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Microsoft Insider: Xbox 360 Team Knowingly Launched Faulty Hardware
Written by Daniel   
Thursday, 24 January 2008 13:10

Xbox 360 team skipped quality testing of console to beat Sony to market

Marcus Yam (Blog) - January 24, 2008 10:00 AM Print E-mail 61 comment(s) - last by masher2.. on Jan 24 at 2:05 PM

Last summer, amidst a flurry of reports from Xbox 360 gamers, DailyTech exposed retailers’ estimates that up to one-third of Xbox 360 consoles experience hardware failures within the first year of ownership. Just days after the report, Microsoft extended its warranty to cover the specific hardware failure for three years from purchase.

Now, six months later, a supposed Microsoft insider confirms that around 30% of Xbox 360 consoles, most based on the original ‘Xenon’ design, fail. “It's around 30 percent, and all will probably fail early,” the source told 8Bit Joystick. “This quarter they are expecting 1M failures, most of those Xenons. Some of those are repeat failures.”

Although Microsoft now covers all Xbox 360 consoles for three years against the Red Ring of Death (RROD) – the sign of a hardware failure – there is no specific time frame for the defect to appear. “Life expectancy is all over the map because the design has very little margin for most of the important parameters,” continued the insider. “That means it's not a fault tolerant design. So a good unit may last a couple of years, while a bad unit can fail in hours.”

Prior to the warranty extensions enacted by Microsoft, the Xbox 360 shipped with only a 90-day warranty. Some of those with failed hardware outside of the warranty period took matters in their own hands and almost unanimously discovered that the failure was due to inadequate cooling of entire system (particularly the GPU), leading to overstressed components.

“RROD is caused by anything that fails in the "digital backbone" on the mother board,” said the source, confirming user findings. “The main design flaw was the excessive heat on the GPU warping the mother board around it. This would stress the solder joints on the GPU and any bad joints would then fail in early life.”

Microsoft quickly attempted to rectify the hardware flaw by incorporating a redesigned heatsink to better cool the GPU. A die-shrink to 65nm would also help solve heat issues, though the much anticipated ‘Falcon’ design only featured a 65nm CPU, while the GPU remained at 90nm. The GPU shrink to 65nm is planned later this year in the ‘Jasper’ redesign.

While the above topic points are generally known by the Xbox 360 user community, what comes more alarmingly from the supposed member of the Xbox 360 project is that Microsoft allegedly launched its console fully aware of a potential issue in quality.

“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,” the source wrote in an email. “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.”

Microsoft had to take an over $1 billion USD charge to cover the Red Ring of Death defect warranty, which last year cost the company’s Entertainment and Devices Division a $1.89 billion USD loss. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer termed the warranty coverage charge as “painful” to announce. [More]  [Comments]

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