How-To: Make an Xbox 360 Laptop - part 3

Alright after a break we're back with part 3, the final installment in this Xbox 360 "How-To" series. Today we'll be wiring up the LCD screen, installing the parts into the case, modding the keyboard and attaching all latches and USB ports. The end begins...

Notice: Just to clarify, this article refers to the original Xbox 360 and does not cover the Elite, as Ben has yet to crack one of those bad boys open.

Parts you'll need

  • USB port, male (full size type A) - Digi-Key part # 151-1082-ND.

  • VGA port - It's best to just desolder and use the one that's already on the LCD screen circuitry. You can also find a VGA-style DB-15 jack at your local Radio Shack if you insist on paying for it.

  • Slide switch 3 position - Digi-Key part # SW336-ND. This will be used to select the video mode. It's panel mount, so it attaches to our rear A/V panel using screws.

  • Slide switch 2 position - Digi-Key part # SW116-ND. Panel mount again. This will be used to switch power on and off for the built-in LCD, if you wish to have this as an option.

  • RCA jacks - For the rear A/V panel. See our "Xbox 360 VGA mod" article for more info, link further on in this article.

  • USB keyboard with hub - we bought one from Tiger Direct, more details when we get to that section.

  • Green 3mm LED - Any type will work. In this example we're using it as a "contast on" light that will go just below the Ring of Light.

  • (8-10) 6mm tact switches - Digi-Key part # EG2495-ND. We'll use these for the eject buttons and other controls.

  • Male headers - Digi-Key part #A26525-40-ND. This is a 80 pin male header that you can break apart and use for many things in your laptop.

  • Female headers - Digi-Key part # A26488-ND. This is a 14 pin receptacle that will be of good general purpose use.

  • Shielded VGA monitor cable. It's best to scavenge one of these off an old monitor or cable. It needs to be shielded (metal mesh wrapped around the inner wires) but try and find one that's not too thick or it'll have trouble bending with the lid.

  • Dark plastic screen door material. Find it at your local friendly hardware store. This stuff is good for covered air vent holes and making them look nicer.

Once again, please reference the main art file for the case design and templates.

Download the art file (Adobe Illustrator 10)

Several topics and techniques will be referenced to our past articles to keep this particular entry somewhat shorter than a Stephen King novel.

Rewiring the Keyboard

For this mod we've choosen a mini USB keyboard from Tiger Direct. Here is an example of one. These types of keyboards are quite simple and consist of a key layer and a small circuit board which contains the required circuitry. As an added bonus this keyboard also has a USB hub, which means the keyboard uses one of the ports from the 360 but gives you two in return. What a deal.

The keyboard disassembled. An added bonus is how thin it is. At this point a person might wonder, "could we use a laptop keyboard?" and to this we'd say we're not sure. It might be possible, but much like the LCDs from laptops that everyone wishes they could use, portables parts are often quite customized and thus not useful outside of them.

The back of the keyboard. The circuit board has been attached to the keyboard's frame in its original position. When this is centered on the laptop it won't hit the tallest items in the case (the DVD drive or the heatsinks).

Here's the important bit - a close-up of the circuit board. Some things to look at:

  • On the left are the (2) USB ports that are part of the built-in hub. Not all mini keyboards will have this hub but it's a nice bonus if you can find one.

  • In the near-middle is the keyboard connection. This consists of traces on the board which clamp onto the plastic keyboard grid via a piece of metal and a rubber spacer to press against the contacts. Normally this clamps to the keyboard case, here it has been secured with a paid of size 4 screws and nuts.

  • On the right is the main USB connection. This is where we'll wire a ribbon cable to connect directly to the Xbox 360's motherboard, specificially, to one of the front USB connections.

  • Attach an 8 pin female header receptacle directly to one of the USB hub ports on the circuit board, this locks it down and keeps it in place. Bend the other 4 pins out.

  • Solder wires from the other USB port to the bent out pins. This puts all 8 connections on the one header.

  • Attach an 8 pin male header plug to an 8 wire ribbon cable and mark which ends are +5 and GND. (See previous article about this). This cable will need to be about 12 inches long.

  • Finally, attach a 4 wire ribbon cable to the USB port that will go to the Xbox 360.

  • Note - don't worry about rewiring the Number lock, Caps Lock and Scroll Lock LED's - in our experience the Xbox never lights up any of these.

The wired keyboard PCB.

Alright let's attach the front USB connections. Remember if your keyboard doesn't have a hub and you want more connections you'll have to get a separate USB hub which may or may not require its own power source.

  • Attach the original 2 port USB piece from the Xbox to the "USB plate" that you can cut from the main art file, as shown above. (You can also just install it in the side of the case if you make some holes)

  • Along with these 2 ports we've added a third port using a standalong male USB jack. This will connect directly to the other front USB port on the motherboard. This gives us 3 free ports, same as a stock Xbox, even though we've installed a Wi-Fi adapter and a keyboard. Slick eh?

The front right end of the unit, with USB ports.

  • Secure the USB port assembly to the case as seen above.

  • Connect the 8 wire ribbon cable from the keyboard's USB hub to the dual-port USB assembly.

  • Connect the single USB port to one of the front USB ports on the main motherboard.

  • Connect the other main port to the keyboard's USB hookup.

  • "Front USB port header" indicates a female header that has been wired to the motherboard. This allows us to attach other things, like the keyboard and USB ports, to male headers which can be easily plugged and unplugged into the system.

Wiring the audio and video to the Xbox 360 and back port

Next let's work on the all-important audio and video portions of the project, starting with the rear A/V panel. One problem with, well, most consoles since the NES is that they don't have clearly defined ways of attaching multiple types of inputs because they want to sell you a cable for each type. So while we're making this laptop let's put a bunch of ports on the back.

Size up the position of the A/V plate on the back of the case. If you go by the drawings there should be a gap for it between the fans and the left hinge. You can find the templates for the panel in the drawings as well.

Once we've decided how we're going to place the panel we can begin cutting holes. For this project we've used the high density Komatex / Sintra plastic so it's actually possible to cut holes with a sharp X-Acto knife and a little patience. (Elbow grease helps as well.)

The best way to attach the A/V connections is to use an original Xbox 360 video cable plug. At this point it would be a good idea to go back and take a look at our Xbox 360 cable-hacking article located here.

Basically we'll want to wire up every connection that we feel we'll need off of this port. In the case of this example, it's everything but the TOSLINK optical port. One difference from the older article is that we're going to connect a portion of a VGA monitor cable to this port.

Yes that's right the hot glue gun is back, in all its worn-out glory.

For best results remember to put a thin line of hot glue along the connections so they won't pull loose or break while we're working on the rest of this mod. You can also use heat shrink tubing or electric tape.

  • Here's an important step - make a list indicating what each wire does by color.

  • You'll find in the VGA cable there should be 3 wires thicker than the others, these are best used for the R G and B lines.

  • Some cables have a 4th thick wire which usually goes to H-Sync.

  • You'll also notice that most VGA cables have several "unused" wires, since VGA technically only needs 5 + ground. These are typically for monitor identification (for an OS) but here we can use them to send audio signals to the LCD half of the case.

  • Connect the outer shielding of the VGA cable to ground.

  • The component video jacks wire to the VGA spots on the plug in the order of their color. Red to red, blue to blue and green to green. (Component uses different terms but for our purposes this is fine).

Here's the VGA port and select switch mounted on the rear A/V panel.

There should be plenty of room to run our wiring and double-up the connections to both the monitor cable (going to the LCD screen) and the rear panel connections. The 3 position selector switch allows us to select which video mode we'd like to use - composite, component or VGA.

Wiring the 3 position video selector switch.

  • The "Pins" refer to the Xbox 360 video connector, again see the VGA mod article for more details.

  • Connect GND from the A/V port to the 2 pins indicated above. This sets the video mode by pulling the desired pin low when you move the switch. Since this switch has dual poles it isolates the top and bottom, allowing this manual switching to work.

  • As shown, sliding the switch to the left engages component video (YPbPr, also used for analog HDTV), the middle is standard yellow-jack composite, and to the right is VGA, for either the built-in screen or external monitor.

Connecting the LCD screen

Next we'll connect the LCD screen portion (lid) to the main unit.

Above we see the LCD screen as it was at the end of part 2. It's all encapsulated, we need to get connections to it. Let's make sure it's secure first...

  • Place bits of material, such as wood or plastic, beside the screen and secure it to the lid case using JB Weld or superglue. We'll call these attachment spacers. Make them the same height as the LCD assembly, which will be about .5 to .75 inches.

  • Attach flat pieces of plastic to the LCD frame and place the ends over the attachment spacers. Drill a small hole through both so you can secure them together with a screw.

  • We sanded the surfaces of our plastic pieces to create a better grip (for the glue) and then hot glued them directly to the LCD frame

  • Repeat this for at least 4 corners of the LCD to ensure it will be secured inside the lid.

  • Place the lid portion of the case on top of the main portion to make wiring the next few parts easier.

  • Connect the wires from the monitor cable (coming from the Xbox) to the VGA spots on the LCD's circuit board, as shown above. This will vary by LCD model, but just search for "VGA pinout" on Google to double-check your connections. Here you can plainly see the thicker wire the cable has for the main video signals.

  • Secure the wires to the LCD frame using hot glue or whatever you're most comfortable with. Plastic zip ties can work as well. The idea here is that when the lid is opened/closed the cable will bend, or shear if you will, at the spot you secured it and not at the connections to the circuit board. If the circuit board connections move too much they will eventually break.

  • Run the 5 volt and 12 volt power lines for the LCD through the 2 position slide switch. Since it's DPDT each of the lines will switch together but be isolated. (See diagram below).

  • Connect ground directly to the LCD's circuit boards as described in Part 2.

Wiring the LCD main power switch. As shown, sliding to the left is screen off, to the right is screen on.

Next up is the monitor control panel. For the Westinghouse model screen used in this example it's a fairly simple matter -- each switch has 1 wire going to it, the signal, and then the other side is ground. Thus in this case we'll need 8 wires - 7 signals and 1 ground.

  • Determine the pinout of the control panel's connector by plugging it into the LCD's circuit board and testing the buttons with a multimeter. There may be some unused pins on the connector, ignore these.

  • If you wish, find the pinouts of the power LED to rewire it as well. (We didn't in our example because we always believe it's pretty obvious if the screen is on or not.)

  • Connect thin ribbon cable directly to the control panel port on the circuit board, then label the other ends as shown based off the pinouts you discovered with the multimeter. This makes it easier when we wire the new control panel a little later on.

  • Be sure the ribbon cable is long enough to reach into the bottom half of the unit and into the area where we want the new screen controls to be.

Click here for a larger version in a new window.

  • Above we see the LCD's circuit board wired to the rest of the Xbox.

  • As mentioned in part 2 if there's a headphone jack for the screen we'll need to make sure this is connected since the audio will pass through it. If the headphone jack is disconnected no sound will get to the speakers.

  • Connect extension wires for the speaker as well. Typically speakers on a device like this will have two wires each, so don't combine the grounds or you might not get good results.

  • Run all the "between sides" connections through a length of heat-shrink tubing. This gives it a nice clean look, but be sure you've got all the connections you need before you shrink the tube down to fit!

  • There should be two wire bundles between the halves -- the monitor cable and another cable bunch containing the powered speaker signals, control panel wires and the LCD power wires.

Making the lid latch

Now that we've sandwiched the halves together we need a way to latch it. You can find the drawings of the latch we designed in the art file.

  • Here's the latch from a couple different angles. The basic idea is a notch is going to fit into the tongue from the top half of the unit and hold it in place using a common ball point pen string mounted on a screw.

  • When you press the front of the latch it pushes the notch back allowed the tongue and the top lid to open up.

  • Here's a view inside the case with the LCD removed so we can see it. Note the hole we've put in the tongue. This is where the latch will go.

  • Mark off the latch's position then drill a hole in the front of the case for the lid button. We made ours about 1/4-inch diameter. For a lid button we can use a rubber stopper or anything really that will fit and look decent.

Top view, the latch in place. To secure it, use a bit of superglue first, then go back around the edges with something stronger like JB Weld to lock it in place. Also be sure the latch will have enough clearance for the motherboard to go underneath.

The completed latch assembly. Again, this is how we did it, feel free to come up with a method of your own.

Reworking the ring of light

Ok, now we're getting into the inside of the laptop, specifically the control area.

Shown above is the Ring of Light assembly from the Xbox 360. In part 1 we reworked the jack that this goes into on the 360. By extending that with a ribbon cable we can move the Ring of Light to any new position we like.

Here we've attached a small 3mm T-1 green LED directly to the 3.3 volt power input on the Ring of Light. Much like the USB this voltage will always be present if the system is plugged in, even if the console is off. Thus this LED functions as a "ready" light, kind of like the omnipresent red LED found on most electronics. In our example laptop it will glow through the clear acrylic lid latch button.

The top of the Ring of Light. We've built a new acrylic button that has a small tab at the bottom which will press the surface-mount tact switch located in the center -- power.

Here's the Ring of Light assembly mounted in the front lower plater for the final unit. This piece of plastic should be 1/16th-inch thick. We've also added the screen door material to the large air holes to give this piece a nice finished look.

The Ring of Light jack, extended from the motherboard by a ribbon cable.

Note: Be careful that the Ring of Light assembly doesn't run into your heat sinks or fans as it will be in the same area inside the case. You may need to put the GPU fan on the opposite side to accomodate this.

Installing the speakers

Alright let's install the speakers. These will go in a piece of plastic very much like the one used for the Ring of Light.

  • Crack off the main shell of the speakers using the same techniques from part 1 when we gutted that nefarious Wi-Fi adapter. The speakers themselves are not very thick and are pretty standard for electronics of this size. Be sure to note how the red and black wires are connected as this is important for the speakers to work properly.

  • You can also use old laptop computer speakers as they are usually quite similar.

Here's the new LCD control panel as seen from inside. (The laser cutter went a little hog wild there, pardon the smudges.) For this new panel we're using the 6mm tact switches. Info on wiring those can be found throughout many of our articles so we won't repeat it here. Most recently it was discussed in "Making a PS360 Controller."

Shown above is the control panel plastic piece with the tact switches and speakers. When mounting the speakers, especially the right side one, be sure they won't hit anything inside the case such as the hard drive or power input connector.

Close-up of the speaker plate when mounted to the case.

A good plan is to secure an item with a tiny bit of hole glue, see if the whole assembly is going to fit, then fully secure it if it does. Saves a person a lot of frustrating "tear down" time.

Here's a closeup of the buttons that were made for the new controls. "M" stands for "Menu", not "Manwich" in case you were wondering. You can find the drawings and templates of these buttons on the main art file. Remember, everything in the file is actual size so if you copy / paste a piece into a 8.5 x 11 document and print it it'll come out actual size, for reference.

The main panel of the laptop consists of 3 plates - the top and bottom ones we just worked with and a center plate for the keyboard. These have screw holes which allow them to be secure to the sides of the case, but to keep things tight in the center it's a good idea to add tabs.

  • Using small pieces of plastic, cut small tabs that will fit at the edges of each plate, as shown above.

  • Superglue these tabs to the underside edges of the plates. This will allow the plates to "interlock" in the middle and support each other.

  • We can also put spacers under the middle keyboard plate so it rests against the DVD drive or the top of the heatsinks / fans.

Final assembly

Ok, just a few things left to do, starting with the DVD drive.

Place the DVD drive in the case and mark off where you'd like the new eject button and IR sensor to go.

  • Take the drive back out and glue a new tact switch and the original IR sensor to the front based off your markings.

  • Connect a 4 wire ribbon cable to them as shown above. The wires are ground (2), IR data (1), IR power (3) and eject switch.

Wiring the eject switch and IR to the motherboard.

  • Place the DVD drive back in the case and check that the eject switch and IR lense line up to the holes.

  • Use the designs from the art file to create an eject button to place in the hole. If you're careful you can use a tiny bit of superblue to attach it directly to the switch.

Top view of the DVD drive mounted in place. Once we've verified everything is working properly the front "Xbox" drive plate can be attached. It may require a spacer in case the end of the drive tray is slightly recessed from the front of the case.

Use a large machine screw, size 10 or 12, to latch the hinges together. As with the Wii laptop how-to, we can increase the friction by adding in toothed washers and spacers.

Here's a close-up of the cables between the 2 halves of the unit. The white cable (not the one we ended up using in case you're wondering) has the monitor signals and audio, while the other cable has power and the LCD control panel wiring.

Click here for a larger version in a new window

Above is a view of the inside of the case with everything installed. We can see the DVD drive on the lower left, hard drive and WiFi adapter above it, heat sinks in the middle and the cable for the Ring of Light near the bottom. The WiFi adapter has been wired to the rear USB port, and the three rear fans to the original Xbox 360 fan connector.

Click here for a larger version in a new window

Another view of the case in its open, yet final form.

Here's a close-up of the connects near the A/V port on the final unit. Note how a header has been used as an easy connection "hub" for both the rear USB (so the Wi-Fi can be plugged in) as well as the front eject switch and IR.

Close-up of the GPU and CPU heatsinks, with fans. If the keyboard is slim enough there should be enough room for everything. Note how some small adhesive heatsinks have been placed on the front memory chips. Be sure that the orignal "heat cushions" on the memory chips on the bottom of the board can contact the case and transfer heat to it.

The bind switch on the front of the Xbox needs to be accessible for connecting controllers. The easiest way is to put a disc of plastic against it with a post on one end, similar to the lid latch, as shown above.

The post can then come out the front of the unit. In this example laptop we've used one of the air holes for it, so it's kind of hidden. You can also rewire it and move the switch elsewhere if you'd like.


You now have been taken through the most extensive making-of guide for an Xbox 360 laptop ever written. This information will come in quite handy for your own hacks and should give you the basis with which to create your own Xbox 360 projects. For more information on general hacking and a great userbase you can also stop by the official forums. Have fun and we'll see you next time!

"And thus Ben wept, for he looked out and saw only one more next-gen system to conquer..."