Following up on the dissection of the original Xbox 360 Elite, this teardown explores the more integrated, cooler-running Xbox 360 S.
The teardown analysis I did of the “Elite” variant of the original Microsoft Xbox 360, published in mid-2007, was one of EDN’s most popular Prying Eyes columns. Reader interest was fueled in no small part by the console’s extensively-documented red ring of death (RROD) issue, the result of high heat generated by the system’s 90-nm fabricated (initially, at least) CPU and GPU, which eventually resulted in solder joint failure through successive iterations of temperature cycles (and even “bit” yours truly). That said, to this day I remain convinced that Microsoft’s decision to speed the console to market with sub-par thermals was the right one.
Microsoft robustly supported its early adopters with replacement units through an extended warranty period, while retrofitting those failed consoles with improved replacement internals and returning them to the market. Plus, by getting the hardware (accompanied by all-important compelling content, of course) to market in late 2005, one year ahead of competitor Sony, Microsoft guaranteed itself a leadership position in only its second console generation. Fast forward to today, in fact, and Microsoft and Sony are the only dedicated home console players left; early leader Sega departed years ago, followed by Nintendo (who in fairness, it should be noted, remains a dominant player in the portable console market).
In order to improve the Xbox 360’s thermals, along with reducing the console’s bill-of-materials cost, Microsoft iterated the first-generation design multiple times, repeatedly shrinking the Xenon CPU and Xenos GPU’s manufacturing lithographies in the process (pun intended). A more dramatic console redesign occurred with the Xbox 360 S (“Slim”), introduced in late 2010. By this point, the CPU and GPU were both fabricated on a 45 nm process and could be combined on the same die. And the graphics memory, while still implemented on a standard die, was included under the same package lid as the CPU/GPU combo, which greatly simplified the system’s heat sink and fan architecture.
Today, I’ll be tearing down an Xbox 360 S, whose wired Ethernet facilities (like those of its predecessor) had failed, following the prior demise of its HDMI output (which I’d worked around by connecting it to the TV via VGA instead). Although the console’s Wi-Fi still worked fine, its now-archaic 802.11n bandwidth was insufficient to enable its ongoing use as a robust Windows Media Extender for HD-streamed content. And since it was now crippled in two key capabilities, I couldn’t in good faith donate it. So instead, I’ve decided to share its disassembly and details of its internals with you. And as an originally-unplanned bonus, I’ll also be taking apart its power supply, although in this case a return to service is the desired outcome.
I’ll as-usual begin with some external shots (the console has dimensions of 10.6×2.95×10.39 inches, by the way, and weighs 6.3 pounds):
You might be wondering what that odd sticker is on the top. I honestly don’t remember where I got the console from in the first place, but apparently this was a limited-edition “skin” to commemorate Microsoft’s mid-2011 acquisition of Skype:
There’s more “skin” branding on the bottom of the console:
Top-side vents are accompanied by additional ventilation on the right and left sides:
And the back of the console is rife with connectors (left to right):
Let the teardown commence (for which I’m abundantly grateful for the guidance provided by those whose footsteps I’ve followed: AnandTech, iFixit, TechRepublic, and Wemod). First off, let’s revisit the right side; keen-eyed viewers may have already noticed in the previous photo that part of the panel looked to be easily user-removable, and they’d be right:
The 250 GB variant of the Xbox 360 S came with an accessible hard drive; this one’s the 4 GB variant (more on that in a bit) thereby explaining why the HDD bay is empty. The remainder of the right side outer panel wasn’t as straightforward to disconnect, but a small flat-head (or, if you prefer, straight-blade) screwdriver did the trick:
The left side vent assembly popped out pretty much the same way as with its right-side sibling:
Back to the right side; in the earlier photo you may have noticed that even after getting the outer panel pieces off, an inner flat black plastic panel remained, surrounded by a glossy black plastic frame. Let’s get that off next; in this case, it all came out in one piece:
On the left side, conversely, the two pieces came out in separate steps:
What’s that now exposed in one corner?
Easily detached after removing a single Torx screw, it’s the Wi-Fi module, complete with a diminutive PCB-embedded antenna (ordinarily I’d also be looking for a double-duty Bluetooth-capable transceiver and antenna, but the Xbox 360 doesn’t support Bluetooth):
Now it’s time to pop apart the upper and lower halves of the case, beginning with the tabs on each side and at the back. The left-side ones were easily reached with the aforementioned screwdriver and came apart without any fuss:
Those on the right, on the other hand, were much less accessible and, even after slicing through the security sticker, I ended up breaking one of them in completing the deed:
The bottom half of the case lifted away straightaway at this point:
Flip the console upside down and here’s what you’ll see; note that the front panel is still attached:
The front panel pops off easily; along with it came the chassis end of the ribbon cable, which I temporarily re-attached for demonstration purposes:
Now let’s take the front panel back off completely. The circular capacitive touch-based power button dominates the front panel landscape; to its left is the opening for the DVD tray with the eject button in its upper left corner, and to its right is the wireless remote control pairing button (which does double-duty as the infrared remote control receiver “window”) and a “door” behind which are two more USB 2 ports:
And here’s what’s behind it:
Now let’s get that RF-and-power module off, by removing two more screws. Note (left-to-right) the now-exposed module connector, the infrared receiver, and the two front USB 2 connectors:
The 2.4 GHz RF protocol used by the Xbox 360 for wireless controller communications is proprietary; its antenna, however, is obvious to the naked eye:
Now let’s return our attention to the now-exposed bottom of the inner chassis. Removing the four screws, one at each “end” of the embossed “X,” did nothing with respect to getting further inside (turns out they help hold the CPU’s heat sink in place; stand by for more here) but unscrewing the longer one alongside and under a security sticker was more fruitful:
Remove several more just like it and the top half of the case assembly detaches cleanly:
As does the Faraday cage from the case itself:
Flip the system back over, right-side up, and its internals finally begin to come into clear view:
One thing you might note right away is that although (as previously mentioned) there’s no HDD factory-installed in this system, its associated mounting bracket and wiring are still present. That’s a smart move on Microsoft’s part; these particular items are likely low-cost and, by including them, the company could not only simplify its assembly line and warehousing process by reducing line items but also sell the HDD as an end-user upgrade. That bracket also “floats” on plastic “springs,” a fact that gave me pause for a second until I remembered that when the system was made, we weren’t yet at the era of cost-effective (and shock-proof) SSDs.
Onward; let’s get that DVD drive off. The otherwise-standard optical drive uses proprietary system connections:
And with it out of the way, some of the system ICs emerge into the light:
Here’s a closeup:
At left is the Microsoft-branded PSB “southbridge” chip, the successor to the first-generation Xbox 360’s XSB, which handles SATA, USB, system management, and other control duties. To its right is a Hynix HY27US08281A 256 Mbit NAND flash memory chip. And below that is more flash memory; the Phison PS2251-50 USB 2 controller IC on the mini-PCB is the tipoff that this is the 4 GByte storage module included with my particular unit. Again, from what I can tell from my research, the function of the 256 Mbit standalone NAND chip is supplanted in this particular case, but Microsoft still included it for assembly line simplification purposes, since it’s still needed with HDD-inclusive console configurations.
Let’s get that eMMC module off and take a closer look:
Next, let’s look at that unified fan. The shroud around it lifts right off:
As does the fan itself, after screw removal, revealing the heat sink underneath:
The motherboard power connections for the fan, the (nonexistent) HDD, and the optical drive are also now visible, along with surrounding power circuitry:
There’s one more chassis panel to go, this one on the backside:
And now back to fully detach the fan:
Next to go is the aforementioned HDD bracket; the third side-view photo that follows gives some visual insight into its “floating” attribute:
With it out of the way, the “HANA” video encoder IC comes into view:
And here’s a now-even less obscured view of the earlier mentioned power circuitry:
One final chassis piece requires removal, this one originally underneath the optical drive:
And with it out of the way and a few more screws loose (removed … bad joke, I know), the motherboard lifts away from the remainder of the chassis:
Last step: let’s get that heat sink off, which requires first turning over the motherboard:
For those who’d previously wondered what the “X” in the chassis was for, now you know:
Those four earlier mentioned screws attach to each of the heat sink posts, which pass through the motherboard to the back side. Also holding the heat sink in place and firmly pressed against the CPU (with intermediary thermal paste, I presume) is this “x-clamp,” which is easily removed after applying a thin screwdriver-as-lever arm to each post-to-clamp junction:
Here’s what’s underneath; look at all those passives!
With its remaining retention eliminated, the heat sink lifts right off:
Revealing the CPU (reminder: in this generation including an integrated GPU, alongside standalone graphics memory in a two-die package) underneath, surrounded by four Samsung K4J10324KE-HC14 1 Gbit GDDR3 SDRAMs:
I hadn’t originally intended on also tearing apart the console’s companion power supply “brick,” as it was already pressed into service fueling the replacement console. However, as regular readers may already remember, my residence’s TV reception-and-playback scheme consists of a SiliconDust HD HomeRun Prime mated to a Windows 7-based mini PC acting as the Windows Media Center server, along with numerous Xbox 360s (one per TV) operating as Media Center Extenders. One of the other Xbox 360 S consoles (this one in the living room) had a power supply whose integrated fan was getting increasingly noisy (a common problem); recently the din became too much to bear. With confidence bolstered by YouTube tutorial videos and other users’ successful-outcome reports, I decided to try taking it apart and cleaning it (since brand new from-factory replacement units are no longer available).
First off here’s a black-colored Xbox 360 S power supply alongside its much larger first-generation Xbox 360 predecessor (an example of which I also happened to have on-hand from a previous failed console).
As if the comparative size wasn’t sufficient to drive home the power consumption (and heat generation) benefits of the “S” console generation’s lithography shrink and multi-to-single die-and-package integration, check out the comparative 203-vs-135 W output specs:
Time to dive in. Getting the rubber feet (surrounded by plastic “discs”) off the bottom was the hardest part; as you can see, I separated-and-broke one of ‘em in the process:
A T10 Torx screwdriver is needed to remove the now-exposed screws (I also included a 0.75″ (19.1 mm) diameter U.S. penny for size-comparison purposes):
Time to dive in:
Here’s an early glimpse at the tri-color (green=on, orange=standby, red=failure) LED cluster on one end:
The PCB’s now fully out of the chassis, exposing the fan assembly (still attached to the chassis) to view:
Remove the screws holding the fan assembly in place and look at all that accumulated dust and other cruft:
Flip the fan assembly over and even more gunk:
I almost didn’t bother disassembling the fan itself, but I’m glad I did:
The fan blade assembly lifted right off the motor surrounding the shaft:
After cleaning out all the cruft with compressed air, followed by lubrication of the fan shaft with light oil, I carefully put everything back together in (mostly) reverse order:
And it’s as good as new (and much quieter now, too)!
Having just crossed through 2,000 (!) words, I’ll now wrap up this magnum opus. As always, I look forward to your thoughts in the comments!
This article was originally published on EDN.
Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of the Embedded Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter.