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MS design switch thwarts Xbox mod chips

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Microsoft has made some modifications to the internal design of Xbox in the name of security, the most immediate upshot being apparently that existing mod chips won't work with the new design. According to a posting last week on the Xboxhacker BBS (reproduced here, the first of the new designs have been spotted in Australia.

Although Microsoft habitually experiments on the Australians, we do not think this is an experiment. Microsoft sees keeping Xbox closed as a security/revenue issue, and will therefore keep trying to do so. You'll recall it recently advertised for someone in this patch and it's to expected that the company will react to successive mods with successive mod-blocks.

According to the Xboxhacker posting, there are various modifications which may be cost and reliability related (e.g. the video chip loses the fan, and the DVD Rom has been switched to a Philips. The key change that at least impedes the modders is however that a small chip that used to be behind the onboard bios has been removed. It would seem likely that the bios itself has undergone some modification along with this. We've subsequently been informed that the RC4 keys have been changed, but that it should still be possible to replace the bios via the LPC bus. Which suggests the latest moves are a relatively minor impediment to the current modders.

No word one yet from the Xbox Linux project on the implications of this, but the project has come up with an intensely techie explanation of how the Xbox hard drive can be unlocked without using the Microsoft-issued encryption key. Although we don't even begin to follow it, it sounds jolly clever to us.However, a reader points out that it seems the objective is to only publish a hash of the Microsoft key, thus minimising legal hassles. So it's more a legal than a techie trick, and we're just easily impressed. ®

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