250GB Xbox 360 Review
Having made its original debut in 2005, the Xbox 360 has been long overdue for a redesign. While we’ve seen a number of color variations and special editions over the last five years, as well as a few quiet changes to the internal components, the core aesthetic framework of the system had remained the same. At E3 2010, Microsoft surprised the gaming community with a comprehensive overhaul to the Xbox 360 design, which will completely replace the previous generation once retail stock is depleted.
The new Xbox 360 boasts a trimmer frame with a new finish, as well as some long-awaited features, like built-in Wi-Fi and expanded USB ports, but is it all around a better design?
Aesthetically Microsoft has clearly steered the Xbox 360 into more modern territory. Like all things, industrial design trends come in waves; black finishes were the prevailing style in the electronics industry for a few years, then silver-style casings made their mark, followed by a brief stint in white, but now it seems we’re back to black. The new Xbox 360 features a glossy black finish with chrome accents on the left and right-side edges (or top and bottom-edges if standing vertically), logo, eject button, and power button. Dimensionally, the new Xbox 360 is about 2-inches shorter when standing vertically, a little less than half an inch smaller in terms of depth and slightly fatter in the middle, going from 2.95″ to 3″ thick. The design maintains a sense of familiarity in terms of shape, with an inward, albeit asymmetrical indentation, as opposed to the sweeping inward arches of the previous models.
Though it certainly is a fresh take on the Xbox 360’s look and feel, the new design looks and feels pretty cheap in person, much to our surprise. Publicity shots of the device made it look pretty sleek, but the effect wears off as soon as you get a feel for the flimsy plastic paneling, and see how quickly the gloss finish starts to show smudges and dust. While the previous design was certainly not perfect, it looked like a refined piece of electronics, whereas the new Xbox 360 more closely resembles a toy.
But, form is secondary to function, and Microsoft has definitely made some significant strides in that regard, primarily through the new integrated Wi-Fi connectivity of the Xbox 360. The inclusion of built-in Wi-Fi on the PlayStation 3 has long been a staple of many a’ fanboy joust, but now the Xbox 360 ships with 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity as a standard feature, saving consumers an extra $100 peripheral purchase. Additionally, the new Xbox 360 now incorporates five USB ports, two more than the previous version, leaving plenty of room for USB storage devices and other wired peripherals, though most are wireless these days anyway. Those looking for better audio/visual connectivity will be happy to note that the new system also features a dedicated optical digital (TOSLINK) port, which can be used with either the A/V output or with HDMI. As for the rest of rear connections, you’ll find the standard array of ports, including an Ethernet port, HDMI, and a jack for the newly redesigned power supply.
Notably absent from the rear panel are the two cooling fans, which have now been replaced by one singular 5-inch fan on the top panel (when lying horizontally). We can only assume this change was intended to limit the amount of heat being blown out into the recesses of an entertainment center, though with the components being crammed much closer and subsequently running much warmer, the temperatures produced by the Xbox 360 are notably hotter.
In order to make the design smaller and lighter, Microsoft has been employed new, smaller internal components, but there is no directly identifiable performance improvements in terms of speed or consistency. Games, media, and menus load in the same amount of time, and graphical quality remains the same. Where users will benefit, however, is in terms of power usage, which has been reduced across the board, including the amount of electricity needed to run games, and most importantly, when simply plugged in but powered off. Though not substantial, the energy savings of the Xbox 360 will certainly add-up for high-activity users.
One of the biggest marketing points of the new Xbox 360 is that it runs “whisper quiet,” which may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it is definitely an improvement over the freight train-like sounds of the previous iteration. When idling or accessing drive-based games and media, the system’s operational sound is hard to detect, but it does pick up a bit when a disc is being played. It is important to note that one our systems ran discs quite loudly, though it seemed to be the only one of several to have this problem.
There is also the question of the infamous ‘Red Ring of Death’ hardware issue found in the previous iterations; which may or may not have been eliminated with the new design. Unfortunately only time will tell. We’ll be keeping a close eye on our new Xbox 360s and update our review should issues arise.
But perhaps the most drastic change of the new design is the wholly new hard drive system, which although makes 250GBs of storage a standard feature is now exclusive to only new systems, making the migration and effortless transport of data tricky. To be fair, Microsoft has made things a little easier through their new support for USB-based storage devices, as well as offering the Xbox 360 Hard Drive Data Migration Transfer Kit cable online and in stores, and, of course, once more people adopt the new system, swapping hard drives will be easier.
The hard drive is recessed into the bottom panel (when standing vertical), which must be popped open to access it. The drive is still proprietary to the Xbox 360, meaning third-party drives cannot be used, unlike the PlayStation 3, which is capable of using most standard notebook drives. It is also important to note that the Xbox 360’s custom memory card slots have been removed, making any previous investment in Microsoft’s proprietary memory system official null and void with the new hardware.
Aside from the currently limited compatibility of the drive design and the somewhat unremarkable aesthetic design, our only other qualms with the system are the new touch-sensitive power and eject buttons, which are incredibly sensitive. Though it may seem like a minor gripe to some, the fact that you can’t so much as graze either without ejecting a disc or shutting down entirely is annoying. These types of accidental interruptions may be few and far between, but when they finally happen, it can be catastrophic to your game progress.
But when all is said and done, the biggest priority for consumers is value; and with more connectivity solutions, and built-in Wi-Fi at the same price of the existing Xbox 360 Elite, the redesigned system is a pretty alluring package. We’ll always have a soft spot for the original design, but ultimately the new design will benefit new users in both form and function.