Anyone who owned an Xbox 360 knows what the Red Ring Of Death is. Typically shortened to The RROD, the hardware failure was sudden, fatal, and happened to a massive number of Xbox 360 systems prior to the “slim” model’s introduction. While it’s always been speculated that the failure, which effectively meant the console was only good as a paperweight going forward, was caused by its poor thermals, the documentary Power On: The Story of Xbox has revealed that that’s only partially true.
According to Leo Del Castillo, who has been a member of Xbox’s hardware engineering group since 1999, the Red Ring Of Death was caused by connectors inside the components of the console breaking.
While the reason behind the components–soldering balls used to adhere the GPU to the motherboard–breaking was thermal, high temperatures inside the Xbox 360 were not the lone issue. Instead, according to Todd Holmdahl, Xbox’s head of hardware from 1999 to 2014, the problem was the temperature of these balls going from hot to cold so often.
“All these people loved playing video games,” said Holmdahl, “so they would turn this thing on and then off, and when it would turn on and off, you get all sorts of stresses.” Those stresses eventually led to the soldering balls fracturing, partially severing the connection between the Xbox 360’s GPU and motherboard.
Xbox’s solution to the problem was simple and straightforward: The company would repair every Xbox 360 that had been sold at no cost to the customer. However, that itself became an issue due to the massive cost it would pose to the company. According to Peter Moore, the former head of Xbox, “By the time we looked at the cost of repairs, the lost sales that we factored in, we had a $1.15 billion dollar problem.” However, Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, quickly gave Moore the funds needed to fix the issue and, altogether, save the Xbox brand.
With the RROD far behind it, Xbox is now turning the infamous error into a piece of wall art. The Xbox Gear shop now has a poster prominently featuring the RROD for players to hang up, lest they forget how bad console errors can be.