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The Trolley Problem (2)

Curse of the Ring of Death

Ring_of_death There is a curious tale told on 1UP about Justin Lowe, the dedicated gamer hobbyist who owns and enjoys many consoles, including both a PS3 and an Xbox 360... in fact, its his twelfth 360, as the first eleven all failed:

He purchased his first machine a month after the console launch, but, since then, Justin has not had a working system for longer than a month or two. The list of problems is almost comically large: three red lights of death, two with disc read errors, two dead on arrival, several with random audio and video-related issues and one that actually exploded.

Even though it is possible there is some environmental issue contributing, I'm inclined to believe, on the facts as presented, that Microsoft bears the responsibility for this problem, especially given that none of his other consoles have given Justin a problem.

Microsoft claim their failure rates are within or below the 3-5% industry standard range. Retailers claim the rate is closer to 30%.

A little mathematics can shed some light on this...

  • If the failure rate was 30%, the odds for Justin's Curse would be 1 in 564,503.
  • On the other hand, if the failure rate was 5%, the odds for Justin's Curse would be 1 in 204,8 00,000,000,000, or 1 in 204 billion (UK) - that's more than 1 in 200 trillion in US terms!

There are 11 million Xbox 360's in the world. Which do you think is more likely?

If Justin is an entirely unique case, that would mean we can estimate the failure rate of the console to be approximately 22.9% (the inverse of the eleventh root of eleven million). On the other hand, if  the retailer's estimate is correct, there should be roughly another dozen and a half people who have experienced Justin's Curse - Microsoft could tell us how many there actually are, but you can bet that they don't want to!

The failure rate of the Xbox 360 is likely, on the basis of the evidence available, to be greater than 20% (1 in 5). More than that we can't say with any confidence. But it's certainly not the 5% that Microsoft would have you believe.


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My boyfriend had this console and two times it had similar failures, one time 3 red lights and one time disc read error. He was out of his warranty, I wouldn't let him pay $150 for repairs. both time we found a good working solution in a tech support site that had some really cool fixes.

Here is the page for the Xbox 360 Repair tech support site, highly recommended

I just hope we are not going to be like Justin with 12 different cases...

Gamescentral had a reader reporting 15 breakdowns in a 'bragging rights' theme.

This could be a lie of course - whether to get his name in print or to incriminate Microsoft - but given the various folk who wrote in independently to report similar numbers to Justin, there are likely to be at least a few true cases.

P.S. It was reported by the same teletext channel that the company repairing the 360s deemed the '3-lights' problem 'endemic' and has suggested it may start refusing to repair such machines.

They should offer an achievement based on how many times you're 360 has broken down.

I think people need to wake up and realize that MS has been foisting an inferior product(s) vetted by inferior service for the past 25 years, and vote with their dollars. The 360 and Vista are second rate, cripple monoliths of Branded inefficiency. MS Casual Games and XBLA are probably exceptions, incidentally, Kim Pallister and David Edery are both smart, stand-up guys. Silverlight is also quite promising. But overall, let the Giant starve.

All the 360 failure stories are having a slightly strange effect on me (no, not that!). I am (planning is the wrong word) going to get a 360 in the next few months. This is a fact as far as my ability to predict my own future goes.

The reason for this (apart from the fact I am both a gamer and need new technology on an as-regular-as-possible basis) is that "IV" is coming out in October.

I would have umm-ed and ahh-ed about which console to get to play it on, but Sony have annoyed me so much, that despite being staunchly anti-M$, I have no desire to buy a PS3 (yet). Added to this is the slightly interesting fact that M$ paid $50m to get the rights to "exclusive" extra content for "IV" (which won;t happen til next year, but still...).

OK? So I am wanting an Xbox 360 to play my game on. And because I am slightly nuts I need to be able to play the game as shortly after I am legally able to do so as possible (I queued at midnight for San Andreas...). Therefore I need a 360 in the next few months...

This is despite knowing that M$ are changing the manufacturing process and that more reliable (hopefully! How can they be less?) units will be on sale towards the end of the year. These units may also be cheaper, if not before xmas, then shortly afterwards.

Despite all this I want a 360 by October. And my plan had been to buy a cheap second-hand one.

But now I am more aware of the failure rate of 360's, I am forced into a bizarre position where I feel I should buy a NEW 360 so, when it goes wrong I can get it replaced/fixed whatever.

I need to counter this feeling with tidbits of "knowledge" like; "Goods are more likely to fail early or late in their life." which might mean an 18 month old 360 is hard as nails. "It'll only fail just after your warranty runs out!" so maybe a second hand one has run this gauntlet and survived? etc.

It's weird, but on the whole I feel more like buying a new 360 (and giving M$ some money - something I don't do very often) then getting a second-hand 360...

"They should offer an achievement based on how many times you're 360 has broken down."


I appreciate Microsoft's need to spin this issue so that it doesn't hurt them. But that doesn't mean I respect the way they are doing it. In this instance, it seems to countermand the factual evidence, which goes beyond spin and into the realms of outright lying. Impeach Microsoft! :D

Since I already hold a grudge against Microsoft companies for the mental torture I have endured over the years trying to make Office co-operate with me in a civilised and reliable fashion (a war without end, it seems), I perhaps relish too greatly the opportunity to poke a stick in *their* open wounds for a change!

As for whether a new or a used 360 will be a better bet, on the whole I agree that most failures happen within the first few months. But then I think of peterb's report of his 360 failing in the month after the warranty expiring (and then astonishingly badgering the customer support into replacing it anyway!)

Whatever the problem behind the 360's hardware failures, you probably have to buy a lottery ticket just like anyone else... 20% isn't bad odds for a single purchase, although it is shockingly poor for a big ticket item of consumer electronics.

You might want to consider reviewing the process for backing up save games on the 360, though. ;)

Thanks for the comments everyone!

Update - There now exists a comprehensive site that explains why the 3 red lights happen in deep technical detail. Included is a downloadable tutorial that walks you through the troubleshooting steps to avoid having to send out for microsoft xbox 360 repair. If your xbox 360 flunks the tutorial you can turn to the extensive reviews on the site about the available self repair manuals. 3 Red Lights Fix Here

Thanks for the tip, Voltolio!

But does anyone know: are the new Xbox 360s suffering from the ring of death still? Less often? Never? I'm quite curious.

Of course, that site is selling the red light fix, so this is in effect an advert...

Over the last couple of years, the Xbox 360 has been plagued by a number of problems, including the 3 red lights, graphic errors,
freeze ups, and overheating. Fortunately, there are a number of ways that you can help prevent the Xbox 360 3 red lights by providing it with the proper ventilation. You can get a full list of tips at...

Fortunately, there are a number of ways that you can help prevent the Xbox 360 3 red lights by providing it with the proper ventilation.

Frankly, such measures shouldn't be needed. I'm certainly an advocate of sensible measures (putting the console on a fairly hard surface as opposed to a deep carpet, avoiding extreme temperatures or physical shocks) but I feel that having spent so much money on a plaything, it should be resilient to certain abuse.

Looking after a console and keeping it in working condition shouldn't be an arcane skill; discussed over the internet to trade tips and techniques. It should simply be a case of following a few simple and sensible measures mentioned in the instructions (and preferably intuitively understood by many before even reading that pamphlet).

I don't actually have an Xbox360 yet so don't think this is a case of sour grapes over consoles breaking. For the record, none of my many consoles have broken down yet.

However, I'm just worried that in your final sentence, you give Microsoft too much admission to continue building generally faulty hardware. It simply shouldn't be tolerated!

Bezman: I agree! Hardware manufacturers have a certain duty to produce modestly reliable kit. The whole Ring of Death incident makes me seriously reluctant to get a 360.

I've had a few hardware failures in the past (my first Atari ST blew up in a spectacular shower of sparks when I first turned it on!) and it makes me very wary when reports of a defect are so widespread as to have developed their own mythology. ;)

Best wishes!

Xbox Red Rings Of Death?

I am very old xbox is again today!

Well my 360 is nearly a year old, so presumably will melt into the floor just after its "birthday".

Great machine, made even better by some top drawer games.

jaime: are you commenting that your Xbox 360 has been fixed for you? Or was there another meaning I missed. :)

Neil: it's a much classier machine than the original Xbox, but still geared very much towards the hobbyist. I still wonder: do Microsoft not want to hit the mass market players (yet...) or did they think this was the right way to go to do so? The mistake they made in the first place was talking to the game developers for advice (as if they know anything about the audience for games - tee hee!) >:)


Take it from a guy who's repaired more then 60,00 Xbox 360's himself, if you want to know how to fix them, he's the guy to ask!

I saw this guy's site the other day, I'm not sure if it's legit or not, but he certainly seems like he knows what he's talking about.

He said something about, Microsoft being in such a hurry before they released the new XBox 360 4 years ago, that they didn't even take time to make sure everything was functioning properly, because their so dam greedy!

Mark: I've let this comment stand, even though it seems like an advertisement, because I can't be sure this isn't a legitimate comment. It sure smells like an ad, though...

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