Xbox 360 = Teh Dead.

Crap. My 360 died.

As I posted not long ago, a playable demo for BioShock was released just yesterday, but was downloading with maddening slowness. I left the console on all night in “low power” mode, where essentially all it does is maintain background downloads. Unfortunately, when I got up in the morning and went to power it on, it wouldn’t boot. Just…dead. Except for the green power LED in the center of the otherwise-dark Ring of Light.

So I powered it completely off, waited a minute, then back on again. This time it booted, and all seemed well. I checked my download status and saw it had only managed to accumulate 33% of the game. So, naturally, I started downloading again (it picked up where it left off) and left it on all day while I worked, since by this time I no longer trusted the low-power mode to see it through. I also plugged in my controller to charge up in anticipation of gaming night.

The demo finally finished downloading around 6:00 in the evening, so I powered the console down and had dinner with Apple. I went for a bike ride (daily cardio!), talked to my grandmother on the phone, did some other stuff and got everything ready for Game Time. At 9:00, I went back to the Xbox to check out BioShock. Just as the title of the game came up on my screen, the console froze up, displaying nothing but a fuzzy checkerboard pattern of glitched graphics. WTF?

To make a long story short, the checkerboard glitch happens within a few moments of playing any game. With BioShock, it’s within the first minute or two. With Forza Motorsport 2, it’s within a few seconds of starting a race (I can browse the menu screens for a while first without any trouble). In each case, after the freeze-up occurs, the console must be shut down and given a few moments before it can boot up again. If I don’t wait and instead power it right back up, it will display a black screen with occasional flickers of multicolored static. All the hallmarks of a GPU thermal failure.

I tried the prescribed troubleshooting steps, all without success. I even got my can of compressed air and blasted the intake and exhaust vents, although I didn’t see much dust in there. Finally I gave up and called Xbox Customer Support. After telling them that I’ve periodically seen the “red rings of death” (which is entirely true) and was now getting permanent checkerboard freeze-ups, they authorized me for a repair under the three-year extended warranty that was recently announced by Microsoft. This warranty is extended to all Xbox 360s, even those out of warranty (like mine), to cover the “red rings of death” problem only. In truth, I haven’t seen the red rings today, but I’ve seen them recently — and indeed, intermittently ever since I first unboxed my console. My online research tells me that once the permanent checkerboard lock-ups begin to occur, it’s only a matter of time before the three rings become a permanent fixture on your console’s front panel.

So now, apparently, Microsoft will send me an empty box within 2-5 business days, into which I’m supposed to put my Xbox 360 and send it back to them via UPS. (Presumably the box is postage-paid.) They will then repair my console and send it back to me, which usually takes between 2 and 6 weeks. Ugh. When this stuff first started happening, Microsoft used to cross-ship refurbished (or sometimes even brand new) 360s to the unlucky owners, so they could get up and running within a few days. With the “red rings of death” and “checkerboard” failures now pandemic amongst the 360 community, those days are over. I also learned that my console will come back to me with a 1-year post-repair warranty on it, which is certainly good, since I hear some unlucky gamers may go through this hassle three or four times.

The Xbox support guy was really nice, though, I have to say. He sounded Canadian. He was also, apparently, a System Shock 2 fan, and had actually gotten to play the BioShock demo. Told me I would love it. I don’t doubt it, but unfortunately it’ll likely be a couple of months before I find out!

Anyway, I suppose I will still pick up my BioShock preorder when it comes in on the 22nd, on the assumption that all will go well, and I’ll get my console back in working order. I was going to pick up Project Sylpheed too, but I guess I won’t now — there’s no point in buying any more games until I get the hardware back. In the meantime, I’m going to let the 360 sit dormant (read: turned off) overnight, and see if it magically starts working again tomorrow. Even if it does, I’ll never quite be able to trust it again.

Hopefully Microsoft won’t give me any grief if their repair guys aren’t able to reproduce the red rings error. I asked the support guy if there was gonna be a problem if that were the case — after all, I’m well acquainted with the “cannot reproduce” story often fed me by various Pontiac dealerships — but he said no. If anything goes wrong and they decide they want to charge me $150 to fix the thing, I may frankly tell them to stick it and put the money toward a new 360. These days I hear they’re coming with bigger heatsinks and HDMI ports…

Hmph. So much for my leisure time tonight!