The Red Ring of Death

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced an extension of the Xbox 360's warranty from 1 to 3 years for consoles affected by the infamous Red Ring of Death (RRoD) defect. Microsoft never confirmed what actually caused the RRoD, or how many consoles would ultimately be affected, but the symptoms are very well known. Your console will start to freeze/lock up, eventually followed by three red lights on the front of the system, after which you'll either be able to revive the box for short periods of time or it becomes an expensive piece of modern art.

The present solution to RRoD is pretty simple; you call Microsoft's support hotline, you give the representative some information about your Xbox 360 (he/she will then walk you through some diagnostic steps, nothing too painful), and a few days later you'll find an empty box at your doorstep. Toss in your Xbox 360, affix the pre-paid shipping label (Microsoft even provides tape to seal the box) and about a month later you'll get a refurbed or brand new Xbox 360, as well as a 30-day pass for Xbox Live. While you're without your console for as much as a month, at least there's no cost incurred; overall Microsoft takes care of RRoD victims quite well.

Many have surmised that the reason for the RRoD problems is because of inadequate GPU cooling, resulting in fractures in the lead-free solder between the chip and the motherboard. We haven't been able to confirm this suspicion but we have been able to find evidence that Microsoft ignored many suggestions to improve GPU cooling in the Xbox 360, although we're not sure why.

Simply looking at the Xbox 360's internals you see that there's something wrong with the cooling setup; the heatsink covering the GPU, albeit wide, is barely large enough to cool a low end desktop graphics card, much less the higher powered GPU that's in the Xbox 360. If we assume that the Xbox 360's GPU is at least as powerful as the PS3's, the cooling requirements should be somewhere similar; given that the PS3 basically had a GeForce 7800 GTX under its hood, the cooling requirements should be similar. What would require a two-slot cooling solution in a desktop PC was given a barely adequate heatsink on the Xbox 360 and stuck underneath a DVD drive.

Despite the seemingly inadequate cooling, the Xbox 360 worked just fine - the exception being what seemed to be an inordinate amount of RRoD failures, but since Microsoft extended the warranty it wasn't a huge problem, just more of an annoyance.

It's possible that simple tweaks in the manufacturing process could reduce the likelihood of RRoD, assuming that it is heat related. As yield curves improve over the life of manufacturing a particular chip, it is possible to produce chips that run at lower voltages and are thus cooler. It could very well be that the consoles that fail due to RRoD are simply using higher yield GPUs that run at higher voltages, and thus produce more heat, explaining why the problem seems to affect some consoles but not others. If this correlation were true, as overall chip yields improve, the chances of RRoD go down.

When rumors began creeping up about Microsoft moving to 65nm chips in the Xbox 360, many wondered if this could be the end of the RRoD problems, saving owners the headache with dealing with potential failure. Assuming that the root cause of RRoD is inadequate cooling, it is feasible that moving to cooler chips could alleviate if not altogether fix the problem.

While there's no conclusive way of proving whether or not these new Xbox 360s will reduce the chances of the dreaded RRoD, the geek in us couldn't help but try to go find one of these babies, test it and take it apart.

Index Identifying a 65nm Xbox 360
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  • Staples - Saturday, November 17, 2007 - link

    It is nice to see that much less power is being used in the Falcon. One test however is missing. The amount of power it uses when it is in power-savings download mode. This sure will not be enought to burn out the console however this measurement would be a lot more important to me than when it is in the off state.
  • Mumrik - Friday, November 16, 2007 - link

    The 360 has a baaad reputation for being noisy - does the Falcon still have this problem or has the noise been reduced significantly?

    I know it has been speculated that it might have to do with the DVD drive, so there might be no change.
  • strikeback03 - Friday, November 16, 2007 - link


    Despite the power reduction, the console is still noisy thanks to a loud DVD drive.

    Next to last paragraph, last page.
  • saiku - Friday, November 16, 2007 - link

    Is there something that a non-soldering kind of guy do to cut down the noise? I have the HD-DVD addon and watching movies always includes a background noise score from the device itself.
  • ChristopherO - Friday, November 16, 2007 - link

    It depends on how much hassle you are willing to go through. The drive isn't "acoustically isolated", if it were suspended by rubber bands, it would be almost totally silent. The perceived drive noise is actually the resonance through the rest of the chassis.

    Microsoft could have fixed this problem by mouting the drive between soft rubber pads (held in place by friction).

    You can experiment with acoustic isolation in your regular computer. If you suspend the hard disk with rubber bands in a 5 1/4" bay (instead of screwed into a 3.5" slot), even a loud drive like a WDC Raptor would be near silent during typically noisy seek operations.

    My personal workstation and in-home server are totally silent. You don't realize how much noise comes off a typical computer (or game console) until you stand next to one that is totally noiseless.
  • BansheeX - Friday, November 16, 2007 - link

    Rubber mounting the drive wouldn't make much of a difference. The real noise is coming from the internal mechanics of the drive. It's going to be loud at 12x no matter what you do.

    This is why blu-ray/HD-DVD can't be seen as only a capacity advantage for next-gen gaming. It's just as important for acoustics. The PS3 drive doesn't have to spin anywhere near as fast because the data is more densely packed on the disc. An analogy would be two fields with a horse on each. The 360 field has lines 5 yards apart and the PS3 field has lines 1 yard apart. The horse on the 360 field has to gallop (loudly) to cross lines at the same rate as the horse on the PS3 field trotting.
  • ChristopherO - Friday, November 16, 2007 - link

    That's not true.

    It is an acoustic/mounting problem and has very little to do with revolutions per minute. The velocity of a 12x DVD drive is about 7,600-18K RPM. The only real difference between that and a 15K SCSI device is the litho/warping can create a balance issue (MSFT requires a total-surface graphic to prevent weight distribution problems). Furthermore, high speed drives will throttle down if experiencing vibration. Vibration corrupts the data long before it becomes an auditory annoyance.

    Blu-Ray is a CLV device, and the BD ROM in the PS3 has a maximum velocity around 2,000 RPM. The vibration tolerances of the BD drive are less significant and as such employ fewer techniques to minimize noise. The noise delta is closer than one would guess based purely on surface speed.

    That being said, the Xbox drive should always be louder than the PS3 drive in side-by-side comparisons, however if you were to hold the Xbox drive in your hands (while running) you would get a tremendous reduction in noise. Rubber mounting the drive would result in a tremendous perceived noise reduction, I'd guess 80% at the very least.

    The sonic impact of virtually every drive (HDD, DVD, BD, HD DVD) is almost entirely related to hard-mounting rather than motor and vibration noise. Case in point, I have a Samsung 18X DVD drive (50% faster than the 360) in my PC and it is acoustically decoupled from the case. Even during high-speed reads it doesn't sound any louder than a 6x DVD drive using a traditional mount.
  • BansheeX - Friday, November 16, 2007 - link

    While your tech-speak is mostly correct, I still question the ultimate assertion that the majority of noise is coming from case vibration and not the drive itself. Even if you rested the thing on bed of jello, the drive itself is emitting the bulk of the noise at a high spin speed. Not even close to 80% will be reduced. And I welcome you to post some objective test results to back up your claims, possibly a video with a direct audio comparison between a suspended dvd-rom and a non-suspended dvd-rom, of the same model, at the same speed. You would think that if you were right someone would have done this by now.

    That chirping noise that the dreamcast is famous for is not the sound of metal on metal vibration. It's the read head repositiong itself. The massive whooshing noise? It gets louder as the spin speed increases even with nothing to pass vibration to. Because inside the cd-rom itself is an assembly of metal and plastic parts that can't help but have more friction with each other when higher spin speeds force them to. Improving acoustics of something like this is difficult without also affecting durability. Only completely sealing the drive in foam or something is going to rid you of that noise, which is why you see hard drive enclosures as a far more popular an effective method for reducing drive noise than suspension (though you're limited in that most 3.5 drives will fry to death from the trapped heat). And that solution is obviously not very applicable for something which needs an opening.

    If cheap rubber parts could have as pronounced an effect as you're claiming, I have to think that we wouldn't even be talking about this right now.
  • ChristopherO - Saturday, November 17, 2007 - link


    You would think that if you were right someone would have done this by now.

    I'm sure the Xbox crowd isn't too keen on modification since it voids a 36 month warranty. I've just got mine sitting on a piece of 1-inch thick foam, and that helps a decent bit. I'll modify mine once the warranty is up.

    As for everything else (theory, etc) go to Look in the forums on "drive suspensions", and similar. Some of the people there are wackier than me. When all is said and done my PC is below the ambient noise floor of my house. If I play a game (full load on the CPU/GPU), mute my speakers, I can easily hear the compressor in my fairly new (and quiet) fridge downstairs in the kitchen.

    Suspension is much preferred to enclosures. The noise reduction is ultimately the same since virtually all drive noise is resonance and not a direct mechanical effect. If you're really concerned about drive heat you can stick memory heat sinks on the top of the drive, thus improving heat dissipation. The drive enclosure people are ripping consumers off since they get to sell you a flashy product for a lot more money than necessary (and many times are louder than suspension since they aren't properly decoupled).

    The poor man's suspension is to use zip-ties. It isn't quite as effective as thick rubber, but close and it is easier to buy ties.


    possibly a video with a direct audio comparison between a suspended dvd-rom and a non-suspended dvd-rom

    This message takes me 3 minutes to type. If you want to test it yourself, fire up your PC, pull your DVD ROM from its bay (but still attached), install something huge from DVD (a game, Office 2007, etc), hold the DVD ROM drive while installing and listen to the noise. It will be virtually eliminated.

    You can even hold it inside the case (thus maintaining some amplification due to the enclosure) and the result will be virtually the same.

    I'm not saying you'll end up with a totally silent drive, but the noise reduction will be appreciable. For instance a proper suspension will nearly silence a 15,000 RPM Cheetah during full seek. It is really striking. Like I said, the most audible component in my system is the 18X DVD and it sounds like a quiet 6 speed from the late 90s.

    My PC is silent, be my guest if you don't believe me, but you can take 5 minutes and prove it to yourself. You don't need to go through the degree of insanity I've done, but a typical user can cut their PC's noise in half with 15-25 minutes of tinkering (drive suspension and buying something like Zalman fan controllers).

    If you're really serious about silence, go for a thermistor controlled 120mm Nexus fan, a fanless PSU or exceptional PSU w/fan (Seasonic S12 is darn near silent), and a Scythe Ninja heat sink (can run passive on Core 2s). You can also get passive video cards or elaborate add-on cooling that is passive for all but the biggest cards.
  • BansheeX - Saturday, November 17, 2007 - link

    Doesn't it look like I'm familiar with in my post? I am very much into silent PCs. I can't stand noise coming from my case. I have a total of two fans in my case, one on the CPU and one in the power supply. The loudest part in my case is a very quiet fan on my SeaSonic PSU. My hard drive is newish Samsung 2.5 laptop drive that is naturally almost silent, even on seeks, but has been placed in a SilentDrive for literal silence. SilentPCReview forums are annoying because 2.5 drives are rarely ever mentioned even though, IMO, you would be an idiot to care about noise and not use one. Their thermal and acoustic properties are so much better than 3.5 drives, it's not even funny. And thanks to perpendicular density and cache increases, even a 5400rpm model performs better than my old 7200rpm 3.5 drive did.

    As for DVD-ROM drives, the best thing you can do to reduce noise is to cap the read speed with a program like Nero DriveSpeed. The guy who held out his drive and heard it was louder than when it was in his case is correct. You know why? Because when it was screwed tightly into the case, the drive was balanced and held in place by the strength and weight of the case, reducing wobble at high read speeds. So long as you have appropriate screws, there shouldn't be any extra noise outside of the drive. Suspending it in rubber could actually make it worse.

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