Reporter gets stonewalled by Microsoft when asking about Xbox 360 hardware failures

Dean Takahashi, San Jose Mercury News reporter and author of two books on Xbox and Xbox 360, published in his blog a question and answer session with Todd Holmdahl, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Gaming and Xbox Products Group. Takahashi describes Holmdahl as “ultimately responsible for the quality of the game console, having spearheaded the hardware side of both the original Xbox and the Xbox 360.” Holmdahl was previously a part of Microsoft’s hardware division, which designs the company’s branded mice and keyboards.

A hot topic ever since the launch of the Xbox 360 is the seemingly high defect rate of the console. Takahashi poses question after question regarding Xbox 360 failures to the man who ran the design and manufacturing teams for the console, only to be stonewalled on the topic of hardware yields and reliability.

On the anecdotal evidence that the Xbox 360 quality isn’t up to par, including a user who went through seven machines, Holmdahl responds, “We’re very proud of the box. We think the vast majority of people are having just a great experience. You look at the number of games they are buying, the number of accessories they are buying, the Live attach. They love the box. They continue to buy the box. That said, we take any customer issue very seriously. We continue to look into these things very deeply. You have seen we have made some changes to our customer service policy.”

Holmdahl then sidesteps a question about a normal return rate for the console by saying only, “We continue to say the vast majority of the people are really happy with it.” Asked differently about whether or not the Xbox 360 falls into the ‘normal’ three to five percent return rate, Holmdahl said, “We don’t disclose the actual number,” and “We don’t comment on that.”

Moving away from sensitive percentages, the interviewer suggests that the Xbox 360 has a higher rate of user complaints than the PlayStation 3 and the Wii, to which the Holmdahl responds, “I would go back and say the vast majority of people love their experience. We continue to go back and address all of these issues on a case by case basis. There is a vocal minority out there. We go off and try to address their issues as quickly and as pain free as possible.”

Relentless in his questioning, Takahashi poses that a high defect rate could ruin Microsoft’s business model and profits. Holmdahl retorts, “I would say we don’t have a high defect rate. The vast majority of people are really excited about their product, and that we are targeting profitability for next year.”

Regardless of what the official line is on the reliability of the Xbox 360, many of the console’s potential owners are waiting for a chip die shrink to 65nm in hopes of improved reliability. Moving from the current console’s 90nm to 65nm should mean a cooler running box that is less prone to heat issues.

Holmdahl refuses to acknowledge any reliability benefit from moving to 65nm, saying: “Whether it is 90nm or 65nm, we have a high quality bar we target... The quality is good at both of those... We continue to redesign the box, continue to drive costs out. We don’t talk about the specifics of it.”

One of the last attempts at cracking the issue of Xbox 360 hardware failures, the interviewer asks what the top reason is for a hardware return. Holmdahl parrots once again, There are no systematic issues. The vast majority of the people just love the product, have a great experience with it. When there is an issue, we get on it and address it as quickly as possible.”

"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner

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