I recently picked up an original Xbox, boxed with accessories, and in good condition. I never actually owned one of these myself back in the day, but a lot of my friends did, so it brings back a lot of memories for me, and I was looking forward to trying it out.
The Xbox was in non-working condition sold-as-seen for spares or repairs – the owner claimed that the DVD drive wouldn’t open properly.
I set it up and tried it out, and in reality the disc tray would open fine – however, when the disc tray was closed, the light would continue to flash and the disc tray would immediately open up again. When the Xbox was turned off, the disc tray would close, then open again.
Repair was therefore required – while I was at it, I also wanted to service the Xbox and perform some preventative maintenance to keep it running well.
I figured that there were three main potential culprits for the disc drive issue:
- A problem with the mainboard, which controls the disc drive.
- A problem with the eject switch on the front of the Xbox.
- A problem with the disc drive itself, a Samsung unit.
I started off by dismantling the Xbox, and removing the mainboard to check it over.
The original Xbox suffers from a potentially fatal manufacturing flaw: it uses a 1F 2.5V supercapacitor instead of a coin-cell battery to maintain the backed-up RTC, which isn’t a problem in itself. However, the part used in earlier units is a victim of the capacitor plague of the late 1990s to mid 2000s, causing it to leak a corrosive electrolyte which can cause serious damage to surrounding components and to the board itself.
Apparently, all board revisions except for the later v1.6/1.6b boards are susceptible to supercap leakage, which can cause serious problems (including weird issues with the disc drive) – the capacitor should therefore be removed, its remnants cleaned up, and replaced.
It is difficult to confirm the board revision as the mainboard has no markings, but it is possible to estimate it from the manufacturing date and serial number – this unit was made in China in October 2003, which means that this is likely a v1.4 mainboard and confirms that it requires replacement of the supercapacitor.
The supercapacitor was pretty easy to remove with my vacuum desoldering station, and it appeared to have minimal leakage, which was a good sign. I cleaned up the small amount of electrolyte with 99.9% IPA and an ESD-safe brush, and inspected the board – sure enough, there was no trace or via damage on either side of the PCB.
I then installed a replacement supercapacitor – it’s possible to leave these out on board revisions earlier than v1.6/1.6b, however the clock won’t be kept up-to-date.
I also reflowed the solder on all of the connectors on the mainboard (ATX power, IDE, drive, controller ports, front panel), both for preventative maintenance and in case a contact problem was causing the disc drive issues – solder joints can get “cold” over time and with stress, causing them to crack and make intermittent contact.
I also removed the front panel PCB, reflowed all of the solder joints on it, and cleaned the switches and connector with contact cleaner, in case there was a problem with the eject button.
I partially reassembled the Xbox for testing, and it still booted up OK (and kept the time correctly). However, the disc drive problem still persisted.
I turned my attention to the disc drive, removed it from the system, and dismantled it.
I inspected the drive, and couldn’t see any noticeable damage or dirt that may be causing problems. I removed the tray control PCB for inspection (held in with a small drive belt, a spool adaptor, two small screws, and two clips).
This PCB has two small microswitches – one which detects when the tray is fully open, and one which detects when the tray is fully closed. I tested these with the continuity setting on my multimeter, and whilst the “open” switch worked fine, the “closed” microswitch was open-circuit in both positions.
After cleaning the “closed” microswitch with some contact cleaner and working it up/down about a hundred times, I tested it again, and it now seemed to work fine.
I also took this opportunity to service the disc drive, by cleaning the laser lens with a cotton swab and 99.9% IPA, lubricating the stepper rails with silicone grease, and replacing the disc tray drive belt with a new part.
With the Xbox reassembled, the disc drive now worked normally!
After all this work was performed, I did some finishing up: I thoroughly cleaned the case inside and out using Cillit Bang general-purpose degreaser, a microfibre cloth for large areas, and a toothbrush for small areas.
The Xbox seemed to work OK, but thorough testing is necessary to verify correct operation, so I did as much testing as I could.
- Boots up to normal startup screen.
- RTC works OK.
- All controller ports work OK.
- Power button and LED work OK.
- Eject button and LED work OK.
- Stereo audio output works OK.
- Loads discs OK.
Another restoration complete, and an Xbox saved from the scrap heap!