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Xbox 360 = Teh Dead.

Crap. My 360 died.

As I posted not long ago, a playable demo for BioShock was released just yesterday, but was downloading with maddening slowness. I left the console on all night in “low power” mode, where essentially all it does is maintain background downloads. Unfortunately, when I got up in the morning and went to power it on, it wouldn’t boot. Just…dead. Except for the green power LED in the center of the otherwise-dark Ring of Light.

So I powered it completely off, waited a minute, then back on again. This time it booted, and all seemed well. I checked my download status and saw it had only managed to accumulate 33% of the game. So, naturally, I started downloading again (it picked up where it left off) and left it on all day while I worked, since by this time I no longer trusted the low-power mode to see it through. I also plugged in my controller to charge up in anticipation of gaming night.

The demo finally finished downloading around 6:00 in the evening, so I powered the console down and had dinner with Apple. I went for a bike ride (daily cardio!), talked to my grandmother on the phone, did some other stuff and got everything ready for Game Time. At 9:00, I went back to the Xbox to check out BioShock. Just as the title of the game came up on my screen, the console froze up, displaying nothing but a fuzzy checkerboard pattern of glitched graphics. WTF?

To make a long story short, the checkerboard glitch happens within a few moments of playing any game. With BioShock, it’s within the first minute or two. With Forza Motorsport 2, it’s within a few seconds of starting a race (I can browse the menu screens for a while first without any trouble). In each case, after the freeze-up occurs, the console must be shut down and given a few moments before it can boot up again. If I don’t wait and instead power it right back up, it will display a black screen with occasional flickers of multicolored static. All the hallmarks of a GPU thermal failure.

I tried the prescribed troubleshooting steps, all without success. I even got my can of compressed air and blasted the intake and exhaust vents, although I didn’t see much dust in there. Finally I gave up and called Xbox Customer Support. After telling them that I’ve periodically seen the “red rings of death” (which is entirely true) and was now getting permanent checkerboard freeze-ups, they authorized me for a repair under the three-year extended warranty that was recently announced by Microsoft. This warranty is extended to all Xbox 360s, even those out of warranty (like mine), to cover the “red rings of death” problem only. In truth, I haven’t seen the red rings today, but I’ve seen them recently — and indeed, intermittently ever since I first unboxed my console. My online research tells me that once the permanent checkerboard lock-ups begin to occur, it’s only a matter of time before the three rings become a permanent fixture on your console’s front panel.

So now, apparently, Microsoft will send me an empty box within 2-5 business days, into which I’m supposed to put my Xbox 360 and send it back to them via UPS. (Presumably the box is postage-paid.) They will then repair my console and send it back to me, which usually takes between 2 and 6 weeks. Ugh. When this stuff first started happening, Microsoft used to cross-ship refurbished (or sometimes even brand new) 360s to the unlucky owners, so they could get up and running within a few days. With the “red rings of death” and “checkerboard” failures now pandemic amongst the 360 community, those days are over. I also learned that my console will come back to me with a 1-year post-repair warranty on it, which is certainly good, since I hear some unlucky gamers may go through this hassle three or four times.

The Xbox support guy was really nice, though, I have to say. He sounded Canadian. He was also, apparently, a System Shock 2 fan, and had actually gotten to play the BioShock demo. Told me I would love it. I don’t doubt it, but unfortunately it’ll likely be a couple of months before I find out!

Anyway, I suppose I will still pick up my BioShock preorder when it comes in on the 22nd, on the assumption that all will go well, and I’ll get my console back in working order. I was going to pick up Project Sylpheed too, but I guess I won’t now — there’s no point in buying any more games until I get the hardware back. In the meantime, I’m going to let the 360 sit dormant (read: turned off) overnight, and see if it magically starts working again tomorrow. Even if it does, I’ll never quite be able to trust it again.

Hopefully Microsoft won’t give me any grief if their repair guys aren’t able to reproduce the red rings error. I asked the support guy if there was gonna be a problem if that were the case — after all, I’m well acquainted with the “cannot reproduce” story often fed me by various Pontiac dealerships — but he said no. If anything goes wrong and they decide they want to charge me $150 to fix the thing, I may frankly tell them to stick it and put the money toward a new 360. These days I hear they’re coming with bigger heatsinks and HDMI ports…

Hmph. So much for my leisure time tonight!

8 thoughts to “Xbox 360 = Teh Dead.”

  1. Ouch. That sucks.

    I had a bit of a scare with mine the other day. I plugged it into the DSL modem to update the console; it did, and then reset itself (like it normally does when you update the console). When the 360 reset itself, though, the controller didn’t turn on with the console, and the screen got stuck on the “Xbox 360” logo/loading screen for a minute or so. When I noticed the controller didn’t turn itself on with the reboot, and manually powered it up…and a few seconds later, the Dashboard screen came up and it seemed to be fine.

    I haven’t played it since then, but I did power it off and on again a few times after that, and it seems to be working normally. Thankfully, I’ve never ever gotten the red rings on my console (knock on wood).

  2. Hmm. I think that weirdness you experienced with that update was normal, if only because mine did the exact same thing when I installed it. At first I freaked out, but my guess is that it was like when Windows installs a somewhat large patch — it’s always slow to start up on the next reboot. Of course, mine then proceeded to fail the next day, so all bets are off.

    Yeah, it definitely sucks about the lousy timing for the death of my console. Now I can only experience the BioShock demo vicariously through message board posts, which I’ve actually been trying to avoid reading due to the spoiler factor. I also wish the console would just permanently fail to the “red rings of death” error and be done with it; I don’t want any guesswork when I send it in (“Huh, this console looks fine. Ship it back and charge the guy a pain-in-the-ass fee!”).

    Along those lines, if I give it another try today and it still freezes, perhaps I’ll let it sit frozen for a while and cook itself in its own juices.

  3. I played a little DOAX2 earlier, and everything seemed to be fine. Here’s hoping. Of course, my console is several months newer than yours, too, so maybe mine will fail in another four or five months (I hope not).

    You could always pick up the PC version of BioShock if you really need a fix that badly, I suppose (they come out the same day, right?). Of course, then you get into the “Will my PC not barf all over this game?” worries — that’s one reason I slowly moved away from PC gaming: I like being able to merely plop a disc into a console and play without worrying whether my video card is powerful enough (or if it’s the “correct” kind of video card for that particular game), etc.

  4. Yes, there is indeed the PC version of BioShock, but I’ll probably stay away to avoid paying any more money than necessary (I think it’s quite difficult, if not impossible, to return PC games that have already been opened these days). My video card will likely not cut the mustard either; it does fine for most things, but newer games cause it to choke. Admittedly, it’s a only midrange card from the last generation (Geforce 7600 GT with passive cooler only) so this is no great surprise.

    A PC demo of BioShock is in the works, and supposedly a week or so away from release. That’d be a nice tide-me-over, being a freebie and all.

    Normally I scoff at in-store warranties for items like game consoles, but should I ever deign to purchase a new 360 for some reason (like if my refurb fails again, and is out of warranty), I’ll probably buy one. My research today has led me to believe that these things have a ridiculous failure rate.

    Of note, it seems that new 360s are coming with chips built on a 65nm process rather than a 90nm, which makes them inherently cooler. Coupled with the built-in HDMI port and vastly improved GPU heatsinks that are now going into these things, if I do experience another failure after this repair, I’m buying a new unit.

  5. She’s definitely dead now! I tried messing around with some other games today, and was getting the checkerboard lock-ups on all of them. After enough of this, even just browsing the dashboard started doing it. And now I’ve got them — the fabled three red rings of death that guarantee a free, no-questions-asked repair.

    Off to the service center she goes!

    Xbox 360 #1: Born 11/3/2005, died 8/14/2007.

  6. Will you be able to transfer the hard drive from your old unit to a new one? Or did the hard drive fry as well?

    As for warranties, that might not be a bad idea. I didn’t get one from EB for the 360, but I did for the PS2 (of course, that warranty expired about a year ago, so it does me no good now).

  7. …And I posted at the same time as you. That really sucks about the 360; and it’s not like the new ones (nice as they seem to be) are really cheap, either.

  8. Fortunately, my hard drive seems fine — the system blows up whether it’s attached or not, and during the fleeting moments when the console works, it has no trouble accessing my profile or stored data. The tech support folks told me to remove the hard drive, wireless network adapter, any custom faceplates, etc. before sending it in for repair. In other words, only the console itself should be sent back.

    (Incidentally, I’ve heard that in some rare cases, if your console is irreparable they send you a new unit — and some folks have gotten new hard drives with them. 🙂 Nice little freebie there.)

    Yeah, I don’t usually give much thought to in-store warranties, although I’ll admit that buying the Best Buy service plan really saved my butt when my 32″ TV blew up in ’99 just a week after the factory warranty expired! (After repair, that TV is still going strong today.) In the older days, game consoles weren’t so expensive, but now…the prospect of having to say “Oh well, I’ll get another one” — like I did that time my first PS1 died — is significantly costlier.

    The good news is that, since my HDD and accessories are still fine, if I really needed to buy a new console I could get a Core unit and just reattach all my stuff. That’d be the biggest bargain, but at $279 it’s still a lot of money to pay just to continue using something I bought once already.

    Hopefully you won’t ever have this problem on yours, but if you do, the new warranty covers you for three years from your date of purchase on the “three red lights” error. Since it seems that all of the terminal 360 failures end up with the RROD one way or another, this would be the likely endgame scenario anyway.

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