DOL-001 GameCube hacking with XenoGC + Swiss

Basic principles

The Nintendo GameCube®, in a way vaguely comparable to the DS/Lite and to a lesser extent to the Wii, uses a hardware- (well, drive firmware's-)based protection against unlicensed/pirate discs; all other protections (ie, region lock), are 100% software and therefore bypassable if the system software (which completely stops running once a disc is booted) can be bypassed.

So once we get an original (or "original") disc running, it can run any arbitrary code freely (this principle is used in game exploits and commercial boot discs - like the famous SD Media Launcher), with running burnt discs as the only exception (and even then, interesting debug commands were later discovered…)

So, why not just use a softmod? It's fully doable, but having to repeat it (which takes the better part of a minute or worse) after every reboot gets boring quickly - and in the case of the SD Media Launcher, SDHC/SDXC are not supported, likely adding a further swap step to the mess!

So, why not just use an ODE (a piece of hardware which provides an SD or USB based "virtual drive")? They certainly have better performance and compatibility, but they don't support audio streaming (used by certain games for background music) and, most importantly, they are hard to find and fit (if you're a DIY person) or hard to afford (in part because of the previous reason) if you want a turnkey solution… New generation models solving these issues are in the works - but of course nothing commercially available…

So, why not just use an IPL ("bootrom") replacement chip? It would certainly be better and more reliable… if only you could still buy them!

Stuff you need

Note: Items marked with "§" are generally available for purchase in convenient bundles (see picture). "Materials" are (without nitpicking) items you have to buy for every single console, "tools" are things you only have to buy once (outside of failures, theft, loss, fire, Chinesium, …).

Picture of §-marked items



Part 1 - disassembling the GameCube

  1. After removing the Game Boy Player or other invasive accessories and all cables, use the Gamebit screwdriver to remove the 4 screws in the large holes under the console.

    I do not recommend beginners to use a drill - it's relatively easy to cause damage (cosmetic, if not worse) should it slip….

    Folding pliers rotating the Gamebit
  2. Then, after returning the console to its normal horizontal position, the top cover lifts straight off.

    Top case being lifted by the handle Console with top case removed
  3. Remove the backplate (the frame around the video ports) by pushing towards the back, and slightly outward, the 2 tabs [highlighted in the picture] holding it .

    U-shaped prongs of the backplate resting against cylindrical prongs coming from the bottom case
  4. The same procedure unclips the front panel. Pay attention to the flat cable that connects it to the mainboard.

    U-shaped prongs of the front shell resting against cylindrical prongs coming from the bottom case

    The cable [in orange] can be disconnected by pulling it straight up. Remove the pair of grounding springs, fixed by 2 screws [in blue] each.

    While we're here, by removing 2 screws, we can separate the front panel from its PCB, to clean it up and/or to replace the clock and settings battery [in red].

    Space behind front case
  5. Let's look at the left side, where a black plastic frame holds together the power socket, switch, and fan.

    Unplug the 2-pin cable that doesn't go to the fan, take it out of the notch on the bottom (one wire at a time), and remove the 2 screws holding the fan frame.

    Remove the block by pulling it upwards and, by about 20°, away from the optical drive.

    Left view (head-on) of the fan block Front view of the fan block
  6. Remove the 12 remaining screws. It's not required (nor useful) to remove the smaller screw holding the lid switch.

    Top view of console, with 3 out of 5 screws on the left under the fan, 4 on the back between the video porta, and 5 to the right - all to be removed
  7. Grab the drive by the sides of the middle (rectangular) part, and pull it straight up for de-mating (get your mind out of the gutter). It's only connected at the corner where memory card slot B is.

    Drive being held by the sides of the black square structure - not by the more rounded topmost one
  8. If you wish to clean out the bottom unit, remove the 6 screws on the heatsink, and pull the motherboard up from the base (which on the DOL-001 contains the voltage regulators, to which it's connected in the rear left corner), otherwise skip this step.

    I recommend against pulling the heatsink off the motherboard without good reason, you may break the thermal pads (which are 1,5 mm thick - not recommended to replace with thermal paste, even though with the limited powers instead you might get away with it)!

    Optical drive pulled off the remaining parts attached to the bottom shell
  9. Next we'll be working on the bottom side of the disc unit. If you are going to work on a dirty and/or hard surface you may want to fit a disc to protect the lens - however, due to the protruding eject button, it's easy to have it fall off…

    'Junk' full-size CD (with all the respect to David Sadava) fitted on the drive
  10. If working one-handed is an option (or if you have a significant other handy), a smarter option is to continue holding the unit as in step 7. Remove the six screws holding the shielding/base of the drive.

    Optical drive seen from the bottom, with the shielding still on

Part 2 - chip installation

  1. The XenoGC uses 4 data lines (plus 2 for power and ground).

    All 6 of them are available on the lands for debug connector CN302 (not fitted on production consoles), as well as on alternate points on both sides of the PCB; we can proceed with a "quicksolder" setup, if compatible with your drive PCB (more professional and safer once mounted, but riskier to install and remove) or a more traditional setup with wires.

    I suggest to cut a small rectangle of insulating tape, and cover the vias on the bottom side of the chip (without obstructing any holes).

  2. I'm going to go with the quicksolder method, so after verifying which points are going to be actually used, I tinned the 3 affected pins of CN302, as well as the 3 other points, and again with the 6 (half-)holes on the chip. I then used tape to hold the half with the IC in place.

    Drive board, with chip in its final location but not soldered yet

    If you're going for a wired setup instead, here's a mirror of an image created by Madmorda of with some possible pinouts (even more available at the linked page).

    XenoGC pinout
  3. Finally, protect the chip from the shielding with some more tape (but leave uncovered, at least initially, the pair of LEDs).

    Chip saldato direttamente al lettore e coperto con scotch nero

Part 3 - Laser power adjustment

The console, out of the box, is optimized (for who knows what reason) only for the best performance with industrially pressed miniDVD-ROMs, on which the difference between an one and a zero is easier to see than on a DVD±R (which in turn are easier to read than ±RWs).

  1. The scientifical method for adjusting a drive involves an oscilloscope capable of displaying the "eye pattern" and a professional grade test disc (or in this case where the individual disc(s) that are going to be used are a limited number and known, those discs).

    We can notice the (only) trimmer to adjust power, and the "RF envelope" point from which the eye pattern can be observed. Unlike certain other consoles, turning it all the way (minimum resistance) should not be destructive, since there's a fixed resistor in series - but blindly doing so is both stupid and not guaranteed to work!

    Alternatively we can just plug the console back into power and a display, and adjust it via trial and error.

    RFENV testpoint and potentiometer
  2. In either case we'll have to reconnect the drive (even without shielding), as well as the main 12 volt power line - and to remember to power off the console before pulling the drive again, plus remembering to push back both tabs of the lid switch!

    You should also adjust in small steps (1/16 to 1/8 of a turn) - it's more sensitive than you think.

    Speaking of the first boot after fitting the chip, observe the pair of LEDs to check for correct connections: the first one should light up immediately, blink once, turn off, then the 2nd one should come on and stay fixed. Current production clones make this check a bit harder, since both LEDs are red.

    Partially reassembled console, with power cable (as seen in step 5) reconnected to the switch board, and with drive installed without metallic base/shielding Partially reassembled console, running, connected to a glorious made in Italy TV (a Mivar 14M3), with Swiss successfully booted from miniDVD-R

Part 4 - Reassembly

  1. After unplugging the console again, simply invert the actions performed in steps 10 to 1. But keep in mind these notes:

    Metal screw + plastic thread + ignorance of the trick = damage. After putting the screw against the thread (and moderately pushing against it), UNSCREW it until you hear a click (the screw aligning with the start of the thread), then be careful of the angle while tightening it.

    In step 6, the screws must of course go in the correct holes, without occupying the two reserved for the fan.

    In step 5, the notch in the fan frame has to end up resting against the middle "pole" of the optical drive.

    Reassembling the fan unit

    In step 2, the folding disc cover must be open while reinstalling the top case, so it correctly engages the switch flaps; and of course, align it correctly with respect to the front and back plates!

    Reassembling the top shell

    Finally, remember to set the clock - even if the SRAM continues to run for over 30 minutes without a battery (unless you shorted to ground the leftmost pin of the front panel connector on the motherboard), the clock will likely have lost more than a few minutes…

Part 5 - Usage

After getting your trusty, properly partitioned and formatted SD card, and placing some clean disc images (uncompressed, untrimmed, with GCM or ISO extension), music (MP3) or homebrews (in DOL format, or DOL+CLI) - insert the SD in the SD Gecko and that contraption into the console, start Swiss, and open the desired file!

Unsurprisingly, compatibility isn't 100% perfect - in case of doubt, it's always a smart idea to compare to other people's experiences.

GameCube assembled and ready Swiss's icon in the IPL Swiss's banner in the IPL Swiss open showing the SD's root Swiss open showing a folder containing ISOs, rendering their banners

Press B to access the toolbar, the 5 options are respectively: device selection - Swiss settings - technical data about Swiss and your console - refresh - exit. I would suggest you to try the "alternate read patches" in the options - they offer generally faster loading for a tradeoff in compatibility.

Obviously, the DVD-R is not rewritable; when a new Swiss version (with appealing changes) is available, you can either burn a new disc, or have an updated version of Swiss autoloaded by itself as long as it's in the root of the SD and named boot.dol!

GL & HF!