14 million games console owners are still at risk of waking up to find their Xbox has become an ex-box. For when Microsoft issued a safety advisory for Xbox customers last month, it failed to address the underlying problem.
After several reports of consoles catching fire, Microsoft urged 14 million console owners to send in their old power leads for a replacement. But hardware experts point out that the power cable was never at root of the problem: it simply made the existing problem worse. The meltdown, and subsequent fire risk was actually caused by wear and tear on the power supply used in early models of the Xbox. The replacement cable featured a trip, which cut down the risk of your house catching fire, but left unfortunate gamers with a fried console. The cord has an interrupter switch that acts like a conventional fuse, tripping power to the unit.
Microsoft's decision to limit its liabilities, rather than address the root of the problem, has led to a particularly bizarre situation. Customers who don't need to participate in the program are being shipped an identical cable to the one they've got.
Microsoft last month advised console owners to unplug the Xbox from the mains, and claimed the risk is only 1 in 10,000.
Ryan, an Xbox modder in Northern California who has disassembled the console, confirms that solder on two prongs holding the Foxlink power supply in place wear out. The problem affects versions 1.0 and 1.1 of the power supply. The design flaw was fixed in subsequent power supplies.
Several other console owners report the same problem, which you can see illustrated here, with advice on some DIY precautionary repairs.
"This was MS's uber-lame attempt at a coverup," writes one Xbox owner.
But is it?
The wording of the FAQ that explains the recall program is at best highly ambiguous.
"The replacement power cords are designed to protect consumers and their Xbox consoles from rare electrical component failures that can pose a fire hazard" [our emphasis]
Which doesn't specifically mention that the cord is to blame. However the rest of the document, with its heavy emphasis on getting a replacement cord, strongly invites the Xbox owner to draw that inference. And only genuine power cords will do, we're told.
"Consumers should not expect that surge protectors or power strips are suitable substitutes for the replacement power cords being supplied by Microsoft," according to the document.
And Microsoft specifically discourages users from returning the unit for a repair that would fix the real problem.
"Q. Can I return my Xbox for a full refund or a new console? A. No. The replacement power cords are designed to protect you and your Xbox consoles from specific component failures and a potential fire hazard. Outside of this program, replacement or repair of your console for any other reason continues to be subject to the terms and conditions of the warranty.
Xbox owners have been voicing these concerns since late February, but to our knowledge, we're the first English language publication report it[*]. We put these questions to Microsoft today.
- Several users report that the v1.0 and v1.1 power supplies, not the cable, is to blame for the issue. What's the cause of the Xbox catching fire in rare instances?
- Why are users 1.2 and up getting cables when there isn't a problem with these later models? Why are they being sent a replacement cable?
We'll let you know as soon as we have a reply. An online petition demanding that Microsoft address the root of the problem has gathered over a hundred signatures. ®
Update: An Swedish language newspaper report we weren't aware of was published earlier this week.