xbox game console without the mindless tedium of playing video games. This book shows you how to open an Xbox, make modifications to it (from a cosmetic LED color change, to putting in a new power supply, to adding a USB connector), and make the changes needed to get Linux running on it. In the process, readers get an education in reverse engineering electronic circuits, as well as in basic electronic techniques (soldering, crimping, etc) and in the intellectual property law that governs hacker activity.


"A piece of simple, succint eloquence, this has fast become one of the most treasured books we own." --

"Although it's a technical book, it unfolds like a spy novel." -- Peter Wayner,, June 26, 2003

"If you are interested in programming or even hacking, you’re going to love this book." -- Cosmos Gaming, December 19, 2004

"an elegant, smart, and accessible introduction to hacking that happens to use the Xbox as a learning tool" -- San Francisco Bay Guardian, September 17, 2003

An introduction to copyright law in the digital age -- The New York Times, July 10, 2003

I recommend this book even to those who don't want to hack an interesting and informative read. --

If you are interested in hardware, software hacking and reverse engineering - this book should be on your shelf. -- E. Jonathan Hardy, Host, TechWeek TV!, August 2003

Teaches readers to think like hardware hackers, using the game console the way a med school teacher uses Gray's Anatomy -- SecurityFocus, July 2003

[Huang's] account of how he cracked the Xbox is fascinating and his perseverance is awesome. -- Personal Computer World, UK, August 21, 2003

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: No Starch Press; 1 edition (July 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593270291
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593270292
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #216,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gentlemen, Start Your Soldering Irons... January 23, 2004
I bought this book, probably as most people do, out of an interest in getting into my Xbox from a software viewpoint. I wound up enjoying it from an entirely different viewpoint - the insights into the obscure process of hardware hacking that people like Andrew Huang love to do. In the process I gained considerable respect for Microsoft's ability to protect their investment in what has become the number two console in the game world.
To put this in context, the Xbox is really a full fledged PC, repackaged and sealed up with security to prevent game copying and to stop buyers from turning in into the ultimate cheap computer. Microsoft sells the Xbox considerably below manufacturing cost, using it as a loss leader to sell games. The last thing they want is for everyone to turn the Xbox into $150 computers. Hackers like Huang saw the opportunity to do exactly that and began the ultimate adventure a trip into the devious mind of Microsoft's engineers. Every bit as exciting as the latest game disk.
This is both the story of that effort - the creation of a fully functional Linux computer and a fascinating training manual on what actually goes into the hardware hacking process. Huang understands full well the danger that he might go over the heads of his readers and makes every effort to explain exactly what is going on. He has a lucid, self-effacing style that is like a geek chat session. For someone like me, who started out with a pile of 'chips' and a breadboard, and then graduated to 16 Kilobyte memory boards it is pure fun to see what has happened in the past 40 years.
I also was astonished at the ingenious subterfuges Microsoft used to hide the Xbox's innards from casual observers. For those who always are critical of Microsoft's capabilities, this is a lesson in hubris.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Also a great diary of reverse engineering! June 26, 2003
By A Customer
I got this book mainly out of curiousity. I don't have much background in computers, especially not when it come to how they work, other than a firm belief that it's all done with magic.
The great thing about this book is that it reads like a buddy explaining something to you. It's not a sterile textbook about AD-SRAM 511 chips or whatever, it's a book about a guy who tinkered with something he bought, and kept a log about it. Even when it gets technical, it's easy to skim over those parts and still know what he was doing. A great mix of extremely informative but at the same time not overwhelming. Reading what he thought and the struggles he and others have gone through just for the *right to talk* (or 'Freedom of Speech', as I've heard it called somewhere...) about what they want is as interesting as the xbox motherboard itself.
If you're looking for instructions about modchips and playing copied games, this *isn't* the book for you. On the other hand, if you've ever wondered how these systems work, and how people are ever able to figure this stuff out in the first place, then you'll never find a better book.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Soldering techniques, debugging tips, and much, much more September 15, 2003
Hacking The Xbox: An Introduction To Reverse Engineering is, quite literally, the book that Microsoft (makers of the popular Xbox video game console) does not want you to read. Individual chapters comprehensively addresses in depth how to modify this gaming console for one's own ends, from physically opening it (and voiding the Microsoft warranty) to installing a blue LED, replacing a broken power supply, reverse engineering Xbox security, developing software for the Xbox on Xbox-Linux, soldering techniques, debugging tips, and much, much more. A knowledgeable and technically detailed instructional, Hacking The Xbox offers specific, authoritative, accessible information about reverse engineering a specific device, as well as basic principles that can be generalized to other reverse engineering hardware projects.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Read June 26, 2003
I have an xbox that has been fully modded out to allow me to run some truely intresting applications on it. I can watch region free DVDs, watch divx movies, play mp3s, listen to shoutcast servers and play any game in my library all thanks to the work described in this book.
Andrew 'Bunnie' Huang embodies all that is great about the computers and hacking. He lays out not only the technical details of how to overcome the xbox security model, but also discusses his failures and the philosophy behind the hack.
This book welcomes the newbie hardware hacker with open arms and guides then through the fundimentals. It quickly moves into cryptography and much more complex material. While not a be all end all of hardware engineering, it is enough to get any young mind excited for the field and points them to where they can learn more. Hopefully it will inspire a few more MIT grads like Bunnie.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great coverage on taking your Xbox to the next level... November 6, 2004
Since my son is into hardware hacking and also into his Xbox, I got a review copy of Hacking The Xbox by Andrew Huang. While not my particular area of interest, he really thought the book was great!

Chapter List: Voiding The Warranty; Thinking Inside The Box; Installing A Blue LED; Building A USB Adapter; Replacing A Broken Power Supply; The Best Xbox Game: Security Hacking; A Brief Primer On Security; Reverse Engineering Xbox Security; Sneaking In The Back Door; More Hardware Projects; Developing Software For The Xbox; Caveat Hacker; Onward!; Where To Get Your Hacking Gear; Soldering Techniques; Getting Into PCB Layout; Getting Started With FPGAs; Debugging: Hints and Tips; Xbox Hardware Reference; Index

Within 10 minutes of getting this book, Cam was hunting for my toolkit and shortly thereafter had his Xbox opened up all over my office floor. I knew basically that the Xbox was a PC disguised as a gaming system, but I didn't realize how true that was until Cam opened it up and showed me the internals. It was like opening up my desktop system! Huang does a great job in showing what tools are necessary as well as illustrating via pictures what needs to be done to "lift the lid" of your system. Once there, he shows you some of the basic modifications you can make like adding custom lighting or replacing power supplies. Beyond the basics of hardware, Huang takes the reader into very in-depth examinations of the system structure of the Xbox and what needs to be known in order to understand how to modify software and hardware. For me, the most interesting chapter covered how you can modify an Xbox to turn it into a low-cost Linux machine. Although it's not what Microsoft envisioned, there really is a lot you can do to and with this machine.

If you're ready to dig into your Xbox and go beyond just playing games, this is the first book you should get your hands on.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for Xbox
Acquired an old, used Xbox, so I bought this to see if I could maybe turn it into something useful. Well written book, and was very instructive on many techniques for hacking... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Donald A. Lane
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book
I am glad I didn't eschew this book because of my first impression of it being too narrow-focused and (possibly) outdated. I am only half way into it, but I already learned a lot. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Jason Geng
5.0 out of 5 stars High Level Technical Notes for Original Xbox
This is a very interesting book about the original Xbox. It's an engineer's book written for engineers. I enjoyed it because I have an electronics engineering background. Read more
Published 14 months ago by B. Arnold
5.0 out of 5 stars Just as expected
Just as expected Just as expected .... Zzz z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z zz
Published 17 months ago by Jeremy
5.0 out of 5 stars An awesome introduction to hacking
This book was in great shape and is a very well written tech guide - I highly recommend it to you if you want to step up your 1337 hacking.
Published on November 26, 2010 by Jamie
5.0 out of 5 stars God!! it is being cited 46 times...
Did you believe that this book is cited 46(34+12) times by academic? Just trace the Google scholar! Oh my God.
Published on April 27, 2010 by JJ You
5.0 out of 5 stars Bunnie inspires a budding computer engineer
I bought this book for my then teenage son who wanted his XBox to do more than what Mr. Gates wanted it to do. Read more
Published on October 2, 2009 by Dan Knous
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read, short on actual projects
I purchased this book because I would like to learn about reverse engineering without getting a degree. Read more
Published on August 4, 2009 by abc123
5.0 out of 5 stars Peerless
This is an absolute MUST BUY for everyone who likes to tinker with electronic devices - it's like porn for hardware hackers :)

Bunnie's description of how he and the... Read more
Published on December 16, 2008 by Rich Turner
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Reading
Very good book if you are a beginner at computer/xbox mods. Need to have a little electrical knowledge to understand a lot of what is in the book. Read more
Published on February 14, 2008 by B. Wilkins
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