Xbox 360 Cold Cathode Lighting

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Introduction: Xbox 360 Cold Cathode Lighting

Cold Cathode Fluorescent Tubes emit a beautiful glow at night, and this instructable serves to document the process of installing two 4 inch CCFL tubes to the side vents of an Xbox 360.

I believe the results of custom lighting are worth voiding a Xbox 360s warranty, which dismantling the casing will do. Though working on the innards of a $300 piece of electrical equipment, this mod doesn't require much soldering skill, however patience to do the job correctly is a must.

I hope you complete this instructable and can light up night after night of gaming!

**** Disclaimer ****
I am not liable for any damages or injuries that occur from following the instructions of this tutorial. Opening a Xbox 360 will void the Microsoft provided warranty, and there are capacitors and other electrical components that can cause electrical shock. Though it is highly unlikely you will be harmed by the innards of your Xbox 360, be aware that the use of a soldering iron and hot glue gun can be harmful to human skin. Use caution, use common sense, and have a fun time completing this mod

Step 1: Parts Listing

Soldering Iron
Any cheap heat based soldering iron can complete this mod, I used a 15 watt Radioshack iron.

Solder
I suggest .022" Silver Rosin Core Solder for easy flow and solid connections. Can be purchased at a local Radioshack.

Dual 4" Cold Cathode Kit
The main colors to choose from are red, green, or blue. CCFLs require an inverter to step up the voltage to light up the tube, going from a 12 volt source to 680 volts into the tubes. Any kit will come with an inverter, tubes, and switch.

Here are some sites for purchasing the tubes. I have used all of these sites whenever I need CCFLs to shop around for prices, my favorite is MountainMods.com linked below. You can purchase R,G,B from most of them, while more unusual colors (UV, Yellow, Pink) may cost more due to lower demand.

MountainMods has been around for awhile, and has excellent prices on CCFLs in every color. I recommend you seek them out first for their price, selection, and service. Here is their CCFL page.
MountainMods.com Cold Cathodes

Other Sites to Browse:
Dual Blue Kit - Xoxide.com $5.00 + $3.00 shipping
Dual Near-Ultraviolet (UV) Kit - Xoxide.com $8 + $3.00 shipping
Dual Green Kit - Frozencpu.com $10 + $6-8 shipping (Ripoff price)
Dual Red Kit - MountainMods.com - $6 + $4-6 shipping

***Note, I'm not sure what has happened in the past year or so, but it's becoming really hard to find Dual CCFL kits that aren't a complete ripoff (i.e. Above $7 for both Dual 4" and 12" kits). If the links on this page die, since retailers update their urls and deactivate items, find your own kits through google. I've bought over 50 CCFL kits, no matter where I buy them from, they are all the exact same tubes and inverters (Some places, like Oznium.com which I do not reccommend, put new boxes on the inverters, which doesn't make a difference), a higher price does not mean higher quality.***

Electrical Tape
Vinyl electrical tape, the thicker the better. Used to hold wires together and shrink the inverter.

Diagonal Cutters
Used to crack the outer acrylic tube on the CCFLs, we will need the fragile glass tubes by themselves to fit inside of the Xbox 360.

Hacksaw / Flathead Screwdriver
The cubes at the end of each CCFL hold the acrylic tube onto the glass tube. Sometimes they can be twisted off with some force, but usually the cube will need to be cut and cracked open with a flathead screwdriver.

Knife or Wire Strippers
We will use the wire that comes with the CCFL kit, it is 20 AWG (gauge) wire, large enough to be easily handled, able to withstand the stresses of being put inside a Xbox 360. Stripping will be for the very tips that will be soldered to the 360 motherboard.

Hot Glue Gun & Glue Sticks
Holds the CCFLs in place, along with any stray wires.

Step 2: Disassembly

I have created a separate instructable for dismantling a Xbox 360 which can be found at this link.

Once you have disassembled the 360 down to removing the motherboard, continue to the next step.

Step 3: Prepping the CCFLs

There are photos for each step below, they will help immensely in following the guide.

Test the CCFLs
These tubes are designed to be run inside of a computer desktop. Plug the CCFLs into the inverter, and the switch/molex connector into your computer as seen in the picture below. Press the power button on your computer and flick the switch, they should both light up. Though in the pictures I have the tubes appear orange, to the human eye they appear a very rich red.

Shrink the Inverter
The inverter that should come with your kit is contained within a blue plastic shell. This box is too large to fix comfortably inside of a Xbox 360, so we will pop it apart and wrap the internals of the inverter with electrical tape. Get either a small flat-head screwdriver, a knife, or any small metal object and jam it into the four dents in the bottom of the inverter. The cover is loosely held on, just take the board out and wrap it with electrical tape.

Cut the Cable
With the kit is a switch on a metal plate, and wires from a molex connector into the inverter. We only need the connector that goes directly into the inverter and the full length of its wires. You can trash the switch and molex connector.

Removing Acrylic Cover *UPDATED* (Thanks to SwampFox89)
Some users have commented to me a new method for detaching the cubes from the cold cathodes. Place your CCFLs inside your freezer for around two hours, this will cause the adhesive that holds on the cubes (and very little adhesive is used anyways) to harden and lose it's strength. Take out the CCFLs, and with either a firm grip or some pliers, the cubes should turn and pop off. You should be able to slide both cubes and the tube off the inner glass CCFL. If the cube on the wire end remains stuck, or you can't break off the glue, see the OLD method below. Treat the glass very carefully, as it is thin and easy to break.

Removing Acrylic Cover *OLD*
These CCFLs are actually fragile glass tubes, to protect them from wear and tear they are each covered with an acrylic tube anchored on the ends by two glued cubes. We need the glass tube by itself to fit inside of the Xbox 360, so this acrylic cover must be removed.

You only need to remove the cube on the wired side of the tube. Use a hacksaw to saw along the cube until you can fit a flathead screwdriver into your cut, turn the screwdriver and the cube should crack off.

With a pair of clippers, cut the acrylic tube carefully. Do not force the clippers deep into the tube, when you squeeze you might crack the glass, instead clip the edge of the acrylic and it will shoot a crack down the length of the tube, cut a circle around the edge and remove the main chunk. Carefully remove the remaining pieces and glue with your fingers.

Repeat for both tubes, they are very fragile and must be handled with care.

Step 4: Soldering to the Motherboard

The CCFLs need a power source from the Xbox motherboard, on the underside of the motherboard where the power connector plugs into the Xbox 360 are many different voltage sources. This layout is identical across all Xbox 360s. For the numbers printed on the board Pin 4 is the 12 volt supply, and Pin 9 is the Negative. Keep the 360 unplugged until told to test the connection.

Tinning and Soldering
Tinning is the process of applying solder to two separate surfaces, then in one act without applying extra solder bonding those two surfaces. Measure off around 7-8 inches of wire for both the red and black wires going into the inverter. Strip a small amount of sheathing and apply an excessive amount of solder to the end of each wire.

Applying solder to the Xbox 360 pins is a different story, Microsoft uses lead-free industrial solder which melts at a very high temperature. Apply a large amount of solder as best you can to the pins, feel free to hold your soldering iron on each pin for awhile, they can take the heat. Solder the red wire to the number 4 pin (shown in picture as 12v supply) and the black wire to pin 9. Test the physical strength of these connections by pulling on them, if the solder joint is easily broken, hold the soldering iron on longer until that joint is solid.

Testing
Even though the Xbox 360 is disassembled without fans, you can still plug in the cable and turn it on for a few seconds. I'll add in a note of extra caution, players usually get banned from Xbox Live for playing improperly copied games, however booting your system with the power cable not in the DVD drive is cause for suspicion, and could result in a ban. With your wires soldered on, plug the connector into the inverter, the CCFLs into the inverter, and press the power button. When your 360 turns on so should the CCFLs. Be sure not to leave the 360 on for very long without fans running as you can overheat the CPU.

Hot Glue Insulation
As a protective measure, put a blob of hot glue over each soldered point. This will keep the connection from rubbing against the bottom of the steel chassis, and keep the 12v and ground wires from touching.

Re-insert the Motherboard
You can now place the motherboard back into the 360 steel chassis, and align the wires along the back corner of the casing. Make sure the wires emerge from the rear edge of the motherboard (not the side) so that the casing screws are still aligned.

Step 5: Placing CCFLs

Use electrical tape to bind up the excess wire you may have, and the picture below shows where the inverter and wire will sit.

Number One
The first CCFL will be located on the right side of the 360 (opposite where the DVD drive sits). Get a sharpie or other marker, and mark on the side of the steel chassis the white ends of the CCFL. Hot glue will go over the white plastic, as the glass tube itself can melt the hot glue and will fall off the case.

Place a large amount of hot glue onto your markings, and place the CCFL down into the blob, then apply glue on top as well, completely surrounding the white end with glue. The Xbox 360 should be on its side while the glue dries, once it is relatively solid you can move on.

Number Two (DVD Drive)
This is the most dangerous part of the install. The CCFL just barely fits in-between the leftmost legs of the DVD Drive, it is possible to crush the tube when reinserting the DVD drive. Seat the drive into the 360 as it would normally sit. From above, hold your CCFL over the gap and mark the ends. View the picture below for a better idea.

Like the first tube, glue the second CCFL to the side of the steel chassis with the DVD drive removed.

Step 6: Positioning Wires

For the CCFL in the DVD drive gap, its wire will go downward, and along the forward edge to plug into the inverter. You can pour hot glue on the motherboard without issue, as hot glue does not conduct electricity - we will use it to keep the wires from moving around.

Beware of Screws!
When placing the wires throughout the case, make sure they stay away from screw holes. When putting the case back together, if a screw cuts through a wire (which it can do easily) it will act as a ground and prevents electricity from flowing through the tube. The CCFL will either flicker or not turn on, and if the wire is severed you may need to solder it back together.

Step 7: Reassembly

Put the Xbox 360 back together carefully. Make sure the rear fan is plugged in, the fan shroud is correctly in place, and no wires are being pinched. When placing the DVD drive back into the case you might need to wiggle the CCFLs wires to fit in safely (Don't forget the SATA cable).

Follow the disassembly directions backwards, and if everything turns on, kudos! Enjoy your newly lit Xbox 360.

If you're still feeling adventurous in your Xbox 360, try modifying the Ring of Lightor cutting a window.

Enjoy!

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159 Comments

What is the impact of using a 30 watt iron versus 15? Are there any places on the board (that you know of) where a 15 watt needs to be used? Finally, why .022 solder and not a simpler one like .02. Thanks

Using a 30 watt iron will heat the terminal very quickly, so quickly it can detach from the PCB. 15W for traces and terminals, 30W for wires and pins. The 15 can do both, but the power pins where the PSU connects can take a long longer. For the wire diameter, 0.2 is fine, 0.22 is just a more common wire diameter sold in hobby stores.

Hey, this question is a little off, but maybe you would still know about it. I was using my soldering iron to solder the circuit board of an xbox 360 drive onto a different drive. And I didn't realize that it was set to 895 degrees. So when I desoldered one point, all of the solder came off, leaving only a brown spot on the motherboard. When I try to solder a new wire onto that particular point, it won't stay put. Have I permanently damaged the board, or is there a possible solution to this?

HAVE TO MAKE THIS PORTAL THEMED XBOX IS SO COOL!!!

Would the xbox need another cooling method because of the cathode lights?

I have a question regarding soldering to the motherboard.

I have purchased these: http://www.ebay.com/itm/PVC-2-x-24cm-Blue-Car-LED-Light-Flexible-strip-12V-/270755022303?pt=Motors_Car_Truck_Parts_Accessories&vxp=mtr&hash=item3f0a41c5df#ht_4407wt_1093

and I was wondering, can I solder the strips to different terminals?

e.g Strip 1 goes on (4,9) and strip 2 goes on (5,10).

Oh and I was thinking of running both strips to a master switch, but my searches on Google have been fruitless.

So do you where I could get a master switch which I could wire 2 strips to?

Thank you so much for all your help, and BTW your Instructable on the controller ring of light was excellent for me (I made two nub mistakes, I soldered one LED the wrong way around (Derp), and accidentally ruined a terminal on P3, hence your solder bridge method was well- received) It works great now.


Yes, you absolutely can run your wiring using the two sets of terminals. If you're going to use a switch, I think it's easier to just use one terminal (picture attached). All of the pins are actually connected to pins of the same color.

As far as switches, I recommend not using a switch, since the lights will power on or off with your 360 anyways. If you are committed to using a switch, just drive to your local electronics store or Radioshack. They're overpriced, but they have a good selection. You would probably want a small but long cylinder button-switch for compactness sake, maybe just having the button pop out through a side vent-hole near the HDD or something.

I've made a picture for you on how to wire this up if you want a switch. It would work just fine without the button too.

Good luck!

Untitled-1.jpg

Would 6 inch Cold Cathode lights work? ther eare a few dual ccl kits on ebay but they are all 6" kits.

4" barely fits, if you use 6", you'll have to place them somewhere else in the box, and there isn't much room.

I have links on the parts page that lists multiple sellers that sell 4" kits. 6" is normally much more rare than 4" or 12".

Link to Step One