The Xbox 360 has been around now for almost 5 years, and despite getting minor upgrades to its chipset every so often, the design of the console has remained unchanged. Console redesigns are nothing new - we saw it occur with the NES, the Sega Genesis, and the Original PlayStation. Over time electronic components get cheaper, better made, and upgraded. The Xbox 360 S, the one some called the Xbox 360 Slim, finally brings hope for Microsoft to shake the shroud of the Red Ring of Death off it’s predecessor. So does it deliver?
The first thing you’ll notice when unpacking your shiny new console is that it’s really not all that much smaller than the original. It’s a little shorter when you stand it on end, but it’s actually slightly deeper than the original form factor. After picking it up though, you immediately notice it’s about 2 pounds lighter than it’s predecessor. The power supply feels a good bit lighter as well, and is about 2/3 the size of the original. Some argue against the piano black finish, but I find it very attractive.
I won’t bore you with the complete specs, you’ve probably read most of what the console has to offer. Wireless N is built in is fast, 250GB of hard drive space is plenty for now and the future, and there’s plenty of USB ports for all your peripherals. Of course the new console also has a special “Kinect” port, which looks just like a USB port as well. You’ll also find an optical out port for digital audio - no more dongle required. All of these things are now standard instead of costing you well more than it should for a wireless adapter or hard drive.
There are no buttons anymore on the console, instead everything is “touch” sensitive. You just need to graze the power button to fire it up with a welcoming chime, and ejecting a disc is done in the same manor with a small indentation over the drive.
My biggest gripe with the Xbox 360 has always been the noise level and while a lot of that was attributed to the internal cooling fan(s), it wasn’t nearly as loud as when the disc was spinning in the system's drive. The 360 is still the only console to not use a slot loading drive, which can make for a much quieter disc, but the new drive is much quieter compared to the other models of the 360 I’ve owned. I currently own a Jasper unit, which is the quietest of the “old” models I’ve had - which included an Elite and an Original launch unit. Here’s a video comparing both dashboard and in game noise level of the console.
This video was recorded on a hand held camera utilizing a shotgun microphone from a distance of about 3 feet. It’s quite a bit closer and the sound is a bit exaggerated compared to what you’d actually “hear” while playing - after all there’s usually game audio playing. Still you can get an accurate representation of how much quieter the new 360 is compared to the old.
It remains to be seen if the new hardware is more reliable than past 360 models. The internals use a much larger fan for cooling and it does appear to expel air that is hotter than the old unit in my cabinet. This not only moves more hot air, it’s a much quieter cooling option. The air coming out of the console is still not as hot as the original PlayStation 3 is in terms of exhaust, but it’s up there. You’ll probably want to make sure you have proper ventilation wherever you keep it.
At $299.99 the Xbox 360 S comes in at a solid value considering what it would have taken you to get equal hardware before. That being said, it’s difficult to recommend it as an “upgrade” for 360 owners. Gamers looking to buy a new console, the new version of the 360 should be a no brainer. It’s got all the bells in whistles wrapped into a sexy new package for the same price as the old console.
+ Sexy new design
+ Much quieter
+ 250GB Hard drive
+ Built in 802.11N Wi-Fi
- Expels a lot of hot air, needs proper ventilation
- Not all that much smaller
- No HDMI cable in box
Score: 4 out of 5
Note: Microsoft has just announced a 4GB version for $199 which is almost identical to this system and launches August 4th.
Contest: Don't forget we're giving away one of these console in our 1000 Co-Op Games Contest!