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Friendtech DreamX-1480 review (FEB 2004)

What is Friendtech?

Friendtech was established in 1987 as a professional PC mainboard manufacturer. In 1994, Friendtech switched its major business from mainboards to CPU upgrade products. With more than nine years experience in the upgrade products business, Friendtech is the leader in the field of CPU upgrades and carries a complete product line under its PowerLeap™ and FTK value brands. The goal of PowerLeap™ product marketing is to provide an alternative solution for users to enjoy the latest computing technologies without incurring the major costs of purchasing and deploying new PCs/mainboards or other peripheral hardware.
More on http://www.friendtech.com


What's in the package?

* The FriendTech DreamX-1480 (an NTSC/J Xbox upgraded with 128mb ram and a 1.4ghz cpu)
* An S-controller
* Skin on DreamX and S-controller
* DreamX S-Video AV cable with optical fiber port
* DreamX MediaKey
* Powercable
* Printed manual in english


What's the DreamX?

The DreamX (also called FT-DreamX or FT-XBX2) is basicly an upgraded Microsoft Xbox console. The Xbox has a Intel Pentium3 (128KB cache) based 733Mhz cpu, the DreamX has a Intel tualatin Celeron (256KB cache) 1480Mhz cpu. The DreamX has a switch to choose between 1480Mhz and 740Mhz. With the lower speed setting you can simulate a nomal Xbox.
The amount of (shared) RAM is doubled, from 64MB in the normal Xbox, to 128MB in the DreamX.
The DreamX also contains more known modifications like alternative/upgradable bios, a standard S-Video output and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound (requires amplifier).


What’s the Mediakey?

The MediaKey is basicly an external bioschip you can plug-in on the back of your DreamX in a special added connector. The MediaKey is packed in a sealed package that you can only open if you agree with some tems&conditions (that you won’t use it to make illegal copies of games, …). To speak in more general terms: if you plug in the MediaKey in your DreamX you will have a “modded” Xbox. The bios on the MediaKey can be flashed through EvolutionX if you ever feel the need to update it.
So if you agree with the terms&cond your DreamX will be able to play imports, homebrew software and any other ‘unsigned’ Xbox code.


Included Homebrew software

* EvolutionX
* XboxMediaPlayer
* Px HDD Loader



The 2 major upgrades in the DreamX-1480 compared to the Xbox are the cpu and the ram.
The ram in the DreamX is 128MB compared to 64MB in the Xbox. But official xbox games will only be able to use 64MB even if 128MB is available because they have been written and signed specially to use max 64MB. Homebrew xbox software and xbox-linux distributions can use the additional RAM thought.
The cpu speed on the DreamX-1480 has 2 options (with a switch installed on the frontside of the DreamX): the 1480Mhz turbo-mode and the 740Mhz standard-mode (as close as possible to the speed of the original Xbox cpu (733Mhz)).
There’s also a DreamX-733 model that has no upgraded cpu, but only the additional ram.

Here are some test I ran to give you an idea of what the differences are in loading times:

* Midtown Madness3 booting
DreamX 128MB 1480Mhz: 24:2 (microsoft movie during game booting goes faster)
DreamX 128MB 740Mhz: 26:2 (microsoft movie during game booting goes faster)
Xbox 64MB 733Mhz: 34:0

* Midtown Madness3 loading
DreamX 128MB 1480Mhz: 5:3
DreamX 128MB 740Mhz: 8:5
Xbox 64MB 733Mhz: 9:1

* Midtown Madness3 track1 loading
DreamX 128MB 1480Mhz: 13:9
DreamX 128MB 740Mhz: 13:2
Xbox 64MB 733Mhz: 14:1

* Mechassault reload level1
DreamX 128MB 1480Mhz: 10:0
DreamX 128MB 740Mhz: 13:7
Xbox 64MB 733Mhz: 13:9

* Rip music (in MS dashboard) 2 songs
DreamX 128MB 1480Mhz: 1:16:7
DreamX 128MB 740Mhz: 1:58:5
Xbox 64MB 733Mhz: 2:37:2

* Rip music (in MS dashboard) FULL CD
DreamX 128MB 1480Mhz: 13:28:6
DreamX 128MB 740Mhz: 20:51:0
Xbox 64MB 733Mhz: too long ... see above, you get the point.

* Booting dyne:bolic linux distro
DreamX 128MB 1480Mhz: 1:58:0
DreamX 128MB 740Mhz: 2:05:0
Xbox 64MB 733Mhz:: 2:07:4

* Booting xbox-windows CE
DreamX 128MB 1480Mhz: 9:6
DreamX 128MB 740Mhz: 10:4
Xbox 64MB 733Mhz: 11:6

When you look at the results to RIP music it will clearly shows how much faster this DreamX can be. Even if the cpu is set at 740Mhz it still beats a normal Xbox by far. My guess is that it's not due the 128mb RAM (as far as I know the MS dashboard can't use more then 64MB) ... but only because of the double cache and tualatin core of the cpu.

Ofcourse the CPU and RAM upgrade can become a lot more interesting if you go look at homebrew software. Both the cpu and ram upgrade will make Xbox-Linux run a lot faster and smoother. Applications in xebian and gentoox will launch and operate considerably faster then on a normal Xbox.
Homebrew Xbox applications can also use the additional 'power'. Some will just work better by default, with some you won't notice any difference, others will have to be signed for 128mb ram (there's a tool for that in our tools section) but I also got a few that refused to boot under this hardware. That are probably issues that could be fixed, but I don't know if developers will add specific support for the DreamX. The additional RAM can be very useful for program like emulators that need to store a lot of data in memory (N64/MAME with big roms for example).



Probably one of the downsides of this upgrade is that’s it’s not always 100% compatible with some games or programs. Even if there’s a 740mhz-mode some games will still play too fast or start skipping, probably because the cpu is another core and will still have double the amount of cache compared to the original. So games who base their timing on the cpu will probably run into problems. Midtown Madness 3 on DreamX for example runs a lot faster then the game normally should. Even the music plays faster. That can be fun sometimes ... but it's not how the game is supposed to be. Even in standard-mode (740mhz) it's faster then on an original Xbox.

But on the other hand you’ll have games like Halo for example, certainly in multiplayer, that will give a better framerate, faster controller response and less skipping during high action scenes without making the game faster then the original. Also if you play on LAN it will make visible difference as network operations sometimes slowdown or lower visual quality on the normal xbox. With the DreamX-1480 the cpu can play Halo at best quality and still do all needed network operation for the LAN-game.
Using software like XLink or XBConnect you can play LAN-games online ofcourse.

Under XBMP or XBMC you will have synchronisation problems by default, but you can easily change the AV display delay to "Minus -1100 Sec" and "soften" the image what will fully fix the problem.


Let's look inside

The DreamX console with the red skin.This skin still says "FT-XBX2" (on top), but the newer skins have now "DreamX" on top.

The cpu switch: "standard" and "turbo" mode. You can switch this at ANY moment ... you do not have to shutdown or restart your console or game.

The backside ... on top of the fan outtake you see the extra connector for the MediaKey.

The MediaKey is plugged in my DreamX, I agreed with the terms&cond :-)

Let's open up this beast :-)
A samsung DVD :-) (note that this is NOT a feature of the DreamX, I guess it could aswell ship with a philips or thomson DVD).

View of the motherboard ... what can we see:
* Wires from LPC going to MediaKey connector on back of console
* Wire from "D0" to MediaKey connector
* Wire from power/eject points to MediaKey connector
* Wires from cpu socket to front cpu-speed switch
* New heatsink on CPU - no extra fan
* A heatsink on the MCPX chip (normal Xbox doesn't have one)

click image for high resolution version

Closer view to LPC/D0-wires -> MediaKey connector. No bioschip here, it's all inside the MediaKey.
You can also take a closer look at the copper MCPX heatsink. The MCPX normally doesn't need a heatsink But it's known to be an issue sometimes in xbox consoles. With the upgraded cpu the ambient temperature is also higher, so an extra heatsink on the MCPX certainly can't hurt :-)
You can also see the extra (2 extra on top, 2 extra on bottom) RAM chips soldered on the Xbox motherboard.

click image for high resolution version

The normal Xbox cpu is soldered directly on the Xbox motherboard (no socket). What Friendtech does is de-soldering the original Xbox CPU, install a "CPU upgrade adaptor" (made an designed by Friendtech - they are known in the PC world for CPU upgrade devices). With the adaptor they can now put a retail Intel Celeron Tualatin 1.4Ghz in the socket. They also included a new heatsink for the cpu. Even if the cpu speed is doubled it still doesn't require a fan on the heatsink, which is great ... the xbox makes enough noise already. But the main (and only) fan in the xbox case has variable speed (depending on temp) ... so with this 1.4Ghz it will often make more noise then a normal Xbox.
You can also see there are 2 wires going from the socketboard to the front switches. In the 'standard' mode they use the STP-CLK command (forces cpu to be idle one 'tick' after every active 'tick') to force the cpu to run at 740Mhz.

image from Friendtech - orignal cpu removed

image from Friendtech - adaptor part1

image from Friendtech - adaptor part2

image from Friendtech - new Celeron 1.4Ghz placed in socket

image from Friendtech - DreamX cpu next to Xbox cpu

click image for high resolution version

You can find more pictures of the new CPU at Friendtech's image gallery

Next picture shows the wire going from MediaKey adaptor to power/eject points on the motherboard. You can boot your DreamX with 'alternative' bios using the power-button and you can boot it with the original MS bios using the eject-button.

click image for high resolution version


Where-to-buy and prices

DreamX-1480 128MB: 499usd
DreamX-733 128MB: 369usd
Where to buy: http://www.friendtech.com
Expected retail release date: mid Februari 2004



The DreamX comes fully featured with flashable bioschip, pre-installed homebrew software, upgraded cpu (in 1480Mhz version), upgraded ram, cpu switch, bios switch (front eject/power), digital dolby surround output and s-video.
The cpu upgrade is without any doubt a very exciting hardware modification. Fun to play with and try out stuff (faster xbox-linux, optimizing emulators, some retail games play better, ...) but I think the DreamX will be something reserved for the die-hard Xbox and modding fans.
The only real downside is that some games or homebrew applications will not run correctly on this hardware. They will either run 'too fast', unsynchronized or some homebrew applications even refused to boot. But others will run at 'normal speed' with at higher framerate, lower loading time, faster controller response, ...
Second possible downside is the price, selling over double the retail price of an Xbox in USA ... but such an upgrade of cpu and ram is not the most easy thing to do and probably requires a lot of manhours + the research they had to do for the cpu upgrade board. If you think of the amount of work to upgrade an Xbox cpu, price of the 1.4ghz celeron, the 4x16MB ramchips that have to be bought and soldered, the digital audio port added and the 'modchip' installation (dreamkey) ... I think it's still a fair price. Like I said, I don't think the DreamX is made for the big public, it's something for those who like special/modded stuff or those who want a more powerfull machine next to their normal Xbox.
When you have this special Xbox in your hands you can claim you have the most powerful Xbox on the market and it will without any doubt become a collectors item. The ram upgrade is still something that you could do yourself if you can buy those ramchips and can solder like a pro ... but the cpu-upgrade is not something you can just do yourself and it will probably stay exclusive to the DreamX!


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