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The 360's "Ring of Death" - An Anomaly or An Epidemic?

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Generally, music is my thing- I get passionate about the artists I love, and when they disappoint me, I’m the first one to call them out. My other big hobby is gaming. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m an avid gamer, but it’s my primary way to unwind from a long work day. The three systems I own are pretty prized to me, but yesterday my most expensive console investment failed me for the second time. And just like I would with the tunes, I’m calling in my “Fool me once…” adage.

Microsoft’s Xbox360 is generally considered to be the hottest hardware on the market right now and rightly so: Its Xbox Live application is amazing, it has a touted selection of disc and arcade titles, and its outselling rivals Nintendo and Sony by a long shot. But there’s a nagging (and growing) epidemic that may threaten the 360’s reputation and bog them down from blowing away the competition. The ominously-named “Ring of Death” could be the Achilles’ heel for our friends in Redmond.

So I went home yesterday and after dinner I figured I’d pop in Gears of War and mop up a few missing achievements, maybe acquire Frodo’s help to grab some more shiny cog tags. Except when I went to start my campaign, my Xbox froze. I’ve had issues with freezing before on Oblivion, but usually it was just some dust that had collected on the bottom of the DVD-ROM- nothing a good wiping wouldn’t take care of. So I ejected the disc for a rub down and turned off the console. I rebooted the 360 only to find the dreaded 3 red lights staring back at me. I’d heard all the horror stories about it, but I cruised online anyway and ran through Microsoft’s obligatory online troubleshooting list. Nothing worked. I got the console to turn on for a measly few minutes before it crapped out again for good.

This wasn’t the first problem I’ve had with my 360. Three weeks prior to last night’s episode, I had a hard drive go out on me that cost $99 + Tax to replace. While I was out doing that, I should’ve noticed the bad omen when the “Ring of Death” was plaguing my local Toys ‘R’ Us’ 360 demo station. I chuckled then. Not so much now. I found it amusing when my brother’s Xbox petered out on him and ate his Shins CD. Now, we commiserate together.

So what’s my recourse? The 360 had been in my possession for over a year, so any hope of warranty redemption is null at this point. Usually, I gawk at the prospect of spending $600 on a PS3, but who’s the sucker now? I’ve invested over $500 now on my 360, and got a little over a year’s gaming to show for it.

Microsoft has long been claming that the return rate on the Xbox is between 3% and 5% and “well within the standard failure rate for electronic devices.” IGN, whether reputable or not, ran a survey on their website suggesting that more like 15% of their sample size were victims of completely inoperable 360 consoles. Pretty alarming stuff! At what point does an obviously huge problem like this merit a recall? What’s the true failure rate? Probably more like 10%. Still, that means a whopping 600 thousand of the 6 million units moved by Microsoft last year are called into question. Will yours be the 1 out of a possible 10 to fail? You better hope not.

A recent article in the Seattle Times told a horror tale of a rabid Microsoft fan/vendor in Idaho who owned 7 Xbox’s, not one of which survived. For all the benefits of its beautiful software, are Microsoft’s hardware frights on the 360 worth our hard-earned pennies? The salary of the average gamer can’t possibly afford to keep replacing these things after the 90-day warranty is fire fuel. A lot of people are starting to lose faith, and I’m one of them. I feel bad now for not turning on my problem-free Wii in the last 3 weeks. Guess it’s time to finish the new Zelda.

Is this an ultimatum for the Vista-peddling giants? Sure. Why not?

Dear Microsoft:

Prove that you can stranglehold the market by backing up your customer service claims. Send me, your dejected disciple, a New 360 and a Free Gold Subscription for a Year and I’ll retract this article and replace it with a flattering one.

Sincerely,

The Weekly Geek
c/o Michael Wiegand
3090 118th Ave SE #R201
Bellevue, WA 98005

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