Posts Tagged 'xbox'

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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Meet…..ME (kinda)

Loaded up the NXE (New Xbox Experience) this morning, and was very pleasantly surprised.  What has long been a very tired interface is now fresh, fun-to-use, and nice to look at!  It’s also quite snappy, which is nice.

One of the oft-discussed features of the NXE, of course, is the addition of “avatars” – an online character that represents you.  The character to my left there (<—-) is the avatar that I’ve created!  It’s certainly not a spitting image of me, but I would *totally* wear that outfit, and I really wish that my hair looked that cool.

My overall impression of the NXE is certainly positive, but I need to have some more hands-on time with it.  Ultimately, we spend *most* of our Xbox time simply playing games, which doesn’t involve the interface or dashboard a whole lot.  Now that the interface is more “community-based”, however, that might change.  I can see myself checking out the parties, chatting with friends, playing UNO, and other such nonsense – at least for awhile.  Should be fun!

Now for some other avatars…

          Chumplet                         Barkjon                         Pastor EJO
         (my brother)                      (my son)                    (my good buddy)

See you out there! 🙂

UPDATE: I’m impressed that Microsoft is continually able to “improve” their offerings via software updates.  I know that’s only sensible for a software company to do that, but let’s be honest: most companies improve by throwing new, improved hardware out there, and then they get around to the software.

The Xbox 360 will be 3 years old as of Nov. 22nd, 2008.  In technology years, that is a lifetime.  Still, with this dashboard refresh, Microsoft has made the 360 feel new again – fresh and fun.  I appreciate that the hardware isn’t the focus necessarily.  The is also true for the Zune, which received another refresh recently, and that refresh could be installed even on the ver1 devices.

Pretty amazing.

[INSERT GAME] Xbox 360 “PURE” Demo Review

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for driving games.  Not just any driving games, though.  I like the ones where you’re pretty much riding the throttle the whole way thru!  Insanely fast (virtual) speeds, pretty visuals, crashes, and stunts, where applicable.  You know: totally unrealistic driving at its best!  That’s what I like.  🙂

A new game coming onto the scene is right up my alley.  “PURE“, from Disney Interactive Studios, is an ATV-based/quadrunner racing game that is all about speed, tricks, and having fun!  It really is.  If you remember games like Motocross Madness or the Rallisport Challenge series, then you’ll probably enjoy PURE.  It’s easy to learn, fun to look at, and very entertaining to perform the various stunts.

The Xbox 360 demo of PURE is about 1.1gigs, so a fairly meaty download.  Once downloaded, though, the fun begins.  The demo starts with a quick, throw-you-into-the-action tutorial where you learn basic driving — though they don’t tell you how to accelerate (use the right-trigger), which is strange — pre-loading before jumps, basic A-button stunts, boosting, and finally putting them all together.  The tutorial ends when you’re able to complete a lap of the tutorial track in 27 seconds or less, which will require atleast one stunt and the corresponding “boost”.  A lot of games use similar tutorials where you are learning the game by playing the game.  I like that method.

Once you’ve completed the tutorial, you have access to a full level that is set in Italy somewhere, and the visuals a bee-ooo-ti-full.  Let me re-emphasize how great they look.  They really do!  And what does one do with a nice looking Italian countryside?  Beat the heck out of it with 16 ATVs + riders, naturally.  What’s nice about this track, however, is that it provides plenty of opportunities for driving fast, lots of jumps, multiple paths to accomplish the same result, and, of course, a few insanely ridiculous jumps!  As you successfully perfrom stunts (and land them), you start building “boost”.  You can either use the boost to go faster — which may be necessary if you’re far behind — or you can allow the boost to accumulate, which grants you access to better, more complicated stunts.  Initially you use the A button for stunts, but with enough boost accumulate, you have access to the B button range of stunts, then the Y button, and finally the ‘super’ stunts — using the bumper buttons — and those are hilarious.  Honestly.  I found myself laughing out loud at how silly they were, but they’re also a lot of fun.  Is it absolutely critical to perform stunts to win the race?  No, actually, as my son was able to come in 1st without any stunts at all, but it’s not as much fun.  I’m also guessing that the full game will feature levels requiring “boost” to complete it, and also a scoring system that places a premium on pulling off increasingly more difficult stunts.  It’s all in good fun.

My verdict?  This game is a winner if the genre appeals to you at all.  It most definitely accomplishes what it sets out to do, and I’m guessing that the full version — complete with 48 tracks, online multi-player, and 80 different stunts — is even more fun.

Go here for more info.

Enjoy!

Xbox 360 + Netflix = Awesome

Despite the over-publicized HD DVD vs. BluRay war, I think that there is little doubt that the future for media distribution — of all types — is really heading toward downloadable content, if it’s not already there.  Folks are puchasing CDs less, and opting for iTunes, Amazon MP3, Rhapsody MP3, and other “subscriber”-based methods (Zune, Rhapsody) for their music.  Love it or hate it, that’s what people are doing.  The same goes for movies, and will continue to head in that direction as the content is made more readily available.

Well, today Microsoft has announced the very next step in this process: a partnership with Netflix to allow streamable content to the Xbox 360 console.

The recently released $99 Roku player for Netflix was an amazing release in its own right, but the announcement today is MUCH bigger for many reasons. First of all, there have been over 10 million Xbox 360s sold around the world — most of those in the United States.  The majority of those 10 million units are now *instantly* capable of acting as Netflix streamable devices.  Secondly, there are over 8 million Netflix subscribers.  I’m guessing that a great many of these Netflix subscribers also own an Xbox 360.  Congrats!  Now you’ll be able to get Netflix content on your media console!!  Thirdly, this is a big win for two media-centric companies: Microsoft and Netflix.  The Xbox 360 will now have more media content available than ever before, while Netflix will certainly broaden it’s customer base.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Netflix gained thousands of subscribers shortly after today’s announcement!

This move will have its share of detractors, I’m sure.  For starters, you do need to have the Xbox Live “Gold” membership — as well as a Netflix subscription, of course — to be able to access the Netflix content.  You know what?  It only makes sense, as Microsoft needs to make some money in this deal too.  For $40, you can purchase a 12-month Xbox Live “Gold” membership from NewEgg.com.  Done deal.  Also, may will lament about the (currently) limited “streamable” library offered by Netflix.  Fair enough.  Be on the lookout, though, because that library will certainly continue to grow in the coming months.  Netflix has every reason to increase their streamable content base.

Needless to say, I’m very excited about today’s announcement.  It not only builds upon the great technology that Netflix has offered for years, it also utilitizes hardware that is in many living rooms already — the Xbox 360.  In my opinion, a “win-win” situation for all around — except, perhaps, for Sony, Apple, and a few others 🙂

Looking forward to the fall release of this technology update!

The ol’ Xbox 360 is (back) in the hiz-zouse

We were happy to receive our *replacement* Xbox 360 this past Friday.  Not too long of a wait, I must say.  I wondered if we would receive a “repaired” X360 (our original), a refurbished unit, or an entirely new unit altogether.  Well, I am happy to report that we received a brand new console that was manufactured just a few weeks prior!  How cool is that? 🙂

Funny that I should say “cool”.

Our new console has twice now done something that we never, ever saw on our previous unit: the 2-red-quadrants-of-shut-offed-ness.  Ever seen this?  Evidently this is the message that your Xbox 360 has reached some sort of internal temperature threshold, and then shuts itself down.  Microsoft even has a KB article on this.  This “behavior is by design”, I imagine.  I’m guessing that the (almost certainly) heat-related RRoD issues are now dissuaded by lower temperature thresholds in the Xbox.

Less heat = less issues = less RRoD = less failed units = less $$$ out the door

To be fair, we’ve always kept our console in a TV cabinet.  Evidently this is an undesirable situation, as the (above) KB article states…. “Do not put the Xbox 360 console in a confined space, such as a bookcase, a rack, or a stereo cabinet, unless the space is well-ventilated.” Guess what?  That’s where we keep our entertainment stuff!  Now we’re just leaving the doors of the TV cabinet open while we use the X360, but at the expense of our hearing and sanity.  Geez these things are loud.  Too loud.  WAY TOO LOUD.

It’s obnoxious.

Meanwhile, the rest of the getting-our-Xbox-up-and-running-again experience has been fine.  Our profiles and saved games were all fine.  Connecting to our wireless required re-entering the key, but that’s easy-to-do.  All in all, a fairly smooth transition.

The exclusive RRoD club

This past Saturday, my son pressed the power button on our Xbox 360 and received this in return…

For the unlearned among us, that is the infamous “Red Ring of Death”.  I’ve heard about it for the past couple of years now, but had never actually seen one in person.  Until now, that is.  Strangely enough, my buddy (and neighbor) EJO was also recently inflicted with the RRoD.  My X360 was a tried and true “launch” console, and EJO purchased his shortly thereafter launch.

Wacky.

Anyhoo… Microsoft has extended support for the Xbox 360 to 3-years in cases involving the RRoD.  That’s a good thing, since my box (a gift from my brother, I might add) is over 2 1/2 years old!  Certainly well out of the standard 1-year warranty.  To take advantage of this extended warranty, simply go to Xbox.com, click on the Support link, and then click on the ‘Repair Your Console’ graphic on the right-hand side.  It’s just that easy!  Well, it should be.

To be perfectly honest, I ended up contacting the Xbox Support team five times.  For 3 days in a row, their support ticket system was down for “updates”.  Not cool.  Equally as aggravating is their voice-activated phone system which makes me feel like an idiot for talking to no one, while simultaneously extending my hold times.  Thanks, Microsoft.  For whatever reason, I’d have to reiterate the entire issue + my steps to resolve it each and every time I called.  Perhaps that was due to the “updates”, but it’s still frustrating.  All that said, my final call to Microsoft was easy and well-handled.  A prepaid shipping label was emailed to me — you can also opt to have a labeled physically mailed to you, or an entire shipping box — and I received it within hours.  I packed up the Xbox — minus my custom faceplate, wireless receiver, and harddrive — and shipped it off.  I should see it again within 2 weeks, or so I’m told.

I guess we’ll see.

Lastly, I’m curious as to whether or not I’ll received my same X360 back, or some refurbished unit.  I’m assuming a refurbished one.  Here’s hoping it works well for years to come!  I’ll check in after the replacement arrives…

Graphics Comparison: Xbox 360 vs PS3

I found this recent article on Gamespot to be quite interesting.

You can read the article for yourself, but I was surprised to see that the Xbox 360 came away the “winner”, if there was one.  The X360 is certainly more ‘mature’ at this point, but the PS3 has a year under its belt now.  It should be relatively dialed in.  I would expect that the PS3 graphics will only get better — as the X360 has — but I would’ve expected leaps and bounds better even at this point, given the cell processor setup that the PS3 uses.  I’m also surprised to see that the PS3 appears fairly washed out and blurry (too much anti-aliasing?) in most of the screenshots. 

Lastly, the biggest issue, perhaps, is that the PS3 gets dinged for running less smoothly than the X360.  Again… a surprise to me.

Interesting.