Introduction: Water Cooled and Wall Mounted Xbox 360

About: BEng Software and Electronic Engineering with Honours. Software company director and freelance developer/engineer. Available for freelance development and consulting. Experience with embedded systems, full sta…

Hello all and welcome to my second Instructable.

Before we continue, I must say that I feel as though I have missed some parts out. I will keep adding bits here and there when I notice they're missing but otherwise, if you have a decent know how then you should be fine with tis Instructable.

The reason I did this project was, firstly, because I had an XBox 360 which I didn't use much. Secondly, because the fans were way too loud so I needed an alternative cooling system. And thirdly, why not? It's true, the XBox 360 is outdated by 10 years now, and is in no way better than an average gaming PC. But it's something I did for my own learning experience, and again, why not?!

Since I was in school I have wanted to water cool my PC, but I just never had the resources for it. At one point I did a homemade water block: YouTube Video - Homemade waterblock

It didn't look great but the overall concept was pretty simple and I made it for cheap. Best thing was it never leaked, although I didn't use it in my pc for a long time. I upgraded not long after and bought a maintenance free water-loop and now have a top spec PC with a maintenance free water cooler.

Anyway moving on, I managed to buy an XSPC XBox 360 waterblock for cheap (less than £15)! Otherwise, they are £60, or they were the last time I checked. This was one of the reasons I chose to watercool the XBox 360, with the main reason being that the fans were way too loud. Also, it's the only thing I didn't mind getting messed up since I didn't really use it much (but I do now)! I had added the Talismoon Whisper fan, and another side fan but together, they were still too loud.

Firstly, I wanted to have an open frame design which was inspired by this: MAXXPlanck V2 - Wall Mounted PC

I cannot take credit for the originality of the wall-mounting style as it has been done before!

Final Product Video: LINK

Overall Concept

The idea is to lay out all the parts in an open style and have the acrylic underneath to apply an edge-lit effect. Firstly you want to strip the XBox 360, so you can modify the parts later on such as the RF moduIe and the DVD drive cables. I started by gathering all the required parts, designing and checking fitting on Publisher (my favourite tool), and checking placement of parts. Once I was happy with that I marked them out on the wood then cut out the slots for the LED strips. Wrapped it all in carbon fibre, fixed the LED strips in. Then I cut the acrylic mounts, bevelled the edges, mounted them on, fixed the components on top. Then the control panel was created and all cables attached. Testing took place in between most steps to ensure no problems would arise later on. Final step was to connect the pipes and fill up the reservoir which was a bit more difficult than I thought it would have been!

Attached is a Publisher file which contains my original design idea, and the board layout - where I need to cut holes etc. The control panel design is also there for your reference - feel free to modify as you wish! My final control panel was nothing like the original design idea.


Components you will need:

  • XBox 360 motherboard
  • XBox 360 RF module
  • XBox 360 DVD drive + SATA + power cable
  • XBox 360 PSU
  • 60cm x 60cm 18mm MDF wood (or similar)
  • 60cm length of 2"x2" for the frame support
  • 2-3m of RGB LED strip
  • RGB LED Strip controller
  • 12v 2A PSU for pump, fans, LEDs etc
  • 3 x 120mm fans (any you like)
  • 360mm radiator (mine was aluminium; get copper if you can!)
  • XSPC XBox 360 low profile waterblock
  • EK DCP-4.0 12v PWM pump
  • 2m of tubing
  • Molex male and female connectors
  • DC barrel jack and plug
  • IEC kettle plug/socket pair
  • 22-24AWG wire

Tools you will need

  • Wood saw/circular saw
  • Jigsaw to cut out holes
  • Drill and various drill bits
  • Clamps
  • Wood screws
  • M3 x 25mm bolts and nuts for radiator mounting
  • M4 x 25mm bolts for motherboard mounting
  • Exacto knife or similar
  • Hot glue gun
  • Wire cutters and strippers
  • Soldering iron 30w or similar
  • Solder
  • Heatshrink tubing
  • Multimeter

Step 1: Stripping the XBox 360 and Marking Out Components Placement

Since there are so many tutorials on how to take the XBox 360 apart, it would not be efficient if I was to add one in this Instructable. Please don't hate me, but Google will show you a whole library of them!

Once you have the parts, you need to get the water pump, motherboard, radiator, DVD drive, and hard drive, and lay them out on the board to check the largest distance required. The wood I used was 60cm x 60cm, so when I was creating the design I aimed to work with this size and tried to make everything fit in. After doing this you will have a rough idea of your design, then you can continue to complete the design.

You can refer to my design if you want to copy it exactly, although it may need a bit of adjustment based on your parts and sizes. Always double check!

Once the design is complete, you can mark out where cables need to go in and out of a component, so you can route them behind the board for a neat look. You will be cutting out a rectangular hole for the cables such as the SATA HDD cable and power, the DVD drive, and also for the fans and pump since they are molex connectors. The wood I had cut was slightly small for the XBox power cable, so I didn't bother to hide the cable behind the board - instead it just hangs over the top but it's nothing major!

Once you have this confirmed and everything marked out, you are ready to cut it out. WAIT. Not ready just yet! Double check everything, because once you cut it out, it will be very hard to hide if it's in the wrong place or offset.

Now you can cut it out ;)

Step 2: Preparation for LED Strips and Carbon Fibre Wrapping

You need to cut the slots for the LED strips now, as this is the first step. I chose to have them go diagonally across the acrylic, so as to cover the most surface area which will hopefully give an evenly lit edge. The slots should be just a big larger than the individual strips so there is no tight fitting. I drilled large holes at each end of the slots that needed cutting out, and used a jigsaw to cut down the whole length. For the smaller holes, I used a smaller drill bit, and you can use a Dremel or sandpaper to smooth it out.

Once the slots have been cut, you want to wrap the whole thing in carbon fibre. Since it is a large piece, getting someone to help you may be a good idea. I started with the board facing up and out - I had a sheet of carbon fibre cut around 10cm larger than that board, lengthwise and widthwise, so I could wrap it around the 2"x2" and the edges. You want to firstly place the wrap on the front, working your way out and removing bubbles. Use of a heatgun will assist with stretching it around the edges and hopefully giving good adhesion. Once the front was applied properly and I was happy it was flat, I turned the frame on its front, then worked on the back around the edges and the frame. The 5th picture shows how I cut slits so I could wrap it neatly.

Once you have successfully applied the wrap, you need to cut inside the slots so the wrap can be stuck inside the slots, leaving space for the LED strips to shine through - simply cut a slit through the centre of the slot for almost the entire length, leaving approximately 5mm on each end - this is where you will cut a slit from the end of the middle slit to the corners, so you can press the wrap in using the heatgun. Repeat this for the other slots! Then you will be ready to connect the LED strips. I hope I explained that properly!

I chose to individually cut each LED strip to the size of the appropriate slot but that required soldering 4 cables between each slot - if you want to save time you can simple run a whole length of the LED strip between all slots, so it's one long piece. This will certainly save you a couple of hours of time! I chose the hard way, obviously.

Step 3: Cutting the Acrylic Backplates

From your design, you should have made the acrylic a bit larger than the components so the edge-lit effect can be seen. If you have access to a laser cutter or CNC, then that's fantastic! You will get precise, and perfect cuts. Unfortunately I did not have access to the former, so I scored where I needed to cut and then used a hacksaw with a 32TPI blade. The cuts were fairly straight!

For this I used 5mm acrylic since that is what I had - ideally you want to use 10mm acrylic as the bevelled edges will look much better!

Lay out the acrylic sheet and mark out ONE piece at a time, as you will lose some material when cutting, so if you mark everything out together and cut them together, the pieces will actually be a bit smaller than you wanted them to be. Using a metal ruler, score a few times along the line you would like to cut out then use the fine tooth hacksaw blade to cut along the score - the score should give you a good guideline. Repeat this for the remaining pieces.

After having cut the pieces, you need to bevel them. I tried to use sandpaper first but I wasn't getting even results. So I resorted to using the router with a bevel cutter. I experimented with scrap acrylic, and figured the best adjustment. As you can see my DIY table router was held in place with some wood and clamps! Again if you have access to a table router then do use it! Run the edges against it to get an even cut across the whole length.

To do a DIY table router:

Change the bit to the one shown in the picture. You will need two clamps like shown in the picture, and a piece of 2"x2". First you want to clamp the 2"x2" to the workbench, and then clamp the router to the 2"x2". Ensure that it does not move easily before you continue! I take no responsibility for any injury caused to you: you do this at your own risk. PLEASE wear safety goggles as the acrylic bits that fly off are hot, and sharp. Also I would recommend wearing ear protection as it is very loud.

Once you have done all the edges you can clean them up using fine sandpaper.

The next step is quite important to maximise the amount of light going through the acrylic to the edges. You need to place the acrylic pieces on the board with the LEDs turned on to a bright colour such as white or blue. When you are happy with the position of them relative to the board, draw a straight line tracing the LED strip on the acrylic. You will be cutting a 'V' slit on the underside of the acrylic so as to allow all the light to go through to the edges. Unfortunately I was unable to find a 'V' shaped router bit fine enough, so my lines came out rounded, reducing the amount of light going through.

Step 4: Wrapping the HDD and the DVD Drive in Carbon Fibre

I chose to wrap the HDD and the DVD drive in carbon fibre too, but you don't have to if you don't want to. You can choose to spray paint the DVD cover by disassembling it all, spraying and then reassembling it. If you want to use a different colour of carbon fibre then that would be an option for yourself to consider. I was considering wrapping the HDD and DVD drive in red carbon fibre but figured it'd be too much.

Attached is again, a Publisher file, which has a template for the HDD sticker - you print this out, and cut around a piece of carbon fibre so the sticker is the same shape as the label.

The DVD drive a bit tricky to wrap - I was left with a small crease in the centre, because the disc part rises up and has a bevelled edge sort of. I used a heat gun to do this.

Apologies as I don't have pictures of myself doing this part! As I was rushing it, I just did my best to try and get it all done. ( I will try to add some pictures...)

Step 5: Radiator and Fans, Including Sleeving the Cables

So using a thin flat screwdriver, I unhooked the molex pins and sleeved the cable - this was done for all 3 fans. This way I was able to sleeve the cables for each fan, and then applied heatshrink on both ends to stop the sleeving moving around. It gives it a neat look, and it blends in with the carbon fibre so the cables are practically invisible.

I then had to find the perfect screws - ones which are not too long and not too short. Luckily I was able to find some M3 bolts around 10mm long, so attaching the fans to the radiator was a simple process. The bolts were just long enough to tighten properly, but not touch the radiator fans.

It should be obvious but we want the the fans blowing down on the radiator so the fans should face outwards. A friend of mine said that having the fans pulling air would be more effective - I'm not sure how true this is but maybe someone can elaborate about this. To use this method you would need to drill some air intake holes through the acrylic backplate and the main backboard for the radiator. Apologies I cannot help with this method any further.

In the fourth picture you see a blue LCD control panel which I purchased via eBay.

Step 6: Placing the Parts on the Acrylic and Mounting Them

To mount the acrylic onto the board, I simply used wood screws for the DVD drive only. We use very similar methods for most parts. The bolts go from the back, through the acrylic, and into the component. This means we remove the hard work of mounting the acrylic on the board, and then mounting the component on to the acrylic.

Specifically, for the radiator I simply used long bolts which were fitted from the back. Place the radiator on the acrylic as you would like it, and mark out the radiator mounting holes on the acrylic. Then you want to drill holes in the acrylic the same size as the bolts we'll be using (M3 x 25mm), and then place the acrylic on the backboard, mark out the holes for the bolts and drill through the backboard. The bolts were to secure the radiator, and the acrylic just sits in between so when you tighten the bolts it sits flush and flat. The bolts will come in from the back of the backboard, as the radiator has mounting holes at the back - the bolts simply screw into them. Be careful not to over tighten them and end up damaging the fins.

For the motherboard, we will be securing the metal backplate directly into the wood, and again the acrylic sits in between so you need to mark out the mounting holes on the acrylic and drill holes in the acrylic. But firstly you need to trim down the metal cage into a backplate. As you can see in the last 3 pictures, I marked out the line which I need to cut against, so I can remove the metal wall, leaving me with a flat metal backplate. This backplate is required for heatsinking the components at the bottom of the motherboard - the thermal pads should be touching this. When finally mounting the motherboard, you put the acrylic in between the metal backplate and the backboard, mark out the mounting holes and drill through the acrylic. You then want to line up the acrylic on the backboard, and drill the holes only a little bit into the backboard so the bolts can tighten into the wood when you secure the motherboard as well. Then the motherboard sits on top of the metal backplate and screws directly through the acrylic and into the wooden backboard.

For the hard drive, we use the same method - mark out the mounting holes on the acrylic, drill through the acrylic and then line it up on the backboard, and drill through the backboard. You then bolt into the bottom of the hard drive from the back of the board, using the appropriate size bolts (M3 x 25mm is what I used but I had to add some washers to remove some length so the hard drive would sit flush and tighten properly but not over tighten).

Again for the DVD drive, since I left the 4 posts on the DVD drive, I marked them out on the acrylic, drilled though the acrylic and then marked it out on the backboard. I then drilled smaller holes than the wood screws thorugh the backboard, and used slim wood screws to directly screw them in from the back into the 4 posts of the DVD drive. Again the acrylic sits in between the board and the DVD drive.

The reservoir was simply two screws for each mounting bracket - align the brackets where you want them to go and mark it out on the backboard, then use small wood screws to screw directly into the backboard.

Finally the hardest one. I used the sticky anti-vibration pad to secure the pump to the acrylic however the acrylic itself, I screwed into the wood first. When doing this, you want to drill two holes through the middle area of the acrylic, countersink them so the wood screw is flush, and then apply the pad. I didn't trust the pad only, so I used the two rubber mounts that come with the pump, and as you can see in the picture, I just screwed them on outside the acrylic. Maybe I could have done it differently since there is overhang on the acrylic, but it was difficult to keep the rubber mounts in place before screwing them in. And I should have thought of this before!

Step 7: Extending the Cables for Power, SATA, and RF Module

Since the XBox 360 motherboard will be placed further away from the other components than usual, we need to extend the cables. Once I had placed the components on the main backboard, I measured the lengths between the motherboard and the RF module, DVD drive SATA and power, and finally the hard drive SATA and power. I purchased a 50cm SATA cable for the DVD drive which was long enough to reach the motherboard, and simply bought a SATA and power extension for the hard drive. The DVD drive however, I was required to extend the cables individually, so I cut out 10 x 50cm lengths of black 24AWG cable (roughly same thickness as the DVD drive power cable individual wires). I then cut the connector in half and stripped both sides of the ends of the wires, and the newly cut wires as well. Then using the diagram, I soldered them accordingly.

SATA and Power extension: LINK


For the RF module, I unsoldered the connector and then soldered wires from the connector directly to the board. I didn't have a pinout for this so I simply kept referring the connector back to the RF board in its original position to determine which pin goes where. I heatshrinked all the pins on the connector. This was to extend the RF module to the front panel. Please solder the wires correctly!

Step 8: Working on the Control Panel

The control panel is simply 5mm thick MDF which I cut out the holes for the switches, USB ports, and the LCD panel. Attached is the design for this power panel. You then want to determine the depth, which I believe I found to be around 7cm so cut two more side panels, screw or glue them on to the first piece of MDF to create a U shape. When mounting the control panel, you will screw the side panels from the back through the backboard, or you can glue it on to the front. I then wrapped it all in carbon fibre to match it with the rest of the project. Again, to aid with wrapping you want to use a heat gun especially since these holes are smaller and trickier.

As you can see in the first picture, I designed the player LEDs on Publisher, then printed them out and engraved the design on to small pieces of acrylic roughly 15mm x 15mm x 5mm thick. I then attached an SMD LED to the side of all the pieces which are all connected from the RF board's ring of light outputs. Please see the pinout for the RF board - I unsoldered the LEDs on the board and soldered the player LEDs to them. Instead of the ring of light, we now have 4 player LEDs which light up. Also the power LED is connected to the acrylic piece with my name on - when the XBox 360 powers up, my name lights up with red on the left side. When power is connected, the standby voltage lights up the right side of the acrylic. So when it is fully switched on, one side is red and the other is blue.

When attaching these bits of acrylic to the control panel, I figured out where I want them placed and drilled small holes for the wires to go through. Then a dab of hot glue held them in place perfectly fine without ruining the look.

The eject, power and sync buttons were also extended directly from the motherboard and are now a momentary push switch. For this you can use a multimeter to check for continuity as you press the buttons so you can determine which two points to need to solder wires to connect to the new buttons.

The LCD is the control panel for the fans - it can individually control the 3 fans, and gives you their speed, and it can also show temperature but I didn't connect the temperature sensors. This was purchased from eBay, and it makes the control panel look a bit more like a real control panel. This has a molex power connector requiring 5V as well for the input which we will talk about in the next step.

The USB ports were extended from the motherboard to this control panel, using a simple 1m long USB A-male to A-female cable for each port. The RF module was glued to the back of the control panel so it is all hidden when the panel is mounted.

Step 9: Main Power Cable and Extra Power Related

The LCD control panel required 5V as well as 12V to operate so I modified a molex plug to incorporate a 5V regulator - this was a very neat job I thought, since it just plugs into anywhere in the molex chain and provides 5V thereof.

You want the 12v to go into the input pin [1] of the 5V regulator (LM7805) and have the 5V output pin [3] go to the red cable on the molex connector. Between the input pin [1] and the middle ground pin [2], and the output pin [3] and middle pin [2], you want to put a capacitor - I can't remember what I used but I think I had 220uF (microfarads) on both. This is to smooth the voltage out. Please refer to the diagrams in the pictures. I would recommend attaching a heatsink to the voltage regulator as we don't want any issues later on.

So this 5v adapter should we call it, can be plugged into any molex connector since the output should go throughout the chain. From memory I think the power chain works like this:

XBox 360 PSU --> Xbox 360 Motherboard

12v Aux input --> LED strips --> Pump --> 5V adapter --> Fan controller

I plugged the 5v adapter into the last molex connector, just where the fan controller connects. The adapter was able to provide 5V throughout the entire molex chain.

Furthermore, I didn't want to have two separate mains power cables so I spliced the XBox 360 cable and another IEC kettle plug for the auxilliary 12V, and combined them into a single IEC kettle socket. This way, I only need one IEC kettle plug to power the entire system.You can also secure the XBox 360 PSU and the auxiliary PSU behind the backboard to hide them away, and also mount the IEC kettle socket at your desired location on the backboard so you only have to plug in the one cable. Nice!

Step 10: Adding the Water Reservoir and Tubing

So after waiting around a week for the water reservoir, it finally arrived. Within minutes I had it installed and the remaining tubing installed. As I mentioned before, the reservoir is simple to install - you get two mounting brackets with it, and they require one or two screws each. Mark the location of the brackets on the backboard, and use wood screws to fix them in. I used hose clips on almost all connections, except the compression fitting ones on the waterblock. Where I found the tubing difficult to push over the fitting, I used a lighter to heat it up and make it pliable and then it pushed over easily.

Don't forgot to put the hose clip over the tubing before pushing the tubing on!

Finally, I filled up the reservoir slowly, turning the pump on and off so it could fill up all the air gaps in the whole loop. I used WatercoolingUK's red thermochill coolant which also has antibacterial properties, and corrosion inhibitors. This was ideal because the waterblock is copper and the radiator is aluminium. I had to fill the reservoir slowly in many different positions, from flat to sideways to upside down - it was a real pain and the first time I filled a water loop.

I checked for leaks by leaving it running for around 4 hours, and placed tissues around the connectors. There was a slight leak on the waterblock but I tighten the compression fitting a bit more and it was gone. I'm not sure how often you would need to change the coolant but I don't plan on doing it for at least another year..

Step 11: Final Thoughts and Discussion

So in terms of performance, the overall system is much quieter but runs as normal. I have had it running for a few hours playing GTA V and did not notice any difference in performance (things such as artefacts showing on screen) that would indicate overheating.

The idea of this project was not to increase performance, but to make it visually appealing and reduce the noise the system makes. I can happily say I have achieved this.

If I was to do this again then I would firstly have used 10mm thick acrylic (if I had the funds). The second thing I'd want to change is the SATA/Power cable for the HDD - this is because the original HDD connector for the 360 is quite bulky, and the cable is short so it shows on the front side. It cannot be tucked behind and hidden so that's what I'd want.

And after a lot of effort and hard work, I present to you the Watercooled and Wall Mounted XBox 360.

I hope this Instructable was good enough and I'd appreciate your comments and feedback. I'm more than happy to answer any questions that you may have so feel free to comment. Thanks for having a look!