New Xbox 360 guide: Microsoft's slim console explained

It may not have a new name, but the Xbox 360 certainly has received quite a facelift on this the fifth anniversary of its unveiling. The new Xbox 360 (aka the "Xbox 360 250GB") makes up for its familiar name by offering a starkly refreshed and, in our eyes, significantly sexier design than its predecessor -- which honestly was quite the looker in its day. Despite only just being made official, we've already had time to unbox and play with one, a dizzyingly fast-paced unveil that might have left you with some questions about just what here is new and what here is old. Click on through, dear reader, and we'll tell you everything you need to know.

What's new

Obviously a lot of things have changed in the last day since the new Xbox came to town. Let's take a look at the details.


The most striking difference between the two is the new, taught design that looks like an F-117 Nighthawk to the original Xbox 360's rather more Boeing exterior. There are massive vents on nearly every side, a giant (and, presumably, low-RPM) fan hiding on the right side, and that new piano black gloss sheen that Sony ditched for the PS3 Slim. It looks lovely fresh out of the box but should be covered in fingerprints in no time flat. It's also small enough that it fits right inside the old Xbox 360 -- or at least an empty shell made to look like an Xbox 360.


The new buttons, which we'll talk about in a moment, left us wondering sometimes whether or not the unit was on or off. That we were having such a problem says something about how much quieter this new design is. With the old Xbox 360, you always knew exactly when it turned on -- even if you were in another room you could feel the vibrations from that DVD-ROM spinning up. The new 360 model is far, far quieter. The drive still hums a bit and there is certainly some fan noise to be discerned, but overall it's a huge improvement to even the more recent, more muted 360 models.


This new model is basically replacing the elite, offering 250GB to its current 120GB of storage. That boosted size is now encapsulated inside the bottom of the unit rather than sitting on the top, hiding under a vent. The HDD comes out with a pop and looks nothing like the current hard drives, meaning they're certainly not interchangeable. But current data transfer cables will work (since they connect via USB), and Microsoft will be selling one separately for $19.95. The data transfer cable enables you to connect your old-style hard drive via USB to the new console, which makes migration pretty painless. Microsoft also added the ability to store information to USB thumb drives as well, which gives another means for transferring your precious datas.


In another move that flies counter to a change Sony made on the Slim, the new Xbox 360 features exclusively touch sensitive buttons. To eject a disc there's a slight indentation that you need to stroke, and the prominent power "button" actually has no give at all. We found the power light to be a little bit dim, too, leaving us unsure of whether or not it was actually on.


Biggest news on the connectivity front is 802.11n WiFi built-in. Interestingly the system detects it as if it were connected externally, but it's right in there, meaning no dongles for you (unless if you want 5GHz 802.11n, this one is single band 2.4GHz). Also new is an integrated Natal connector on the back, something we're told will be provided on older Xbox 360's via a Y-cable. USB port count is up to five (from three), the optical audio connector is onboard the console, instead of on the A/V connector, and there are no more memory card ports... so if you've saved all your custom Forza layers externally, you're going to have to dump them to USB thumb drive and then over to the new machine. Not ideal, but better than nothing.

What's old

Despite a lot of things being refreshed, still more things have stayed the same.


Naturally all your old games will still work here and will work just as well as before. The new hard drive may be fractionally better than the current models, but we've been told not to expect any performance improvements, so you shouldn't either. Transferring save files from one console to the next should be easy, and any purchases you've made can be downloaded again without too much fuss.


There is a slightly new look to the black controller that ships with this console, sporting a gloss bottom instead of the gray of the current Elite machine, but otherwise it remains unchanged.

Connectivity, revisited

A lot of things have stayed the same for connectivity, including that HDMI port, which is sadly not getting an upgrade to 1.4, leaving us wonder whether the Xbox 360 is going to skip the 3D gaming bandwagon. Also, there is still no HDMI cable included in the box, so better BYO there, but your old component A/V connector will work just fine if you have one of those kicking around. Oh, and have you still not made it through the third disc in your Matrix collection on HD-DVD? Fear not,: your player will work just fine on the new console, so you can keep procrastinating.

What happens to the old model?

Honestly we're not getting a particularly straight answer on just how the non-new Xbox 360 is getting put out to pasture, but from what we can tell the current Arcade and Elite models are being discounted $50 to clear them out, and we're guessing that once they're gone, well, they're gone. Microsoft has not announced an official replacement for the Arcade, but it'd be crazy to not have a $200 (or lower) model in stores for the holidays. We're thinking once inventory gets cleared out there'll be a $199 version of this Xbox revealed with a small HDD.


It wasn't that long ago that the shelf life of an average console was about three years before it got replaced by the next generation. But, the five-year-old Xbox 360 is showing that it still has legs, and with the redesign of the Xbox 360 250GB those legs are looking shapelier than ever. And, that the system is quieter than ever is a hugely positive step. Naturally, none of this changes the core formula of the Xbox 360, but a smaller, quieter, and (hopefully) more reliable system could certainly help to push this black beauty into those homes that are still making do without.