So your Xbox got the dreaded Red Rings of Death... What to do? The way I look at it you can do one of three things.
1) Send your console in to a big corporation, wait a month, and get a console that'll break in another month.
2) Throw it out or try and sell it. You could make $40 or so and put it towards a new console.
3) Try and fix it yourself. Now there are several paths you can take to "fix" your box, and hopefully this instructable will make this task less daunting (and explain the right way to do it)
So lets get started!
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Step 1: Fixes That DONT WORK
The problem behind the Red Rings (9 times out of 10) has to do with cracks, whiskers, and other issues with the solder balls under all of the BGA chips on the 360 MoBo caused by constant heating/cooling cycles.
The Towel Fix-
People think that by wrapping their 360 in a towel and running it for excessive periods of time, the internal components will reach the melting point of lead-free solder (217C), and the bad joints under the BGAs will reflow, fixing the problem... I'm not even going to explain what's wrong with that picture.
The Penny Fix-
By putting pennies underneath the GPU heatsink/on top of the RAM chips, the extreme pressure on the RAM BGAs will (in some cases) push the chip down enough that the bad joints make connections. Now this is all good and dandy save the fact that neither the solder balls nor the RAM were meant to take that kind of pressure, and this fix will only lead to more broken joints.
The "X-Clamp" Fix-
This fix utilizes the same basic principle as the penny fix. By removing the stock heatsink clamps, you can hold the CPU and GPU heatsinks on with machine screws. The idea is that you can over tighten the bolts causing the heatsinks to exert more pressure on the processors, pressing the broken solder joints down until they make connections. The issue with this is that more pressure inevitably leads to more broken joints... which leads to more pressure, which leads to more broken joints... the vicious cycle continues until you get micro fractures in the chips and your console is dead for good.
Step 2: The Fix That DOES WORK
Easily the most reliable, and effective fix is performing a reflow. By re-melting the solder balls in a BGA any imperfect joints will be fixed when they re-harden. This instructable will cover hot air reflowing, but other methods are available (albeit more expensive). Now some people claim they can reflow their Xbox using a heat gun or an oven, but to reflow properly you need the proper equipment.
Step 3: Equipment/Materials
Here's what you need to perform a successful and professional quality reflow. This is my setup, so you don't need the exact same things (i.e. you could get a different model reworking station than I have)
-Aoyue 968 Reworking Station
-Rework Nozzle #4141
-Modified Presto Griddle (It needs to have 8 m5 bolts running up from the bottom. These serve to hold the mother board about 1/4 inch off the griddle during the reflow)
-Makeshift stand for the Aoyue Hot Air Gun
-A flat-head screw driver
-A torque screwdriver (The Xbox has both t8 and t10 screws, I just use a t9 bit.)
-A small, pointy object (You need this to disassemble the box)
-Q-tips (Lots of them!)
-Goo Gone (This stuff works miracles on thermal paste)
-Isopropyl Alcohol (It should be at least 70%)
-Rosin Flux (This is optional, and I don't use it in my reflows...)
-Pipettes (If you use Flux)
-Arctic Silver Thermal Paste (I buy mine at RadioShack. One tube usually lasts for 10 boxes)
Step 4: Starting the Repair
Before we disassemble the console, we want to know exactly what the problem is with it. In my case, the box had an e74 error. If there is no video though, you want to be able to target the specific component in the box that is responsible for the Red Rings. So here's what you do to find the Secondary Error code.
1) Turn the box on and wait for the Red Rings to come up.
2) Hold down the sync button, you need to be pressing this for the entire time.
3) Hit the eject button once. Note the number of lights around the power button.
4) Do this three more times.
5) You should now have 4 different numbers, in my case it was 1 light, 4 lights, 2 lights, 2 lights.
6) To convert this into "Xbox error code" just take those numbers, but change any 4s to 0s. So my error code would be 1022.
Now that you have the code, you can look here to find out what the exact problem with your board is. My error was a result of a GPU problem, so that's the component I need to reflow.
Step 5: Disassembling
I'm going to assume that if you're able to reflow your console, you can take your xbox apart. If you don't know how to, follow this instructable.
Step 6: Remove the X-Clamps
So you've got the MoBo out, and now you need to remove the heat sinks. Flip the Xbox upside down, and you should see two X-shaped clamps. To take these off, put a flat head screw driver into the part of the clip that curls back. Now turn counter-clockwise and lift up. You HAVE TO rotate the screwdriver, otherwise you'll bend the clamps. You need to be very careful when you're removing them because if the screwdriver slips it could destroy components around it. After you remove them, set them off to the side because we're going to put them back on in the end.
Step 7: Get Rid of the Thermal Paste
I'm incredibly proud of myself, because I think I've found the perfect method for removing thermal paste.
1) Remove the big clumps of thermal paste around the dies on the chip. I use a cut up ID card to do this.
2) Take a Q-tip and lightly coat it in Goo Gone. Rub it around on the die and it'll remove a lot of the paste. Don't worry, this stuff is safe for use on the board, I've used it countless times.
3) Take another Q-tip and dip it in rubbing alcohol. After you coat the chip in it, use the other end to dry up the excess liquid.
Step 8: Pre-Heating the Board
Now we get started on the Reflow. It's incredibly crucial to heat any board from the underside while performing a reflow on it. I use a presto griddle, and it works amazingly well. I've drilled 8 holes in it, and I run m5 machine screws up through the bottom. There are two nuts and two washers just on top of the griddle that hold the bolts in place. These also keep the motherboard about 1/4 inch off the griddle during the reflow.
Put your board onto the griddle, and screw a nut snugly onto every screw. This is one of the most important parts of the reflow process. They keep the motherboard from flexing during it, and allow the solder to reflow properly. The board should be sandwiched between two nuts, and NOT touching the griddle.
Turn the temperature up to 400F, the griddle will get very hot so use your common sense and don't touch it. I let my board preheat for 10 minutes.
Step 9: Setup for the Reflow
I set up my makeshift stand while the board is preheating. It slides under the griddle, and I clamp it down onto the table. An extension holds the hot air gun over the board. It should be very, very close to the chip, but NOT TOUCHING! Look at the picture that shows how high off the board it is. You'll also notice in this picture that I have the reworking station on a separate table. The unit vibrates a bit, and you don't want anything to move the board while the solder is in it's liquid state, or you could screw it up.
Step 10: Reflowing!
So after ten minutes of pre-heating the board, I begin the hot air reflow. Make sure that the air pressure is at 5 1/2 (thats the dial in the bottom right of the unit). The lowest temperature the unit can go to is 90C, so after I turn it on I wait to time until the actual temperature (bottom number) reaches 90. You always wait for the unit to reach the temperature before you start timing. Note that the griddle is on at 400F for the whole time.
This is the heating profile that I follow (All temperature increases are in 3 deg/sec, which is one press of the up/down button on the unit a second):
- Turn on the unit and wait for it to reach 90C.
- Hold for 60 seconds
- Increase the temperature to 195C
- Hold for 60 seconds
- Increase the temperature to 291C
- Hold for 40 seconds
- Increase the temperature to 350C
- Hold for 20 seconds
- Increase the temperature to 381C
- Hold for 20 seconds
- Decrease the temperature to 291C
-Hold for 10 seconds
- Drop the temperature to 90C as fast as the unit will go.
When it reaches 90C, I turn the unit and the griddle off. At this point, it is incredibly crucial to not touch or move the board. You need to let it sit for at least 15 minutes without being disturbed.
*Another Note* These machines are not exactly the same, my 381C may actually be outputting air at 360C, where yours may be doing 400C. Its very beneficial to get a test board and figure out just how hot you need to go on your machine before the solder melts. This is called a BGA lift, and just follow this profile up to 350C. After that go up by 3 degree increments. Wait ten seconds, and try and lift the chip up with a flathead screwdriver. If it lifts, that's the temperature you need to hit. If not, keep going up until you can lift the chip.
Step 11: Reassembling
After the board sits for a period of time (it should be cool to the touch), remove it from the griddle. Now you need to apply new thermal paste. They say to apply a grain-of-rice sized glob of paste, I tend to use however much I need to cover the die. Squeeze some out of the syringe and use a cut up ID card to smooth it out. The paste should have a smooth surface before you put the heatsinks back on.
To replace the heatsinks, just put them back through the holes in the MoBo, and work in reverse. Slide the clamp back on, and press the "legs" of the X down until they clip on the heatsink bolts. You may need to use a screwdriver to pry them open a little bit while you're pushing them down.
Now you can put it back in the housing and reattach the DVD drive and fan.
Step 12: Testing!
At this point you can try the box out and see if your reflow worked. Plug in the power and video cable, and make sure the RF board is back in the front of the xbox. Turn it on, pray, and hopefully it'll boot right up.
If it doesn't, don't get discouraged, try reflowing different components, and checking your heat profile. Maybe you aren't going hot enough.
If it does work, finish putting the case back together, and you have a working Xbox 360!
If you're interested in a professional fix, but don't want to try reflowing it yourself, send me an email at email@example.com. You can ship your console to me, and I'll reflow it for you.
Thanks for reading, and good luck!