The original Xbox, launched by Microsoft in 2001, is still a popular console to run homebrew games and emulators on. However, as with any old hardware, the console’s weaknesses are starting to show. One of those weaknesses is the optical drive, a common source of error on old video game consoles. One common errors are that the DVD-tray is stuck, and won’t eject. Another common error is that the Xbox won’t read discs. In this post, we will attend to both these issues.
A temporarily fix for the stuck DVD-tray is to use a paper clip on the little hole on the front of the console, slightly below the right side of the drive, and push it while pressing the eject button.
Let’s start with the bad news, followed by the good news.
The bad news: Your optical drive is slowly dying
The optical drive in any old console is slowly disintegrating as it is being used. The laser is slowly losing its power, all the mechanical parts are getting worn, and the electrical motors used to eject the tray and spin the discs are getting weaker. To make it worse, even the games are afflicted by their age: scratched discs, and “disc rot” is getting more common. That is why it is recommended to soft-mod any old original Xbox, and run games from a hard drive instead. However, having a functional DVD-drive might be handy sometimes, especially if you just want to pop in one of your old games, and give it a go.
The good news: You can prolong the life of the drive with some easy fixes
Although the DVD-drive is subject to wear and tear, it consists of many replaceable / fixable parts. The laser can be cleaned, and a stuck DVD-tray can be fixed by replacing or cleaning a piece of rubber that is attached to the electrical eject motor. I usually combine these efforts with greasing some of the mechanical parts of the DVD-drive. This requires disassembling the Xbox, which will be further described below.
Disassembling the original Xbox
Step 1: Turn your Xbox upside-down, and remove the six screws as shown in the image below. Gently remove the top cover.
Step 2: Now you should see this. The DVD-drive to the left, and the hard drive to the right. We want to remove the DVD-drive by removing the three marked screws below. Also, disattach the power cable and flat IDE-cable from the drive.
Step 3: With the DVD-drive removed, separate it from the cradle, and remove the four screws below.
Step 4: Now you can easily access most parts of the drive. Here, you have a few choices. Some stuff is obvious, like cleaning the laser unit (showed in the image below) with some Q-tips soaked in isopropanol alcohol. Gently rub the laser to do that. This will hopefully fix any disc error problems you encounter. If not, you may want to try and adjust the laser, or replace it. We do not cover that in this post at the time.
Now is also a good time to clean the whole drive, removing dirt and dust from all accessible surfaces.
If you have troubles with a stuck DVD-tray, the problem is probably the little rubber band that goes from an electrical motor, to some plastic cogs that operate the tray (see, image below). Here you have a couple of options. If you find a matching rubber band (for example, an “O-ring”), great! Just replace the rubber band. However, I have been having trouble finding an exact match. If the band is to small, the motor cannot spin, if it is to large, it wont fit tight enough to spin the cogs. Some users say a rubber band from the Xbox 360 drive will work.
One option is to boil the old rubber band in a pan for a few minutes, which may help to shrink it a bit. The theory is that the rubber swells a little when exposed to dirt and grease. Boiling it removes this stuff, and makes the rubber go back to something closer to its original size. Dry the rubber band, and add it to the drive again.
As a final step, I use lithium grease on all plastic components that are involved in opening the drive. This step helps a tired electrical motor to rotate the cogs and hopefully get the DVD-drive open. Be careful since this stuff tends to get everywhere!
Of course it might be the case that your drive is simply not easy fixable. The laser might be finished and the electrical motor(s) worn out. Then you have to try and get a replacement drive (they come in different brands, but are swappable), or find some spare parts. Some users have had luck converting an regular PC IDE DVD-rom to the Xbox, but that will not be covered in this post.