Xbox and controller

What was it?

       Back when I was still actually using the original Xbox, I became increasingly unhappy with the tangle of wires that was always involved when storing or getting out the controllers. There were third party products available to add wireless capability to the console, but by this time the 360 was already on the market, and I couldn't help but feel silly with an ugly little box connected to the front of my console.

One day, I decided to take apart one of these third party external wireless controller units and try to integrate it into the console itself. Having previously done work inside the Xbox, I knew the thing was a beast with plenty of space inside to mount additional components.

The finished product was rather poor, but I would stress this was one of my very first "organized" projects, so I don't feel that bad about the amateurish attempt. Also note that I had to recently pull the console apart to take the images you see here, as I didn't take any pictures while originally working on it. You will have to use your imagination a bit with this one.

Preparing the Receiver

Logitech Controller        To start this project, I went to my local GameStop and picked up a used "Logitech Cordless Attack Controller" for about $18. The Internet told me this was the best wireless controller for the Xbox, and the receiver seemed small enough that I could reasonably fit it inside of the console once properly stripped down.

To start with, I took it out of it's plastic case, removed the memory card connectors, and desoldered the lead coming into the board (remember when I said you needed to use your imagination?). This left me with a flat PCB that was only a few inches wide, though admittedly in an odd horseshoe shape. The PCB had an SMD LED on one leg of the horseshoe, which I also removed (smashed).

Once everything was off the board, I got a scrap piece of CAT5e cable and soldered the wires on one side to where the controller and LED leads originally connected. This let me run both the controller signals and the status LED power down the same wire to a remote location (I.E. the front of the console). I then coated the wires in hot glue to make sure they didn't work themselves loose.

PCB Closeup

I think I mentioned this was an early work of mine...right?

Controller Interface

       OK, that is just a fancy way to say "soldered the thing into the back of the controller port". Luckily the Xbox controller ports are on easily removable little brackets, and the individual ports themselves are easily pulled open to reveal the pins from the rear. It was only a matter of soldering the new wires from the CAT5e onto the existing wires. In addition, I jammed a little green LED into the space between the inner wall of the controller socket and the internal connector, which was obviously attached to the two wires from the SMD LED pad. This would give me a nice little status light that would be invisible unless lit. Finally, another generous application of hot glue (I must have really liked this stuff when I was younger).

Port connection

In the following image, you can see the controller port module installed back into the front panel of the Xbox, with the new CAT5e wiring going to the left of the image, and the original controller leads going towards the right:

Controller module

Installing the Receiver

       All that remained now was actually finding a spot inside of the console to mount the receiver PCB, and safely run the wires back to it. I was exceptionally fortunate in this case, as the PCB fit perfectly behind the DVD drive, sitting right on top of the Ethernet port. I then simply routed the CAT5e from the front panel to the location of the receiver, which again proved very easy thanks to the ridiculous size of the Xbox hardware.

Wide shot

When the Xbox was put back together, the only part of the whole installation that was even visible was the very top of the receiver PCB:

Installed

So what happened?

       Well, first of all, it certainly did work. But there were two rather major problems with that project that forced me to put it into the "Fail" pile, both of which are embarrassingly obvious in hindsight, but as I said, I was quite young here.

The biggest problem was that the Faraday-cage case they have on the Xbox almost completely blocked the signal of the controller, so range was very. very short, around 3 to 5 feet. To make matters worse, the close proximity of the receiver board to the optical drive and IDE cable meant that the controller would suffer vicious interference whenever a game would load either from DVD or the HDD. This could be confirmed by simply looking at the activity LED I added, it would flash madly whenever the console was doing anything but sitting idle.

Slightly less of a concern was the fact that the front controller port was now useless for real wired controllers, as the Xbox couldn't understand two controllers connected to the same port.

Both of these issues could be fixed easily enough if one was so inclined. The poor range could be remedied (or at least improved upon) by running a shielded wire outside of the metal casing of the Xbox to a small antenna mounted to the back. Wired controllers could be supported by the use of a relay-type device to switch between the different connected devices depending on the open or closed state of the sense wire in the controller port.

While these improvements are easy enough to implement, I no longer use the Xbox so I have no reason to do so personally. Even though I technically consider this project a failure in it's current form, I do take some pride in the fact that, to my knowledge, this is the only documented modification of its type for the Xbox.