While we can assume that the newer, smaller 65nm GPUs in both the Jasper version of the Xbox 360 and the new PS3 Slim will help to reduce the instances of console death, the fact is that there is an installed userbase worldwide in the region of 50 million units. And this presents a very real issue for a fault that is seemingly caused by cumulative damage: every day more and more Xbox 360s out there are no longer covered by the safety net of Microsoft's three-year warranty, and many of them will fail through no fault of the owner. More than that, the extremely limited one-year PS3 guarantee seems to be woefully inadequate.
Back in December 2008, around nine months after the launch of PS3 in Europe, SCEE big cheese of the era David Reeves pegged the PS3 as having a two to three per cent failure rate. But since the core issue is a cumulative one, and presumably unforeseen by the platform holder, what would it be now? I asked SCEE to comment, and await a reply.
As it is, right now, if your 360 is out of warranty, an official Microsoft repair will cost £78, which bizarrely, rises to £95 if you organise it over the phone. Sony's Careline wasn't quite so clear-cut, saying that repairs are evaluated on a case by case basis, eventually stating that a replacement refurbished unit will set you back £128. With those costs in mind, an independent repair on your own machine will typically set you back around £60 for a 360 and £70 for a PS3. You can of course go for an extended warranty but typically these tend to be under-written by insurers and the time taken to get a working machine back can be variable. An independent, like Colchester Computers, tries to get your unit turned around in 24 hours.
Clearly, the PS3 warranty situation is of concern, and there's a mammoth amount of reading to sift through in this Eurogamer thread, which in its latter pages coughs up an interesting perspective. Following a piece on the BBC's One Show, there is a powerful legal argument that suggests that the length of the manufacturer's warranty is irrelevant in face of the all-powerful Sales of Good Act. Maybe - just maybe - if enough people make a fuss about this, Sony will re-evaluate its current one-year coverage so people don't have to jump through hoops to ensure a reasonable lifespan for their premium-priced games machines.
In the meantime, it's good times for independent console-fixers like Darren Thickbroom and Colchester Computers. If his theory about the cumulative effect of heat damage is correct - and the evidence available suggests it is - his business has a very rosy future. And certainly, for the hardcore gamer, he has some pretty stark advice.
"It comes down to how much you play it," he says. "People might disagree with us, but this is the way we see it: if you handle the machines day-in, day-out with the issues they've got, I'd expect to change them every year."
Whether the advent of PS3 Slim and the Jasper revision of Xbox 360 with their smaller, cooler chips will solve the issue remains to be seen, but producing machines that pump out less heat and suck less power from the mains is clearly the way forward.
But the fact that both Microsoft and Sony have these heat-related problems suggests that the problem isn't only related to the manufacture of "shoddy machines" as Sony's David Reeves once put it. It also means that the next generation of consoles - which will inevitably see a return to larger, more power-hungry silicon - are going to require some ingenious design solutions to prevent the same thing happening all over again.