Opening Up My Xbox One

Learning how to configure automated updates in Ubuntu was just the latest adventure in open-source operating system, every adventure a chance to learn something new. And now for something completely different: the locked down black box of an Xbox One game console. This is an Xbox One, no “S” or “X” suffix, the design that launched just before 2013 holiday season bundled with a Kinect 2.0 sensor bar.

I’ve been curious about whether an SSD upgrade might transform an old Xbox One the same way SSDs could transform old Windows PCs. Unfortunately, the locked-down nature of a game console makes this more troublesome than a PC. I didn’t want to mess with Xbox disk contents which have been obfuscated in the interest of tamper-proofing the system. My best bet is to perform a low-level sector-by-sector copy to transfer bits directly from HDD to SSD. A blind copy has the highest prospect of success, but it comes with caveats:

  1. We can’t tell valid data from unused space. Absent this knowledge, every bit is equally important and must be copied. The SSD must be at least as large as the HDD to hold everything.
  2. Without knowledge of partitioning schemes, we can’t update them. Thus Xbox games would be unable to take advantage of any extra space. (It’s not wasted, technically speaking, as extra flash memory would be useful for wear leveling and similar SSD housekeeping.)

Given the space requirements, I would need a 500GB SSD to replace the 500GB HDD in my Xbox One. A few years ago, it would have been far too much money to spend just for laughs. Too expensive to just leave sitting in an old game console. I had to wait until SSDs got cheap enough for me to upgrade other machines and let the chain of hand-me-downs free up a 500GB drive for exploration. Fast forward to today, where name-brand high performance 1TB SSDs can be found for well under $100 USD. Plus, I also recently learned to perform low level copy in Linux. All the required pieces are now in place.

I also had another motivation to take apart my Xbox One and look inside. I thought it would be fun to build a “Luggable Xbox” from the guts of this machine and wanted to investigate its components. The optical drive has failed, so I wanted to remove it. Could I design and make a slimmer box to contain what’s left?

With those two goals in mind, I started taking my Xbox One apart.

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