Alrighty, we all know the IT sketch “Have you tried turning it off and back on?” It was the motto of most technological issues in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. We were told to keep our desktops on for days on end to get maximum usage. Game consoles, with their new upgraded tech should fall under the same advice, or so we thought.
So, when the Xbox 360 began glitching in early 2006, and we were introduced to the RED RING OF DEATH, or RROD, we did as we were told- turned it off and back on again. But it didn’t seem to work. As many of us can attest to, the RROD spelled the end of that console. We often either paid for costly repairs, or simply bought a new one. And unfortunately, this cycle could often end up repeating itself.
However, as the new documentary, Power On: The Story of Xbox, explains, we were contributing to the problem. For years, the sudden hardware failure within the Xbox 360 was thought to be because of poor thermals. That is only partially true.
Rushing to the top, only to fall
The Xbox 360 was built form the ground up, utilizing technology that hadn’t previously existed. There was a push for Microsoft to launch its next console before PlayStation could release theirs. At one point, an Xbox came off the production line every 4 minutes. It looked like Microsoft had it in the bag. But as the console wars heated up, so did the 360.
According to Leo Del Castillo, a member of the Xbox’s Hardware Engineering Group, it was during the testing phases, the teams began noticing repeated errors. “Out of 100 consoles, only 50 or 60 would work,” said Todd Holmdahl.
So they began boxing up the broken consoles and leaving them for a later time. The pressure was on, and they thought they had finally solved the problems. The “bone pile” was revisited in hopes of meeting the increasing demand. And with PlayStation 3 launching at the crazy price of $499, Xbox felt untouchable.
And then… Red Ring Of Death hit. The failure rendered Xbox 360 completely useless. Forums flooded with players’ complaints and the tech teams began to scramble for a solution.
Too hot to handle
Holmdahl, Xbox’s Head of Hardware Development from 1999 to 2004, said he had spent a lot of time trying to figure out where the problem of the RROD originated from. The answers were not forthcoming. Often, they thought the problem was fixed, only to discover it was not. The breakthrough came “when we understood that the connections that were being broken were not located on the motherboard, but they were actually located inside the components,” Castillo related.
It turns out that the repeated turning the console off and on again led to the soldering balls connecting the GPU to the motherboard getting hot and cold, hot and cold. Over time, this repeated action would cause the soldering balls to fracture and severed the connections. Once the problem was identified and a fix found, the next version- the Xbox 360 S, did not suffer from the damning Red Ring Of Death.
Xbox did offer to replace every faulty console at no extra cost to the consumer, a move that almost cause the company to go into bankruptcy.
Thankfully, Xbox was able to survive, and the rest is history. We have yet to see such blunders in current gen consoles, but you never know with technological advances. If you’re curious about Xbox’s history, check out Power On: The Story of Xbox on YouTube.
Did you experience the Red Ring Of Death? Tell us your story!