The Barnes & Noble Review
Many legendary engineers got their start with a soldering iron, taking apart and assembling radios, phones, and computers. In those halcyon days, many devices even came with schematics! Nowadays, neither the manufacturers nor the law are quite so friendly. But one current device is especially splendid for hardware hacking: Microsoft’s Xbox.
Almost a PC, this sub-$200 device can be made to do anything from running Linux to serving as a complete media center. And the reverse-engineering skills you learn with it are incredibly useful in all manner of (licit) pursuits. That’s where Hacking the Xbox comes in.
Andrew “Bunny” Huang introduces the ideas and techniques you need to decipher just about any device and walks through several common Xbox mods, taking all the intimidation out of hardware hacking. (Well, almost all. You do want to read the guest chapter full of legal advice on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.)
You’ll start by learning how to “read” a circuit board (Huang answers some of those questions you’ve always wondered about, e.g., why do some circuit board traces seem to meander aimlessly?) Then, you’ll get to work, starting simple (replacing the LED with a cool blue one), and working your way up to the big Kahuna: Xbox security.
Huang’s incredibly useful appendices tell you where to get your gear (some electronics distributors are friendlier than others) and offer practical introductions to soldering, PCB layout, FPGAs, and hardware debugging.
One major publisher backed away from this book for fear of the legal issues. Seems a shame. Whether you plan to void your Xbox warranty or not, this stuff’s just plain fascinating. Bill Camarda
Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks for Dummies, Second Edition.
Reverse engineering, the not so gentle art of figuring out
how something works by taking it apart, has been practiced by hardware oriented
geeks and tinkerers for as long as anyone can remember. It’s the way Wozniak
learned to build the first Apple, and it’s the way many of today’s young
engineers are learning about hardware engineering.
While many engineers believe that reverse engineering is a
protected right, The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes unauthorized
access to intellectual property illegal, including certain types of reverse
engineering. This controversial book, “Hacking the Xbox”: An Introduction to
Reverse Engineering” by Andrew “bunnie” Huang, tackles the thorny issue of
reverse engineering head on by showing readers how to hack their Xbox ™.
Originally self-published, “Hacking the Xbox” has already become a cult classic,
selling thousands of copies through the author’s website in just a couple of
months. Now with the full support of No Starch Press (the only publisher willing
to take the risk), “Hacking the Xbox” is getting the distribution and exposure
it needs to make it a major bestseller.
“No Starch Press distinguished itself as the only publisher
with the courage to accept the book without any suggestion of censorship or
caveats,” says Huang. Even with the possibility of litigation under the DMCA, No
Starch Press publisher Bill Pollock explains why his company is publishing this
controversial book: “This is about freedom of speech and our First Amendment
rights. It’s also about the way people learn. It’s the way I’ve been learning
about hardware since I was 10 years old, when I took apart my first
With an estimated 8 million units sold, Microsoft’s Xbox
video game system is the second most popular gaming console on the market today.
The Xbox is, at its core, nothing more than an inexpensive PC with extra pieces
tacked on to prevent you from using it as such. With a bit of know how, the help
of “Hacking the Xbox”, and some elbow grease, the Xbox can be turned into a
working PC, media player, or web server.
Using the Xbox as a teaching tool, Huang introduces novice
hackers to basic hacking techniques such as reverse engineering and debugging.
“Hacking the Xbox” also covers Xbox security mechanisms and other advanced
hacking topics of interest to more seasoned hackers. A chapter written by the
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) rounds out the book with a discussion of
the rights and responsibilities of hackers. The book also includes numerous
practical guides, such as where to get hacking gear, how to use soldering
techniques, debugging tips, and an Xbox hardware reference guide, which make
“Hacking the Xbox” truly a handbook for a new generation of hackers. So pick up
a screwdriver and start hacking!
ABOUT THE AUTHORAndrew
“bunnie” Huang has an extensive background in electronics systems engineering
and received a PhD in Electrical Engineering from MIT. His experience includes
work in digital design, reverse engineering, embedded systems design and
programming, board fabrication and assembly, java/C/assembly programming, analog
design, computer architecture, high speed interconnect and signal integrity,
applied cryptography and systems security, and systems