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Microsoft changes Xbox configuration

The software giant changes the guts of its game console in a move intended to thwart hackers and lower manufacturing costs.

Microsoft has changed the internal configuration of its Xbox game console, a move intended to thwart hackers and lower manufacturing costs.

Word of the changes began spreading on sites devoted Xbox hacking, with some buyers of recently manufactured Xbox units complaining that mod chips designed for the original console won't work now.

Microsoft Xbox spokeswoman Molly O'Donnell confirmed that the company had made minor changes to the console's configuration as part of ongoing efforts to "increase security and reduce overall costs."

O'Donnell declined to specify the specific changes but said they include measures intended to boost security. "They (Microsoft's Xbox hardware team) know the hacker stuff that's out there, and they're always trying to increase security," she said.

Contract manufacturer Flextronics' Xbox assembly plant in China has switched to the new configuration, and the Guadalajara, Mexico, plant that supplies Xbox units for North American consumption will make the change soon, O'Donnell said.

The newly configured units were first spotted in Australia, where Xbox hackers spotted slight changes to the main circuit board that likely will make it impossible to use current "mod chips"--add-ons that bypass security measures built into the hardware.

Hackers have embraced mod chips as a vehicle for running custom software, legally and illegally copied game discs, and imported games. Microsoft has tried several tactics to discourage such hacks.

The new configuration reportedly also uses a different type of BIOS, the basic software that controls the console's operation, and eliminates the fan that had been used to cool the console's custom Nvidia graphics processor.

An Australian hobbyist posting on the Xbox Hacker site said he tried all currently available mod chips on the new Xbox configuration, and none worked.

British Xbox hacker Tony Dalton-Richards said that mod chips that can be upgraded by gamers will simply need a new BIOS and that those without usable memory will have to be remanufactured. He said the revision primarily seems to be aimed at cutting Microsoft's manufacturing costs, "but I guess that they also took the opportunity to throw a spanner in the works for mod chips at the same time."