Mod chips are black-market add-ons that typically have to be soldered to the main circuit board of a game console. Once installed, they bypass security measures built into the machine, allowing the console to play legally and illegally copied games, import titles and homebrew software.
The new X-ecuter chip for the Xbox includes several new design components, including a layout that requires soldering of only nine connection points, compared with 20 in the Xbox mod chips.
The X-ecuter also has a provision for an on/off switch that would disable the mod chip. That feature has attracted significant interest from would-be hackers concerned that Xbox Live, Microsoft's upcoming online service for the console, will include diagnostics intended to detect the presence of modified game machines.
"It is definitely possible for them to check some things, but whether or not they will is the question, said Dan "SiliconIce" Johnson, founder of the XboxHacker Web site. "It would seem as long as a user is paying their fees and (Microsoft) makes money, they would not care about modded Xboxes. I think we'll have to wait until launch for the whole story."
A Microsoft representative said Xbox Live would not include specific diagnostics to detect mod chips but would employ "military-grade security" to prevent hacking and other threats. The representative declined to specify any action Microsoft was taking against mod chip makers but said the company would vigorously protect its intellectual property.
Microsoft was implicated in the closure of an early mod chipmaker, but rival Sony has been the most visible console maker in fighting mod chips, filing several suits in the United Kingdom. A Canadian man waslast month for selling mod chips for the company's PlayStation 2 system, but Sony an Australian case that attempted to apply copyright-protection laws similar to the controversial U.S. Digital Millenium Copyright Act.