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Why You Are Having Problems With The Xbox 360

Jan 29, 2008
The Xbox 360 is a fantastic gaming experience providing people with great addictive fun. This makes the occurrence of the red ring of death all the more painful.

This error indicates a general hardware failure. Exactly why does this happen? It turns out that the Xbox has a number of design flaws or weaknesses that combine together to cause the red ring of death failure mode.

These design mistakes are discussed below.

1) Heat - The Xbox design has a lot of high powered components that are crammed into a small space. Just as large engines put out lots of heat, these high powered components also create a great deal of heat. The Xbox design uses fans, vents, and heat sinks to keep the console cool. Because there isn't much of a reserve cooling capacity, this system will easily overheat if the airflow into the console gets obstructed. When the temperatures get hot enough, the heat starts to affect different design flaws (discussed below) which cause the ring of death failure.

2) Lead free solder - Lead free solder is used in the Xbox because it is a product that is often used by children. Unlike the standard lead-tin solder, lead free solder is more brittle. To make matters worse, Microsoft picked the wrong type of lead free solder, one that gets really brittle with heat exposure over long periods. Stressing the brittle solder will cause hair-line cracks. These cracks weaken the solder joint and also create a higher resistance to electrical flow.

3) Flawed heat sink clamp design - The X clamp was not designed well because it exerts a very non uniform pressure. The X clamp has a plastic spacer at it's center that pushes hard against the motherboard at one small spot. When the GPU and CPU get hot, This pressure gets more intense which causes the motherboard to flex. The motherboard's flexing stresses the solder joints which use the brittle lead free solder. After enough exposure to these stresses and heat, the solder points break.

4) Foil left on the heat sink - On many of it's units, it seems that Microsoft didn't remove the foil from the heat sink. This has been attributed to several "ring of death" failures. You will have to reapply the thermal compound if you choose to remove the foil.

So now the mystery behind the ring of death has been revealed. This knowledge is no consolation for not being able to play actual games, but it should help out when you're evaluating the different repair guides around. Don't forget that your warranty will be voided if you choose to open your console.
About the Author
Marc Sandford is a gaming addict and writer. Get more Xbox 360 troubleshooting advice about repairing the Xbox 360 3 Red Lights Error.
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