A known Xbox 360 hardware issue is beginning to surface in significant numbers recently based on research conducted by video game site Joystiq. Tentatively called the Xbox 360 E74 error, one of the lights on the “Ring of Lights” on the front of your Xbox 360 console flashes red and you receive the error code and message: "E74. System Error. Contact Xbox Customer Support". The symptoms involve the bottom right portion of the indicator ring repeatedly flashing on and off and lines or snow will become visible across the screen.
According to the initial Joystiq article posted on March 13, the Microsoft representative Joystiq contacted told them she wasn't familiar with the problem and that they were looking in to the issue. The E74 error is a known issue that is recognized by Microsoft and is documented on Microsoft’s own support site complete with diagrams. The support site has a last revised time stamp of March 3, 2009 as of this writing, predating the Joystiq article that broke the story.
Microsoft’s support site provides no explanation for the error other than to state, “This behavior occurs when the Xbox 360 console experiences a hardware failure.” Joystiq theorizes the E74 error is related to a hardware video problem where the ANA/HANA scaling chip on Xbox 360s equipped with HDMI functionality has come loose.
The main theory put forward that tries to explain why this particular hardware issue is being seen more frequently is the increased graphical stress caused by the introduction of the New Xbox Experience. The New Xbox Experience was launched on November 19 and provided Xbox Live users with a complete rework of the user interface.
One of the significant changes introduced by the New Xbox Experience was the removal of the blade interface. The blades allowed users to access pages of information and features quickly due to the fact they are stacked on top of each other. The new interface uses full windows to spread out the screen.
Another significant change introduced by the New Xbox Experience was the implementation of a graphical avatar system. Users are allowed to choose their avatar from a large group; each avatar is dressed differently, has a unique hair style, and skin color. Once you have chosen your avatar, you are allowed to customize it with new clothing, accessories, and hair. The stress caused by these visual changes may be what is taking many Xbox 360s to the breaking point for unlucky customers.
An interesting pattern can be seen on a Google Trends chart that shows a noticeable spike in users researching the E74 error in November 2008 right around the launch of the New Xbox Experience.
Joystiq’s analysis of survey respondents show a similar pattern of increased E74 failures starting in November of last year. A conspiracy theory making the rounds speculates Microsoft may have changed the system diagnostics test to report Red Ring of Death error as E74 instead to save money. For errors reported as E74, it would force customers to pay $100 for the repair if the error occurs later than 12 months after purchase. The E74 error is not covered under the 3-year extended warranty set in place for the Red Ring of Death malfunction. Joystiq points out that this theory is unlikely because survey respondents are still reporting Red Ring of Death errors after the launch of the New Xbox Experience.
On March 19, Joystiq posted Microsoft’s official response to the E74 issue where they stated:
E74 is a general hardware error on Xbox 360 indicated by a single red flashing light in the Xbox Ring of Light and an error message visible on the television. This error is unrelated to the three flashing red lights error and there is not a single root cause. We encourage anyone who receives this error to contact Xbox Customer support through www.xbox.com/support or 1-800-4-MY-XBOX. The majority of customers who own Xbox 360 consoles continue to have a terrific experience from their first day, and continue to, day in and day out.
As pointed out by Joystiq, Microsoft’s response fails to adequately answer what causes the E74 error, if there has been an increase in incidents, and why it is not covered while the Red Ring of Death is. The evidence is mounting as Joystiq has posted an update on March 23 showing E74 errors have definitely increased since the introduction of the New Xbox Experience. It remains to be seen how long it takes Microsoft to acknowledge there is an issue and deal with in a way that satisfies their current customers. As past history shows an adequate response may take time.
Microsoft’s top game executive, Robbie Bach, president of the Entertainment & Devices group, said at a dinner in July 2008 that Microsoft’s own research shows that gamers have largely forgiven the company for defective Xbox 360s. Depending on how this issue is handled current customers may not be so quick to forgive.