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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  • TheLoneWulf - Saturday, June 7, 2008 - link

    Remember that if/when you get your RROD, when you send it back, most likely, you will receive a Falcon board, if not the newest "Jasper" board, when that comes out. Although you will have to wait for it, it will be worth it!
  • iwannaplaycs - Sunday, December 23, 2007 - link

    Bought a Xbox Premium (Holiday bundle) from FutureShop in Toronto.

    Lot: 0642
    Team: JREY

    MFR Date: Oct 17 2006!!!!!

    This sucks. :(
  • Yan - Saturday, December 22, 2007 - link

    I just bought a premium unit in holiday bundle
    at futureshop, I verified the Lot # was above 738, mine is
    lot number 740 and the MFR Date is october 8th, 2007

    I was disapointed to see the infamous heat pipe through the holes
    after I open the box
  • Yan - Saturday, December 22, 2007 - link

    Also, TEAM : CSON
  • Yan - Saturday, December 22, 2007 - link

    Also, TEAM : CSON
  • weenis1 - Friday, December 21, 2007 - link

    Anyone know what Lot Numbers for the Elite console have the Falcon mobo? Thanks.
  • Jasmine64 - Saturday, December 8, 2007 - link

    The box having a bar code sticker showing 175W instead of 203W may be a better indicator of getting the Falcon MB...
    I know Anand's box shows 203W but I purchased LOT NO: 0741, TEAM: FDOU, 203W, manufactured on Oct 11, 2007 and it is a Zepher.

    A co-worker has LOT NO: 0742, TEAM FDOU, 175W and it is a FALCON!
  • confesstoadmit - Saturday, December 8, 2007 - link

    Hey guys, just walked into my local GAME store and purchased a 360 pro package :) BUT unfortunatley it turned out to be a zephyr model..

    LOT : 0737
    Manufature Date : 22/9/2007

    (unfortunatley only because from what i've heard the FALCON model is alot better)

    Anyway :) i was wondering what are my chances of getting the RROD on the zephyr model, i mean it does have the improved heatsink and that weird pipe :P (yeh i'm new to xbox lol)

  • MrEastSide - Saturday, December 1, 2007 - link

    Just thought I'd register and pop in to add some more info to this topic. I just got a new 360 (Old one crapped). After inspecting it and following the information and pictures on here I can confirm mine is a Falcon.

    It is from Team CSON - Lot number 742, manufacture date 10-21-2007, and it's the premium that comes packed with Forza and Marvel.
  • mjcuk - Friday, November 23, 2007 - link

    If anyone wants to know if they've got a Falcon chipset, I've come up with an easier method. If you keep the Xbox 360 horizontal, and locate the the narrow ventilation grille above the cover of the USB ports at the far end, you can determine what you've got. Firstly, shine a torch in the ventilation grille, where the Microsoft insignia is. Locate the two capacitors positioned alongside each other, and then run the torch slowly to the middle of the narrow vent and locate the centre capacitor. Just to its right, if you see an unfilled circular white marking on the motherboard (where an inductor should be), then that means you've got a Falcon. ;-)

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