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The most irritating thing about being an Xbox 360 owner has been the
console’s unreliability. Almost since the 360 launched, gaming forums
were abuzz with angry consumers whose machines had gone belly-up and
gotten the “three red lights” general hardware failure. Despite the
360’s industry-leading online service, popular achievements feature and
robust library of games, tales of folks’ having to send their 360s in
for repair a half-dozen times or more surely scared off at least a few
would-be buyers.

Luckily for Microsoft, time and customer service heal most wounds. The
buzz over the general hardware failure has died down as Microsoft has
improved the 360’s reliability and extended the warranty for such
failures, from one year to three years. If your 360 breaks, it’s still
a nuisance, but at least you know you’ll get it fixed for free and be
back in action in a couple of weeks.

At least, the buzz died down until recently, when reports of a new
failure began to crop up online. Known as the E74 error, for the
on-screen code that appears when you boot up your console, this latest
hardware failure quickly became a target for conspiracy theorists. These people surmised that last fall’s downloadable New Xbox Experience, which
introduced a redesigned operating system for the 360, somehow contained
code that replaced the old “three red lights” error indicator with E74,
exempting Microsoft from having to fix broken consoles for free. Having received
my own E74 error a couple of months before the NXE launched, I never
put much stock in this theory, considering that it wouldn’t have made
much business sense for Microsoft to willingly put itself through the wringer again. In any case, reader surveys by AOL-owned gaming
blog Joystiq at least lent credence to the theory that E74 errors were
on the rise.

Luckily for us, Microsoft is once again fessing up to a problem. The
company announced Tuesday that it would provide consoles suffering from
the E74 error the same extended warranty it provides for the
three-red-lights failure. So long as your console is within three years
of purchase, and you haven’t tampered with it by cracking open the
casing, Microsoft will fix your machine for free. Gamers who’ve already
paid for repairs because of this problem can expect a refund check
shortly.

For the curious, my Xbox 360 hadware failure chronicle goes something like this:

Nov. 22, 2005: Bought my 360 on launch day.

April 2007: I get the three-red-lights error. By this point, most of the folks I knew with 360s, most of them much newer than mine, had gotten the error. When I got mine, it was no shocker. The machine is repaired within three weeks, and the serial number and manufacturing date indicate I got the same machine back.

September 2008: With my console freezing constantly but with no three-red-lights error, I send it in for repairs so that I’m not dealing with a broken console when all the blockbuster fall games I want to write about hit. The machine arrives back at my apartment in less than two weeks, with the same serial number but a new manufacturing date stamped on the back.

September 2008: Upon hooking up my allegedly repaired machine, I’m immediately greeted by an E74 error. Recall that when I sent in my console, it was still technically working. But after “repairs?” Broken. The Microsoft folks are extremely apologetic, and I get my repaired machine back in a little over a week. It’s worked fine since then, and seems to have survived the NXE just fine.