Xbox 360: Red Ring of Death Repair
After a good gaming session of Street Fighter IV with a friend, my 360 froze to a black screen. I turned it off, and then on again, only to be greeted by my old nemesis.
The damn ring of death that means your Xbox 360 is broken. This was the third time my 360 has had the RRoD, and its the third time I fixed it. If you’ve ever owned an Xbox 360, chances are extremely high that you’ve seen this little problem before. For consoles manufactured before the middle of 2008 (that is, the old core/regular white systems without HDMI) its almost a foregone conclusion that your system will red ring at some point.
Even if this hasn’t ever happened to you, there are two things every Xbox 360 owner should know:
1. Why it happens
2. How to fix it yourself WITHOUT sending it back to M$.
Section 1 – Why the Red Ring occurs
To put it simply, the cause of the RRoD is that your 360 motherboard is overheating. Like any computer worth a damn, the 360 will refuse to boot up if it thinks its overheating. So then that leaves the obvious question: why does this happen? The first generations of the 360 very often experience a build up of heat over time that continues to increase until the error occurs. Its happened to me and everyone I know who bought a 360 before the Elite came out.
The 360 uses lead-free solder, which as you may know, is more brittle than regular solder. Over time, the solder balls under the GPU and CPU can, due to repeated exposure to heat, literally start to loose their bond between the motherboard and the chips. A poor connection tells the system it has a general hardware failure, and that means you get the RRoD.
Although you can fix the problem, there is nothing you can do to prevent it from happening again. I’ve installed an X-clamp and an aftermarket fan that dramatically improves airflow, and still the RRoD returns. The problem lays in the design of the system. Still, you can get rid of the Red Ring for about ~6-8 month periods by following this heatgun tutorial.
There are several fixes for the RRoD, but the heatgun method is the most direct and most successful approach outside of reflowing the solder with a reflow station costing upwards of 10 grand. Since chances are you dont have that kind of money to throw around, and since the heatgun approach is so successful, there are some who try to cash in on the heatgun fix by selling a heatgun repair service. Here you will get the same treatment by following this free, do it yourself walkthrough.
So an overview: in order to fix the problem, you need to reflow the solder balls under the GPU and CPU. To do that, you need to introduce enough heat to the chips that the solder will liqufy before hardening back into place.
You might have heard of the infamous towel trick where people wrap their 360’s in a towel and turn it on, purposely leaving it to overheat in the hopes it will come back to life. The basic idea behind this is to reflow the solder balls just like what this tutorial will cover, but unfortunately the towel trick method is extremely inefficient and runs the risk of an electrical fire. Yikes! So instead of doing something stupid and unsuccessful like that, why not just go to the source of the problem eh?
Section 2. How to fix the RRoD
The repair process requires you to take the console completely apart thus voiding any warranty, but if you plan on doing this yourself you either don’t have one or don’t need one. Even under warranty, the process of mailing your system to M$ usually takes around six weeks. If you use this guide from start to finish, you can have a working 360 again in around 2 hours tops.
This project requires:
– Xbox 360 with RRoD (this tutorial covers the older variety and may not work for Elite models)
– Heat Gun (electric paint remover) a heatgun is a lot like a hair dryer, only it produces far far more heat. Heatguns range in price from $15 – 50. For the sake of this project, a fairly low end model without a switch to change the temperature will work fine. It should go without saying, but a simple household hair dryer can not be substituted for a heatgun.
– Large sheet of thick plastic (at least the size of the 360 console) weatherproof plastic for interior walls works great; you can get this at your hardware store.
-Tinfoil enough to cover the 360’s motherboard
-3-4 sticks of Poster sticky tac this might seem like a lot, but its better to have too much than not enough. This is a good extra measure to keep your system’s capacitors from overheating.
-Torx 5 and 10 screwdrivers to open the system
-Star and flathead Phillips screwdrivers also to open the system
-Clamps optional if you have decent ones. Mine suck. You don’t really need them as long as you’re careful.
-Exacto Knife to cut the plastic and tinfoil
-Marker simply to mark where to cut the plastic and tinfoil
Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for your console should you screw up and destroy it. If you have moderate repair skill and the ability to follow direction, the fix is fairly simple. Note that it isn’t what I would call “easy”. Just like in life, there are no “easy” fixes.
Step 1 – Take the system apart. There are countless tutorials on how to do this already, so just check someone else’s tutorial on how to take your system apart. Google is your friend.
Step 2 – Remove the Heatsinks and place everything in a safe spot off to the side for later when you reassemble it.
Step 3 – Once you’ve got it apart, you can inspect it for any physical signs of problems such as cracks. If you don’t see any, you’re ready for the next step.
Step 3.5 – OPTIONAL: I would recommend buying an X-clamp off ebay. The entire kit is $5. Get it and install it later. You should get this because it reinforces the bond between the motherboard and the CPU and GPU. It will help ensure this RRoD stays away longer. Anyway, you should know have a bare 360 motherboard.
Step 4 – Before we heatgun, let’s add a bit more protection to the parts of the motherboard you don’t want to overheat. Skipping this step will likely result in the destruction of your 360. You’ve been warned. Take your several sticks of stick tac and roll it all up into one large clump. Knead the clump and break off sections to form fairly thick blobs of stick-tac and cover up all interior capacitors. Doing this will give the caps an extra layer of protection against the tremendous heat the CPU and GPU need to receive before solder can reflow.
Step 5 -Once the capacitors are covered, place your large sheet of weather proofing plastic over the motherboard and with a marker trace an area along the interior. It’s recommended you follow the full red line area in my above picture, but at the very least trace the green line.
Step 6 – Remove the plastic from over the motherboard and once set aside, cut out the interior of the line you traced. Place the plastic over the motherboard so that it lines up within all the capacitors covered in stick tac. Then press down where the stick tac is to help keep it in place. You could clamp it down, but I didn’t and it worked out fine. Just don’t bump it.
Step 7 – next, take a large sheet of tin foil and cover the motherboard with it. Again like the plastic, trace along where the interior is and then cut out the middle. Pack the foil over any plastic and then up and away from the caps. Tin foil is a great way to reflect heat away from anywhere you don’t want it and along with the plastic and stick tac will keep your caps safe and sound while you heatgun the main chips.
Step 8 – find yourself a heatgun (a really powerful blow dryer used to remove paint) to remelt the solder balls under the CPU and GPU. No, a soldering iron will not work. You want to blow extremely hot air over the chips to melt and reflow the solder under them. A soldering iron wouldn’t get hot enough to do this, and physical contact would likely destroy your precious chips.
Step 9 – Turn on the heatgun and allow it about a minute to heat up to proper temperature. If your heatgun has settings, set it to low to low-medium. You only want to reflow solder, not weld steel.
Step 10 – Wave the heatgun in slow circular motions about a 30cm above the motherboard. Continue this process for a few minutes. Then move in closer and make slow motions about 15cm above the motherboard for another minute or so. Finally, move real close and apply slow circular motions to the entire area for about 30 seconds. Sometimes the solder can be stubborn.
Step 11 – Let it rest for at least an hour, preferably longer or overnight. Make sure you don’t touch anything or allow the 360 to be bumped in any way.
Step 12 – Once the system has completely cooled down, set the motherboard back into its metal case. Reattach the heatsinks and fan and hook up the power assembly PCB as well as AV and power cables. Once everything is set, press the small button on the power assembly PCB. If all things went according to plan, your system will now have sprung back to life.
Step 13 – Once you know your system is working again, fully reassemble it and bask in the knowledge that you fixed your so called “broken” system!
If this guide has helped you, please drop a comment telling of your success and also give the manufacturing date can be found on the back of your system. My theory is that most systems are prior to middle 2007, as Elite systems made after about the middle of 2007 were redesigned to stop the RROD from occurring as often.