I decided to create this instructable due to the many misconceptions out there regarding the Red Ring Of Death in the XBOX 360, why the towel trick works (and is bad), and what *may* be required if the "x-clamp" fix doesn't work for you. I have spent hours researching this topic in preparation of buying a RROD Xbox and attempting to revive it. Still working on it (actually waiting on power cords to be delivered so I can test), but as I had to scour the net for this info, wanted to pass along what I've learned. I take absolutely no responsibility for any of the steps outlined or mentioned in this instructable if you break your machine or worse. This is for education purposes only.
Step 1: What Causes the RROD?
After much research, I believe I have figured this one out. The root cause of the RROD is the BGA processors and the lead free solder used to attach them to the motherboards. A BGA chip does not have copper or metal pins like older chips used to. Due to difficulties arising from ever increasing numbers of pins, companies are now replacing the pins with tiny balls of solder, which when melted in an oven, create contact with the mother board and do the job the pins used to do, with less work and more precision and less chance of screw up. Due to environmental concerns, companies are switching away from lead-based solder to lead free solder. The problem with this is lead was originally added to solder to prevent 'whiskers' and 'cold solder joints', which describe a crystallization of solder (whiskers) that can produce shorts, or these solder joints actually coming loose from the board or component (cold solder joint) with frequent thermal expansion/retraction (like playing your game, turning it off).
Step 2: Why the Towel Fix Works, But Is Bad
So, given what we understand about the problems with the solder cracking/seperating/shorting, we can deduce that if the expanding and shriking of the board caused the cracks/voids in contact, that an easy way to patch this problem would be reduce these voids/cracks so they don't exist. Blocking the vents of the Xbox with a towel and allowing it to essentially overheat will cause thermal expansion in the components of the board and processors, often enough that it seems to 'fix' the problem. All it's really accomplished is a short term fix that will be undone as the board and components cool and shrink back. This overheating will contribute to warping of the board, potentially causing further and further cracking of solder joints or frying of other components. Don't do this, no matter how tempting.
Step 3: So, How to Fix It?
If your box is malfunctioning due to simple overheating or poor heat transfer between the processor and heat sink, following instructions such as the X-clamp fix, or the instructable at https://www.instructables.com/id/Fix-the-Red-Ring-of-Deathwithout-towels/ would be a good first place to start. As mentioned in that instructable, if your Xbox is covered under warranty, why on earth are you trying to fix it yourself? MICROSOFT WILL FIX IT FOR FREE IF SEAL IS INTACT AND REGISTERED TO YOU!!! Do NOT drill the case unless you want to buy a new metal shield (like I had to) to ship it off...more details in step 9. The steps in that and this instructable should only be undertaken on a machine that has no seal, is registered to someone else, and there is absolutely no way you can get Microsoft to do it for you under their warranty. If this doesn't fix it, we've got a bigger problem...
Step 4: Still Fouling Up?
In tackling these problems in order of difficulty/cost effectiveness, the next logical step is to try the changing/modding heatsinks. The new 'Falcon' XBox 360's include a branch off heat sink for the Southbridge chip, which causes some RROD issues. I cannot find any information (ok, I haven't looked that hard...) to determine if the new heat sink will fit an old board, but I did come across this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJtR66zp4Ys where an industrious fellow purchased stick-on heat sinks for his Southbridge chip and Ram (I think that's Ram anyway, could be a Northbridge chip?). If anyone wants to comment on success of replacing heatsink with new one, I'd be interested in knowing. It seems a great (and cheap) way to help dissapate heat, and in the electronic world, heat=Dark Sith Lord to electical components.
Step 5: Reflow...
Didn't fix it? Well, if the problem is not overheating, it could indeed be caused by cold solder joints, cracking, voids, etc. A potentially simple (with proper equipment!) way to fix it is called reflowing the processor/board. This process entails heating the board from underneath, while applying hot air or infrared heat from a 'rework station' to the processor until it reaches/exceeds the melting temp of the lead free solder, approx 213 degrees celsius. Upon reaching the melting point where the solder should 're-flow' back into it's proper shape and position, the temp is dropped and the unit is allowed to cool undisturbed so as to allow the solder to re-set properly. I have seen videos of individual attempting this by removing the fan and air shroud and letting the box overheat (I suspect they are simply reproducing the effects of the towel trick), or others that place a metal container on the offending chip and actually burn material in it, so that the heat is transferred through the metal, to the chip, and hopefully to the solder. Others try to duplicate the effect with an air gun. The main problem with all these methods are you have no way of effectively controlling the temp unless you use a rework station (see video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndeq6cAA8MY to get visual on what I am talking about, pretty sure the electric griddle is not a professional aspect, but saves on the cost of an actual board oven). I've found auctions on Ebay for a guy that will do this properly for $40 ($30 to repair, $10 to ship your Xbox back to you). You have to ship it to him in first place, so count on about $50 for this total.
Step 6: Still Broken?!?!?!
So, you've tightened down the heat sinks, installed good thermal paste and replaced clamps with bolts to prevent warping and expedite heat transfer away from processor, tried out the new heatsink for the southbridge chip/Ram, and even went as far as having your board reflow-ed (the rework machines average $100-$200, so I assume you sent it off or paid someone local to do it), and you're still having problems? Well, aside from something being broken beyond any reasonable repair, there is a last step, and at this point we need to evaluate costs to date. You did the xclamp fix (prob bought some tools, about $10), you bolted/regreased the cpu/gpu (prob $10 for grease, $10 for bolts/washers), you bought heatsinks (say $4 apiece from a computer store or online?), and paid $50 or so for the reflow. We're up to about $90, and this last step will double your investment. If it doesn't work, you still have a broken Xbox, but $200 less in the bank account. Evaluate how badly you want to fix this yourself over going to Craigslist or Ebay and buying a working or refurbed console for $100 +/-. If you wish to venture on...
Step 7: REBALL
Ok, this is the last step I know of to repair an Xbox with RROD. It's also the most difficult and costly. Be aware of this before you begin!
Recall back to the beginning of this tuturiol when I described how chips now are using little balls of solder in place of contact pins (BGA afterall stands for Ball Grid Array). If you've ever soldered, you know that generally, there is a limit to how often and how much heat you can put solder through before it gets 'gunky' and doesn't flow, and no longer has that beautiful silver glint, but rather a pale, greyish coating. In these events, you generally replace the bad solder with new/good solder. Reballing is exactly that.
The process, in a nutshell, involves actually removing the chip from the board (gotta get it back up to 220+ degrees celsius again, and this time pull the chip off while solder is liquid). Once removed, you can use a combination of flux (to distribute heat more effectively), solder braid (absorbs melted solder in a ribbon of braided copper wires), and your soldering iron/pen to completely clean both surfaces (processor and board). Once clean, you apply a stencil with a bunch of holes to the chip (usually with bracket or rig of some sort), and then you can scoop almost microscopic beads of solder (might I suggest going with the LEADED solder this time, since the problems are most likely fault of lead-free solder?) into the holes in the stencil, heat the solder back to melting temp (around 220 again), and once set, remove the stencil leaving the balls melted in correct position to the processor. THEN you have to replace the chip on the board, and YET AGAIN bring it up to temp to melt the new solder to board (like reflow, this would just be a 'flow' I guess lol). Oh, yeah, you usually do this to the gpu AND cpu to cover your bases at minimum. You might do the ram too. Count on the reball kit running about $150 (includes stencils, balled solder, flux, and other tools). With this purchase, you could probably reball multiple processors (and that's about the only way to make this worth your while cost wise!). Video showing process is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97nxZwHG5bA guy does it from start to finish (chip only) in about 10 min, but an amateur will probably take much longer.
Step 8: Working or Pissed?
Well, by now, you have either brought your Xbox back from the dead and earned nearly a PHD in electronics while you were at it (I hope you fixed it without going through all these steps), or you've dumped $250 into trying to fix it, which would just about buy a new Xbox, and are cursing your machine (if you haven't destroyed it yet). There are other, cheaper, less precise ways to reball a chip by the way, outlined here http://forums.xbox-scene.com/index.php?showtopic=579364&st=75 . I cannot imagine applying each ball, one at a time, by hand, but this guy confirmed it is possible, with low tech tools, to reball successfully (though they did have a rework station for applying the newly reballed chip to the board).
Like one guy says on that page about reballing, "There is no simple and cheap solutions for noobs!!!". I found a picture of the bottom of an Xbox GPU, counted the points, and there are exaclty 1,157 individual solder balls required to reball JUST THE GPU! The CPU appears to have more!
I hope you found this educational, or possibly helpful. There is literally probably over a dozen hours of reading forums, watching videos, scouring ebay, google, and other sites for components and processes to remove the mystery from the dreaded RROD. I hope this enables the brave souls out there to try their hand at reviving these great consoles!
Step 9: ***Update***
Since creating this instructable, I've delved into the world of Xbox 360 repair/resells myself, with the following results:
First unit I bought had seal broken, but was not registered with Microsoft. Expected delivery tomorrow, will see if they accept unit with an Ebay purchased seal replacing factory. While technically 'wrong' to do this, my justification is had Microsoft not produced an inferior product to begin with with almost 60% return rate, this wouldn't be an issue.
Second unit had seal broken and was registered. I baked in oven using instructions found at http://forums.llamma.com/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=27431 and was successful! Instead of all the garbage they used though, I simply used baby blankets that were destined for the trash/rag pile anyway. I wanted to be sure to use only natural fibers (don't want rayon/polyester melting to my board!), and masking tape to hold in place. The adhesive from the tape will be absorbed in the outer layers into the blankets, and my next attempt tonight will be done without the tape at all..
Third unit bought from Craigslist from a great kid going to college. Seal was never broken, and though it was registered to him, he helped by providing info so that Microsoft would transfer the unit to my account for submission. Unit was there 1 day before reported being shipped back, delivers tomorrow.
Fourth unit had no seal, powers up but with 3 flashing lights (?), looks like a beaver tried to chew its way into the case around holes in back. But, again, not registered! So, another seal purchased on Ebay, awaiting delivery of seal so I can ship it out (pending success of unit #1 that had to wait on seal as well).
Fifth unit just came today, haven't even opened, so going to tackle that now! Will take pics of my 'wrap job' and post here too!