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SpiderGX Modchip Review
>> Here's the Xbox-Scene review for the NoSolder SpiderGX Xbox Modchip. It took a while, but once again you'll get the most informative, detailed and honnest review you'll find on the net with professional high-resolution pictures and even 2 videos for fun ;) Njoy (yeah, it's long... you can jump here to next news item if you're not interested)
Official Website: http://www.spidergx.com
SpiderGX Manuals and Downloads: Manuals / Downloads
Buy SpiderGX: Divineo.com / Divineo.cn / Divineo.co.uk / Divineo.fr / Divineo.de / Divineo.se / Divineo.es
Well let's start by talking about the packaging. Not the packaging that the shops/retailers wrap around your modchip before shipping, but the actual packaging the modchip gets from the manufacturer. It's something we're not used to see as modchip usually come bare or in the best case they come in some anti-static or protective bag.
Not so with the chips from Team Spider. The SpiderChip v1.0 and v1.1 came in a nice metal box. The SpiderGX, released by the renewed SpiderGX Team comes in a solid paperboard box. Each part of the modchip is fully protected inside the box as you can see from the picture above.
While the metal box of the SpiderChip was looking 'cooler' you're buying a modchip here, not a box ;) And this paperboard box of the SpiderGX does an excellent job to protect your modchip during shipping or for storing, including the very delicate springwires. Thanks to this excellent packaging you won't have to worry about how the stores package your chip or how the postal service treats your package. Unless they drop 100kg on it you'll get everything in perfect shape even without any additional packaging from the store.
Let's start with the build quality. And it's a good start as I was kinda surprised by the quality. While the SpiderGX comes to the market with an aggressive pricing for a complete solderless 4th generation modchip, the build quality didn't suffer under it. While I was not able to test out many of these chips, the 2 samples I got obviously both work perfectly, but the PCBs are also very clean (IC legs, ...) and build with a high level of precision.
-There are 3 ICs and 1 LED on the modchip:
* a Lattice CPLD: nothing really special to say here. It's not a very special chip, but it does do its job, so that's fine.
* a 16Mbit or 2MBytes MX (Macronix International) flashchip: 2MBytes with 1MBytes available for your own bioses, rest is used by the SpiderGX OS(info)/Bios, OS stored settings and eeprom backup. 1Mbytes of storage has proven to be largely enough for a 'normal' user. A normal 'hacked' MS bios takes 256KBytes. If you want to turn your Xbox into a debug xbox for developing you'll need a 512KB bios. If you want to launch or install a linux distro you'll need a 256KB bios. So with 1Mbytes you can have a normal hacked bios, a linux cromwell and a debug bios all ready to be launched. As a normal user will never need a debug bios you'll have 3 places for some different flavors of a hacked MS bios and 1 for a cromwell bios ... in short, more then enough space for most.
* a small IC for LCD blacklight control which can be controller from within the SpiderGX software or from hardware using the wheel smartly placed on the external adapter.
* There's also 1 bright blue status LED on the modchip. It indicates if the modchip has power.
-There are 5 ports on the modchip:
* External Adapter connector: port used to connect the external adapter with the modchip. You'll have to connect the cable through the side of the case as shown below. I tried to fit it via the 1st controller port, but due the placement of the connector on the external adapter and length of the cable this doesn't fit. Without cutting in the case the only easily way to put the cable is through the side. The connector on the cable is big, but it's possible to pass it through both the internal metal frame and external plastic case of the Xbox.
* LCD port: No real information has been released on how to use it yet, but Team SpiderGX informed us that the LCD port was design to be an easy-to-use I/O port and tutorials will be released explaining how to connect pretty much any standard LCD to the SpiderGX.
A SpiderGX branded LCD might come too, but there's no confirmation for this yet.
Because the LCD port is made to work with many different types of LCD screens Team SpiderGX is also working on a new library to add support for the LCD port in XboxMediaCenter(info), because it will not work with the default XBMC library.
* Expansion Port: while the connector is marked as 'still secret' on the SpiderGX site we can confirm you this is an expansion port. We asked Team SpiderGX for additional details: They told us this port is an SPI with 6 extra data lines for addons requiring a faster data stream. They told us they plan to release some nice addons, and one of them is the 'Light Case Controller'. This addon will allow you to customize your Xbox case with a software controlled led or neon-light. They are also working on a compatible library for XBMC.
Full technical details about the expansion port will be released so 3rd parties can use it too and all addons will have open-source code and schematics.
* 5v connector
Extra 5 volt connector that can be used by addons (for LEDs, neons, ...). You can enable and disable the 5v with the 4th dipswitch on the external adapter.
* SpiderWire connector: on these pins you can fit the SpiderWire adapter (included - shown below) used for the D0-wire (xbox v1.0-v1.5) and LPC-rebuild + LFRAME points (Xbox v1.6x). The PCB has 5 bright blue leds showing if each springwire makes good contact with the point on the Xbox motherboard or not.
The External Adapter
-There are 2 ports on the external adapter:
* Modchip connector: well this one is kinda obvious ... it's the connector to link with the modchip, see above.
* Programmer port: The programmer port is a fast access port that will allow you to program the spiderGX flash chip. It has access to all banks including the SpiderGX OS bank and can be flashed both when the chip is installed or not.
You'll need to buy extra hardware (a 'programmer') to program your SpiderGX chip via this port. Other programmers like the SpiderChip programmer will not work on the SpiderGX because this port has been designed with a different protocol to flash much faster. Team SpiderGX informed us this extra piece of hardware will only be released if there's demand for it (If both bios banks and OS are broken (which is unlikely to ever happen), else there's no real reason to need this).
-6 switches: 4 dipswitches, 1 normal switch and a wheel
* Dipswitch 1-3 are used to select how you want to boot your chip. Hard boot SpiderGX OS, bank 1, bank 2, bank 3 or put the chip on autoboot (where OS will 'softboot' the software selected bios. This is explained below in the OS overview).
* Dipswitch 4 is used to enable and disable the 5v connector.
* The main switch is used to en/disable the modchip (ground D0/LFRAME or not).
* The wheel allows you to change the brightness of the LCD screen if you have one installed.
-3 bright blue LEDs: power, bios flashing, programming
* Programmer status LED
* Flash in progress LED
* Power LED
The soderless installation
This modchip can be installed without any soldering on every xbox version to-date (v1.0-v1.6x). For xbox v1.0-v1.5 it uses pogopins for the LPC points and 1 'springwire' for D0. For Xbox v1.6x it used the pogopins for the working LPC points and springwires for the disconnected LPC points and LFRAME.
Fully detailed manuals about the installation procedure of the SpiderGX modchip are available on the SpiderGX website.
For the LPC points the SpiderGX uses pogopins. All the pogopins are used on Xbox v1.0-v1.5, only some used on Xbox v1.6x. The modchip is screwed to the motherboard using a normal philips screw and a spacer should be placed between motherboard and modchip.
The pogopins are pretty thick, so only a very short part goes inside the LPC point. This makes it harder for the pogopins that are at the far end of the screw to make perfect contact. Because of the spring-effect in the pogopins the ones near the screw will be deeper in the points then those at the far end of the screw (which can sometimes end up higher/outside the LPC point). Thinner pogopins that go deeper in the LPC points usually work better, but once perfectly aligned and screwed these pogopins stay pretty stable. Good thing with thick pogopins is that they are better for Xbox consoles with filled LPC holes (Xbox v1.0 and early v1.1).
As you need to fix the modchip pretty stiffly I noticed the screw isn't too solid if you try to install the modchip several times. It doesn't break off or so, but the top will wear out making it hard(er) to screw. A '2 parts' screw or one made of more solid metal would have been great. But this is not really an issue for normal usage, if you plan to install your modchip just once it shouldn't cause any problems if you use the correct screwdriver.
-The SpiderWire PCB
The SpiderWire PCB is used for the LPC-repair and LFRAME points on Xbox v1.6x and for D0 on Xbox v1.0-v1.5.
For installation on Xbox v1.6x the SpiderGX comes with a plastic transparent template for wire guide and as safety feature. While it's more secure to use this template, I found it easier to get the wire in the right place without the template. The manuals (that you download from their website) clearly show each point, so you can easily find where each wire should fit. If you use the template and the wire is 1mm off the point it's harder to see it, but also harder to move up the wire. The template is a few mm thick and the wire pretty thin (and thus flexible) so it's not always easy to move up the point-end of the wire ... without the template you can push the wire at the very end, and put the wire in the point in a matter of seconds. If you decide to install it without template ... check at least 2x each wire is in the correct point, else you might break your Xbox.
Above you see a detailed picture of the spingwires installed on a v1.6x with and without the template. As you can see the wires really go inside the points, so they stay very stable and make perfect contact.
There are 6 spingwires: 5 used for installation on Xbox v1.6x and 1 for Xbox v1.0-1.5. You'll notice that in the pictures above and below of the installed SpiderGX that the unused springwires are still on the PCB (I did this so I could test the modchip in several xbox consoles), but to finish the installation you need to cut the unused wire(s) so they don't touch the motherboard or DVD drive.
The SpiderWire PCB has a led for each springwire, so you know if it makes good contact or not. Be sure to disable the modchip with the switch on the external adapter, else the LFRAME led will never light up. The D0-wire (used on Xbox v1.0-v1.5) does not have a LED, but all other LEDs (not used on an Xbox v1.0-v1.5) will light up if the D0-wire makes good contact.
I made a video with some 'crashtests' (don't try this at home!) of a SpiderGX installed in a Xbox v1.6. You can see in the video below that even after lots of shaking the pogopings and springwire connections stay stable. In the last test I went a bit extreme and dropped the Xbox in a +1meter freefall. 2 of the springwires lost connection with their point (but were fixed very fast as shown in real-time in the video) ... but to be honnest this test is mostly done as joke/for fun. These kinda shocks should not happen with a normal xbox, and if you try this on a fully assembled Xbox you'll break your HD or DVD-drive first most likely.
Download the crashtest video here (DiVX 30MB).
-The SpiderGX Installed
An image of an installed SpiderGX modchip on an Xbox v1.6x: low-res1 | high-res1, low-res2 | high-res2
An image of an installed SpiderGX modchip on an Xbox v1.0-1.5: low-res | high-res
Below you can find some images of what the leds actually look like during day time, in half-dark and complete dark. No weird light deformation - these are professional pictures showing how the LEDs look like in according conditions. On the 3rd picture you see the reflection on the metal case inside the xbox.
Even when you install this chip on an Xbox v1.0-v1.5 all 5 LEDs of the spiderwire PCB will light up.
The OS I'm reviewing is the latest available to do date: that's v1.12b for the Xbox OS and v1.03 for the Web OS.
Let's start by talking about the controls ... which aren't exactly as you'd expect. They use a pretty unnatural method to navigate the menus and select the options. They did this on purpose to make people 'think twice before validating any options they've selected and that they will think of the risks in case they don’t understand the instructions'. The mainmenu is still simply using the D-pad, but for the submenus you have to use the yellow and green button for up and down. In the menu of a submenu you'll have to use the D-pad again though. To select or confirm something you'll have to use the small black button and with the small white button (or sometimes the green button, like in the HDD pwd menu) you can go back.
You can download a video showing all the features and many of the screens of the SpiderGX OS and SpiderGX Web'OS. Download it here (DiVX 23MB).
So what are the features of the SpiderGX OS?
* EEPROM menu
-Here you can see what EEprom version you have (v1.0-v1.5 or v1.6). Strangely it seems to always stay on v1.0-v1.5 even on a v1.6 (Team SpiderGX told us this will be fixed in the next version) ... but all the EEprom features work fine.
-You can select your video output: PAL, NTSC/U or NTSC/J
-Select your DVD Region: free, 1-6 (you'll still need the dongle to play DVD with the original dashboard, or use homebrew software like DVDX2 or XboxMediaCenter of course)
-Select your game region. This feature does not seem enabled yet.
-It'll display your Xbox serial number
-It'll display your Xbox Mac Address
-You can backup your EEprom on the chip (inside the 1MB reserved for the OS). The first time you launch the OS, it'll automatically take a backup of your EEprom.
-Restore the EEprom from backup on chip.
* SETTINGS menu
-Here you can setup your network - the Spider OS has a web (http) interface. You can manually setup your IP/Subnet/Gateway/DNS or use DHCP.
-You can start the http server that will allow you the access the web interface (called 'SpiderGX Web'OS') from your PC (using a simple webbrowser like IE or FireFox). Once Web'OS is launched you can't navigate the SpiderGX OS on the Xbox anymore. You'll have to reboot the console to get back in the SpiderGX OS. More details about the Web'OS follow below in the next section.
* BIOS FLASH menu
-Select your autoboot bank. If the dipswitches on your external adapter are set to 'autoboot' this menu will select which bank will boot up. That can be either the SpiderGX OS, bank1(256k), bank2 (256k) or bank3 (512kb).
-Flash bank1, 2 or 3 from a BIOS.BIN file on a CD/DVD.
-Flash bank1, 2 or 3 from a file located on the Xbox HD.
You can't flash the SpiderGX OS here, that's currently only possible via the web interface.
* HARD DISK menu
-Unlock your HD
-Lock your HD
-Display your HDD password
* XBOX menu
-Show amount of RAM installed in your Xbox
-Select the language of the SpiderGX OS. Via the web interface you can add new languages.
* EXIT menu
-Reboot the Xbox
-Power off the Xbox
* SPIDER STATUS menu
-Version of the SpiderGX OS, SpiderGX Web'OS and SpiderGX hardware.
-Size of the flashchip (all SpiderGX chips are 16Mbit or 2Mbytes now)
-Select the display brightness of your LCD if you have one installed
-There's also a 'Case light control' forced on 'Software' if the case module light isn't detected. According to the guide the 'module allows you to customize your Xbox and to control he lightening effects that you can add. This allows you to have great animation to add to your XBMC.';. So I suppose this is one of the to-be-released addons for the SpiderGX.
-Reinit your SpiderGX to factory default. Back to as if you launched your SpiderGX for the first time.
* GAMES menu
Apparently Team SpiderGX will add a few small games in their OS. Currently the menu contains 'Nibbles' and 'KillerWord', but they aren't playable yet. Development is still in progress and it should be available in future version of the SpiderGX OS.
The features of the SpiderGX Web'OS ... this is the web interface of the SpiderGX OS. The web server can be setup with both fix IP and DHCP. Once launched you can browse to the web interface on your PC using a normal webbrowser (Firefox, IE, ...).
* XBOX INFORMATION
- Some SpiderGX information like OS version, Web OS version, Hardware version of the size of the flashchip.
- You can reboot and shutdown the Xbox.
* FLASH OS
Here you can upgrade your SpiderGX OS/Web'OS when Team SpiderGX releases a new version. You simply select the file on your PC HD and click the flash button. Transferring the file to the Xbox and the flashing process goes very fast.
The progress of flashing is shown on the Xbox screen.
* FLASH BANK 1/2/3
Works the same way as for flashing the OS. Bank 1 and 2 are 256k each, bank 3 is 512k. Flashing goes extremely fast and progress is shown on the xbox screen.
Here you can flash the EEprom backup on your SpiderGX chip with an EEprom file on your PC. You can't download the EEprom backup from your SpiderGX chip yet though.
Here you can upload a SpiderGX customizer file to your SpiderGX chip. Customizer files allow to change the text (and thus language) in the SpiderGX OS. The SpiderGX OS is in english by default and a french customizer file is already available. More customizer files should be available soon. You can even create these customizer files yourself with the SpiderGX Customizer(info) Software.
Team SpiderGX also made it save to test and try out these customizer files. If for whatever reason a customizer file would break your OS, you just have to keep pressing the Y button during boot-up and your OS will boot without any customizer file which will then allow you to remove or fix the customizer file.
+ Very good price/features comparison
+ Very good price/quality comparison
+ Solid protective and pretty good looking packaging
+ Everything included for a fully solderless install on all Xbox versions (v1.0-v1.6x)
+ External adapter with useful features and some blue indicator leds
+ Programmer port included. No programmer yet, but it'll be release if many people request it.
+ Expansion port (allows possible addons later on)
+ LCD port with contrast control that can be both software and hardware controlled
+ Springwires for v1.6x-rebuild and D0/LF are easy to align and stable
+ Legal-based SpiderGX OS included on modchip
+ Manuals and guides to install and use the chip are available from the official website.
+ Hardware based flash-protection and bank-selection available if you like it (software based bank-selection available too of course)
+ Modchip, Bios and OS work with all Xbox consoles released to date and can also be installed with any soldering on each Xbox version ... so no need to worry about compatibility.
* SpiderGX OS contains many features, but I would love to see some of the missing features in future versions.
* This chip is ONLY for people looking for a solderless solution. This isn't anything bad, but if you want to solder your modchip the SpiderGX simply hasn't been designed for you. The pricey pogopins and spiderwire PCB are auto included in the package and 'solder options' (like: solderpads on chips, headerpin, quicksolder) are not available.
- Thinner pogopins would have been better, certainly on an Xbox with non-filled LPC holes
- External Adapter is using small dipswitches, hard to use with your fingers
- More solid screw or 2-parts screw would have been great
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