If you're a console gamer, there's a good chance you've heard of the infamous "red ring of death" plaguing Microsoft's Xbox 360. The "red ring" around the console's power button typically signals hardware failure, and Microsoft admitted last year that all 360s it had shipped suffered from a design flaw responsible for the problem. The company increased its console's warranty to three years as a result.
Six months have passed since then, and this weekend the folks at 8Bit Joystick scored an interview with an anonymous Microsoft insider who sheds more light on the problem. According to the insider, the failure rate for Xbox 360s is around 30%, and Microsoft is expecting a whopping one million failures this quarter alone. Some consoles, he adds, can fail in a matter of hours.
Regarding the underlying cause for the high failure rate, the insider claims Microsoft skimped on the console's design in order to beat Sony to the punch:
First, MS has under resourced that product unit in all engineering areas since the very beginning. Especially in engineering support functions like test, quality, manufacturing, and supplier management. There just weren't enough people to do the job that needed to be done. The leadership in many of those areas was also lopsided in essential skills and experience. But I hear they are really trying to staff up now based on what has happened, and how cheap staff is compared to a couple of billion in cost of quality.
Second, MS was so focused on beating Sony this cycle that the 360 was rushed to market when all indications were that it had serious flaws. The design qual testing was insufficient and incomplete when the product was released to production. The manufacturing test equipment had major gaps in test coverage and wasn't reliable or repeatable. Manufacturing processes at eall levels of suppliers were immature and not in control. Initial end to end yields were in the mid 30%. Low yields always indicate serious design and manufacturing defects. Management chose to continue to ship anyways, and keep the lines running while trying to solve problems and bring the yields up.
The insider says the best way to avoid the "red ring of death" is to keep the console vertical and well-ventilated, because many failures are heat-related. However, he adds that newer Xbox 360 models are more reliable than early ones, with a failure rate of "only" 10%. (Thanks to Joystiq for the tip.)