Running Linux on the Xbox

Modifying an Xbox can increase your PC hardware knowledge and provide you with a useful little system.
XFree86

XFree runs out of the box if you use the framebuffer driver and turn off PCI enumeration in the configuration file. A modified version of the nvdrv driver provides video mode change at runtime and 2-D acceleration (GLX extensions). Multimedia applications can render their window into an off-screen buffer, and the video hardware stitches it into the visible screen when displaying it, scaling it in hardware. Precompiled versions of the driver are available. nvdrv is the open-source driver for NVIDIA graphics hardware, which does not support 3-D acceleration. Efforts are underway to patch the binary-only, 3-D-aware XFree driver available from NVIDIA.

Optimizing Applications

The Xbox hardware details are quite impressive, enough for playing DVD or DivX video in Linux. But for optimal performance, you should try to optimize the compilation of your applications for the actual hardware. The machine's Celeron is a Pentium III class CPU, and it supports the 686 instruction set, as well as MMX and SSE. Applications, including mplayer, detect this automatically. If you use the nvdrv XFree driver, you can enable GLX support for video applications. mplayer, for instance, is fastest in X with the nvdrv driver, even faster than it is in framebuffer mode. Also, keep in mind that you should decrease the hardware resolution instead of making the application scale the video output. In 640×480 mode, the PlayStation emulator epsx runs quite well with the picture scaled to 400 × 300 pixels.

Figure 5. A German data center is using an Xbox-based Domino Server, running a clustered environment with Domino on an IBM pSeries. The Xbox is the small system on the left.

Although the Xbox is equipped with only 64MB of RAM—which can be extended to 128MB with excellent soldering skills—desktop environments, such as GNOME and KDE, and applications like OpenOffice.org run quite well. With the help of VMware, you even can use MS-DOS and Windows 95/98/NT/2000 on the Xbox. With a minimal X window, no desktop environment and no window manager, you can run Windows with up to 48MB of RAM.

Conclusion

With 1:1 ports of common Linux distributions for the PC and all major Linux applications running on the Xbox, it is ready for use on a desktop computer, a server or a multimedia device. With its excellent hardware and PC compatibility, there is more than simple hack value to it.

Resources

Michael Steil is studying computer science at the TU Muenchen, Germany. He initiated the Xbox Linux Project in May 2002 and is maintaining it. He can be reached through his web site, www.michael-steil.de, or via e-mail, mist@c64.org.

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Very interesting

Jesus's picture

Very interesting, but there is a mistake: a Intel processor is Celeron or Pentium III, It can't be both at same time. Celeron and Pentium are trademarks of Intel for different microprocessors. Look at http://www.intel.com/products/processor/index.htm

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