Introduction: Hacking the Xbox 360 Controller

Picture of Hacking the Xbox 360 Controller

So you read my Xbox S controller tutorial, then you went out and tried to mod a 360 controller. Well, it's a little bit different.

Here I highlight the differences and show you how to get a microcontroller to perform different button functions with the new controller. And more importantly, I show you how to stuff it all into that sleek little case.

This tutorial covers the wired controller.

If you look at the pictures below, you will see step by step how to install using the smt optocoupler. But refer to step 4 to see how to make the smt optocoupler.

Step 1: The Buttons

Picture of The Buttons

Here, I show your the places where to access the X and Y button signals. The switching is different, so we need to switch these with use of optocouplers. Unlike relays, optocouplers are unidirectional, so we have to pay attention to how we hook them up.

What's an optocoupler? An optocoupler is a little light emitting diode placed next to a phototransistor in a plastic chip package. Here, I'm using the 4n27, which is a 6 pin device. I am using the DIP package, meaning it's full size with through-hole pins. Could I save a lot of space by using a surface mount part? Well, sort of. Surface mount mainly reduces the height of your circuit, rather than the width... especially considering the extra circuit board you would need. As you will see if you open up your controller, there isn't a lot of space here, but just south of the B button, there is a very tall space that we can utilize.

You can see that I placed a 1k axial resistor onto the R trigger potentiometer output so that it sticks str8 up. This makes it easier to acess after we have glued on the other chips, and if you clip it right, there's just barely room enough inside the case for it to stand str8 up like that.

The chip on the bottom is a microcontroller. It is deadbugged, with the notch pointing up.

The chips on the right are two stacked photocouplers.

Step 2: What the Hell Is That Thing?

Picture of What the Hell Is That Thing?

This is a pictorial showing how to cram two dip optocouplers inside the controller. After you finish this, refer to the schematic in later step for wiring.

Step 3: Theres Two Traces for Each Button! WTF?

The switching is done differently on the 360 controller. There will be two traces for each button. We can't just ground/pullup one trace to make the X or Y function happen.

The trace on the left of the button will transmit a signal to the trace on the right of the button. This is important. As discussed before, the optocoupler is unidirectional. Do you see what I mean?

So for a common 6 pin photocoupler, such as the 4n27, pin 5 is the phototransistor collector. This must attach to the left trace for the respective button. Pin 4 is the phototransistor emittor. This has to be connected to the trace to the right of the button.

Now pin 1 of the coupler is the anode of the light emitting diode that is hidden inside of the chip. This means we can attach pin 1 to our positive rail.

Pin 2 is the cathode. So we can attach this to our chip... But wait a minute. If we won't put a resistor in there, somewhere, we will burn out the diode or our microcontroller.

Pin 3 is normally unused, so we can solder a small smt resistor between pin 2 and pin 3. Then we can attach out microcontroller output pin to pin 3 of the coupler.

Step 4: SMT Version

Picture of SMT Version

So ok, I found these really really small tsop smt dual channel optocouplers. I had to give these a go, they just look so neat. Follow the pics to see how I made a mini interface using this part and a bit of protoboard.

Step 5: Where to Put the External Buttons

If you use the type of switch commonly called the 6mm tactile switch, as I do, there is a nice place for it to go.

I find that the length of the cap should be around 6-7mm tall for best feel. My buttons are actually 9.5mm, and I have found that with a sharp razor blade, you can cut them down to the desired length.

The proper place, IMO, for the buttons, is just about level with the middle screw line, just at the crease where the handles start to form. This spot also just happens to have enough space for placement. Any further out or much further up, and you will run into space problems.

Step 6: Schemmy

Picture of Schemmy

The top chip is the optocoupler, a 4n27 in this case. Actually it's two of them, stacked. The outer leads represent the bottom coupler. The inner leads are the top coupler. The pins are bent up, in this scemmy.

The bottom chip is the microcontroller. It is deadbugged, thus the numbering is backwards. The pins are not bent in this case, but left as is.


mylittleponybro (author)2015-12-28

what the hell.

Hansd7 (author)2015-10-11

Very interesting. We as Gadget and Gizmo lovers are admirers of Xbox 360. We did an article on Xbox 360 as well.

Great Stuff.

blahblah01 (author)2009-11-03

yes I agree, hacking things can be totally fun and esciting, but what was the purpose/intention of this instructable?

mgarvin (author)blahblah012011-08-07

I am also wondering what this does... Soldering and confusing work for no apparent result.

Satella (author)blahblah012011-05-01

Im agree with you.... what was all that?

aiden120000 (author)2008-01-08

i have a set of torx drivers, and i have the right size, but the screws have a little pin in the middle. where can i get a driver that can open thewese screws

ubr.bzkr (author)aiden1200002009-03-14

i got a neat security screwdirver bit set from harbor freight. it has the right bit for this. it comes in a red rubber like case.

codydean (author)ubr.bzkr2011-03-22

but are they long enough. I think i have the same set that dosent work.

ubr.bzkr (author)codydean2011-04-16

Well they are a little short, mostly because they are too fat. you can get most of the screws out with the bit but i remember i needed to use another bit for two of them in the handles.

julioamezaga (author)aiden1200002010-08-30

snap off the nipple with a tiny flat then use the star screwdriver

mythen (author)aiden1200002010-06-23

The screws are tamper proof torx. You can bypass the need for this set by using a drill and drilling the nipple off but be careful not to damage the threading.

Bazooka_Rob (author)aiden1200002008-03-10

What I did to solve this problem was Take a small drill bit, small enough to fit in the torx slot, then put it in the trusty old dremel and drill out the "tab" inside the torx. I know it sounds hard but the tab will instantly break off. now you can just use the regular torx without a hitch. good luck

klee27x (author)aiden1200002008-01-08

You can take a dremel to a regular torx driver. Use a regular cutting disk, the thin kind. Cut a str8 line into the end of the bit. Aim the cut so that it completely obliterates one pair of opposing teeth. This leaves 4 teeth intact.

klee27x (author)klee27x2008-02-23

And, in case you missed the obvious point of doing this, it creates a channel wide enough to pass the security post!

aiden120000 (author)klee27x2008-01-12

what kind of elelectric saw thing would you recommend i do this with?. because i dont own a dremel, but my school has an excellent resistant materials departmant

klee27x (author)aiden1200002008-01-13

It has to have a cutting disk thin enough that it can slot the end without ruining more than one set of teeth. It doesn't have to cut very deep. I think any industrial grade saw will be too big. Dremel is probably the only way to go.

Dr.Paj (author)aiden1200002008-02-17

I just used a small flathead and used the pin in the middle to get a good grip on it and just used the flathead to unscrew it.I think I used a 5/64" flathead. Either that one or one size smaller. An added bonus of the flathead is sometimes it just breaks off the pin and you can use a normal Torex to finish up (size 8'ish).

dumdog927 (author)2011-01-31

alright so dont the connectors forthe buttons have a film on it do i need to scratch it off?

puddingpants (author)2010-11-11

i took it a step further and upgraded the thumbsticks by takeing the old tumbstick assemblely out and soldering a playstation one in. its alot smoother and easyer to aim in bfbc2 now.

sudmah (author)2010-04-25

i modded my 360 last year. thing is i made it RROD check out my Xbox 360 hackz

caco caco (author)2009-10-04

your instructables is very good i would change the color of my xbox controller

Colonel88 (author)2009-09-09

lol what does this do? I think the thing is just supposed to be "pressing" the x or y button continuosly but im not sure... You could just hookup a 555 timer chip for a rapid fire switch

quad_man10 (author)2009-03-19

what does this do?

nave (author)quad_man102009-07-20

dude i dont think it says!

randomguy96 (author)2009-03-17

What does this do exactly? I don't have time to read the whole thing to figure it out.

benz_z (author)2009-01-31

can you use a 555 timer its more complicated than some wire and a switch but less complicated than this... right (i don't know anything about micro controllers but i do know they can get expensive)

T.E.A. (author)2008-09-11

what does it do?

Hellchild (author)2008-07-19

will it work on the wireless controller too?

klee27x (author)Hellchild2008-08-14

yeah, but there's two different kinds of wireless controller, now. And some of the logic is reversed. You gotta know which kind you're dealing with.

Hellchild (author)klee27x2008-08-14

something like the Halo 3 limited edition controller

timmy1234s (author)Hellchild2008-08-21

dont mess that one up. You cant get them anymore and cost around 60 or 70 bucks.

Hellchild (author)timmy1234s2008-08-22


Cadaoryn (author)2008-04-17

Did you use a picaxe micro-controller?

klee27x (author)Cadaoryn2008-08-14

picaxe is a microcontroller, isn't it? yeah, my first modded controller used a picaxe. They have 1 fewer pin to play with, are slower, more expensive, and have very limited program memory, though.

klee27x (author)Cadaoryn2008-04-20

I have used PicAxes on some of my earlier mods. It's a good chip for this. But literally any microcontroller that can be ICSP'd can be substituted.

SpartanXx666xX (author)klee27x2008-07-19

hey any idea where i can buy the micro controller? also can you provide me with the model or the serial please? I understand i need a 8 pin PIC microcontroller but i need the model or a specific make. thank you

SpartanXx666xX (author)Cadaoryn2008-07-19

hey any idea where i can buy the micro controller? also can you provide me with the model or the serial please? I understand i need a 8 pin PIC microcontroller but i need the model or a specific make. thank you

pdawg (author)2008-08-11

Do you have experience programming chips for an xbox 360 controller? I was wondering if there are controller specific commands or identifiers to learn because I would like to do a rapid fire mod witha 12f683 chip and am trying to figure out how to write the progam. I have a C PIC compiler and a BASIC PIC compiler and a programmer.

klee27x (author)pdawg2008-08-14

There are no specific xbox commands. Just use the ones that come with your software/compiler.

jlk (author)2008-08-13

Great tutorial, although it would really help us newbies if you mentioned in the "intro" the goal of the hack. After completing step 6 and reading some of the comments I understood (?) you are trying to boost X and Y buttons for fast-firing, pre-programmed sequences, etc., depending on PIC firmware. Right?

klee27x (author)jlk2008-08-14

Yeah. I actually made this as instructions for a chip I programmed and sold a long time ago. But it still provides some insight as to how to take control of an xbox controller. The specific mod I created this way was a quadshot/rapidfire/quick reload chip for Halo2. I also made a doubleshot BXR chip. And now I have a chip that you can even record 4 of your own macros, right on the controller! I found Instructables a great way to post detailed instructions at the time. I'm sorry if this isn't in the spirit of "Instructables," but I was mindful not to include any commercial links! I believe a lot of people look at it to figure out how to do their own modding, so I think it still has some value, otherwise I woulda taken it down a long time ago.

Cadaoryn (author)2008-04-24

And one more thing, is your code personal or would you mind sharing it?

Cadaoryn (author)2008-04-21

you should mention that some of the solders are different for a wired controller

Dyer13 (author)2007-06-17

You keep mentioning the value SMD resistors you COULD use, but you never mentioned what value YOU used, so...what value SMD resistor did you use? What kind of IC is the 8 pin one? Where can I get them, besides paying 50 dollars for them on eBay. Is there any way of achieving the same effect using non-programmed IC's and/or transistors?

klee27x (author)Dyer132008-02-24

Oh...the resistor is there to limit current through the LED in the optocoupler. The forward voltage drop of this particular LED is around 1V. The power supply of the controller is 3V, subtract the diode FVD of ~1V from Vdd; 5V-1V = 4V. This is the potential left that will drive the current. You want to limit current to maybe 10mA, so you need to use ohms law and divide 4V by 20mA = 400ohms. But there's a lot of leeway here. I actually am using 604ohm resistors, cuz I bought a reel for cheap. Whatever you have that's between 100 to 1000 ohms will probably be fine.

wiseonexx (author)2007-11-04

How do u get the solder to hold on the trace keys? also would it be a problem if u use a higher gauge wire?

klee27x (author)wiseonexx2008-02-23

Scrape the solder mask off, first. Then flux the joint. Yes, you will have a hard time soldering larger gauge wire. I think it would be futile to try anything larger than 28 AWG.

viruses (author)2007-09-16

I'm really interested on how to modify my 360 Xbox controller but I want to know what is the exact specification of the 8 pin IC (the microcontroller), can you give it to me? thank you for your time.

klee27x (author)viruses2008-02-23

Most folks are finding Atmel AVR to be the easiest to use for folks who are novices. I got into PICs, first, only because they give out free samples. Now I'm hooked.

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