The Xbox 360 is a console that many look back upon with mixed opinions. This mixed reception attributes itself heavily to the phenomena known as: “The Red Ring of Death”. The bane of the Xbox owner was seeing those three lights. For many it was a curse, but for some enterprising individuals, it was a gift. One of those individuals just happened to be my own brother.
You knew the red ring of death (or RRoD) was occurring when the console’s power button displayed three red LED lights, leaving the fourth one that completes the circle, in the upper right corner, off. This indicated a ‘general hardware failure’. Hardware does sometimes fail, but this became so common that at its peak, the console had a 50% failure rate. It was coin toss.
A little while after moving to Europe, my brother went looking for an Xbox 360 to buy on this local website. The website is basically Ebay but exclusively for this European country. He kept seeing people selling them for very cheap, but they were all labeled with the initials “RRoD”, and he didn’t know what that meant. He found out after looking into it, and wondered if there was a way he could buy one and fix it.
His investigation led him to several fixes, until he landed on one that was promising. He bought one of the RRoD Xbox’ and after following the steps, the Xbox worked just fine. He thought about all those RRoD Xbox’ that were on sale and figured that he might be able to make some cash fixing it for people.
He explained to me that the RRoD happened mainly because of two things: Heat build up, and the X-clamps that the system used to keep the heat sink in place, instead of screws. The X-clamps are underneath the motherboard and they apply pressure to the motherboard as they hold the heat sink in place. When the console heats up, the X-clamps’ force would push on the motherboard, bending it right where the GPU and the CPU are located. This would sever the points where the GPU and CPU are soldered onto the motherboard. Resulting in a red ring of death.
The fix was to remove the motherboard, cover everything, except for the CPU and the GPU, to protect it from heat, and somehow make the solder points of the CPU and GPU reconnect with the motherboard. My brother would use a hot air gun on the two processing units, causing the solder points to melt back together. Then he would replace the X-clamps with screws, and problem solved.
He went back on the website and set up a business page. He advertised that he would fix the RRoD for 25 euros and if the fix fails he’ll fix it again for free. He had competition of course, but he streamlined the process. With a little bit of ingenuity he built a little contraption that he would use to quickly cover the motherboard’s components. He quickly became known on the website as the fixer with the fastest repair time. He also had a very low failure rate.
He maintained this little cottage industry for about 3 years before he hung it all up. He estimates that he earned over 1000 euros overall. For a student this is was a cozy source of income. Eventually he just didn’t have the time anymore, the newer Xbox 360’s were failing less, and the Xbox one was right around the corner. But at the height of the Red Ring of Death controversy, Microsoft’s misfortune, was my brother’s treasure chest.