Hit by the Red Ring of Death

After more than a year and a half of hosting epic table tennis battles and endless laps around the Nurburgring, my Xbox 360 finally succumbed to the notorious Red Ring of Death. I suppose it was only a matter of time; 360s have been dropping like flies since the console's launch, with the latest report claiming a failure rate of 16%. At least one anonymous insider has pegged the 360's mortality rate at a much higher 30%, blaming premature failures on Microsoft's desire to rush its sophomore console to market ahead of Sony's PlayStation 3.

Overheating hardware is apparently responsible for the bulk of Red Ring of Death errors—speculation that my own experience seems to confirm. In the hours leading up to its untimely demise, my 360 began displaying odd visual artifacts in games. These artifacts were rare at first and only evident with some titles, and they actually reminded me of the sort of visual weirdness one occasionally sees from a graphics card that's been overclocked a little too far. Eventually, the artifacts were joined by instability. Games froze after a few hours and then after a few minutes, if they would load at all. The dashboard went next, freezing the system just seconds into loading the 360 logo. And there was light. Three lights, actually: the Red Ring of Death, which isn't actually a ring at all.

No doubt thanks to outcry over the 360's failure rate, Microsoft has bumped the console's warranty up to three years. So I'm covered. Getting a dead 360 serviced looks to be a relatively easy, too. Five minutes after calling Microsoft's support line (which is open until 1am EST, even on a Sunday night), I had the repair process started. An empty box and pre-paid shipping label are on their way, and I've been told to expect a turn-around time of two to three weeks.

While I'm not entirely happy to have to go without Forza for up to three weeks, the RMA process seems reasonable so far. Perhaps more importantly, it's clear that Microsoft knows it has a real problem here. Obviously reading from a script, the support rep I spoke to made a point to apologize for the failure and ensuing inconvenience several times while gathering my shipping information and console's serial number. I'll be getting a free month of Xbox Live for my troubles, too, although that's at best a token attempt at appeasement.

Whether the Red Ring of Death replacement process is ultimately painless remains to be seen. Given the 360's failure rate and the odds that even more consoles will die as early revisions approach the end of their three-year warranty window, Microsoft can't afford to alienate potential purchasers—and especially early adopters—of its next game console.

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