Sunday, October 25, 2015

Xbox One's "Black Screen of Death"

In recent months a problem has appeared with Microsoft's Xbox One games console that takes the form of a new potentially killing bug that has widely been nicknamed the "Black Screen of Death" (or BSoD) among the Xbox One community.

The issue is starkly similar to a serious flaw that effected the previous generation of games console from Microsoft -- its Xbox 360 -- when at the height of its popularity, what would eventually be ID'd as a quality in manufacturing issue cropped up that spelled the kiss of death for the owner of any Xbox 360 that experienced it.

The error was eventually revealed as a manufacturing issue at the factory in Asia where the main boards for the consoles were built; an error that effectively turned each Xbox 360 into a ticking time bomb.

That manufacturing flaw created a catastrophic hardware failure condition that came to be nicknamed the "Red Ring of Death" (or "RRoD") among the Xbox community, but not before a tremendous amount of energy, money, and effort was put into denying the problem existed.

The dreaded "Red Ring of Death" declared your Xbox 360 games console as kaput!
The design and manufacturing flaw was estimated to effect from 25% to 52% of every Xbox 360 in consumer hands.  Bearing in mind that the industry accepted failure rates for hardware of this type fell in the 3% to 5% line, this was a very serious issue indeed.

After literally years of either covering up the matter, dodging it with aggressive RMA policy, or flat-out denying that the problem existed, the ultimate cause for the majority of the cases of RRoD failures was finally traced to a decision to change the type of solder that was used to manufacture the main boards.

Despite a series of denials, and what is suspected to have been a major cover-up, an internal audit at Microsoft eventually traced the issue to the decision on the part of the Xbox Engineering Team to substitute lead-free solder used in manufacturing the part of the main board where the Graphical Processing Unit (GPU chips) and cooling fans were installed. 

What happened was simple: each time that the Xbox 360 was turned on the board heated up, causing the solder to soften.  Eventually the softened solder began to migrate away from the attachment points until one or more of those points would silently separate.

When the user tried to reboot the system, they were confronted with a predictable result -- as each time the system is turned on it runs what is called a "POST" (Power-On Self Test) during which all of the subsystems are checked for functionality.  The GPU failure thus generated a "code" in the form of the dreaded Red Ring of Death to visually indicate that failure.

Early warning signs that an RRoD event was in the offing included system freeze-ups, graphical problems in the middle of game play (usually a checkerboard or pinstripe patterns on the screen), and sound errors.  

Once the issue was properly attributed to the error in the manufacturing process, Microsoft extended warranty coverage to include replacement for RRoD consoles beyond the initial warranty period.  

They tried to make it right, in other words, but only after more than a year of denials, during which many of the afflicted were made to pay for the repair on their console.

The Xbox One Black Screen of Death

The reason that I covered the history of the whole RRoD debacle is largely because some of the circumstances are repeating with the BSoD issue and those of us who have experienced the original RRoD issue and have now been impacted by the BSoD are feeling a bit uneasy.

That is NOT to say that there is a cover-up or that Microsoft is not owning this issue - there is not and they are totally owning it.

In my case, my day-one console was hit with the BSoD yesterday -- 10/24/15 -- and when I went on to the Xbox website to see what there was to be done, I was initially dismayed to discover that my Xbox One was no longer covered by warranty for repairs.  

Well, of course it was no longer covered!  I bought it on 22 November 2013, and I knew it came with one-year standard warranty coverage, but even so, dismayed I was.  So you can probably imagine how pleased and surprised I was when, after the issue was officially defined as the Black Screen of Death, the Warranty Repair mechanism designated it as a covered repair after all!

I don't know if the issue with the RRoD was truly enmeshed in conspiracy as many members of the community have claimed - and neither do you - but I do know that at least with respect to the Xbox One and the Black Screen of Death issue, Microsoft has its act together and is totally owning the issue and covering the repairs for $0 in repair fees.

And you bet I am happy about that, even if it means that my Xbox One will be in repair limbo for anywhere from 6 to 10 weeks.  

It is, as I write this, in the capable hands of FedEx, and on its way to the Xbox Repair Center in McAllen, Texas, where I am absolutely certain (because I have been assured of this point) that a well-trained crew of Xbox Fairies, backed by highly-skilled Gnome and Dwarven Engineers, will examine it, identify the problem, and either repair it or replace it with a refurbished replacement console (that will itself be covered under a new warranty!).

So speaking for myself, I am pretty darn happy with the way this has worked out.  Well, no, I would be pretty darn happy if my Xhox had not experienced the BSoD at all - as after all we are talking about a console that is just shy of celebrating its second birthday.  

That said though - the fact that it is on its way to the legendary Castle of Repair where Elves, Fairies, Gnomes, and other mythical forces will Make It Right - well, on that score I feel that it is safe to say that I am as happy as I can be under those circumstances.

You know, I hear that their Shipping and Receiving Department is staffed almost entirely by Unicorns...

How to Tell if You May About to be BSoD'd

Based upon my personal experience - and that of other gamers who have written about the issue - I can offer you the following tips towards identifying if you may be facing an impending BSoD...

Early issues that you will quickly notice include the following symptoms:
  • Very slow dashboard performance
  • Dashboard freezes requiring hard or soft reboot to correct
  • Suddenly get "Insert Game Disc" for digital games that do not require a disc
  • Games that do not usually freeze start to freeze a lot when you are playing them

BSoD - What Support Says to Do

If you experience the BSoD Xbox Support will recommend the following corrective procedures:
  • Power cycle your Xbox One console.
  • Try a different HDMI cable
  • Try a different HDMI port in your TV
  • Try steps within the blank TV screen troubleshooter
  • Refresh your display settings.
  • If there’s a disc in the Xbox One console, eject it.
  • On the console, press and hold the Xbox button for five seconds to turn off the console.
  • Press and hold the Xbox button and the Eject button until you hear a beep to turn on the console.
  • Press and hold the Xbox button on the Xbox One until it turns off.  Unplug the power brick. Let it sit for 30 minutes.  Plug the brick back in and turn on.
When you get the BSoD - and you will have no trouble recognizing this - what happens is simple: you power on your Xbox One and you get the standard green starting screen with logo, then it simply switches to a Black Screen and stays there.  Forever.  

If that happens, then you have the BSoD and none of the fixes that Support will suggest above will work.  It is time to go to the Service Center webpage where you registered your console and request a repair.

Bottom Line: There is a small chance that the cause of the BSoD is a corrupted update.  There is a much greater chance that the cause is a bad hard drive, or hard drive controller in your Xbox.  Either way, your best solution is to send it in for repair. 

Here is a picture of a cute dog - this should help reduce your stress at experiencing a BSoD.  Keep Calm, Cute Dog!

Register Your Xbox One

With that in mind, and even if you are not experiencing any warning signs, you should at the very least be sure to take the following steps:
  • Log into your Xbox One and hit the Start Button to open the nav menu and select SETTINGS
  • Select the SYSTEM box and hit 'A'
  • Serlect the CONSOLE INFO tab and hit 'A'
  • Write down the SERIAL NUMBER for your Xbox One displayed on that page.
  • Load the Xbox Online Service Center Web Page from this link
  • Log into your Live Account then when the page opens click on the DEVICES tab
  • Check to see if your console is already registered.  If it is NOT, click the HOME tab
  • Click the REGISTER A DEVICE box
  • Complete that form and register your console
Now if you have any issues you can quickly and easily obtain warranty service - or depending on the issue paid service - with very little hoo-hoo and no tears.

It Might Have Been Worse (Xbox One Implodes)

Cute Dog Picture - Sir Calvin Wagglytail
With certain pieces of kit - and in particular tools that you use for work  - when they have proven to have long-term reliability, having one give up the ghost can be doubly as disturbing as it might be under other circumstances.

My Xbox One is just such a beast - having delivered long-term stability and reliability since literally day one of its release, when it started acting oddly last week the coincidence of it just getting an update had the effect of causing me to assume that the odd behavior was related to that.

It turned out though that the odd behavior I was noticing was actually the only brief warning I was to receive that the Xbox One was about to suffer a catastrophic hardware failure that lead to what a legion of Xbox users now call "The Black Screen of Death."

Fortunately for me while the console was out of warranty for almost all other issues, the BSoD was one that it was still covered for - but considering that a rapid turn-around would mean 6 weeks or more of downtime while the slab was dispatched to the repair depot, it was still a catastrophe.

But dispatch the slab to the repair depot I did - and ten immediately paid a visit to our local GameStop where a replacement was purchased.  

Expectations of the Worse

When we returned home and replaced the old kit with the new - new power brick, new console, new cables - I fully expected to be faced with a week or more of reinstalling digital downloads.  Because when you are replacing a console, that is what happens.  Or so I thought.

I like to think of this as serendipity...  When I first bought my original Xbox One the 500GB hard drive in it seemed awful small to me - especially when I considered the large number of games I would be getting to review in the immediate future in the form of digital download codes.

In consequence of that, one of the first things I did was to pick up a 2TB external drive.  And as it turns out that was a wicked good move!

When I booted up my new X1 for the first time, after its 268MB patch, it promptly added the external drive and all of the games installed to it without even blinking!  In fact with the exception of just the three titles that were installed to the internal hard drive for the old X1 I did not have to do ANY downloading at all!

Can you imagine that?

So mates - my advice to you if you own an Xbox One is this: buy and USE an external drive for all of your game installs!  It is cheap insurance that will save you a lot of time.  This might have been oh so much worse.