Fixing the Xbox 360 (RRoD)

Xbox360-ringofdeath[1] So, we’ve had our Xbox 360 for about two years now.  Something like that.  We inherited our Xbox from my brother who had purchased it at “launch” in late 2005.  When he upgraded to the “Elite” model two years later, we were more than happy to take his hand-me-down system.

Well… I was happy.  My wife was less enthused.  But that’s another story.

Anyhow, our hand-me-down Xbox 360 crapped about at around the 3-year mark from original purchase.  We had had it for a year or so.  Because it sounds like a small jet engine, we’ve always kept it in our TV cabinet with the doors mostly closed.  It was never really an issue until the infamous RRoD popped into our world one day.  We were heartbroken.  Thankfully, Microsoft saw fit to extend the warranty to (3) full years for this particular issue, and ours was sent off for repair with little fanfare.  What we received in return was a refurbished unit. 

Oh, well.  Beggars can’t be choosers.

The honeymoon quickly faded within the first week.  Back in the old TV cabinet again, this Xbox 360 soon exhibited the ‘2 Rings of Death’ behavior which tells you that the unit has overheated somewhat.  The story appears to be something like this: the original (and somewhat poorly designed) internals of the X360 ran at much higher temperatures, but would eventually succumb to internal damage that would result in broken solder joints, separated heatsinks, or what have you.  The newer units have lower tolerances for heat, and thus display the ‘2 Rings of Death’ when the unit would get too hot.  Less damage to the system is a good thing, but having to shut the unit off after an hour can be aggravating.  Worse yet, we realized that we really needed to open our TV cabinet when the Xbox was on, which only made the entire room obnoxiously loud.  We also experimented with better airflow around the unit, standing it up vertically, and moving the power supply further away.  All helpful, but (evidently) not enough.

THE NEW VICTIM

About a month ago, our year-old “refurb” X360 began to exhibit ‘video artifacting’ and freezing.  After some time in the penalty box, we could turn it back on and resume our entertainment.  Still, it was unnerving and it seemed to only be getting worse.  Finally, it gave way to a full-blown RRoD. 

Clearly something had to be done, so I weighed our options. 

  • For $99, we could ship the unit off to Microsoft for repair.
    • PROS: quick and easy, not too expensive
    • CONS: likely to have the same issue in a year, still going to be loud
  • For $199, we could buy an Arcade unit and re-use our current harddrive.
    • PROS: brand new box, potentially new/better design
    • CONS: more than we really want to pay, still going to be loud
  • For $35, we could “fix” the most likely x-clamp issue.
    • PROS: cheap
    • CONS: still loud, possible to have similar issues down the road
  • For $60, we could “fix” the x-clamp and upgrade the heatsink or fan
    • PROS: still pretty cheap, potential for a “quieter” Xbox
    • CONS: difficult to decide between heatsink or fan upgrade
  • For $90, we could “fix” the x-clamp and upgrade both heatsink and fan
    • PROS: potential for a “quieter” Xbox, more hopeful long-term fix
    • CONS: price getting up there, no guarantees

I also considered sending my Xbox 360 off to one of many vendors who will repair the unit for you.  It does cost more, but they typically offer a short warranty on their work.  Ultimately, I was less enthused about the added cost.

As you can see from the options I’ve listed, my primary concerns were: price, reliability (over time), and noise.  Pretty much in that order.  Eventually, I decided that $90 wasn’t too much to spend, and I liked the potential for long term reliability and reduced noise.  I jumped on that option.

ORDERING THE PARTS

oscommerce[1]

My vendor of choice was Llamma’s.  They not only had decent prices on the parts I needed, but also had some great repair write-ups for me to follow. 

I ordered up the following items…

The parts arrived a few days early, which was nice, so my son and I dug right in.  The Llamma’s RRoD Fix-It Tutorial gives a nice step-by-step write-up, complete with pictures.  While this “fix” isn’t difficult, per se, it does require some bravery on your part. 

First of all, this will void your warranty, if you still have one.  If your Xbox 360 is still under warranty, then by all means have Microsoft repair it for you.  Might as well.  Otherwise, a RRoD Xbox 360 isn’t going to get a whole lot worse by you cracking it open and attempting a repair – assuming that you’re mindful of the task at hand.  Having built and re-built hundreds of PCs over the years, I was fairly comfortable with the task.  Fairly comfortable.

Secondly, there is some “modding” required for the x-clamp fix.  The deal is this: Microsoft uses tension-based x-clamps to keep the heatsinks pressed tightly against the CPU and GPU, respectively.  Those clamps can loosen over time, thus the cooling degrades.  The x-clamp fix involves removing the x-clamps themselves, boring out (8) holes, a using a series of screws and washers to reattach the heatsinks.  Still feeling brave?  Then continue on.

Lastly, you’re probably best off having someone help you with this process – if only for the second pair of eyes.  Some steps are slightly tricky, especially the first time through.  Having someone help you is a good safe-guard against doing stupid things.

PERFORMING THE “FIX”

So, I was somewhat surprised to find that opening the Xbox 360 is actually one of the more complicated portions of this process.  Thankfully, Llamma’s provided both a very handy tool for the job (included with the All-in-One Kit) *and* a good write-up to help me along.

Once the case is off, you wind up with a metal plate that the motherboard is attached to.  You carefully pry off the x-clamps, remove the heatsinks, and prepare for the “fixing” process.

Much to my surprise, I found that I already had the Elite-type GPU heatsink w/ heatpipe in our refurb unit.  As it turns out, Microsoft began adding the heatpipe upgrade to their systems in mid-2007.  If I’d known that, I could’ve saved myself some money + shipping costs.  Oh, well.  Llamma’s was kind enough to take it back and credit me.

Perhaps the most unnerving part of the process is “boring” out the holes where the heatsink attaches to the metal chassis.  There are (8) holes total – (4) per heatsink – and the x-clamp fix requires making those holes slightly larger.  It sounds quite daunting, but is really fairly easy.  Grab a 13/64” drill bit and “bore” the holes out to be slightly larger.  It takes about 15 seconds per hole.  Then, sand the holes down so that there are no rough edges.  Easy.

With the provided cleaning solutions, remove all of the thermal compound from the CPU, GPU, and corresponding heatsinks.  It’s not difficult, but requires some persistence and patience.  Once those are clean, prepare to reassemble your Xbox 360.

REASSEMBLY AND “REFLOW”

As they say, “putting it back together is a reverse of the removal”.  In this case, though, you are first spreading a very thin layer of thermal grease, and then attaching the heatsinks to the CPU and GPU with the All-in-One Kit-provided screws and washers.  Assuming that you tighten the screws down evenly, you can really torque them down as tight as you’re able.  It will get very, very snug – and that’s a good thing.

With that done, you begin to carefully reassemble your Xbox 360.  Pay attention to where things go, and be sure not to jab anything with a screwdriver.  Before putting the box fully together again, however, you perform what they call a “reflow”.  Without re-writing the directions entirely, you will plug the fan back in and place it directly on top of the CPU heatsink – cool air blowing downward toward the CPU.  Turn the box back on and allow it to run for 30 or 40 minutes.  With the fan placed like that, you are cooling the CPU but not the GPU.  This is the aforementioned “reflow”, which is very important.  If you get a RRoD right away, don’t panic.  Simply torque the heatsink screws down a bit more and try again.  In our case, the X360 came right up first shot and was working fine.  Still, we let it “reflow” for about 45 minutes before putting it all back together.

With that completed, you’re ready to truly reassemble your Xbox 360 and put it back to work.  The last “fix”, if you will, is to swap the stock fan for the Whisper Max unit.  In our case, I opted to remove all of the silly LEDs that come with the replacement fan.  Your choice. 

The Whisper Max directions are really pretty poor, but it helps if you have the “general idea” figured out beforehand.  Since this fan features both “power” and “quiet” fan modes, it requires two power sources and a switch to toggle between them.  This means daisy-chaining the DVD power source (for 12v) and going direct to the motherboard (for 5v).  The switch is sandwiched between the case housing and the center of one of the fans.  It can be a bit tricky, so just pay attention.  I removed the cap off of the switch, and glued it on after the entire box was reassembled.  Also, be mindful of where your fan wires are routed.  Keep them out of the way of the fan, and off to the side.

With all of that completed, finished reassembling your Xbox 360 – being careful to put everything back where it goes.  Reattach the faceplate, harddrive, and any other external peripherals you have.  Glue the switch cap on with a very small dot of super glue, being careful not to glue the switch into place. 🙂

So, the actual total cost came to $55 + shipping.  Nice.

THE VERDICT?

We’ve been very happy with our RRoD fix so far.  Not only is our Xbox 360 up and running once again, we’ve only seen one “freeze” over the past couple of weeks – even after assaulting it with hours of online Halo 3 multi-player action!  Even better, the “quiet” mode of the Whisper Max fan is extremely useable.  I’ve since moved our X360 out of the TV cabinet for better airflow, but using the “quiet” fan mode, we’re totally able to stream Netflix without the typical ‘noise annoyance’ that we used to face.  In the “loud” fan mode, I would venture a guess that the Whisper Max is slightly louder than the stock fan, but is clearly pushing more air.  We use that mode for gaming, where the volume is already pretty cranked.Note: this is not me.

All in all, our Xbox 360 has a new lease on life, and I couldn’t be happier.  Well… I guess I could.  It would’ve been nice if the Xbox 360 never had the RRoD issue and didn’t sound like a jetliner, but such is life.  I actually find the Xbox platform to be extraordinarily robust and easy-to-use, save for the overheating issues.   There’s a reason why so many people return to the Xbox 360 even after a unit failure.  It’s a pretty wonderful platform, all things considered.

So, if you find yourself in the same predicament, I would highly recommend the All-in-one RRoD Fix kit from Llamma’s, as well as the heatpipe (if needed) and Whisper Max fan upgrades.  Good stuff, and our box is humming along quite nicely 🙂

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5 Responses to “Fixing the Xbox 360 (RRoD)”


  1. 1 Marcus Taylor September 18, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Huh, for some reason I never really found the 360’s all that loud. It’s audible, I can hear it, but it doesn’t seem to take away from anything. Maybe it just has to do with the acoustics of the room one might have it in?

    Either way, what’cha been playing lately? I’ve been buried under homework myself so I haven’t been doing much, but that Beatles Rock Band is looking rather tempting for when this semester’s over!

    • 2 yipcanjo September 19, 2009 at 3:51 pm

      Really? “Not loud”?? Crazy, man. It’s funny how I hear differing opinions on this. That said, the general consensus around ‘the Internetz’ is that the Xbox 360 is a loud device. Evidently the PS3 is as well.

      Another funny bit is that some folks find the DVD drive to be loud (while spinning a disc, obviously) while others mention only the fan. I’m in the “fan” camp, as I’ve rarely (if ever) noticed the DVD drive making much noise. Very strange.

      I really haven’t been playing many games lately. I just won a free code for “Shadow Complex” from a site called http://www.iStartedSomething.com, so that was pretty cool. A really neat side-scroller game with incredible graphics. Otherwise, a bit of Halo 3 here and there, but not much else. I would love to get the full version of “Trials HD” from the Xbox Live Marketplace. We’ll see. The demo is a lot of fun.

  2. 3 Marcus Taylor September 20, 2009 at 12:12 am

    Well, like I said, I imagine it’s probably just all in the acoustics of the room the system’s in as it probably projects more in some rooms than others.

    But I dunno, I’m no scientist or anything, maybe I’m just used to the sound the system makes so I’ve mastered tuning it out! 😛

  3. 4 Henry Wood December 11, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Every time I hear of someone placing their XBOX in the cabinet or opening the cabinet, I just cringe. You shouldn’t be worried about the noise.

  4. 5 Mr Robotics January 19, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    I went out and had it fixed got it back and a few weeks later back to square one.


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