Xbox Faults Cost Microsoft – But is ΔT the Culprit?

update051205-xbox360.jpgThe Register reports that Microsoft is taking a $1bn hit to fix Xbox 360′s, due to residual hardware faults [aka the Red ring of Xbox death] that are resulting in a high number of repairs. The finger of blame is pointing directly at the cooling system, and speculation abounds on what the exact problem is. One persistent owner of 8 Xbox units (yes, that’s right, eight) explains his theory on Gameworld Network on what’s causing things to heat up. “…the GPU and is low-profile heatsink sit under the DVD drive and are given a very narrow channel for air to be pulled across the heat sink. When the GPU heats up it reflows the solder in the ball grid array slightly and causes the entire mainboard to flex….” I know our job as mechanical engineers is to keep those puppies cool, but I am having a hard time believing that things would heat up enough to actually reflow solder. Sure, the lead free solders have lower melting points, but even so it seems like you’d wind up with more than a fault error at those temperatures. Like a really crispy GPU.

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11 Comments

  1. July 29, 2009 16:45

    Kudos to Microsoft for a rapid and efficient turnaround, Anonymous – the real test of a company’s mettle is how they deal with problems (not that a problem never arises).
    Ian, I believe you are spot on.

  2. Anonymous
    July 29, 2009 15:15

    I bought a second hand Xbox for my son on eBay. After a few months, it developed the red ring of death. Resisting the urge to attempt a repair, I easily found a phone number for the microsoft service department from one of their websites. One phone call later, I established that they had extended cover for this fault for 3 years, was emailed a returns label…the unit was picked up by carrier…our local man said he was collecting and delivering 3 a week, and 2 weeks later it returned..or so we thought…they had actually sent a new one.Can’t fault the repair/ replacement service…lets hope the replacement has had the problems ironed out.

  3. ian poskitt
    July 29, 2009 13:08

    My understanding of the Xbox troubles I thought was well known, that the main processor layout design is inefficient, ie logic is OK but translating that to a physical circuit design that can be fabricated on silicon is a separate and special skill. Most chip makers use an external design house to do this step and they end up with a cool running chip. Microsoft thought they could do it them selves. Unfortunalely they weren’t as good in this area as they thought. Consequenly the chip generates far more heat than it needed to and Microsoft have provided ever more elaborate and expensive heat sinks to deal with it. When the real answer is a properly designed chip. Correct me if I’m wrong.

  4. Alan
    July 29, 2009 12:36

    Mmmmm well the semiconductor wont be much affected at 255 degrees. I have life tested components (OK in hermetic packs) at up to 320 degrees C for many hours. “Plastic” tends to carbonise below that but I have tested epoxys at 200 degrees C for 1000s of hours. What is more likely is the increased leakage currents (and overlap) due to these high chip temperatures causing fails (if permanent on the chip) At small geometies electromigration is still a problem. The current density in thin metalisation is immense and a small increase can lead to failure (opens).
    Just a thought, though my failure-mechanisms knowledge is a bit beyond its sell-by-date now.

  5. colin
    May 31, 2009 21:15

    I have the red ring fault on my xbox360. Who do you contact to get the problem fixed under warranty? I live in England

  6. Ben King
    April 14, 2008 05:48

    search, you can fix it yourself in exchage for voiding the warrenty.
    So far I have determined a few major flaws:
    1. The plastic air duct that draws air over the heat sinks for the GPU and CPU is one piece that leads to two fans, with nothing to seperate the duct into two channels. The GPU heatsink is low profile with less area to draw in air compared to the tall CPU heatsink. To fix this, use posterboard/cardboard to seperate the air flow so that one fan is drawing directly from the GPU and one from the CPU. Also, the low profile GPU heatsink has much more surface area on the top, and air is only drawn in through the back. To change this, tape another piece of posterboard over approx 2/3 of the GPU heatsink, making sure it is sealed to the plastic duct. This forces air to be drawn across the entire heat sink.
    Do the same for the top half of the CPU heat sink (althought its tall profile makes this much less of a problem).
    2. Next… the X-clamps underneath the circuit board that hold the heatsinks in place by clamping onto the bolts which go through the PCB and screw into the heatsink. Obviously, looking at the letter X, each corner pulls back on a bolt to secure the heat sink, with all the resulting pressure being displaced to the center of the X where there is a rubber/plastic piece to accept this pressure. The effect of these can bend the board when temperatures are high and solder becomes weakened… NOT MELTED, but WEAKENED… and with the ball grid allignment used to solder the chips, the weakened solder spheres can come slightly out of allignment and disrupt proper contact. These X-clamps can be replaced with a combination of regular bolts, spring washers, regular & nylon washers. There are many tutorials online of how to do this, and the success rate is quite high and is considered to be a permanent fix.
    -Note, overheating the xbox with a towel IS a fix, by allowing the ball grid to re-allign, but this fix only lasts a short period of time, and will damage other components over time!
    3. The memory chips on the bottom have sticky pads to help keep pressure applied and relieve heat. These can be replaced with stacks of pennies (2 pennies tall), wrapped in electrical tape so no copper is exposed. Simply put the penny stacks in place of the foam pads to keep proper pressure applied on these chips.
    And, as a final note:
    RONNIE:
    If you have access to the internet in trinidad, you can fix your xbox or find someone that can.
    Also, Ronnie, this site is in English, so when you refer to “these faulty things you sell”, perhaps you should be speaking to the asian, or mainly japanese community, as many of these faulty parts come from other countries. Also, I’m sure trinidad has fine quality and engineering in their technological exports. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I have nothing of value from trinidad, and if I did, I’m sure I could find something faulty about it.

  7. Ronnie Rambaran
    March 27, 2008 01:28

    I live in trinidad i bought an xbox 360 it has the red rings of death and no one in trinidad can repair it should i dump it because it would cost to much to ship away to repair why trinidad dosen’t have an to repir these faulty things you sell

  8. Pete Ford
    December 06, 2007 14:02

    Just to correct all.
    Tin Lead solder eutectic was 187C
    There are different types of Lead Free Solder.
    SAC alloy solder is 227C (depending of composition)
    Tin Bismuith solder is 139C
    So it depends on which chemistry they are using.

  9. Rob
    December 06, 2007 13:41

    If the thing is getting anywhere near the temp suggested then the silicon and bond pads will be crawling anyway, let alone solder balls. How about dropping a thermocouple down there and see how hot it does get.
    There ought to be a correlation betwen failures and ambient temperature too. An epidemiology would be interesting.
    I’m not an Xbox owner or I would be probing by now.

  10. daveey
    October 12, 2007 23:19

    he is correct, lead free needs higher temp

  11. Jay
    August 15, 2007 19:01

    Errr…. hate to correct but Pb free solders have a significantly HIGHER reflow temperature than normal 63/37 tin lead solder. Pb Free reflows up at the 255C mark rather than the 235C-240C mark of traditional solder.
    Jay

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