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The X-Clamps on the Xbox 360 motherboard (Source: AnandTech)
Console service company Micromart will no longer repair Xbox 360 due to alleged design flaw

UK-based game console repair company Micromart has been fixing video game systems for over a decade. On its website it advertises that it will repair PlayStation 2, original Xbox, PSP and replace screens for other handheld systems.

Micromart, which used to repair the Xbox 360, recently posted a notice on its website that it “has now withdrawn from offering a repair service for the dreaded 3 Red Lights fault.”

The company states that, “This problem is endemic on the Xbox 360 console and the volume has made this repair non-viable.” Micromart will also no longer fix Xbox 360 consoles that display screen freezing problems. The company, however, will continue to support all other repairs to the consoles.

“We were seeing about 30 a week before we pulled the plug on the service,” said Micromart’s Jeff Croft to GamesIndustry. “We saw it over a period of several months and it was just getting worse. It began towards the end of last year. Once the twelve month warranty finished then we started to see more and more machines being sent in to be looked at.”

“The work we had done to the console lead us to believe that basically it was a fault with the motherboard and not something that could be resolved easily. And it wasn't going to go away,” continued Croft.

 “We're not taking that thing on board; we won't repair them. We originally did some work with it but it's labour intensive and it isn't really a feasible repair for us to undertake. We would probably end up charging GBP 100 [$202] for a repair and we still wouldn't be happy with the end result,” he added.

A recent investigation by DailyTech on Xbox 360 warranty returns revealed that up to a third of Microsoft’s latest console fail.

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RE: At what point...
By wallijonn on 7/3/2007 10:50:10 AM , Rating: 2
And don't tell me that Microsoft intentionally planned for the product to fail just after the warranty expired. That's doesn't make any logical sense, and it would be very difficult to design the product so that it "wears out" right at that point in time.

Then what is "Planned Obsolescence"?

Take any circuit and cut the safety margins to the bone (if a capacitor is rated to +/- 20%, then use the -20% figure in your circuit design; instead of rating the capacitor for 1.5x the actual voltage, just use the actual voltage rating), do a study that says that "x" part will likely have a lifespan of "Y" time and you can almost guarantee, with about 95% - 99% certainty that said product will last "z" days, weeks, months, years. After all, by designing a circuit to save $0.005, multiplied by millions (like capacitors) you can save a buck or two per finished unit, thereby translating into millions of dollars per year.

That is one reason why I buy only Intel motherboards. After going through 3 Abit mobos which showed the "pop corning" capacitor problems, I swore off all non-OEM manufacturers. I have an IBM monitor that is over 25 years old and it has been running for years, I have 2 DEC 21" monitors that are over a dozen years old. But I already see problems with my 2 year old HP 21" monitor.

It really is just a matter of using quality parts, inserting them into well engineered circuits, and doing QUALITY QC (quality control).

In MS's case it would seem that the circuits were poorly engineered, the hardware engineering was minimal, the quality control almost non-existent. Result: excessive returns of defective parts.

Personally, logically, any product that has an >10% return rate is a poor product. I would expect Infant Mortality to only account for <1% of said returns.

RE: At what point...
By TomZ on 7/3/2007 11:00:46 AM , Rating: 2
Then what is "Planned Obsolescence"?

It is a figment of your imagination.

Think about it - why would Microsoft cut corners on quality - or worse yet, design in "planned obsolescence" as you claim? Quality problems could cost Microsoft hundreds of millions of dollars in warranty costs, lost revenue, damage to their repuation, exposure to lawsuits, etc. Don't you think Microsoft managers realize this when they design a volume product like XBOX?

In my opinion, most quality problems are the result of incompetence, not the result from a conscious decision to lower the product cost and useable life. They result from not having a good quality system surrounding the design and manufacture of a product.

Your assertion about the circuit design being bad is unfounded - there is no public information to indicate whether it was bad design, bad manufacturing, bad components, etc.

Regarding motherboards, I also buy only Intel motherboards for their quality. But I don't think you can fairly blame Asus, etc. for the capacitor issues that have plagued that industry. I don't think the MB manufacturer could have known about or avoided using those bad parts.

RE: At what point...
By mdogs444 on 7/3/2007 11:03:51 AM , Rating: 3
Agreed.....but someone needs to pay for the poor Quality Assurances practices. Unfortuantely, 99% of the time is the consumer that ends up paying for it.

RE: At what point...
By TomZ on 7/3/2007 11:09:02 AM , Rating: 1
Not sure about your 99% figure, but I'd guess that companies pay dearly in direct warranty costs for such problems, not to mention the value of the damage to their reputation due to poor product quality.

RE: At what point...
By mdogs444 on 7/3/2007 11:50:16 AM , Rating: 2
Perhaps not 99%, but the idea was that the consumer pays for it in the end, in one way or the other. The companies will increase the prices of other products on the market in a similar category, or increase the prices of the next gen console in order to make up for losses. After all, the bottom line is the shareholders, and increasing the stock price. One way or the other, it needs to maintain or go up, and making money from their products/services is how its done.

RE: At what point...
By TomZ on 7/3/2007 12:18:18 PM , Rating: 2
Companies set prices based on the value of the product to the consumer, not based on the cost to produce the product. Therefore, the price is usually as high as the consumer/market will bear, and therefore, higher-than-expected warranty costs are more likely to come off the company's bottom line.

RE: At what point...
By Timeless on 7/3/2007 6:56:41 PM , Rating: 3
Maybe Microsoft is trying to follow Sony's footsteps with the PS2. IIRC the PS2 had a high failure rate when it first came out too. And in the end, Sony had the most consoles sold. Maybe Microsoft is taking taking it to the extreme this time with its Xbox360. Pretty interesting idea if you ask me...

RE: At what point...
By Parhel on 7/3/2007 4:52:21 PM , Rating: 3
It may not apply to consoles or computer components, but many products are without a doubt specifically designed to fail after a certain amount of use.

Inexpensive vacuum cleaners manufactured in the 1950's are still running perfectly well, but most modern vacuum cleaners will last for around two years of regular use. Why? After the financial failure of ElectroLux, most manufacturers redesigned their vacuum cleaners so that the dust was pulled directly through the motor, causing eventual failure. It doesn't make sense for a manufacturer to make a product that you will only need to buy once and will last forever.

I don't think you see that it electronics as much because the natural progression of technology makes that unnecessary.

RE: At what point...
By Oregonian2 on 7/3/2007 1:08:06 PM , Rating: 3
Nope, for multiple reasons.

One is that selling the console isn't big money maker, it usually is a loss leader. Planned obsolescence is something to make you buy a replacement, that's NOT what Microsoft wants even if they could.

If you've ever done MTBF calculations for a product (as an electronic engineer, I have for some products I've designed), it's a SWAG at best. It's very hand-wavy in terms of part specs and more importantly conditions under which even those numbers were made and how one corrects for the real conditions being different than that. About the only way to have accuracy is if one has a single part that has a really bad reliability so that it dominates, and even then only if it's well characterized for one's usage conditions. Trying to "hit" just-after-warranty is like trying to hit the moon with a bottle rocket. About the only way to do it would be to empirically modify the design using real failure rate statistics but the feedback loop is so slow the product would be obsolete long before being able to achieve the goal. Personally, my goal is to have the calculated be conservatively at least ten years and hope it's much better than that (my stuff might actually be used that long).

That said, consumer gear may tend to be made using parts where the maker says "MTBF? What's that?". May get crap, but still, it won't be a controlled-to-just-after-warranty failure sort of crap.

RE: At what point...
By mindless1 on 7/3/2007 4:51:36 PM , Rating: 2
There was no rational reason why others promoted the idea of it failing just after the warranty period ended. That was merely the point at which repair options shifted from manufacturer to 3rd party.

While it is unreasonable to think a manufacturer tried to make a hardware component fail at a given point, they can still willfully choose design, manufacturing process and parts of lower quality, not expected to last as long in a typical use. The lifespan of the product is expected to go down as they cut corners to maximize profits.

I don't mean to blame the designer and manufacturer entirely though, any moreso than we could blame any evolving tech for being imperfect. The rapid changes in the computing/gaming industry prevent adequate time to develop and debug. Unfortunately that's no consolation for the customer and IMO, at the very least the warranty period should be much longer on moderate to higher priced electronic goods.

RE: At what point...
By TomZ on 7/3/2007 4:57:05 PM , Rating: 2
If you think about the business model of the XBOX - why would they do that? They take a loss on the hardware sale in order to have as many customers with units so they will buy software, services, and accessories. Building a unit that falls apart after a year or two of use contradicts that whole model.

The only logical conclusion is that Microsoft and/or its contract manufacturers may have screwed up - it doesn't make sense that they cut corners on purpose.

RE: At what point...
By Belard on 7/5/2007 3:21:07 AM , Rating: 2
Well... perhaps they are designed to fail after a year? yeah, they could put some code in the XBOX that when you first turn it on - it starts its countdown to self-destruction... there is a computer in the Xbox360, afterall.

Not hard to do at all, and perhaps the early xbox models, the code was buggy and caused death too early ;)

ROD & overheating is the most I hear about Xbox360 - geez, theres about 10 different companies selling system coolers for xbox360.

How many for PS3? BTW: Sony says their failure rate of PS3 is under 1% - which maybe true.

"I want people to see my movies in the best formats possible. For [Paramount] to deny people who have Blu-ray sucks!" -- Movie Director Michael Bay
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