Xbox Appendectomy

Hi, guys and gals. Hope everyone’s doing well.

As a beloved comedy troupe once said, “And now for something completely different.”

As you (probably don’t) know, I like to collect retro games. I recently came upon an original Xbox in one of the local thrift stores for $25 (Canadian dollars, approximately 82 cents USD). It appeared to be in good condition with no roaches or anything pouring out of it, so I decided to bite the bullet.

All the warranty seals were in place, which was a good thing. It meant no one had been in there before to tinker around, and that it had never needed repairs. Now, the thrift store claimed that it was “tested”, but I’m not sure if that meant they just plugged the power in and made sure it didn’t immediately catch fire. However, it was still a good sign.

It was also a bad sign. See, the original Xboxes (up until the last revision) all had a very distinct issue.

Namely, there’s a special type of capacitor on the motherboard that had a tendency to leak acid. This corrodes and kills the motherboard eventually.

This isn’t a good thing.

In any case, I decided to buy it, and tested it out when I got home.

It worked.

So, now that we’ve verified that the patient’s alive, it’s time to take out this little guy’s appendix. Try to ignore my incredible custom countertop protector. Envy isn’t a good thing.

Flipping this guy on his back, we can see that the “warranty seals”, AKA the two screws covered by stickers, are not punctured. To find these, just press your fingers around the stickers until you feel a screw hole underneath.

From the manufacturing date, we can tell that this appears to be one of the very first models.

Note that you’ll need one of these fancy torx screwdrivers to open it up. Good news is that it’s not a security bit. Bad news is that most people probably don’t have these bits either. You may be able to snag a set for cheap from Harbor Freight (or it’s Canadian counterpart Princess Auto). Also, it’s fun to ask your little daughter if she wants to go to “The Princess Store”, then watch her face drop when you get there. That’s mean though. Don’t do that.

Start by peeling back each of the rubber pads carefully and removing the four super long screws in there.

Now, punch your screwdriver into this point to get to another long screw.

And the sixth, and last, screw is in here.

Flip it over and very gently remove the top cover. You can see the monster screws on the right side of the table.

In here, we now see an old IDE hard drive on the left, and a DVD-ROM on the right. We’ll need to get both of these out of the way to get to the motherboard. Be very careful at this stage. In fact, be very careful at all the stages!

Remove the ribbon cable and power connector from the back of the drive, then unsnake the power cable from the hard drive tray and hang it off the side.

Note that that entire black tray lifts out. Remove that one screw in the picture, then gently lift the hard drive tray out.

This is what we’ve got now. We still can’t get to the capacitor, and need to take out the DVD drive as well. Also, you see that stuff on the left? All those cool coils and electric-y things? Don’t touch it. That’s the power supply. There are some NASTY capacitors in there. Go fooling around in there and, if you’re lucky, you’ll only get a lesson you won’t forget anytime soon.

Thankfully, this one just lifts out after undoing those two screws at either side of the head of the DVD drive. We won’t need to undo the cables, but be careful not to pull at it too hard.

Just gonna’ balance it to one side there.

Here we see the culprit in action. It’s the medium sized guy just to the left of the large one. Sorry about the glare, but you can see the white corroded parts of the motherboard if you squint a bit. Looks like it’s still in a salvageable state though.

Time to break out the good stuff. 99% isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and some cotton swabs. I’d advise not to use any IPA below 91%, as the moisture content is too high to safely use around electronics.

I used some manual finagling to remove the capacitor, then cleaned the corroded area with the cotton swabs. Thankfully, corrosion didn’t weaken any solder contacts on the other components, and nothing else came off when I was scrubbing it with the IPA (other than corosion).

The capacitor and it’s handiwork.

Next, make sure everything is dry, then put it all back together.

Pop the screws back on.

Turn it 180 degrees and seal back the warranty holes.

And, bam, it still works. I forgot to mention that it would ask to set the time whenever it was plugged in anyways, as the capacitor was simply not doing its job. So, not an issue that it’s still doing that. I’ll probably be softmodding (i.e. a “modchip”, but it’s just a piece of software that’s installed) this system anyway, as that hard drive is a ticking time bomb due to its age, and the only way to facilitate replacing it (other than a hardware mod involving soldering) is to softmod it before it dies.

Now was there anything I would advise you to do different than me?

Yes. Namely:

  • Use an anti-static wristband. And make sure it’s not a Livestrong bracelet like what The Verge used.
  • Don’t balance your DVD drive on the side like I did.
  • Take out the entire motherboard, and de-solder the capacitor from the bottom. If you try to manually twist and pry it off like I did, you may end up splitting the capacitor open, or the bottom of the capacitor may stay attached to the motherboard while the top is in your hand.
  • Clean both sides of the motherboard. I didn’t bother because the corrosion wasn’t that bad.
  • Use a little baking soda to neutralize any remaining acid, then use IPA to *thoroughly* clean it up.
  • Clean the dust off the fan and heatsink. (I did this, but forgot to take pictures).
  • Reapply a fresh coating of thermal paste. Do NOT use electrically conductive paste.
  • Don’t wash off the cotton swabs and use them on yourself.
  • Yes, resealing the warranty stickers was a joke.

Also, if you’re really going to do this on your own Xbox, for heaven’s sake don’t use me as a guide. I just posted this because I thought it might interest a few of you. Go look up a pro on YouTube like MrMario2011 or Retro Vintage Gamer.

That’s it for now, folks. Sorry for the image-heavy content. Hope it was a little bit interesting for you?

Take care, and stay safe.

2 Comments on “Xbox Appendectomy

  1. Wow! Nice work and great step by step. If I ever find a vintage xbox and some spare time I know just what to do!

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