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Xbox 360 Problems? How About Reading A Book, Son!

Thursday, 29 Nov 2007 | 5:17 PM ET
CNBC.com

If my son spent as much time on his homework as he does playing, mastering, studying, and researching video games, he'd be valedictorian. For months he's been telling me there have been problems with the Microsoft Xbox 360, which is his console of choice.

He's been talking about the "red rings of doom," which signal the Xbox is "fried." I nodded and smiled, like I was actually paying attention, all the while thinking about whether I could get away with making Shake 'n' Bake pork chops AGAIN this week.

Well, I should have been paying attention. There are three people on our block who have Xbox 360s, and in the span of a month, all three consoles went on the fritz. The problem isn't new. Microsoft set aside $1 billion a few months back to fix all the broken consoles. Most customers have praised Microsoft's response.

(Fyi: in the video clip here about Xbox you'll see Jim Goldman and myself. We're both covering the story today.)

Xbox on the Rocks
A look at the overheating Xbox and a new lawsuit seeking class action status, with CNBC's Jane Wells & Jim Goldman

The problem to begin with, is that any of the boxes have to be replaced at all. And the even bigger problem may be that the problem is getting worse (that's a lot of problems). Why worse? Because you have a slew of hot new titles, like "Halo 3," "Call of Duty 4," and "Assassins Creed," which means the 360s are getting a lot of heavy usage.

I started asking around to determine how many people were having problems. Turns out EVERY Xbox 360 owner I contacted had either experienced the red rings, or knew at least one person who did. Some have even had problems with their replaced, "repaired" consoles. (Although when I sent out threads in some chatrooms about this, I got some very nasty responses--I was even accused of being a "Sony Fanboy" posing as a journalist!) Microsoft won't say how many consoles are being sent back to be refurbished, but some retailers speculate it could be 30 percent.

So, if Microsoft has set aside $1 billion to fix any of the 12 million Xbox 360s it's sold, 30% would be 3.6 million Xbox 360s...worth more than $1 billion.

It appears the latest edition 360s, which have come out in the last month, are not having the same problems--they may have reconfigured the cooling system or installed a more durable clamp. But when you return your broken console, you don't get one of the new ones...you get a refurbished old one which may or not may be the one you sent in.

Even so, every single person I interviewed for this story said they had no intention of trading in his Xbox 360 for a PlayStation 3. Even the Boettcher brothers from Minneapolis who told me they're on their EIGHTH CONSOLE because of various problems.

Two weeks ago, the "red rings of doom" invaded my house. My son then went through a series of "home remedies" to get it working again. Such solutions are all over YouTube, including the famous "towel trick."

Alas, it was only a temporary solution. So my son called Microsoft, and after about an hour on the phone with tech support, they determined that, in fact, his console was dead. They sent us a box to ship it free via UPS, and last I heard it's been fixed and is on its way back. Two weeks with no Xbox. I think he actually picked up a book during that time, wondering, "What is this? Printed words on a page? How unique!" Yeah, I know, I'm a terrible parent, blah blah blah.

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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