Dead Xbox 360... in a sea of dead Xbox 360s

rrod It started several weeks ago. When playing Madden 08, I would occasionally get weird color glitches. It reminded me of the old CRT days when your VGA cable would get loose -- it was as if I was looking at my television through green-colored glasses. "A bug in Madden," I thought, plus a reboot would always fix it. It happened rarely, so no worries.

On Friday, 9/21, a Dashboard Update went out for the 360 and this green-glasses thing happened again. "Uh oh," I thought, "it's not Madden." At the end of the update, the 360 rebooted and I got a black screen. I could hear the startup sound and playing with the controller would result in sounds as I moved around the UI. I just couldn't see anything due to the black screen.

I tried different inputs on the television. No joy. I bought a new video cable to rule that out. No joy. So if it's not the television or the cable -- gotta be the box. What seemed even more bizarre was that I wasn't getting those three red lights -- the Red Ring of Doom.

"That really sucks," I thought, "especially since Halo 3 releases next week... but at least Microsoft extended their warranty." They announced this a while back because so many boxes (especially the initial "launch day" boxes) were having problems due to overheating. Mine was not a launch-day box -- I got it about 4 months after the 360's release. So I'm covered, right?

Poor, naive me. Turns out Microsoft extended the warranty but only if you get the RRoD. In the open letter from Peter Moore (Xbox Head at Microsoft):

...we are announcing  today a three-year warranty that covers any console that displays a three flashing red lights error message.

A box with the symptoms mine was showing -- not covered. Lots of unhappy people on support forums about that issue... including many people who recommend giving the box a thump on the side (reminding me of an old television set we had when I was a kid) or wrapping the box in a towel to overheat it on purpose. I didn't want to do either of those, but I called Xbox Support to see what my options were. No amount of complaining, griping, or asking to speak with a supervisor mattered -- I'd have to pay the $99 repair fee if I wanted it fixed.

So now my Xbox is somewhere between Colorado and Texas in the supplied box that lots of people refer to as "the coffin".

A few things I've learned over the last couple of weeks:

  • The $99 fee covers shipping three times. First, they get a box to me (took 7 business days). Then the console goes in the box and heads to Texas (en route now). Finally, the repaired box comes back.
  • That fee also re-sets my warranty for another year. I plan on using the crap out of it to put that to the test.
  • I may or may not get the same box back, which surprised me. The box I get back may be someone else's refurbished box with a different serial number. As long as it works and doesn't look like a Best Buy floor model, I don't much care either way.
  • There are a TON of people who had problems on or near that fateful Friday, 9/21. Two different .NET bloggers I read (Scott Hanselman and Travis Illig) had it happen within a couple weeks. A Google search turns up a TON of problems occurring in late September. I doubt that Microsoft will ever admit that the Dashboard Update caused a problem or is even related. But checking out this thread makes it hard to claim "coincidence".

On the plus side... one of the guys at work has a 360 and hadn't used it for months (the horror!), so he brought his in for me to borrow. This added a few more things to the list of what I've learned:

  • There are some very nice people in the world. It's great to have a console to use during this season when a LOT of interesting games are being released (Halo 3, PGR4, Call of Duty 4, Guitar Hero 3, FIFA 08, and more).
  • Plugging your hard drive on to the side of someone else's console works like a charm. It was as if I was using my original console, except...
  • His console is much, MUCH quieter than mine. When it's at the dashboard, you can barely tell it's on and even with a disc spinning, it's still much quieter than mine ever was. So much so that my wife is in favor of buying a newer one if the repaired console doesn't come back as quiet as this borrowed one. It's THAT noticeable.
  • The dashboard update doesn't break every Xbox... his wanted the update as soon as it was turned on and before it could continue. Went through like a champ (though not without me sweating a bit!).

So... I'm sure it will be a couple more weeks before my repair console returns and it'll be interesting to see what's changed. Noise? Serial number? Heat dissipation? Stay tuned.