The dirty secret inside your Xbox 360 ... revealed

The innards of this Xbox 360 were simply filthy. If it freaked you out to see the back of Darth Vader's helmet-less head, you might want to look away.
The innards of this Xbox 360 were simply filthy. If it freaked you out to see the back of Darth Vader's helmet-less head, you might want to look away. (Megan McDonald Gilmore)

In its own special way, my Xbox 360 let me know it was time for some spring cleaning this week. I could've danced with Bill Gates' minions and mailed in my system for service.

Instead, like Sarah Palin, I went rogue.


Before we begin, let's get something straight: Microsoft didn't want me to do what I did to my Xbox. I had to break at least three different sticker seals that clearly stated that I was voiding any and all warranties by doing what I did. If you ever plan on sending your system to Microsoft for service or reselling it as a "pure" system, do not do what I'm about to describe.

My current system isn't my original 360. Like many owners, my original system displayed the dreaded Red Ring of Death in 2009. After a couple weeks of tinkering with it, Microsoft buckled down and sent me a replacement.


In my post-college years, I've made an effort to treat my things better. Every CD I owned at one point was mauled and scratched beyond playing. Now, I let my OCD run wild in keeping together the things I really love.

But lately my Xbox hasn't been returning the love. It's been running exceptionally loud, and in the last couple days, it has been giving me "unreadable disc" errors. I took personal exception to these messages, as the bottom of all my discs are near-spotless since my change in philosophy.

I looked over at the dog, nestled blissfully on the couch, radiating white husky/shepherd hair into the atmosphere. It's clear that if nothing else, the inside of this Xbox is probably pretty gnarly.

There are plenty of more nefarious reasons for wanting to get at your 360's guts, but I simply wanted to clean mine and hope it would start working correctly again. A few years ago, I would've considered this urge insane, because breaking your Xbox 360 out of warranty was a $350 mistake. Now, it's near the end of the console's generation and it's, at worst, a $199 mistake.

So, I decided to go against my instincts for purity in technology. I don't jailbreak my iPhones, modify my hardware or download anything illegally. This thinking is what Microsoft is encouraging by making their Xbox so streamlined and proprietary.

Ironically this is the exact antithesis of the spiritual war the mod-friendly Windows camp wages against  Macintosh. Somewhere, Steve Jobs is cackling as I pry open and remove the DVD drive from his buddy Bill's machine. After pressing on some tabs and gently prying at plastic, it becomes clear this hardware wasn't meant to be opened by the consumer.

I head over to my iMac (which I wouldn't try and open if you paid me $2,000) and hop on the web. If there's one thing people on YouTube want to do, it's leave horrible comments on the videos of the sincere. If there's two things YouTubers want to do, it's leave horrible comments and teach you how to crack open your Xbox 360.

After watching a couple quick guides, I'm elbows deep in my Xbox case and enough dust to create a softball-sized dust bunny. Once you realize you're just unscrewing a couple screws and popping some plastic tabs, the idea of opening something that you weren't supposed to open becomes less terrifying.

Armed with a canister of compressed air and a lint-free rag, I clean every square centimeter of the machine with a care that hopefully reciprocates the hours of joy it has given me. Taking out the DVD drive and cleaning the laser eye is particularly nerve-wracking. If I mess this part up, I have a dusty hunk of scrap metal and molded plastic.

Putting the thing back together once it's cleaned actually takes longer than taking it apart. Technically, it's no more difficult than working with Ikea furniture. Building a birdhouse it is not, but there is a sense of satisfaction feeling the heft of the reassembled machine in your hands.

The moment of truth comes when plugs are rediscovered and connected. The familiar green indicator lights cycle and I hold my breath. Nothing is more comforting at that moment than the machine's signature boot-up sound.

I have crossed over to the dark side, using nothing but my hands and my tools, and have come back with a working (and clean) Xbox 360. By the time it gets that dirty again, Microsoft will have released a new system and this trusty old machine will have become a glorified DVD player.


Until that time, there will be something satisfying knowing that the inside of this complicated machine is as nearly spotless as the day it was born.

I can't explain the technology of why a clean Xbox works better than a filthy one no more than I can rationalize why my car runs better after a wash.

All I know is that it feels really, really good.

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