Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death: Why Lead-Free Solder or Solder Failure Are the Problem
What causes the XBox 360 red ring of death (RROD)?
In short, the answer to this question is lead-free solder.
Why is lead-free solder the problem?
In 2006 the European Union Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) and Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) came into effect.
What this meant was that the older solder used since its inception which was a 60/40 mix of lead/tin was to no longer be used as the world moved towards lead free products.
To make lead-free solder that worked as well as lead solder, manufacturers combined tin with copper and sometimes silver. These new alloys have higher melting temperatures than lead/tin solders. Traditional solder melts at about 189 degrees , while the newer solder usually melts at 215 degrees or higher.
This new lead free solder is not as flexible as the older solder and is susceptible to oxidisation which causes the bad solder joints or cracked joints.
What role does temperature play in the problem?
Above we can see a BGA chip with new solder balls attached, these are the type of chips mounted to the board of your game console and the tolerance between the solder balls is very high. The time taken for the reballing process is high therefore we no longer offer this reballing service.
What happens to the solder at high temperatures generated by the consoles GPU and CPU is that it will eventually cause the solder joints to crack, this is also true with Laptops as they suffer the same fate as the game console.
These heat cycles will eventually cause problems with the bonding or connection between the chip and the motherboard, when there is a bad connection the motherboard detects this as a problem and shuts down or Red Rings.
The poor cooling in the Xbox360 and also laptops does not help the situation, and eventually the solder joints crack and problems then occur.
The failure rates of the original Xbox360 was enormous and changes were made to reduce the amount of heat generated when gaming by redesigning the chip itself so that it did not overheat or generate as much heat.
The newer xbox360 slim has a substantial fan mounted directly above the chip which helps with the temperature issues and we find fewer problems with these units.
Above is an xbox motherboard with the CPU and GPU removed note the bolts holding the board down so that it does not warp and tear traces or pads from the board when heating at 220 degrees C. to remove the chips for reballing. To remove the chip we use Infra red heat from above and below the board.
Does solder breakdown or failure cause the RROD?
This is tin whiskers, which are physical abnormalities that grow in non-lead solders that lead to unpredictable shorting and failures of electronic parts so you will find that things you buy do not last as long as they used to, as the solder will cause problems and the unit will be unrepairable.
These growths are electrically conductive, can grow in days or years, and can easily bridge between contacts, can touch each other to cause electrical problems, and can break off to bridge board traces.
We can fix your Xbox 360 with RROD
The change to lead-free solder makes good soldering to BGA’s more difficult but this in itself is unlikely to be the sole cause of failures as these can also occur with tin / lead soldered BGA’s. There are now reports that larger heatsinks are used to help prevent the problem of overheating
We can repair your Xbox 360 and PS3 here at the Electronic Fix. However, it should be noted that failures will happen again in time. Most people want a permanent fix to their game console; unfortunately there is no permanent fix, but we strive to keep the console working for a long time with some of the things we do that will dissipate much of the heat that these consoles produce.