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What Causes the Three Red Light Error in the Xbox 360?

Sep 2, 2008
Do you have a troubled relationship with an Xbox360 gaming console? You love it because you've become insanely hooked to the hours of unbelievable enjoyment that it gives. You hate it because...um, need I say the infamous ring of death?

The red ring of death gives many customers a good amount of frustration and hardship. It's likewise given Microsoft a few problems too...to the tune of about a billion dollars or so in repairing consoles under warrantee. Now the first inquiry that needs asking is why?

What are the main reasons for the ring of death? In a word, it's called heat. The Xbox gets too hot when it's played continuously over lengthy time periods.

Why does the Xbox get overheated? There's two parts to the explanation for this. First, the graphics chip had been engineered on a low budget by Microsoft.

Instead of going to an experienced vendor to design the chip (ASIC vendor), Microsoft decided to do the graphics chip design in house, that is, on it's own. They did this in an effort to save a few tens of millions of dollars in design costs. We all know that to get the job done right, you have to hire an expert.

It's well known that our "home made" efforts just will not work as well as work done by the pro's. Microsoft's in house job is inefficient in that it dissipates too much waste heat. The other part of the overheating problem is that the cooling system is only marginally capable of dispersing the tremendous heat put out by the home designed graphics chip.

It really doesn't take much to make it over heat. Try running the unit for any length of time, especially in a warm, room with no air conditioning and it'll over heat. The console doesn't tolerate partial blockage of its cooling vents either.

For example, it is very easy to allow cables and cords to become really clumped up at the back end of the console. This by itself can induce the console to get over heated. Thinking of running it in that cluttered up recess where the midday sunlight will hit it inside that room without air conditioning?

Not a great idea in any case. Of course, you may not normally treat your "electronic toys" this way, but what I'm saying here is that a well designed product is supposed to be able to take some customer abuse and continue functioning. One question that I don't have an answer to is what happened to Microsoft's quality control process?

There must be a product testing program of some kind in place to protect the customer from buying faulty products. Maybe it was deficient because it failed to simulate typical customer use of the console. Or possibly it was ok, but the management people shipped the consoles out anyway?

All conjectures aside, the great news is that Microsoft has gone to an ASIC vendor in the US and had the graphics chip redesigned. Maybe some day your ordinary Xbox gamer won't know what you are talking of when you mention the red ring of death.
About the Author
Marc Sandford is a gaming enthusiast and writer. Get Xbox troubleshooting advice about fixing the Xbox 360 3 Red Lights Error.
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