Xbox 360 failure rate 23.7%, PS3 10%, Wii 2.7% - Study

Microsoft's console historically less reliable, concludes 16,000-console survey by warranty firm SquareTrade; first-year 360 failure rates now under 4%.

The Red Ring of Death remains an all-too-common sight for 360 owners.

Hot on the heels of a controversial Game Informer survey comes a new study that also pegs the Xbox 360 as the least reliable console on the market. Electronics-warranty company SquareTrade has issued a survey of 16,000 game consoles it serviced from the second quarter of 2007 to the first quarter of 2009. The report analyzed approximately 2,500 PlayStation 3s, 2,500 Xbox 360s and 11,000 Wiis selected at random. (The company found Wii owners much more likely to buy warranties.) All consoles had been purchased new and had not been damaged by their owners.

As with the Game Informer study, SquareTrade found that the Xbox 360's failure rate was far higher than its rivals. Some 23.7 percent of those surveyed failed within two years of purchase: 12 percent from the infamous "Red Ring of Death" and 11.7 percent from other problems, including the "E74" error. Both problems are covered by the 360's three-year manufacturer's warranty, which the company began offering in 2007 for a cost of over $1 billion.

Historically, the 360 is more than twice as likely to fail as its rivals.

By contrast, the study found 10 percent of PlayStation 3s surveyed failed within two years of purchase, as did 2.7 percent of Wiis. However, SquareTrade pointed out an April survey by media-research firm Nielsen that concluded the Wii is the least played of the three major consoles, being used for only 516 minutes per month. By contrast, the Xbox 360 is played over twice as much (1,191 minutes per month), with the PS3 lagging slightly behind it (1,053 minutes per month).

Also to its credit, SquareTrade released a timeline for Xbox 360s that failed in their first year. Up until 2007, the 360 "Xenon" and "Zephyr" models were equipped with a 90nm-process CPU and GPU that generated considerable heat--a likely culprit in the still officially unexplained Red Ring of Death failures. Their replacement, called "Falcon," was released in the fourth quarter of 2007 with a cooler 65nm-process CPU and a 90nm GPU, several months after the launch of the Xbox 360 Elite.

However, the Falcon introduction had an adverse immediate effect, with the first two quarters of 2008 seeing first-year 360 failures spike to 10 percent. However, the study points out that a sell-off of older consoles in the fourth quarter of 2007, which then met their maker the following year, could also be a factor.

Since Q3 2008, first-year 360 failure rates have plummeted.

Fortunately, SquareTrade found that Xbox 360 quality has improved dramatically since the third quarter of 2008, shortly before the 65nm CPU/GPU "Jasper" model was introduced. Since then, first-year failure rates have plummeted to below the 4 percent the company projected. Looking at 500 units purchased in 2009, SquareTrade found that less than 1 percent had suffered the Red Ring of Death.

SquareTrade's analysis of recently purchased 360s appears to back up statements made by Xbox 360 and Xbox Live director of product management Aaron Greenberg. In an interview with GameSpot just before the Xbox 360 Elite $299 price drop, the executive said that Microsoft has made great improvements in the console's quality control.

"I think we've made it clear we stand by the quality of our product, and we will make it right by fixing the problem at no extra cost to you," declared Greenberg. "But at the same time, we've been working hard to make improvements in the products we're currently making, so I really feel like most of this is well behind us."

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