The original Xbox is, to me, an iconic piece of gaming history and I have many fond memories playing its games. It wasn’t long after its release however, that its security system was completely broken and unsigned software (e.g. Linux!) was able to run on it.

Xbox-Console-Set by Evan-Amos

I recently wanted to do a bit of reverse-engineering and so I decided to deconstruct the boot ROM to better understand the Xbox security system. In this article, I will present the high-level boot flow of the system, the disassembled ROM code, pseudocode for the disassembly, along with some thoughts.

It should be known that there is essentially no new information presented in this article. The many flaws of the Xbox security system have already been well documented years ago by some really smart people. That said, I am not aware of a similar disassembly of the ROM, so perhaps this article will serve as a guide for others who are interested.

Please note that this article does not cover how to dump the ROM image. For clues on how to do that, please see Bunnie’s excellent bus tap work or the A20-line hack described in 17 Mistakes Microsoft Made in the Xbox Security System.

Legal Disclaimer: This article was written for educational purposes only and is not intended to promote copyright infringement. Sensitive information including the RC4 key and decrypted 2bl signature are redacted.


Before getting into it, I would like to extend a very special thanks the following people and groups who made all of this possible:


I’m assuming that the reader has at least a basic familiarity with PC architecture and the C programming language.

Xbox Hardware

Before looking at the software, let’s take a quick look at the Xbox hardware.

Xbox-Console-Open-Drives by Evan-Amos

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the original Xbox Alpha development systems were essentially PCs. The Xbox that eventually landed on retail shelves carried over much of this PC legacy.

Major Components

For the time of its release, and for the money it cost to buy one, the original Xbox has fairly impressive specs:

  • Processor: Intel Pentium III “Copermine-based” @ 733 MHz (seen in blue below)
  • Memory: 64 MiB DDR SDRAM @ 200 MHz (seen in green below)
  • Storage: DVD-ROM Drive (above, left), 8 or 10 GB HDD (above, right)
  • Graphics: 233 MHz nVidia NV2A Graphics Controller
  • Networking: 100 MBit Ethernet

Source: Wikipedia

Xbox-Motherboard-Rev1 by Evan-Amos

Some other components relevant to discussion of the bootflow include:

Non-Volatile Storage


In addition to its documented features, the MCPX (seen in red above) contains a ROM which stores the very first instructions executed by the processor when the Xbox is switched on. These instructions make up what is called the First-Stage Bootloader.

The 512 bytes at addresses 0xfffffe00 through 0xffffffff are connected to the ROM. Reading from these addresses will not read from system memory but instead read from the boot ROM.


The Xbox also has a 1 MiB flash memory chip (seen in yellow above) that contains the Second-Stage Bootloader, the Kernel, and the X-codes (more on that in a moment).

The 16 MiB from 0xff000000 through 0xffffffff are connected to flash and so reading from this region will read from the flash device. Note that the flash device is actually only 1 MiB in size and repeats throughout the 16 MiB range.

A keen observer will notice that the ROM and flash ranges overlap. If enabled, the ROM will take precedence in the overlapping region.

Overview of the Xbox Boot Process

Now that we have a basic understanding of the hardware, let’s look at the overall boot process; that is, what happens from an “off” state to running a game.

  1. First-Stage Bootloader

    Upon system startup (typically called “reset”), the first-stage bootloader is executed. This bootloader will perform basic system initialization, then decrypt and transfer control to the Second-Stage Bootloader.

  2. Second-Stage Bootloader

    The Second-Stage Bootloader (sometimes called “2bl”), will decrypt, decompress, and transfer control to the kernel.

  3. Kernel

    The kernel is always present in system memory and is responsible for managing system resources and providing a hardware-abstraction layer for the dashboard and titles (executables).

    If there is no disc present in the DVD-ROM drive on the Xbox, the kernel will launch the dashboard (stored on the HDD). If a disc is present, the kernel will launch the title (executable) located on the disc.

  4. Dashboard

    The dashboard is the application that presents the primary user interface for the Xbox. The dashboard also has a music player that can play/rip CDs, a video player that can play DVDs, a storage manager, and a settings manager.

  5. Title

    The Title is the main application, typically a game, on a DVD-ROM disc.

First-Stage Bootloader Steps

With the high-level boot overview in mind, let’s break down the first-stage. These are the major steps, in-order, of the First-Stage Bootloader:

  1. Switch to Protected Mode
  2. Perform Basic System Initialization (X-codes)
  3. Initialize MTRRs
  4. Setup Caching
  5. Decrypt the Second-Stage Bootloader
  6. Jump to the Second-Stage Bootloader

Switch to Protected Mode

Reset Vector

On x86 systems, CPU execution begins at the Reset Vector. The Reset Vector is located at the physical address 0xfffffff0.

Translating the Reset Vector to an offset in the ROM yields 0x1f0. This is a good place to begin disassembling the ROM.

000001F0  EBC6              jmp short 0x1b8

The first instruction is a short jump to offset 0x1b8 in the ROM. This offset translates to the physical address 0xffffffb8.

Load the GDT/IDT

Following the control flow at offset 0x1b8 in the ROM:

FFFFFFB8  662E0F0116F4FF    o32 lgdt [cs:0xfff4]
FFFFFFBF  662E0F011EF4FF    o32 lidt [cs:0xfff4]

These two instructions first load the Global Descriptor Table (GDT) then the Interrupt Descriptor Table (IDT). The offset specified in each of these instructions is the offset in the physical address space. In the ROM, this offset translates to 0x1f4.

00001f0 eb c6 8b ff 18 00 d8 ff ff ff 80 c2 04 b0 02 ee
                    ^---^ ^---------^
                    Limit    Base

Accounting for little-endian encoding, this reveals:

Table Base Limit
GDT 0xffffffd8 0x0018
IDT 0xffffffd8 0x0018

Now, lets read the table. Located at 0x1d8 in the ROM.

00001d8 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 ff ff 00 00 00 9b cf 00
00001e8 ff ff 00 00 00 93 cf 00 ...

I will spare you the breakdown and just say that these bytes encode a table which sets up a flat address space model where all 4 GiB of address space is addressed linearly and can be read/written/executed. See the Intel Software Developer Manuals for more information about address space models or how to decode these bytes.

Notice that both the GDT and IDT are the same table. While the above encodes a valid GDT, it does not encode a valid IDT. It’s unclear why this was done.

Switch to Protected Mode

Continuing the disassembly, the next few instructions set the Protected Mode Enable flag (bit 0) in CR0, then jump to physical address 0xfffffe00 completing the entry to Protected Mode.

FFFFFFC6  0F20C0            mov eax,cr0
FFFFFFC9  0C01              or al,0x1
FFFFFFCB  0F22C0            mov cr0,eax
FFFFFFCE  66EA00FEFFFF0800  jmp dword 0x8:0xfffffe00

Now, executing at 0xfffffe00, the Data, Extra, and Stack Segment Registers are loaded. Each Segment Register is loaded with the value 0x10 which is the offset into the GDT of the data segment (which is still 0-4GiB).

FFFFFE00  33C0              xor eax,eax
FFFFFE02  B010              mov al,0x10
FFFFFE04  8ED8              mov ds,eax
FFFFFE06  8EC0              mov es,eax
FFFFFE08  8ED0              mov ss,eax

Notice that Code Segment Register CS is not loaded here. That is because it is loaded automatically by the far jump into protected mode.

Basic System Initialization

Because complete system initialization requires significantly more size than the 512 bytes the boot ROM provides, and because the boot ROM cannot be updated in the field, Microsoft devised a clever solution.

Instead of putting the instructions to initialize the system in the boot ROM, and instead of simply putting the instructions in flash (which would compromise security), an interpreter was added to the First-Stage Bootloader providing a limited number of operations. This interpreter understands twelve basic commands which are read from flash at 0xff000080 (offset 0x80 in flash).

The commands read by the interpreter have been dubbed X-codes.

Interestingly, no authentication is performed on the X-codes and they can easily be overwritten by reprogramming the flash device. Knowing this, some precautions were taken in the interpreter to limit exploitability of the interpreter.

Interpreter Command Format

Each command is 9 bytes in length and has the following encoding:

Offset Size (Bytes) Value
0x00 1 Opcode
0x01 4 Operand 1
0x05 4 Operand 2

Start of Interpreter

The code of the interpreter begins at offset 0x0a in the ROM, physical address 0xfffffe0a on the system.

The first instruction sets up the interpreter command pointer.

FFFFFE0A  BE800000FF        mov esi,0xff000080


op_ptr = 0xff000080;

Note the following register usage convention for the following interpreter assembly code:

Register Usage
AL Opcode
EBX Operand 1
ECX Operand 2
EDI Operation Result
ESI Pointer to Current Operation
EBP Scratch Register

Main Loop

Next, the main loop of the interpreter is entered.

At the top of the loop, the Opcode, Operand 1, and Operand 2 are loaded into AL, EBX, and ECX, respectively.

FFFFFE0F  8A06              mov al,[esi]
FFFFFE11  8B5E01            mov ebx,[esi+0x1]
FFFFFE14  8B4E05            mov ecx,[esi+0x5]

In the loop, the opcode is checked to see which command should be executed, then that command is executed. If the opcode is unknown, it is simply skipped over.

At the end of the loop, the operation pointer is incremented and control returns to the top of the loop.

FFFFFEB4  83C609            add esi,byte +0x9
FFFFFEB7  E953FFFFFF        jmp dword 0xfffffe0f


while (1) {
    opcode    = *op_ptr;
    operand_1 = *((uint32_t *)(op_ptr+1));
    operand_2 = *((uint32_t *)(op_ptr+5));

    switch (opcode) {
        /* ... */

    op_ptr += 9;

What follows in the disassembly are the instructions to detect and execute each command.

Opcode 0x07: Chain Command

This command allows re-using the result of the last operation as operand 2 to another command specified in operand 1.

FFFFFE17  3C07              cmp al,0x7
FFFFFE19  7508              jnz 0xfffffe23
FFFFFE1B  8BD1              mov edx,ecx
FFFFFE1D  8AC3              mov al,bl
FFFFFE1F  8BDA              mov ebx,edx
FFFFFE21  8BCF              mov ecx,edi

Pseudocode (context: before the switch statement above):

if (opcode == 0x07) {
    opcode    = operand_1;
    operand_1 = operand_2;
    operand_2 = result;

Opcode 0x02: Read from Memory

Simply read a double word from memory. The value is stored in the result register.

FFFFFE23  3C02              cmp al,0x2
FFFFFE25  750D              jnz 0xfffffe34
FFFFFE27  81E3FFFFFF0F      and ebx,0xfffffff
FFFFFE2D  8B3B              mov edi,[ebx]
FFFFFE2F  E980000000        jmp dword 0xfffffeb4


case 0x02:
    result = *(operand_1 & 0x0fffffff);

Notice here that special care is given by the interpreter to prevent reading from any address above 0x0fffffff (255 MiB). This was likely done to prevent “malicious” X-codes from reading the contents of the boot ROM region directly.

Opcode 0x03: Write to Memory

Likewise, a command to write to memory is available.

FFFFFE34  3C03              cmp al,0x3
FFFFFE36  7504              jnz 0xfffffe3c
FFFFFE38  890B              mov [ebx],ecx
FFFFFE3A  EB78              jmp short 0xfffffeb4


case 0x03:
    *((uint32_t *)operand_1) = operand_2;

Opcode 0x06: AND then OR Result

Allows modifying the result register directly. Bits can be cleared using the mask in operand 1 and bits can be set with the mask in operand 2.

FFFFFE3C  3C06              cmp al,0x6
FFFFFE3E  7506              jnz 0xfffffe46
FFFFFE40  23FB              and edi,ebx
FFFFFE42  0BF9              or edi,ecx
FFFFFE44  EB6E              jmp short 0xfffffeb4


case 0x06:
    result = (result & operand_1) | operand_2;

Opcode 0x04: Write to PCI Configuration Space

A command is available that can write to PCI Configuration Space registers. This is useful for device initialization.

FFFFFE46  3C04              cmp al,0x4
FFFFFE48  751A              jnz 0xfffffe64
FFFFFE4A  81FB80080080      cmp ebx,0x80000880
FFFFFE50  7503              jnz 0xfffffe55
FFFFFE52  83E1FD            and ecx,byte -0x3
FFFFFE55  8BC3              mov eax,ebx
FFFFFE57  66BAF80C          mov dx,0xcf8
FFFFFE5B  EF                out dx,eax
FFFFFE5C  80C204            add dl,0x4
FFFFFE5F  8BC1              mov eax,ecx
FFFFFE61  EF                out dx,eax
FFFFFE62  EB50              jmp short 0xfffffeb4


case 0x04:
    if (operand_1 == 0x80000880) {
        operand_2 &= 0xfffffffd;
    outl(operand_1, 0xcf8);
    outl(operand_2, 0xcfc);

Notice here that special care is given by the interpreter to the PCI register at address 0x80000880 (0xcf8 index mechanism), preventing the setting of bit 1 of PCI Bus 0 Device 1 Function 0 Register 0x80.

It was discovered (not by me) that this bit would “turn the ROM off” or otherwise disable address decoding to the ROM whenever set.

Of course, working around this limitation is trivial. This bit could very easily be set by using opcode 0x11 (Write to I/O) to write to 0xcf8/0xcfc directly. Indeed this is known as the “MIST” hack.

Opcode 0x05: Read from PCI Configuration Space

Likewise, there is a command to read from PCI Configuration Space.

FFFFFE64  3C05              cmp al,0x5
FFFFFE66  750F              jnz 0xfffffe77
FFFFFE68  8BC3              mov eax,ebx
FFFFFE6A  66BAF80C          mov dx,0xcf8
FFFFFE6E  EF                out dx,eax
FFFFFE6F  80C204            add dl,0x4
FFFFFE72  ED                in eax,dx
FFFFFE73  8BF8              mov edi,eax
FFFFFE75  EB3D              jmp short 0xfffffeb4


case 0x05:
    outl(operand_1, 0xcf8);
    result = inl(0xcfc);

Opcode 0x08: Branch (JNE)

A simple branch mechanism that allows optionally modifying the command pointer by adding the value in operand 2 if the value in operand 1 matches the current result value.

FFFFFE77  3C08              cmp al,0x8
FFFFFE79  7508              jnz 0xfffffe83
FFFFFE7B  3BFB              cmp edi,ebx
FFFFFE7D  7435              jz 0xfffffeb4
FFFFFE7F  03F1              add esi,ecx
FFFFFE81  EB31              jmp short 0xfffffeb4


case 0x08:
    if (result != operand_1) {
        op_ptr += operand_2;

Opcode 0x09: Jump

A simple jump mechanism that allows modifying the command pointer by adding the value in operand 2.

FFFFFE83  3C09              cmp al,0x9
FFFFFE85  7504              jnz 0xfffffe8b
FFFFFE87  03F1              add esi,ecx
FFFFFE89  EB29              jmp short 0xfffffeb4


case 0x09:
    op_ptr += operand_2;

Opcode 0x10: Read/Write Scratch Register

The interpreter allows for modifying a very small scratch pad using this one command. Bits can be cleared using the mask in operand 1 and bits can be set with the mask in operand 2.

FFFFFE8B  3C10              cmp al,0x10
FFFFFE8D  7508              jnz 0xfffffe97
FFFFFE8F  23EB              and ebp,ebx
FFFFFE91  0BE9              or ebp,ecx
FFFFFE93  8BFD              mov edi,ebp
FFFFFE95  EB1D              jmp short 0xfffffeb4


case 0x10:
    scratch = (scratch & operand_1) | operand_2;
    result = scratch;

Opcode 0x11: Write to I/O Port

A command to write to an I/O port.

FFFFFE97  3C11              cmp al,0x11
FFFFFE99  7507              jnz 0xfffffea2
FFFFFE9B  8BD3              mov edx,ebx
FFFFFE9D  8BC1              mov eax,ecx
FFFFFE9F  EE                out dx,al
FFFFFEA0  EB12              jmp short 0xfffffeb4


case 0x11:
    outb(operand_2, operand_1);

Opcode 0x12: Read from I/O Port

Likewise, a command to read from an I/O port.

FFFFFEA2  3C12              cmp al,0x12
FFFFFEA4  7508              jnz 0xfffffeae
FFFFFEA6  8BD3              mov edx,ebx
FFFFFEA8  EC                in al,dx
FFFFFEA9  0FB6F8            movzx edi,al
FFFFFEAC  EB06              jmp short 0xfffffeb4


case 0x12:
    result = inb(operand_1);

Opcode 0xEE: Exit Interpreter

When executed, the interpreter stops processing and jumps to 0xfffffebc.

FFFFFEAE  3CEE              cmp al,0xee
FFFFFEB0  7502              jnz 0xfffffeb4
FFFFFEB2  EB08              jmp short 0xfffffebc


case 0xee:
    goto enable_caching;

Undefined Opcodes

Opcodes 0x00, 0x01, 0x0A-0x0F, 0x13-0xED, and 0xEF-0xFF are undefined and will be ignored by the interpreter.



Summary of Opcodes

Opcode Operation Argument 1 Argument 2
0x02 Read Memory Address N/A
0x03 Write Memory Address Value
0x04 Write PCI Config Space Address Value
0x05 Read PCI Config Space Address N/A
0x06 AND then OR AND Bitmask OR Bitmask
0x07 Chain Command Next OP Next Arg 1
0x08 Branch (JNE) Condition Offset
0x09 Jump N/A Offset
0x10 Read/Write Scratch Reg AND Bitmask OR Bitmask
0x11 Write IO 16-Bit Port 8-Bit Value
0x12 Read IO 16-Bit Port N/A
0xEE Exit Interpreter N/A N/A

Initialize MTRRs

Clear Variable MTRRs (MSR 0x200-0x20F)

Referencing the Intel Software Developer Manuals Chapter System Programming Guide Chapter 35.1, MSRs 0x200-0x20F are the Variable MTRR Mask/Base 0 through 7.

FFFFFEBC  33C9              xor ecx,ecx
FFFFFEBE  B502              mov ch,0x2
FFFFFEC0  33C0              xor eax,eax
FFFFFEC2  33D2              xor edx,edx
FFFFFEC4  0F30              wrmsr
FFFFFEC6  41                inc ecx
FFFFFEC7  80F90F            cmp cl,0xf
FFFFFECA  76F8              jna 0xfffffec4

Set Default MTRR Type (MSR 0x2FF)

FFFFFECC  B1FF              mov cl,0xff
FFFFFECE  8BC3              mov eax,ebx
FFFFFED0  0F30              wrmsr

Notice here that EBX is not being set before writing to the MSR. It is left over from the last operand 1 of X-code processing. This has the flexibility of letting the X-codes decide what the default type of caching is. I’m not sure yet if this was the intended behavior.

Enable Caching

From the Intel Software Developer Manuals:

If the NW and CD flags are clear, write-back is enabled for the whole of system memory, but may be restricted for individual pages or regions of memory by other cache-control mechanisms.

Clear CD flag (bit 30) and NW flag (bit 29) of CR0.

FFFFFED2  0F20C0            mov eax,cr0
FFFFFED5  25FFFFFF9F        and eax,0x9fffffff
FFFFFEDA  0F22C0            mov cr0,eax

Load the Second-Stage Bootloader

After the X-code interpreter has finished running and caching has been enabled, the Second-Stage Bootloader is read from flash then decrypted and saved into memory using the RC4 stream cipher.

RC4 Key-Scheduling Algorithm (KSA)

The RC4 Key-Scheduling Algorithm is used to initialize the RC4 “S” array.

Register Usage
EAX Scratch Register
ECX S Iterator (i)
EDX S Cursor
ESI S Pointer (0x8f000)
FFFFFEDD  B800010203        mov eax,0x3020100
FFFFFEE2  B940000000        mov ecx,0x40
FFFFFEE7  BE00F00800        mov esi,0x8f000
FFFFFEEC  8BD6              mov edx,esi
FFFFFEEE  8902              mov [edx],eax
FFFFFEF0  83C204            add edx,byte +0x4
FFFFFEF3  0504040404        add eax,0x4040404
FFFFFEF8  49                dec ecx
FFFFFEF9  75F3              jnz 0xfffffeee


uint8_t  *s = (uint8_t *)0x8f000;
uint32_t  i;

for (i = 0; i <= 255; i++) {
    s[i] = i;

It may not be immediately obvious, but the assembly code is optimized to write double words instead of writing each byte.

Register Usage:

Register Usage
EBP Key Pointer (0xffffffa5)
ECX Key Iterator (i % keylength)
ESI S Pointer (0x8f000)
EDI S Iterator (i)
EAX Scratch Register
EDX Scratch Register
FFFFFEFB  33C9              xor ecx,ecx
FFFFFEFD  33FF              xor edi,edi
FFFFFEFF  BDA5FFFFFF        mov ebp,0xffffffa5
FFFFFF04  888E00010000      mov [esi+0x100],cl
FFFFFF0A  888E01010000      mov [esi+0x101],cl
FFFFFF10  33DB              xor ebx,ebx
FFFFFF12  33D2              xor edx,edx
FFFFFF14  33C0              xor eax,eax
FFFFFF16  8A1437            mov dl,[edi+esi]
FFFFFF19  8A440D00          mov al,[ebp+ecx+0x0]
FFFFFF1D  02D8              add bl,al
FFFFFF1F  41                inc ecx
FFFFFF20  02DA              add bl,dl
FFFFFF22  47                inc edi
FFFFFF23  8A0433            mov al,[ebx+esi]
FFFFFF26  884437FF          mov [edi+esi-0x1],al
FFFFFF2A  83F910            cmp ecx,byte +0x10
FFFFFF2D  881433            mov [ebx+esi],dl
FFFFFF30  7502              jnz 0xffffff34
FFFFFF32  33C9              xor ecx,ecx
FFFFFF34  81FF00010000      cmp edi,0x100
FFFFFF3A  72D6              jc 0xffffff12


uint8_t *key = (uint8_t *)0xffffffa5; /* ROM offset 0x1a5. */
uint8_t j, t;

/* It is unclear why values s[0x100..0x101] are being set to 0. They are
 * not modified by the code, but later these will be be used as the initial
 * i, j values in the PRGA.
s[0x100] = 0x00;
s[0x101] = 0x00;

for (i = 0, j = 0; i <= 255; i++) {
    j = j + s[i] + key[i%16];

    /* Swap s[i] and s[j] */
    t    = s[i];
    s[i] = s[j];
    s[j] = t;

Pseudo-Random Generation Algorithm (PRGA)

Register Usage:

Register Usage
EAX Scratch
EBP Remaining Length of Message (0x6000)
EDI Message Iterator
ESI S Pointer (0x8f000)
FFFFFF3C  33C9              xor ecx,ecx
FFFFFF3E  33D2              xor edx,edx
FFFFFF40  33FF              xor edi,edi
FFFFFF42  33C0              xor eax,eax
FFFFFF44  BE00F00800        mov esi,0x8f000
FFFFFF49  BD00600000        mov ebp,0x6000
FFFFFF4E  8A8E00010000      mov cl,[esi+0x100]
FFFFFF54  8A9601010000      mov dl,[esi+0x101]
FFFFFF5A  FEC1              inc cl
FFFFFF5C  8A040E            mov al,[esi+ecx]
FFFFFF5F  02D0              add dl,al
FFFFFF61  8A1C16            mov bl,[esi+edx]
FFFFFF64  881C0E            mov [esi+ecx],bl
FFFFFF67  880416            mov [esi+edx],al
FFFFFF6A  02C3              add al,bl
FFFFFF6C  8A9F009EFFFF      mov bl,[edi-0x6200]
FFFFFF72  8A0406            mov al,[esi+eax]
FFFFFF75  32D8              xor bl,al
FFFFFF77  889F00000900      mov [edi+0x90000],bl
FFFFFF7D  47                inc edi
FFFFFF7E  4D                dec ebp
FFFFFF7F  75D9              jnz 0xffffff5a


uint8_t  *encrypted = (uint8_t*)0xFFFF9E00; /* 2bl */
uint8_t  *decrypted = (uint8_t*)0x90000; /* Decrypted 2bl Destination */
uint32_t  pos;

/* As noted above, s[0x100..0x101] were set to 0 earlier, but have not been
 * modified since. The RC4 algorithm defines i and j both to be set to 0
 * before PRGA begins. */
i = s[0x100];
j = s[0x101];

for (pos = 0; pos < 0x6000; pos++) {
    /* Update i, j. */
    i  = (i + 1) & 0xff;
    j += s[i];

    /* Swap s[i] and s[j]. */
    t    = s[i];
    s[i] = s[j];
    s[j] = t;

    /* Decrypt message and write output. */
    decrypted[pos] = encrypted[pos] ^ s[ s[i] + s[j] ];

Check Signature

Now that the Second-Stage Bootloader has been loaded, a quick sanity-check is performed: a “magic” signature is verified. If the signature doesn’t match, control goes to the error handler (see below). (Signature redacted.)

FFFFFF81  A1E45F0900        mov eax,[0x95fe4]
FFFFFF86  3D________        cmp eax,0x________
FFFFFF8B  7507              jnz 0xffffff94


if (*((uint32_t *) 0x95fe4) != MAGIC_SIGNATURE) {
    goto error_handler;

Otherwise, control goes to the 2bl entry point (0x90000):

FFFFFF8D  A100000900        mov eax,[0x90000]
FFFFFF92  FFE0              jmp eax

Error Handler

FFFFFF94  B880080080        mov eax,0x80000880
FFFFFF99  66BAF80C          mov dx,0xcf8
FFFFFF9D  EF                out dx,eax
FFFFFF9E  EAFAFFFFFF0800    jmp dword 0x8:0xfffffffa
FFFFFFFA  80C204            add dl,0x4
FFFFFFFD  B002              mov al,0x2
FFFFFFFF  EE                out dx,al

Notice that the PCI Configuration Space register at Bus 0, Device 1, Function 0, Register 0x80 is again given special care: the bit that was not supposed to set with the 0x04 opcode is now being set in the error condition. Setting this bit in the error condition was presumably done to prevent reading the ROM in case of an error.

Cleverly, this error handler is split across the ROM such that the last instruction is located at the highest-most address. When EIP rolls over to 0x00000000 it is then expected that the CPU halt. This is the behavior on AMD processors but, on Intel processors that shipped with the Xbox, execution happily continues at 0x00000000.

Observing this behavior, it would be possible to replace some existing Xcodes with ones that program new x86 instructions and then intentionally cause the 2bl to fail the signature check. The system will eventually begin executing the modified code. Indeed, this is known as the “Visor” hack, after the person who discovered it.


So that is how the Xbox Boot ROM works. It’s not very complicated, but it was fun to deconstruct.

This article only briefly touched on a couple of the vulnerabilities of the Xbox. For a much more in-depth security analysis, please refer to Michael Steil’s 17 Mistakes Microsoft Made in the Xbox Security System.

If you have any feedback or would like to correct a mistake that I made, please drop a comment below.