Modchip: Wikis

  

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A Modchip, the white circuit board, attached to an Xbox's PCB

A modchip (short for modification chip) is a small electronic device used to modify or disable built-in restrictions and limitations of many popular videogame consoles. It introduces various modifications to its host system's function, including the circumvention of region coding, digital rights management, and copy protection checks for the purpose of running software intended for other markets, copied game media, or unlicensed third-party (homebrew) software.

Modchips are mainly used in CD/DVD-based videogame systems due to the availability and low cost of user-writable media. In addition to games consoles, modchips are also available for some DVD players to circumvent region code enforcement and user operation prohibitions.

Contents

Function and construction

Modchips operate by replacing or overriding a system's protection hardware or software. They achieve this by either exploiting existing interfaces in an unintended or undocumented manner, or by actively manipulating the system's internal communication, sometimes to the point of re-routing it to substitute parts provided by the modchip.

Most modchips consist of one or more integrated circuits (microcontrollers, FPGAs, or CPLDs), often complemented with discrete parts, usually packaged on a small PCB to fit within the console system it is designed for. Although there are modchips that can be reprogrammed for different purposes, most modchips are designed to work within only one console system or even only one specific hardware version.

Modchips typically require some degree of technical acumen to install. Modchips must be connected to a console's circuitry, most commonly by soldering wires to select traces or chip legs on a system's circuit board. Some modchips allow to be installed by directly soldering the modchip's contacts to the console's circuit ("quicksolder"), by the precise positioning of electrical contacts ("solderless"), and, in rare cases, by plugging it into a system's internal or external connector.

Memory cards or cartridges that offer functions similar to modchips work on a completely different concept, namely by exploiting flaws in the system's handling of media. Such devices are not referred to as modchips, even if they are frequently traded under this umbrella term.

History

Cartridge-based console systems did not have modchips produced for them. They usually implemented copy protection and regional lockout with game cartridges, both on physical and software level. Converters or passthrough devices have been used to circumvent the restrictions, later on flash memory cartridges to copy game media became available. Games stored in cartridges were however copied with the help of extra hardware; see game backup device. Early in the transition from solid-state to optical media, CD-based console systems did not have regional market segmentation or copy protection measures due to the rarity and high cost of user-writeable media at the time.

Modchips started to surface with the PlayStation system, due to its popularity and the increasing availability and affordability of CD writers. At the time, a modchip's sole purpose was to allow the use of imported and copied game media.

Today, modchips are available for practically every current console system, often in a great number of variations. In addition to circumventing regional lockout and copy protection mechanisms, modern modchips may introduce more sophisticated modifications to the system, such as allowing the use of user-created software (homebrew), expanding the hardware capabilities of its host system, or even installing an alternative operating system to completely re-purpose the host system (e.g. for use as a home theater PC).

Anti-modchip measures

Most modchips open the system to illegally-copied media, therefore the availability of a modchip for a console system is undesirable for console manufacturers. They react by removing exploitable intrusion points from subsequent hardware or software versions, changing the PCB layout the modchips are customized for, or by actively trying to detect an installed modchip. These measures often don't prevent modchips from functioning, but may only lead in an adjustment of the modchip's installation process, its programming, or modchip makers trying to find ways to make a modchip undetectable by its host system ("stealth").

With the advent of online services to be used by video game consoles, some manufacturers have executed their possibilities within the service's license agreement to ban consoles equipped with modchips from using those services.[1]

Also, some console manufacturers have begun to include the option to run homebrew software or even an alternative operating system on their consoles,[2][3][4] so that a modchip will not be required for those purposes.

Legality

One of the functions of many modchips - the circumvention of copy protection mechanisms - is outlawed by many countries' copyright laws such as the DMCA in the USA, the EUCD and its various implementations by the EU member countries, and the Australian Copyright Act. However, due to the many diversified functions of a modchip, other laws may apply to a modchip as well, allowing specific functions (e.g. the circumvention of region coding under Australian law).

Because of the ambiguity of applicable laws, a modchip's legality under a country's legislature may only be individually asserted in court. A small number of cases has been dismissed under the argumentation that a system's TPM circumvented by a modchip does not prevent the infringement of copyright (which would be the actual process of copying game media).[5][6] Many other cases, even under the same legislation that has previously dismissed a similar case, have ended with the conviction of the merchant or the manufacturer.

The nonuniform interpretation of applicable law by the courts and constant profound changes and amendments to copyright law do not allow for a definitive statement on the legality of modchips.

Although being an unregisterable generic term in many countries, "Modchip" is a registered trademark in Canada[7].

See also

References








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