Red ring of death: Almost one in four XBox 360’s fail

It’s fair to say the “red ring of death” is the most notorious hardware failure in the console industry of recent years. But a new study concludes that even if you throw out that specific problem, the Xbox 360 is still the most unreliable of today’s generation of consoles.

According to SquareTrade (PDF), a whopping 23.7% of Xbox 360s suffer some form of malfunction (not including accidental damage) in the two years after purchase. Without the red ring of death issue, that figure is 11.7%.

That’s still ahead of the PlayStation 3 which is right on 10% and the Wii at just 2.7%. SquareTrade says the latter figure compares well with most consumer goods, not just consoles.

It’s worth noting the figures come from claims by people who have specifically bought third-party warranties from SquareTrade. The company believes some customers affected by the red ring of death may have taken the problem directly to Microsoft rather than claimed on their policies. With this in mind, it estimates the real failure rate of the Xbox 360 could be as much as 35%.

The study authors also looked to see what happened when they adjusted the figures to take account of the fact that Wii users tend to spend less time using the console than those with the Xbox 360 or PS3. They found the gap narrowed, with the PS3 becoming almost as reliable as the Wii, but the Xbox 360 remained the most unreliable by some distance.

The only specific problems where the Wii performed worse than its rivals were power issues and problems with the controller. Given the more active way users handle the Wii controller, that shouldn’t be a major surprise.

Some of the difference in reliability may be explained by the fact that the Wii is a much simpler device technologically; indeed, some faults on the other machines may not relate to games playing. It would also be interesting to know the failure rates on peripherals such as the Wii balance board which don’t appear to be covered by the study.

Still, even if you throw out the red ring of death as a one-off design blunder, you are still left with the fact that a new Xbox or PS3 has a one in ten chance of failing in the first two years. For companies of the stature of Microsoft and Sony, that’s a pretty shoddy record.