With this past generation, the most terrifying thing console owners could see was a small red or yellow light that meant their several hundred dollar console was dead.
Without a doubt, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are amazingly complex pieces of hardware—each a powerful computer shoved into a tiny box. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the original versions of these consoles proved to be more than a little prone to overheating.
When one of these systems gets too hot—usually after years of use—the solders that attach the CPU and/or GPU to the motherboard melt and break the connection. This causes the system to no longer be able to boot up.
On the Xbox 360 this break in connection is indicated by the green ring on the power button turning red—hence the colorful name “Red Ring of Death” (or RRoD for short). On the PS3, you get the flash of a yellow light before the system automatically turns itself off—hence the name “Yellow Light of Death” (aka the YLoD).
I have had personal experience with these soul-shattering lights and let me tell you, there is hardly a worse feeling when you realize that your precious game system is now little more than a large, ugly paperweight. Worse yet was the moment I realized all my saved games from years of play were seemingly gone for good.
There are many do-it-yourself pseudo-fixes out there: Take the system apart and use a heat gun; blow a hairdryer through the vents; put the whole system in your oven and bake it. But sadly, these prove to only be temporary fixes—useful for little more than backing up your saved. In the end, you only have two real choices: Send it in to the manufacturer (for around $150) and get a refurbished model in return or simply buy a brand new system. Of course, as the problem became more and more common, Microsoft and Sony started replacing a broken system for free—as long as you were within a certain time limit, anyway.
Back in 2009, a Game Informer reader survey found over 50% of respondents' 360s had red ringed, and 10% of their PS3s had gotten the yellow light. But as new models of the PS3 and 360 were released in the years that followed, the overheating problem was largely corrected. Moreover, there are still many first-run systems that work perfectly to this day. But to anyone who has ever encountered the RRoD or YLoD first hand, it is definitely one of the—if not the—worst “zeroes” of gaming's seventh generation of consoles.