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Microelectronics PCB Soldering or, The Idiot's Guide to Attaching a Modchip (v0.1)

Tutorial written by : Xev

This tutorial covers all things soldering; look elsewhere for answers to your other questions...

Please note that the pictures here are not of an Xbox, and really could be of much better quality. When I install my X2, I'll take new pictures with a friend's camera. (Mine is really shitty... if you like this tutorial, how 'bout sending me a new camera? ;) )

1) Okay, I Want a Mod Chip. Why Should I Solder It?

If you want to install a modchip, you currently have three choices: solder it, use pogo pins, or have someone else do it. If you can get option three for free (all of my friends have! ;) ), go for it! Chances are that if you're reading this tutorial, option three will maximize your chances of success.

Next up in terms of ease is option two - using a pogo pin adapter. The trouble with this method is that while pogo pin mods are generally easy to install (by virtue of being solderless), they were really only designed for temporary installation and have a tendency to drift out of alignment, causing more grief than they're worth in the long run. If you want to, er, "spring" for pogos because of an unresolved fear of soldering, then I'll refer you to Appendix A, "Directory of Competent Psychotherapists" before you commit to a decision. If, however, you are merely a bit nervous about taking a hot iron and molten metal to your beloved Xbox, then relax - soldering is fun and easy, and this guide is for you!

Still here? Solder and wires still in hand? Great, let's get started!

2) Disclaimer

I'm not prescient, nor do I have the supernatural power to protect you from yourself. Use this information at your own risk. If you screw up your Xbox, even while following my instructions to the letter, don't come crying to me. TRY THESE METHODS AT YOUR OWN RISK!!! That said, the risk is really minimal, so don't worry.

3) Equipment

To solder on a modern PCB (Printed Circuit Board) like the Xbox mainboard, you'll need the right tools. If you're reading this, I'll assume that you don't have access to professional soldering equipment, so in our case the "right equipment" is what is readily and cheaply available at the local Radio Shack.

Absolute must-have equipment:
15-Watt Soldering Pencil with Grounded Tip $7.99 RSCN 64-2051
A "soldering iron" will NOT do - the tips are too large, the power output is often way too high, and the irons themselves are rarely grounded. Spend the eight bucks and save yourself the $200 for a new Xbox.
0.032" Diameter Lead-Free Solder $2.99 RSCN 64-025
Repeat after me: small diameter equals more control.
Equipment you probably should buy but can live (dangerously) without:
Adjustable Wire Stripper/Cutter $2.99 RSCN 64-2129
Great little tool for the price!
Desoldering Braid $2.99 RSCN 64-2090
For repairing those "oopses." REQUIRED if installing an LPC header in a v1.0 Xbox.
Anti-Static Wrist Strap with Cord $4.99 RSCN 276-2397
I highly recommend investing in AT LEAST this cheapass wrist strap.
Equipment you should get if you're doing this more than once:
Electronics Anti-Static Service Kit $19.99 RSCN 276-2370
Anti-static mat, wrist strap w/ coiled cord, and grounding unit. A great deal for twenty bucks, as the professional equivalent goes for about $150. (You do get what you pay for, of course...)

If you are installing an LPC header to allow an X-Ecuter 2 (for instance) to be easily plugged and unplugged, you will need the desoldering braid. If you decide to be cheap and daring and don't go for one of the anti-static options, BE CAREFUL and ground yourself before touching anything inside your Xbox. Chances are slim that you'll actually zap your Xbox, but if you do, it's good-bye and farewell...

4) Get With the Soldering, Already!

Plug your soldering pencil in and let it heat for a few minutes. Careful! It will melt plastic, carpet, upholstry, small animals, etc.

General tips to keep in mind:

* A little dab will do ya! When soldering wires to those tiny little connection points on your Xbox mainboard, use only enough solder to form a small bump that is the same diameter as the connection point. Such a connection may look fragile, but it will hold... we're not building a suspension bridge, after all.
* Heat connection points on the mainboard only just enough to melt the solder. Too much heat can damage both the board and the chips. (This isn't much of a worry for an LPC modchip installation as all of the points are located well away from sensitive components)
* Keep the soldering pencil clean and free of solder by periodically wiping the heated iron against a wet sponge or cloth.
* Touch only what you need to! That mainboard is fragile, and damaged traces are difficult to repair.

I) "Tinning" wires. Difficulty - EASY

Ideally, your wires will come pre-tinned. If not, or if you need to make your own wires, you need to tin them before soldering. Tinning is simple - you merely apply a small amount of solder to the wire in order to "prime" it, so to speak.

1. Strip the wire, exposing about 1/8" of conductor.
2. Holding the wire in one hand, touch the tip of the soldering pencil to one side of the conductor and apply a small amount of solder (using your third hand) to the opposite side of the conductor. Note that the conductor is melting the solder, not the iron.

Any solder clinging to the pencil may be removed by wiping the heated pencil against a damp sponge or cloth.

II) Desoldering connections or header holes. Difficulty - MODERATE

If you are removing a previously-installed mod chip or are installing an LPC pin header in a v1.0 Xbox, you'll need to remove some solder before proceeding. I'll tackle two different situations:

a) Desoldering a wire connection

  1. Place a section of unused desoldering braid against the solder connection.
  2. Carefully press the tip of the soldering pencil against the desoldering braid, directly over the solder connection you are desoldering.
  3. The solder will melt and wick into the braid. While still hot, remove the braid.
  4. Touch the tip of the soldering pencil to the connection point to heat any remaining solder and remove the wire.

b) Removing solder from a header hole

  1. Place a section of unused desoldering braid against the filled header hole.
  2. Press the tip of the soldering pencil against the desoldering braid, melting the solder beneath and wicking it into the braid.
  3. Repeat as required to remove all solder.

III) Soldering wires to filled header holes. Difficulty - EASY

If you're installing an LPC mod using the wire method, most of your connections will be of this type.

  1. Touch the tip of the soldering pencil to the silver (tinned) circle that surrounds the hole.
  2. When the solder in the hole melts, slowly insert the tinned wire.
  3. Carefully remove the soldering pencil and hold the wire in place until the solder solidifies.

    That's it! You're done!

IV) Soldering wires or a pin header to clean header holes. Difficulty - EASY

If you're installing header pins in any Xbox version or using the wire method for an LPC mod in a v1.1 Xbox, you'll use this method.

NOTE - To install header pins, all solder, if any, MUST FIRST BE REMOVED FROM THE HEADER HOLES!

NOTE - Mainboard must be completely removed for this method.

  1. If untinned, strip wires to expose approx. 1/4" of conductor and tin. Header pins do not need to be tinned.
  2. From top of mainboard, insert wire or header pin assemby through header holes.
  3. Turn mainboard over. Touch the tip of soldering pencil to the silver (tinned) circle that surrounds the hole, and apply solder to the tinned inside surface of the header hole near the tip of the soldering pencil.
  4. After a few moments, the solder will begin to melt. Once this happens, continue to feed solder into the header hole until the entire hole is filled. DO NOT OVERFILL!
  5. Remove soldering pencil and hold wire or header assembly in place until solder solidifies.

V) Soldering wires to those itsy-bitsy little pads, vias, and test points. Difficulty - DIFFICULT

For those extra wires or ALL 29 for you homebrew shmucks...

NOTE - Good lighting and a steady hand are highly recommended.

NOTE - These connection points may be located on the underside of the Xbox mainboard!

  1. If untinned, strip wires to expose approx. 1/8" of conductor and tin.
  2. Prepare the connection point:
    • Touch the tip of the soldering pencil to the connection point's (tiny) silver (tinned) circle or pad.
    • Gingerly apply A TINY AMOUNT of solder to the connection point by touching the tip of the solder wire to the point of the soldering pencil.
    • If done properly, there should be a small solder bump of the same diameter as the connection point.
  3. Position the wire flat against the mainboard, with the tip of the wire touching the solder bump and aligned in such a manner that the conductor will not come in contact with any other connection points.
  4. Touch the tip of the soldering pencil to the edge of the solder bump. When the solder melts, carefully slide the wire conductor into the solder.
  5. As soon as the solder melts into the wire, remove the soldering pencil while CAREFULLY holding the wire in place. When the solder solidifies, the connection is complete.

Congrats! You're a certified solderer!

Tutorial written by : Xev



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