The mid-to-late 2000s was a scary time to be an Xbox gamer, with the infamous Red Ring of Death claiming countless consoles seemingly without warning. As Microsoft extended warranties and upgraded chipsets amid the console-killing plague, desperate console owners sought their own homemade fixes. Forums and websites (including this one) are filled with talk about the “towel trick”, “heatsink replacement instructions”, and “X-clamp repair kits”.
Amidst all this chatter, GameStop has apparently been working on its own industrialized solution to the problem, fixing red-ringed systems and reselling them as “refurbished” since 2009.
As part of an excellent Bloomberg Businessweek report on GameStop’s state in an increasingly digital gaming world, author Joshua Brustein details how the gaming retail giant developed and industrialized a method of converting broken, red-ringed Xbox 360 units into resaleable, “refurbished” ones. ” ” systems.
A boon for GameStop in 2009 was figuring out how to fix the so-called Red Ring of Death, a faulty connection between the chip and the motherboard that rendered Xbox 360 consoles useless. GameStop’s R&D team found that the problem could be solved by heating up the top of the device and cooling it from the bottom, reconnecting a damaged chip to the motherboard without destroying it. The fix is now regularly performed by a $10-an-hour worker operating a machine GameStop built itself. A refurbished console can be sold at its original price.
While a 2012 Verge article on GameStop’s repair operation suggests that GameStop employees “should not accept trade-ins of Xbox 360 systems with the [red ring of death]”, there are plenty of anecdotal reports from local outlets that in recent years have accepted red ring systems for as much as $85 in trade-in credit. Fixing those “crappy” systems and reselling them for hundreds of dollars would be a profit center for any company .
Still, there’s some reason to believe that GameStop’s red ring fix might be more of a temporary patch than a permanent fix. The method described in Businessweek sounds like a more professional version of the famous towel trick, which used a trapped heat and cool cycle to remelt solder on the damaged graphics chip. That’s usually enough to get a system working again for hours or even months more, but consoles revived with this kind of heating method almost always fail again at some point thanks to the motherboard’s inherent design flaws, according to countless reports.
Perhaps GameStop’s repair solution is somehow more robust and durable than this sort of trick, but without a more complete heatsink replacement (which requires opening up the system), it seems likely that those GameStop refurbished systems are destined to be the red rings can be seen again. But don’t worry: GameStop extends the standard 30-day warranty on that refurbished system to one year, for a price. As always, when buying a “repaired” gadget, reservations.