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Microsoft kick-started the "next-generation" of gaming on November 22, 2005, when the company released the Xbox 360, beating both Nintendo and Sony to market. Since then, the console has sold roughly 40 million units worldwide and has brought some innovative ideas to the gaming industry in the form of Xbox Live, the online marketplace, and gamer achievements.
The console is not without its shortcomings, though. Most notably, the infamous "red ring of death" controversy has plagued the system since its launch. The defect can be traced to the system's inability to properly dissipate heat, which in turn renders some of the vital innards unusable. Though Microsoft has remained quiet about an exact fail rate percentage, some analysts have that number as high as 40 percent, with recent reports hovering around a one in four odds of failing within the first two years of ownership. Other complaints vary from lack of built-in Wi-Fi to denying users the ability to replace the hard drive like the PlayStation 3 offers.
At E3 2010, Microsoft unveiled an Xbox 360 redesigned from the ground up. Officially referred to as the "S" console--or Slim, as we've come to call it--the latest iteration packs a 250GB hard drive, built-in Wi-Fi, and a new design that's about 17 percent smaller than the previous models.
The new Xbox 360 certainly addresses most of the concerns we've had with the versions before it, but we don't think it warrants a purchase if you already own an Xbox 360 in working order with an HDMI-out port and a hard drive.
In this review we'll look at what's new in the Xbox 360 Slim, so for those who are interested in a look at the complete Xbox 360 experience, we recommend reading our reviews of the consoles prior.
The new Xbox 360 ditches the matte-plastic encasing seen on the white and Elite versions and instead opts for the now-infamous fingerprint magnet glossy black finish that covers so many gadgets of today. The console measures in at 2.9 inches tall by 10.6 inches wide by 10.4 inches deep and weighs a bit over 6 pounds, making it noticeably smaller than its big brother.
There are far fewer buttons on the new Xbox 360; most notably absent are the disc tray and power buttons from the previous consoles. Instead, both are now touch-sensitive; a small notch above the disc tray opens it, and the unit can be turned on simply by touching the circular silver power area. Also, a tone is played from inside the console whenever either of the two touch areas is engaged.
The silver power circle also represents the number of controllers connected and will rotate depending on how the console is oriented (either horizontally or vertically). Past 360 owners will associate this area with the "red ring of death" error message, but Microsoft has removed red LEDs from the console, so now any malfunction will be represented with a series of green lights.
To the right of the power circle is a spring-loaded door hiding two USB ports. Next to it is the controller sync button, which also doubles as the system's infrared (IR) port. Though there seemed to be some discussion as to whether this made it difficult for commands to be given to the Xbox 360, our tests with a Harmony remote show no sign of such issues.
For those hoping to ditch the enormous "power brick" that tethered the console to a power source, you're half in luck. The proprietary connection is definitely smaller, but there is still a power box you must deal with. Though it's about half the size of the original, we're much more comfortable downgrading the "brick" to a "block."
One drawback of the newly designed console is incompatibility with older Xbox 360 faceplates. We can't say that this customizable feature was one of the console's strong points, but nevertheless, no faceplates will work with the new Xbox 360.
As mentioned above, the Xbox 360 Slim aims to correct some of the annoyances and complaints current Xbox 360 owners have voiced. The new console comes packed with a 250GB hard drive, built-in Wi-Fi that supports up to 802.11n, five USB ports, and one additional slot devoted to Microsoft Kinect.
The rear of the new Xbox 360 also looks a bit different compared with the original. Now onboard is a devoted digital optical audio-out port that can be used in conjunction with an HDMI, component, or composite video connection.
The console hides its 250GB hard drive under a door flap at the base of system. It comes in a black plastic enclosure that allows it to slide snugly into a receiving slot. Unfortunately this means it cannot be replaced with a third-party drive, so those wishing to do so will be stuck having to buy Xbox 360-branded internal storage.
We also noted a Kensington lock slot just below the power port on the rear of the console. Though minor, it's certainly a welcome addition to anyone who wants a little extra security.
We weren't really expecting it, but this new Xbox 360 Slim does not have any sort of Blu-ray capabilities, just the standard DVD playback it has always had.
In the box you'll find the Xbox 360 console, a black wireless controller, a black wired headset, two AA batteries, a power supply and cord, and a composite AV cable. Unfortunately, Microsoft has eliminated component cables as a standard add-in, so you won't be able to have an HD connection out of the box. Instead, you'll need to use either a separate HDMI cable or older Xbox 360 component wire for HD gaming.
It seems that the included headset has the updated in-line mute and volume toggle design found in some Xbox 360 Messenger Kits. We also noticed some minor updates to the wireless controller. The silver guide button is now mirrored chrome, and the Xbox 360 logo is embossed on the controller next to the sync button. Unfortunately, the wonky D-pad remains unchanged, our only gripe we wish Microsoft would have addressed on the otherwise near-perfect controller.
We should note that the included composite AV cable has a deliberate plastic protrusion that covers up the HDMI port when plugged in. Clearly Microsoft wants to prevent users from access to the port when using an AV slot connection.
One of the highlighted bullet points of the Xbox 360 unveiling at E3 2010 was "whisper-quiet" operation. Though "whisper" might be an exaggeration, the difference between the Xbox 360 Slim and older units is like night and day. When idle, the 360 is almost absolutely silent, and when running its disc drive, the console is barely noticeable with minimal volume. Obviously this is a huge improvement over older Xbox 360s and hopefully leads to fewer instances of system failures.
That said, we did notice the console heating up just after 10 minutes of game play. Thankfully, a perforated vent lays right above an exhaust fan, which appears attached to the system's GPU. We felt hot air coming from the vent and right side of the console when it was lying down horizontally.
Other than the noticeably quieter operation, we didn't see any other changes in how the Xbox 360 behaves.
Should I buy one?
As we mentioned at the start of this review, we don't think this new Xbox 360 Slim warrants a purchase if you have a working Xbox 360 with an HDMI-out port and hard drive. Sure, the possibility of an overheating "red ring of death" is always possible, but current Xbox 360 owners should not voluntarily upgrade, especially if their console is still under the three-year warranty specifically covering the red-ring issue.
Also, there are few details to keep in mind that may deter some from needlessly upgrading. First, you'll need to conduct a one-time data transfer, which requires a $15 cable. If only a small amount of data needs to be transferred, a USB stick might do the trick instead. Also, any downloadable content (DLC) that is stored on a pre-existing hard drive may require a license migration to a new console.
Of course we imagine retailers will offer enticing promotions on trade-ins of existing hardware for the new Slim console, so the choice to do so will ultimately be up to the individual. If you're desperate for Wi-Fi (and don't already have the USB adapter), are low on hard-drive space, or just want a quieter and more reliable Xbox 360 experience, the new Slim console from Microsoft is definitely the way to go.