Tag Archives | Red Ring of Death

Oh, Just Tell Us the Xbox 360 Failure Rate Already!

redringofdeathAnother day, another stab at the Xbox 360’s failure rate.

This time, the estimate comes from Square Trade (PDF), a third-party electronics warranty company. Based on customer reports, the company says Microsoft’s game console has a 23.7 percent chance of dying within two years of purchase. Half the errors reported to Square Trade involved the infamous Red Ring of Death.

Overall, the Xbox 360’s one in four chance of failure makes it far and away the most unreliable console on the market. By comparison, 10 percent of Playstation 3s were defective, and 2.7 percent of Wiis needed repair.

SquareTrade is the same company that in February 2008 said the Xbox 360 has a 16.4 percent failure rate, and we’ve seen other estimaes all over the map. In 2007, GamePro talked to some EB Games and Best Buy employees, who generally estimated that a third of all Xbox 360s had to be sent back for repair. More recently, Game Informer conducted a poll of readers, 54.2 percent of whom said they’ve dealt with an Xbox 360 hardware failure.

The funny thing is, you tend to be skeptical of such high estimates until the Red Ring of Death happens to you. My Xbox 360 kicked the bucket a few weeks ago, and suddenly I started realizing how many friends have gone through the same thing. If someone told me that 99 percent of Xbox 360s were bound to die within 10 years of ownership, I’d be skeptical of the claim, but not overly surprised if it turned out to be true.

Which is why I’d like Microsoft to come clean. Let’s clear the air of all these wildly speculative failure rate estimates and get some precise numbers and facts in order. If I treat my console right, can I expect it to last forever? If not, how long is it before every press of the power button is a crapshoot? And what are the odds that the Xbox 360 will outlast the three-year warranty that comes with every new console purchase?

Of course, I’d be foolish to expect such transparency out of the blue, but I doubt the truth could be much worse than third-party guesstimates and anecdotes. Or is it?


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RROD Explained: You Play Too Much

redringofdeathMicrosoft’s never been particularly forthcoming about the Xbox 360’s hardware issues. The company said earlier this year that the worst troubles are behind us, only to see new problems spring up. We’ve never heard an official failure rate (estimates vary, wildly), and after all this time, there’s no way to tell whether a working console is destined to get the dreaded Red Ring of Death.

So Eurogamer did the logical thing and asked a third-party console repairman, and learned that a major problem in today’s console failures is “cumulative damage.” In other words, the longer you own and play a console, the more likely it is to die.

Sony fanboys shouldn’t be laughing: Engineer Darren Thickbroom of Colchester Computers told Eurogamer that he’s seeing more and more Playstation 3 consoles come in for the so-called “Yellow Line of Doom.” Sure, Thickbroom is just one engineer, but his analysis does check out with my own Xbox 360 experience. After almost three years of use, my console suddenly and inexplicably stopped working a couple weeks ago, flashing the three red lights I’d heard and written so much about.

Of course, you can’t blame the console owner for playing the console. What’s really problematic, according to Thickbroom, is the general design of the latest machines, which pack powerful hardware into a tiny container. “Everything’s combined into such a small space, the heatsinks on the GPU are relatively small, there’s a lot of heat to dissipate and it can’t do it,” he said. Over time, the trapped heat warps the console’s motherboard, eventually hitting a breaking point.

Maybe instead of wishing for ultrathin consoles, we should by lobbying for the Playstation 3 Big and the Xbox 360 Fat. I’d rather have a fully-functional colossus in my entertainment center than a slim and sexy brick.


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No More Coffins for Red Ringed Xbox 360s

redringofdeathIf you own an Xbox 360, consider hanging on to any box that might fit your console, just in case you get the Red Ring of Death.

Joystiq reports that Microsoft will no longer ship out its custom-fitted “coffins” — somehow I don’t think this is the company’s lingo — in which to return broken Xbox 360s. Customers can still print out shipping labels on Microsoft’s dime, but they’ll have to find a suitable transport container themselves.

Microsoft’s confirmation is a change of course from what Joystiq learned in March, when a representative denied that customers weren’t getting the option of a coffin. All customers from every region around the world got to choose a prepaid label or a container with the shipping label appended, the representative said back then. The new policy went into effect on May 26.

A Microsoft representative told Joystiq that this move will “expedite the shipping process” because there’s no need to wait for Microsoft’s packaging, but you should be able to recognize the spin from a mile away. If killing the coffin is meant to help the customer, some sort of box should at least be optional for people who don’t have one sitting around. Its more likely that this is a cost-saving measure.

Joystiq recommends using any old box to ship a red ringed Xbox 360, but that raises more concerns. Are customers then expected buy packing peanuts or bubble wrap to keep the console secure? If not, what if some other component of the console breaks in transit? I’m going out on a limb here, but Microsoft could face either higher costs to repair additional parts or another PR nightmare when customers have to pay more to take care of a problem they didn’t cause.

The big takeaway? Either Microsoft is getting really stingy, or the company has been shipping a lot of boxes.


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Rumor: Microsoft Can Kill Xbox 360s Remotely

redringofdeathImagine if Microsoft could order a Red Ring of Death on an Xbox 360 if the company didn’t approve of the user’s actions, such as piracy or cheating.

One former software and hardware tester said this is possible. Speaking to 8BitJoystick, this recently laid off employee said Microsoft can activate a trigger that tells the Xbox 360 to fry itself, though it likely hasn’t done so out of lab testing. Upon receiving a broken console for repair, Microsoft could reportedly recognize the problem and decline to honor the warranty.

The source revealed several other tidbits, such as the possible release of Metal Gear Solid 4 for the Xbox 360 and the opinion that testers are overworked and underpaid, but neither of those are as shocking as the story’s other major revelation.

A bit of qualification: I follow 8BitJoystick’s Jake Metcalf on Twitter and he seems like a responsible writer. More importantly, he has a track record of digging up credible inside sources. He famously broke the news that Halo developer Bungie was leaving Microsoft (it was actually amusing to see bigger outlets laugh at him, then eat their words), and has posted a couple other juicy reports as well.

So when Metcalf says the source was “well vetted,” I believe him, even if the source’s information leaves me skeptical simply because it’s so unbelievable.

If the report is accurate, the obvious question remains: Does Microsoft have the legal right to do this? Yes, Metcalf argues, because hacking an Xbox 360 is a violation of the console’s terms of service, as well as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

I was hesitant to agree at first, because Microsoft would then have to reserve the right, in its agreement with the user, to disable the console. However, the proof’s in the pudding. The pertinent section of Xbox Live’s terms says Microsoft may, among other things (emphasis mine ahead):

“(c) upgrade, modify, withdraw, suspend, or discontinue any functionality or feature of the Service, any game or other content available or accessible through the Service, or any hardware or software associated with the Service or with an original Xbox or Xbox 360 console, or personal computer, from time to time without notice, which may involve the automatic download of related software directly to your original Xbox, Xbox 360 console, or personal computer, including software that prevents you from accessing the Service, playing pirated games, or using unauthorized hardware peripheral devices.”

Presumably, such a software update could brick the console, and Microsoft could argue that doing so was necessary to prevent piracy. It boils down to the idea that when you’re playing on Microsoft’s console, you’re playing by Microsoft’s rules, and they reserve the right to handle the console any way they choose. Break the rules, and you’re on your own. That’s no rumor.


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E74 and Red Ring of Death: Same But Different

redringofdeathThey go by different names, but sometimes it’s the same hardware failure that causes the Xbox 360’s “Red Ring of Death” and the newer “E74.”

In an interview with Kotaku’s Brian Crecente, an unnamed Microsoft representative discussed the latest console-killing error, which on Tuesday became covered under the same three-year warranty Microsoft issued to fix the Red Ring of Death.

Crecente was trying to figure out if the “three flashing red lights” and E74 are the same problem with different indicators. Microsoft denied that claim, but said that in some cases the error messages are referring to the same hardware failure. “However, it is not the same failure mode in all cases and there is no single root cause for these malfunctions,” the representative said.

Microsoft didn’t elaborate much further than that; as I said last time, the company has nothing to lose by playing this close to the vest. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Xbox personalities can claim that the worst has come to pass.

Here’s another interesting tidbit from the short interview: Microsoft said the Red Ring of Death is not out of the picture, even though hardware improvements have reduced the likelihood of the problem.

In that light, I wish Microsoft would reset the clock on its warranty coverage for customers whose consoles have bricked. A set time limit of three years is unsettling when customers can’t rest assured that their console won’t break again, even with the latest hardware.


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E74: Microsoft Recognizes the Xbox 360's Other Problem

redringofdeath“Red Ring of Death” has worked its way so thoroughly into gamer lexicon that it’s comical to watch Microsoft work around the terminology. Perhaps the company’s talking heads will have an easier time with “E74,” a different system killing hardware issue whose moniker is so succinct it’ll probably stick. But I digress.

Microsoft’s Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb acknowledged this new hardware issue today, announcing that the infamous three-year Xbox 360 warranty will extend its coverage to include E74 along with the “three flashing lights error,” as Hryb calls it. The warranty began in the summer of 2007 in response to Red Ring issues and is good for three years from the purchase of an Xbox 360 console. In addition to covering new E74 repairs, Microsoft will retroactively reimburse anyone who has paid the company to fix the problem. Checks will go out before July 1.

Joystiq has been covering the E74 issue since complaints emerged in greater numbers this year. They believe the problem stems from a faulty solder on the ANA/HANA scaling chip in HDMI models. Lines across the screen or snowy interference typically preceed the fatal error message, which is accompanied by one flashing red light (Quadrant of Death?). Microsoft has not described the nature of the problem except to call it a “general hardware failure.”

Chances are, the company won’t elaborate. Microsoft has claimed that the Red Ring of Death debacle hasn’t hurt the brand, and was reluctant to come clean on the problem for some time, so I imagine the company is tackling this issue with the same bravado. Maybe brand loyalty is okay for the Xbox 360, but Sony would be wise to store these issues in its memory banks for the next round of console wars.


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Red Ring of Death Nightmares Are Over, Says Microsoft

rrodAre the Xbox 360-killing problems that cause the infamous Red Ring of Death gone? And will people who send in their consoles for repairs have to cycle through the process multiple times to get a real fix?

Over at Edge, Kris Graft put those questions to Microsoft’s Aaron Greenberg, who said the console’s biggest technical woes have come to pass. “We’ve put the worst behind us on this, but we know there are a few lagging systems, and so we want to take those and make it right,” Greenberg said. Asked about the technical nitty-gritty of hardware updates, Greenberg wouldn’t answer, saying that Microsoft’s attorneys “would not allow me to say that.”

In the summer of 2007, Microsoft fessed up to an “unacceptable number” of defective systems. We’ve heard of failure rates as high as 30 percent — which I’m skeptical of — but the company never provided specifics. In any case, all console owners were given an extended 3-year warranty should any red ring problems arise.

Since then, new Xbox 360s received an upgrade. These so-called “Jasper” models feature a new motherboard and a smaller, cooler-running GPU. This is huge, because ATI’s original graphics card was at risk for overheating, thus warping the motherboard and putting undue stress on solder joints. Greenberg said the improvements that went into the new models also go into repairs.

In stores, different Xbox 360 models aren’t clearly marked on the packaging. If you’re considering a new console, look for “12,1A” where the power information is listed on the back of the box. Greenberg, always restrained when he’s talking about this stuff, told Ars Technica last month that Microsoft obscures that information because it wants customers “to buy with confidence,” he said. “They shouldn’t, you know, get hung up on the internal components of the device.” (Read: We don’t want them to worry that it’ll brick.)


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