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My (Xbox) Kingdom for a Power Supply

(Credit goes to Pooch for the title of this post.)

After deliberating and collecting funds for some weeks, I finally ordered a new Xbox 360 on my birthday. I’d like to state upfront that this wouldn’t have been possible without the generous gift(card)s I received from my family and friends, so huge thanks and shout-outs go out to all of you! After deliberating at some length about exactly which Xbox to buy, I settled on the Gears of War Limited Edition bundle — and thanks to Amazon Prime, I had it in my hands less than 18 hours later.

I documented the process of setting it up, intending to write a follow-up (or a sequel?) to the entry I posted in 2010 when I bought my last Xbox. The point was to compare the old “Fat” Xbox to the new “Slim” one, and highlight the software differences that make playing games on more than one Xbox console a lot easier than it used to be. However, before I can get to that point, I have to deal with a small…problem.

You’ve probably heard Microsoft tout the redesigned Xbox 360 Slim as being “whisper quiet”. If not, you’ve almost certainly heard everyone under the sun blasting the older Xboxes for being loud as hell. So I was a little surprised when I powered up my new Slim console and discovered that it sounds not unlike my Jasper-based Final Fantasy XIII Super Elite. If anything, the fan noise on the new Xbox is more annoying! Although it’s a little bit quieter, the frequency of the motor whine is far more annoying to my ears. It was honestly kind of a let-down, but I figured I just had sensitive ears. Everything else seemed to be working OK, so I registered the console’s warranty and transferred my content licenses to it. (This process has changed too, and definitely for the better. I’ll have news on that in my upcoming review.)

A few days later, I was in the game room at around 2:00 in the morning trying to figure out why our Internet connection had been sucking lately. This had me back behind the console table where my new Xbox sits, dorking around with the router that I keep there to see if it was the source of our connectivity woes. (Hint: it was.) I accidentally started up the Xbox while I was doing this, thanks to its new touch-capacitive power button, and much to my surprise I realized that the fan noise I’d been getting used to wasn’t coming from the Xbox console. What the shit? So what is that noise, then? I started hunting around and received quite a shock when I discovered the source of the noise was the Xbox’s power supply brick!

Now I’ve owned a fair few Xbox 360s, several of which have had their problems. None of them has ever had a screwy power supply brick. In fact, I still have every Xbox power supply brick I’ve ever owned because they all did their jobs: they effectively and SILENTLY supplied power to each and every console until that console’s dying day. Why is this brand new Xbox 360, bastion of whisper quiet, equipped with a power supply that’s whining and droning like an old 286? Even more baffling is the fact that the new Slim consoles come with an equally slim-ified power supply, which uses less power than any of the models that came before it. Why does this thing have an audible fan when the huge honking 203W power supply that came with my 2005 Xbox never made a peep?

At this point, the whining fan noise that I’d been trying to learn to live with became completely unacceptable. Somehow, it would have seemed feasible for the console itself to make such a noise, annoying as it would have been. But a power brick? No way. I won’t put up with it. So I immediately got on my phone and started researching. Was this normal? Please say no. But a lot of people were reporting noisy power supplies with their Xbox Slims…a whole lot. Although there was definitely enough evidence from the other side to suggest that not all of the power supplies were noisy, it was clear that a large number of them were. In the end, though, what constitutes “noisy” or “annoying” is so subjective, it’s impossible to quantify how big of a problem this is.

I decided to test for myself whether my power supply’s noise output was typical or not. One of my friends has three Xboxes, two of them Slims, so I asked if he’d let me borrow both of his Slim power supplies for an evening of testing. After getting them home, I hooked up each of the three power supplies one after the other — two belonging to my friend, plus my own — and the results were clear. Both of his power supplies were much quieter, and in fact could not even be heard from my place on the couch, even though if you put your ear to them you could tell they definitely had fans running inside. My power supply, on the other hand, developed a whine/drone as its fan ramped up about 30 seconds after booting the console, and the more you played games, the louder and more annoying it got. Now that I had a taste of what a Slim power supply was supposed to sound like, I had even less tolerance for the crappy one I’d apparently been stuck with.

Having already registered and transferred licenses to the new console, I was not in much of a mood to package it all back up and return it to Amazon, even though I could have done it. Instead I decided to go through the Microsoft warranty process to return the power supply by itself and get a replacement. The phone support guys (who have clearly been outsourced away from North America since the last time I talked to them) were perfectly helpful and set up the RMA right away. Unfortunately, though, they wouldn’t cross-ship me a free replacement — they had to wait for me to send in my faulty one first. Even more grating, I had to pay to ship it to them. But the thing’s pretty small and Priority Mail is pretty cheap, so I went ahead and did it, sending it off just this morning.

So now my new Xbox must sit dormant and unplayable for a couple of weeks, at least, while I wait for the new power brick to get here. This is naturally inconvenient, especially since Mass Effect 3 comes out next Tuesday. At least it’s not like the last two times I dealt with Xbox failures; this time I have a functioning backup console. However, my Mass Effect collector’s edition is going to come with some DLC and other unlockable stuff to redeem, and I don’t want to redeem it on the old console because it will then be tied to that hardware. And I also realized that there are still some savegames stuck on my new console’s hard drive that I hadn’t yet moved to the Cloud Saves area (which I’ll also discuss in my upcoming review).

To alleviate these problems, I went online and ordered a separate replacement power supply for the new Xbox. At $22, it’s clearly a Chinese knockoff and not an authentic Microsoft part, but according to the specs and reviews, it ought to do the job until my OEM replacement arrives. If the interim replacement happens to be pretty decent, I may even keep it around as a backup, given the cheap price I paid — but if it’s loud and cheaply built, I’ll probably return it after I’ve finished using it as a stop-gap.

In the next few days, I’ll be posting my full review of the new Xbox, the new Cloud Save system and the portability of gamer profiles across multiple consoles (which honestly works far better than I had dared hope). But until then, I must grudgingly tell you that it looks like Microsoft’s Xbox division won’t be shedding their reputation for lackluster engineering and build quality anytime soon — not if the fact that they can’t even get a power brick right is any indication. I hope my new console itself enjoys a far better service record, but only time will tell.