What Is an Xbox Softmod?

By Nicholas Johnson

Use an emulator to play PS2 and Xbox game discs on your PC.
i compact disc image by Steve Lovegrove from Fotolia.com

Gaming console modification allows consoles like the Microsoft Xbox to perform tasks that are outside the scope of its original programming. Softmod stands for software modification, modification by installing new software over the original operating system. Although softmods are not available for all gaming consoles, the Microsoft Xbox series of softmods make the console a multimedia powerhouse and emulator for classic games. Modification can be dangerous to your system. It also voids your warranty, so modify at your own risk.


The dashboard is the main menu of the Xbox system. Although it was powerful at its release, the dashboard quickly became outdated by newer consoles. Certain softmods replace the dashboard with an easily navigable menu with new options for the various features the softmod contains. A common softmod menu allows the user to directly access the Xbox hard drive as a computer-like file system.


The Microsoft Xbox, as the first console in its line, can only play Xbox games. Softmods allow the use of emulators, applications that mimic other consoles such as the original Nintendo or Sega consoles. With the ability to emulate, a softmodded Xbox console eliminates the need for multiple consoles. Emulating games you do not own is illegal, so only use the emulator for games you have previously purchased.


One of the major uses of softmods is to turn the Xbox into a multimedia station. Softmods allow a user to open music, video and picture files located on the Xbox's hard drive. By connecting the Xbox to a router, computers on the network can freely share files to and from the Xbox, allowing a central repository for files. Additionally, connecting the Xbox to a router also enables the device to stream videos directly from the Internet.


The DVD drive of the original Xbox can only play DVD movies using the Xbox DVD Playback Kit. With a softmod installed, the device no longer requires the Playback Kit to play DVDs. Softmodding also enables the device to rip DVD movies directly to the file system to be viewed later.


Softmods are an alternative to hardmods, or hardware modifications. Hardware modifications require opening the Xbox console's shell and altering the internal components. On some modifications, this requires the ability to solder and install electrical components and wires. Softmodding eliminates the need to open the console as well as the inherent danger to the system from direct hardware modification.


Softmods provide a mechanically safer alternative to hardware modification, but come with their own inherent dangers. Because softmods modify the system files of the Xbox, mistakes or errors during installation have the potential to ruin the Xbox. This permanent destruction of an electronic device is commonly referred to as "bricking," and is a common problem with software modification.