Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
This week CC2k Video Game Editor Big Ross discusses how his console was struck down, and begins a weekly column exploring the Red Ring of Death Plague as well as regular updates on his experience with the repair process.
It happened. The thing that as a gamer and proud owner of an Xbox 360 I had been dreading for months finally happened. I almost was beginning to think that I was one of the lucky ones. That it couldn’t happen to me. But it did. My console was struck down with the Three Flashing Red Lights on the Ring of Light, or as they’ve become known, the Red Ring of Death (RRoD). If you too are an owner of an Xbox 360, no doubt you’re at least familiar with this phenomenon, if you haven’t experienced it yourself. If you’re not aware of this, I’ll explain more in a few minutes, but first, allow me to indulge in a little self-pity and recount my thoughts and reaction as this minor travesty befell me.
Alright, one more song on Guitar Hero III and that’s it. I’ve got to go to bed.
[I choose “Pride and Joy” by Stevie Ray Vaughn. The loading screen appears, then suddenly freezes.]
What the hell?
[I press a couple of the fret buttons. Nothing happens.]
Hmmm…that’s not good.
[I press the start button several times and then furiously press multiple buttons repeatedly. The loading screen remains frozen.]
Damn it. I guess that means I’m going to bed a little early.
[I eject the GHIII game disc from my console and press the power button, turning it off.]
Hold on a sec. What’s going to happen when I turn this back on?
[I wait a few seconds and hesitantly press the power button again. The console starts its familiar hum, but the start up screen does not appear. After several seconds, I’m confronted with this:
Thoughts of sleep momentarily forgotten, I go to my computer and head to the Xbox webpage, go to their support page and look in the Frequently Asked Questions section. There it is, “Xbox 360: Three flashing red lights on the Ring of Light”. And here is the explanation given:
“The three flashing red lights may indicate that your Xbox 360 console has experienced a hardware failure. If your console continues to display the three flashing red lights, your console may have to be repaired.”
On the upside, because this is such a widespread problem, even though the warranty on my Xbox 360 has expired I will still be able to get this problem repaired for free (as opposed to the $99 Microsoft charges for any non-warranty repair). On the downside, the repair process is officially stated to take 2-3 weeks, but I’ve read it can take as long as several months before your console is fixed and returned to you. Shit. Just when I was looking forward to purchasing Viking: Battle for Asgard and kicking some Nordic ass. But what exactly is the nature of this problem? How did it happen? Why is it so widespread? Will the Red Ring of Death spell doom for Microsoft? I’m going to try and answer these questions in a series of Gaming Guide articles of which this is the first.
What is the nature of the “Three Red Lights” problem?
A “general hardware failure” sounds like a bit of technical jargon no more informative than telling me the thing is broken. What is does it mean? What’s the root of the problem? Xbox.com gives a detailed description of what you, the gamer needs to do in order to have your console repaired, but offers little to nothing in the way of an explanation for why you have to get it repaired. If my car breaks down and I take it to a mechanic, obviously I’d like it fixed, but I’d kind of like to know what’s wrong too.
Fortunately Wikipedia stands by ready to educate the ignorant masses. They’ve got an entire section dedicated to “Xbox 360 Technical Problems”, which I find to be a little disconcerting, by the way. What do they say is the culprit for the hardware failure?
OK, so that’s probably overly blunt and a bit harsh. But that’s what it seems to boil down to. Whether it was an error in judgment, a flaw in design, or a deliberately cut corner in an effort to have their product on the market first, the assembly of the Xbox 360’s motherboard was faulty. An independent study by Manncorp, a company describing itself as an “industry leading supplier of products and equipment for all types of electronic assembly” found that “a substantial number of solder joints” that connect the CPU and GPU (central & graphics processing units, respectively) to the motherboard appeared defective and typical of “cold” soldering.
Time out. You know what soldering is, right? If not, it’s basically a way to join two or more metallic items with a “filler” metal, usually with a lower melting point, and allowing it to solidify and bond the items together. It’s used in electronics like F-bombs are used in Quentin Tarantino’s films.
So a “cold” solder is one that wasn’t sufficiently heated when initially made, and while it will work fine for a while, as the study by Manncorp puts it, the “long term reliability is jeopardized, especially in applications where the solder bonds are subject to wide temperature fluctuations. In such an environment, continuous expansion and contraction of materials with varying thermal coefficients will quickly destroy the integrity of a “cold” solder joint, creating intermittent problems or even complete failure.”
Hmmm … that doesn’t sound good at all, especially when you consider that the Xbox 360 puts out so much heat Microsoft includes the following warning in the console’s official user’s manual…on page 3:
Prevent the Console from Overheating
Do not block any ventilation openings on the console or power supply. Do not place the console or power supply on a bed, sofa, or other soft surface that may block ventilation openings. Do not place the console or power supply in a confined space, such as a bookcase, rack, or stereo cabinet, unless the space is well ventilated. Do not place the console or power supply near any heat sources, such as radiators, heat registers, stoves, or amplifiers. Failure to comply with these guidelines may result in your console catching fire or possibly exploding, which could result in damage of property or personal injury.
Alright, I admit, I added that last sentence. But the rest is legit and the point is valid: the Xbox 360 puts out a crapload of heat while it’s on, and will return to room temperature when turned off, exactly the kinds of conditions that will cause the “cold” solder joints to fail and your console to experience a “general hardware failure”, not to mention the spontaneous flurry of expletives you’ll be shouting as your marathon session of Team Deathmatch on COD 4 is cut short, and just when you were close to ranking up too.
So where do I go from here? I see this unfortunate turn of events as an opportunity. Each week I’m going to give you an update on where my console is in the repair process, which will hopefully be informative, or at the very least amusing. Along the way I’ll continue to address those questions I posed earlier, to further inform you on this electronic epidemic.
It is now Day 9 of Big Ross’ Red Ring of Death Ordeal, or BR’s RRoDO for short (this is my article, so I get to call it whatever I want…fuck off). As I said earlier, on Day 1 I initiated the repair process. I was informed that I would be receiving an email indicating the shipping box I would be using to send my console to Microsoft for repairs had been shipped to me. 8 days later and I am still awaiting that email, and the shipping box. I’ve tried to access the “Check your repair status” page several times this week, but each time I’ve tried to sign in I’ve been met with a “problem loading page” error.