Xbox 360 Disc Scratching Investigated, Tested

The Xbox 360’s hardware failures are a widely publicized fact, but few know that it’s more than just the Red Ring of Death.

While the dreaded Red Ring of Death is the hardware fault most common to Xbox 360 consoles--and one that Microsoft now warranties against for three years--it’s not the only problem plaguing gamers.

Some gamers report that the Xbox 360 seemingly and inexplicably scratches game discs despite following Microsoft’s directions for correct console usage. Stuck on every new Xbox 360 console over the drive tray is a label instructing gamers to not tilt or move the console while it is in operation.

Informal testing has shown that the Xbox 360 DVD drive does indeed scratch discs when moved while it is reading a disc--particularly if the console is moved between vertical and horizontal orientations. But victims of disc scratching insist that their consoles were stationary and untouched when their Xbox 360s chewed up game discs. [Who moves their consoles around during gameplay anyway?--Ed.]

BBC Watchdog has been following the story of several families who claim to have fallen victim to scratched discs, and finally decided to set up testing of its own to see if it can help verify the defect.

The BBC program took two Xbox 360 consoles, one brand new and another that had already caused a scratch, and placed them both on level, stable surfaces in a sealed space. The testers also set vases of water on top of each unit to indicate any movements (it also works to detect an incoming T-Rex). Watchdog researchers then played solidly for six hours a day for three days, but after three days, the team hadn't had a single scratch.

The testers decided that most Xbox 360s aren’t played in the “perfect” conditions described above, and then set forth to use “special testing equipment” to replicate the vibrations that a console might experience inside a home.

The report details that the first test simulated walking, which didn’t result in any scratched discs. Then the vibrations were turned up to simulate someone putting a book down on the table near the Xbox 360. The newer console passed the second test, but the older console caused a scratch similar to those experienced by the previous owner.

The BBC contacted Microsoft for comments on the findings, but Microsoft held its stance that there is no such problem with the Xbox 360s.

“Microsoft reaffirms its longstanding position that it's not been able to ascertain any defect in the Xbox 360 console that causes concentric gouges (that is, 'scratching') on discs when a console is in a stationary position,” the company said. “Indeed, despite extensive testing and examination under static operating conditions, Microsoft has never been able to reproduce the concentric gouge that causes disc readability problems or find any such defect in consoles returned by consumers for examination. It's only with the movement of a console that such 'disc scratching' may occur.”

In December 2008, unsealed declarations from Microsoft employees alleged that the company knew about the hardware flaw before the console even launched in 2005. Microsoft quickly responded, saying that less than 1 percent of the total Xbox 360 user base has complained about disc scratching issues.

Marcus Yam is a technology evangelist for Intel Corporation, the latest in a long line of tech-focused roles spanning a more than 20-year career in the industry. As Executive Editor, News on Tom's Guide and Tom's Hardware, Marcus was responsible for shaping the sites' news output, and he also spent a period as Editor of Outdoors & Sports at Digital Trends.