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Game Gossip: Red Ring Riddle Resolved?

red ring resolvedInto spring and summer of 2007, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 gaming platform was plagued with an occasional problem: some consoles were freezing up.  Alternatively, heat sinks, design and chips were blamed in the media.  At the source, nobody at Microsoft would give an official diagnosis.  The issue, named after the tell-tale LED light pattern that indicated your console had gone to pasture, became known as the “Red Ring of Death.”   Now, nearly a  year later, the mystery of what caused it may finally be solved. .. and it wasn’t Colonel Mustard in the living room with the screw driver.

EE Times, citing Bryan Lewis, the chief research analyst at Gartner, has reported the console’s fatal flaw was a poor graphics chip design.

Microsoft wanted to avoid an ASIC vendor,” Lewis told the publication.  

To save millions in design costs, the instrumental chip was designed in-house and fabricated to Microsoft’s specs by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.  Unfortunately, Microsoft’s design didn’t handle power and heat dissipation properly.  Some consoles (accurate failure rates were never disclosed) would overheat and stop working.

In July, Microsoft addressed the problem.  Warranties on all consoles were extended from one to three years and Microsoft also agreed to fix or replace any system that fell victim to the “red ring” syndrome.

The accounting charges for warranty and repair ended up costing more than $1billion (not counting the few million in expenses likely paid for an outside ASIC vendor to help come up with a solution).  Still, Microsoft held off providing an official explanation.    It was characterized merely as a “design issue” stemming from a “Microsoft initiated design.”

In the end, it now appears Microsoft’s attempt at frugality proved a costly reminder of the age old maxim: sometimes you get what you pay for.   Lessons re-learned.  And apparently, if Lewis is correct, Red Ring Riddle Resolved.


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