I know there are a plethora of YouTube videos and blog posts out there about fixing the “Red Ring of Death” on your XBox 360. Fixing the RRoD turned into a multi-million dollar industry, truth be told. Well, I’m going to show you how to fix yours using about $4 worth of parts so you can get yours up and running without having to spend any more just to find the right path. To date, I have successfully fixed two machines using these steps, and as I write this article, I am in the process of correcting a third (pictured). So far, my approach, cherry picked from several sources, has proven successful — and here it is for you to use, free.
First, I’m not going to cover taking your machine apart and putting it back together — there are plenty of easily found tutorials out there that cover that aspect. Nor will I be covering the removal of the X clamps — again, there are plenty of tutorials out there that provide you with that information. I’m only going to cover the work required on the motherboard, and the final step of super-heating after the machine has been re-assembled. As a pre-cursor, however, in case the tutorials don’t cover it, you will need a Torx screwdriver set in order to fully disassemble the console. I personally use this one from Husky.
Second, if your machine is still under warranty, DO NOT REPAIR IT YOURSELF! You can get your Red Ring of Death fixed for free by Microsoft, and keep your machine’s warranty intact. Contact your Microsoft dealer, or log into your XBox Live account to get the information. If you proceed with opening the case on your XBox 360 while it is under warranty, you will void that warranty.
Please fully read through this entire article before you begin anything, and be aware that I assume no responsibility for any damages or voided warranties that you may cause as a result of following my instructions. You proceed with any instructions contained herein at your own risk.
[ Preparing The Motherboard ]
If you have disassembled your case, removed your motherboard, and removed the heat sinks (having first removed the X clamps), you should be looking at something like this:
In addition, you’ll have your two heat sinks set aside, like this:
You’ll note that the clamp connectors have been removed (arrows). These will be discarded (along with the X clamps), so be sure to remove them from your heat sinks.
Next, you’ll need to clean both the chips (GPU and CPU) and the heat sinks. In the photo above, you can see that I’ve already done the cleaning on the heat sinks. The chips also need to be cleaned as much as possible. I’d recommend you concentrate your cleaning attentions mostly on the top of the chips. You want them to look as clean and polished as possible. There will likely be excess thermal paste around the outside of the chip (this gets squeezed out by the heat sink), and you should try to get as much as you can, but DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FORCE the excess paste off the chip board. There is additional circuitry surrounding the chips, and you don’t want to risk damaging them by trying to remove all the paste.
Here’s a shot of the cleaned chips, ready for re-assembly:
When I clean chips that have had prior thermal paste applied, I first use a strip of hard plastic (cut from something like an old credit or ID card) and scrape as much of the excess paste from the top of the chip, and from the surrounding area (being careful not to use too much force), as I can get. Do not use anything metal to scrape thermal paste. Hard plastic is the best thing to use as it will not scratch the top of the chip, nor do damage to the surrounding circuitry unless you’re really trying to.
I then use a Q-Tip and apply a citrus-based remover (like GOO Gone) to one end of the tip. This I gently rub around the top of the chip, being extra careful not to let any of it get off the top and onto the surrounding area. Letting a citrus-based removal agent interact with the circuit board is probably a really bad idea. 🙂
Once I have dislodged/dissolved as much paste as I can, I turn the Q-Tip around and use the dry end to pick up as much from the top of the chip as possible. I won’t get everything, but I want to make sure I don’t have a lake of GOO remover sitting on top of the chip. I then get a cotton ball and put some Isopropyl (“rubbing”) alcohol onto it, the purer, the better (I use 91%, but there are higher ones out there). Using the cotton ball, I rub the top of the chip until I have removed all the remaining solvent and paste. I then let it all dry until there’s no wetness left anywhere.
[ Modifying The Case ]
Because we are going to be replacing the fasteners for the heat sinks, we’re going to need a little more space in the place where the motherboard sits. The holes where the X clamps were secured to the metal case will need to be drilled out so that the heads of the fasteners (see the Re-assembly section below) will rest comfortably without applying any pressure to, or warping, the motherboard.
Using a 23/64″ metal drill bit (a 3/8″ would probably also work, but would make slightly larger holes that might overlap in the center cuts; you can see in the photo below how close those holes are with the 23/64″ bit), I drill out the 8 screw holes that are used to anchor the motherboard (via the X clamps) to the metal case. I typically place the case on top of a wood 2×4, aligning the holes to make sure they are over the wood, and then drill each. After all 8 are done, I use cable cutters and/or a Dremel to reduce any sharp burs or edges.
[ Re-assembly ]
I use the following supplies to re-assemble the heat sinks onto the motherboard. I get all of the hardware from Home Depot for a total cost of around $4US:
- 8x #10-32 x 1/2″ machine screws (round head)
- 8x 5/32″ neoprene rubber washers (since they only come in packages of 4, you’ll need two packages)
- 12x 5/32″ metal washers
- Thermal paste (any good-quality will do)
Apply thermal paste to each of the three chips. Place a dab on each, about the size of a grain of rice, sized appropriately for the chip (e.g., on the smaller GPU chip, place a smaller grain of rice than the larger chips). This is only one of two schools of thought on applying thermal compound. The other advocates spreading the paste as thinly across the top of the chip as you can before applying the heat sink. I used to do this; I don’t anymore. It is far better to let the heat sink spread the paste and fill in any gaps than to have you do it by hand and try (impossibly) to get the paste thin and level.
This next step is a bit tricky, and it has taken me a bit to get it down. You’ll need to align the heat sink on one side of the motherboard while threading the bolts through the motherboard and into the holes on the heat sink, all while keeping the surface of the heat sink as much away from the thermal paste as possible. I tend to situate the motherboard on its edge, holding the heat sink approximately in place with one hand on the chip side while just starting the threading of the fasteners with the other from the bottom. Once each of the fasteners has been started, the heat sink will be properly aligned, and you can then press it down onto the chip, spreading the thermal paste.
While holding the heat sink in place, gradually thread each fastener a little further into place (one or two turns), rotating around to each fastener such that the thermal paste will spread evenly and from the center. As each fastener gets closer to maximum, you want to be sure that you do not over tighten. Let me re-iterate that: DO NOT OVER-TIGHTEN THE FASTENERS. You want the heat sink held securely and evenly in place (the failing of the X clamps), but you don’t want to apply so much tension via the fasteners that you do any warping of the chip or the motherboard. Imagine your goal is to be able to pick up the motherboard by just the heat sink, without it moving at all, and without the fasteners being clamped down to where they will tighten no farther.
Attaching the CPU Heat Sink
For the CPU heat sink (the tallest heat sink with the copper bottom), we’re going to use 1x machine screw, 1x neoprene washer and 1x metal washer for each fastener slot.
Attaching the GPU Heat Sink
The GPU heat sink (the flat heat sink) will require 1x machine screw, 1x neoprene washer, and 2x metal washers for each fastener slot.
Once the heat sinks are securely in place, you are ready to re-assemble your XBox 360. When placing the motherboard back in the case, make sure the heads of the machine screws fit nicely into the holes you drilled in the case. They will not protrude very far, but rather will just have a place for their heads to rest comfortably without pressing on any part of the case.
[ Cook It! ]
With your XBox 360 re-assembled, you are ready for the final phase: Super-heating. This is the so-called “towel trick”, and entails the following:
- Connect power to the XBox 360.
- Using a number of large towels (I use four), wrap the 360 such that all of its ventilation holes are covered.
- Reach inside without dislodging any towels, and power on the 360.
- Leave the machine wrapped and powered for at least 20 minutes.
Yes, this sounds scary. I was apprehensive the first time I did it, keeping my eye on the machine the whole time just to make sure it didn’t burst into flames (or if it did, that I could get the hell outta there fast). But, it does work, with no adverse affects on the machine or the towels.
Once the machine has super heated for at least 20 minutes, you can unwrap it, power it off, and put away the towels. If all has gone well, and the Computer Gods are smiling down upon thee, you can fully connect your console, power it on, and have a working XBox 360 once again.
[ And Finally… ]
The machine pictured in this article was being repaired in real time (while I was writing it). Here it is after being powered on: