The Myth About Defective Launch Day Consoles

Reports are everywhere, as they always seem to be, about problems with launch day Xbox 360s. Overheating, melted hard drives, games crashing, graphical glitches, and Xbox Live problems are all being reported on message boards. There's only one question I have: Who are these people?

How do we actually know if these problems exist? Why does the media, both gaming and non, pick these stories up with seemingly little to go on other than complete strangers on the internet? Is any of this true?

Most likely, yes. Is it as widespread as it's made out to be? No. The "launch day system curse" is a new one, and it certainly didn't start until the PS One started having problems overheating. That was a real problem, and design flaws made it obvious as video began skipping and games stopped loading.

With the past two generations though, things seem to be getting worse. The Playstation 2 had the notorious blue-bottom disc problem, the Xbox had Thompson/Samsung drive issue, the PSP and DS both had dead pixels galore, and now we're at the 360. The number of problems is staggering, but not everyone is having the same problem.

That's the key point here. If it a hardware flaw, if it is a problem with discs being pressed (or whatever other rumor people claim to know the cause of), why doesn't it happen to everyone, or at least a large portion of early adopters? Because it's not really happening. There's a problem with internet message boards and that's the fanboy, the vile little parasite that posts hate about the consoles they don't own and find nothing wrong with the ones they do. Who is to say these people aren't starting some pandemic that even leaks into the die-hard fan base?

When you're so leery from all of the reports about system bugs and a game crashes, someone is bound to log onto a board and scream about how they were taken by Microsoft. However, there's a chance this poster stumbled upon a game glitch missed by the testers. Regardless, he posts about how his 360 is broke, Microsoft offered no help, and there's another one to feed the media frenzy.

Overheating consoles though, surely those are real. They have to be; yet oddly, not everyone has the same problem. If the systems are all manufactured exactly alike, why don't they all spontaneously combust when pulled out of the box? People have no idea what they're doing. They're putting these systems on carpets that absorb the heat and push it right back into the console. They have them sitting on a shelf crammed between a DVD player, home theater, PS2, beta player that mom won't throw out, and the family cat. What could you possibly expect from a piece of high-end electronics when you treat it like that?

What's even stranger is that in all of my years as a gamer, aside from my PS One, which was bought months after launch, I (nor anyone I know) has ever bought a defective launch console. The PSP, the DS, the PS2, Gamecube, Xbox, 360… you name it, and everyone I know has owned/still own them. Not a single dead pixel anywhere, no DREs, no bad drives. That's from a large stack of hardware and very picky people.

Continuing into the unknown, why is that just a few weeks (maybe even a month or two) after the launch do these problems disappear? When was the last time you read a story on PSP dead pixels? May? June? Systems still have dead pixels because it's the nature of the screen, but visit those same message boards that were screaming about the implosion of Sony just a few months back and there's nothing. It wasn't anywhere near as bad as it was made out to be, and we've moved on.

Is there a point to this? Of course. The next time you read on a message board that some stranger in Monkey's Eyebrow, Arizona has a defective Xbox 360 and yours made a funny noise last night, don't overreact. It's probably nothing. Also, whatever you do, don't send a letter to a major game site/magazine telling them you heard the solution on the internet, especially if it reads something like this:

1. Pull the system out of the box vertically. If you took it out horizontally, it's already ruined. It was in the manual, stupid.

2. Stick it in the freezer for five minutes.

3. Take it out and plug it in.

4. If it makes a noise like it's not working right, put it back in the freezer.

5. If it sounds ok, make a Master Chief or Halo mobile and hang it above the system.

6. Take the AC adapter and hang it from the mobile using only clear packaging tape. Any other kind will cause the system to launch a nuke somewhere in Russia.

7. Turn the system on.

8. Immediately eject the CD drive. If you see the system menu, you're too late.

9. Put the game disc in, and make sure you're touching the bottom of the disc as you do so.

10. Let the disc slide off your hand onto the tray. While the disc is being inserted into the console, rapidly shake the entire system to ensure the disc sits in the cradle properly.

11. If the game does not load or the opening logos skip, you have a defective system that must immediately be sent back to the company for replacement.

Comments (3)

LKM:
That's the key point here. If it a hardware flaw, if it is a problem with discs being pressed (or whatever other rumor people claim to know the cause of), why doesn't it happen to everyone, or at least a large portion of early adopters?

Your premise is flawed. You may not realize this, but not all hardware is equal. For example, when you produce computer chips, each chip performs differently. So you test the chips and throw those away that are outside your specifications. Still, some of the chips can take more heat than others before crapping out, and Microsoft may have kept the specs a bit on the dangerous side in order to get more hardware components. When introducing a new system, hardware production is still ramping up, so it's entirely possible that there are several hardware components whose specifications are less tight than they should be.

That is to be expected. These problems will sort themselves out during the next few months. Some Xboxes will always be lemons, of course, but as Microsoft fixes the problems, less of the boxes will be broken out of the box. Also, broken Xboxes will be less newsworthy because the Xbox will be less newsworthy.

Is the Xbox 360 worse than other consoles were? Possibly. It's impossible to say for sure since we have no access to any real statistics.

The difference between those chips would have to be pretty significant to cause the problems people are reporting. I find it hard to believe the difference could be of that much magnitude that the message boards are on fire with complaints.

LKM:

Well, the differences often are very significant. In fact, as an example, the computer chip used in computers with different speeds are often chips from the same waver. They sort them according to quality. If a chip is good enough for 2GHz, they'll use it in a 2GHz machine. If not, they'll put it in a 1.5GHz machine. Microsoft can't just put bad chips into slower XBoxes, so it wouldn't be surprising if they used some chips in XBoxes which they wouldn't use in similarly spec'd PCs.

Anyway, some components may not have the tolerances they should have, and people are probably putting their boxes on carpets (and, well, why shouldn't they, it's marketed as a gaming machine, not as the delicate high-performance computer that it is) and doing other unholy things with them, so it's entirely possible that at least some Xboxes really are failing as quickly and as often as they seem to.

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