Silence is Black and Green

I’m a sucker when it comes to hardware revisions. Blame it on my early Amiga and PC days – when all my young mind desired was more Chip RAM or a 3DFX VooDoo 2 card – but it’s become something of a problem recently. With no clear living-room space for a kickin’ A/V setup, I’m always looking to add new equipment to my bedroom, even if it’s mostly redundant at this point with a 37″ LCD, legions of under-used guitar peripherals and surround-sound. In my defence, my reasons for upgrading lately have been more tangible, at least in my eyes: with the DSi and XL, I wanted bigger screens; with the PSP-2000, I was looking toward a d-pad that wouldn’t hurt my thumb; and with the PS3 Slim… well, my original system had a busted HDMI socket.

So at this years Electronics Entertainment Expo, when Microsoft picked up the empty chassis of a classic 360 to reveal a smaller, sleeker, quieter model hiding within its guts, I cursed under my breath. Here we go again. There’d be no way I could resist. And sure enough, one week after its release, the feature packed Xbox 360 S has found a cozy spot next to my PS3 and Wii, albeit with enough space for the new cooling configuration to breathe. How does it compare to the original model after a week of stress-testing?

The reflective chassis on the new 360 S makes taking a decent pic quite difficult!

If you’re thinking of replacing your Arcade or Elite, or “jumping in” for the first time with this model, you’ve probably read a dozen previews of the hardware elsewhere. Rather than recap the stock-features, I’m going to examine my two main concerns when it comes to Microsoft’s console: reliability and acoustic performance. Sure, the new PC-chic black case, with its thick silver trims and big ol’ fan grills, stands out from the crowd. Likewise, it’s good to hear that 802.11b/g/n wireless, a high capacity hard-drive and a ton of USB ports come as standard. But when I think of my 360, no matter how many great gaming experiences it has given me, I worry about when next I’ll have to send a unit to Microsoft for repair (five times now), and whether my next console will again sound like a lawnmower choking on a garden gnome during operation.

After transferring all of my games and saves by using a USB flash-drive in conjunction with the online DRM-tool (there is, optionally, a hard-drive transfer kit that will set you back about £20), I pulled out my two main noise and heat benchmarks: the original Crackdown and Grand Theft Auto IV. Crackdown is a rare title in that it doesn’t offer a hard-drive install – stressing the DVD drive heavily to fetch data as agents jump around its open-world – whereas GTA IV pushes the system to its limits graphically, kicking the cooling into over-drive quickly. 12 hours of disc streaming later, I was more than pleased with the performance. Apart from some heat build-up around the main vent (be sure to leave three inches of space around the system for air-flow), little had changed since I first booted up the games. Crucially, it is quiet. For comparisons sake, while spinning a disc, the 360 S is no louder than a Wii or most PCs reading a DVD-9. With no disc in the drive, or while playing Live Arcade or installed games, the system is about as audible as a PS3 Slim, perhaps a smidgen more under stress. Impressive.

Hurrah! Now I can talk to my opponents in Super Street Fighter IV!

There are minor changes to the accessories I should mention. The complementary Live headset not only sports a sturdier microphone mute switch-box, but a standard 2.5mm audio jack, which will allow use of the headset on certain accessories (such as the MadCatz SE tournament stick) without the use of awkward adaptors. One minor touch in keeping with the console aesthetic is that the underside of the new controller is an attractive shiny black, as opposed to the black and grey scheme used by the Elite controller.

Is the upgrade worth it? That depends on your circumstances. If you game in a large living-space where noise isn’t a concern and have a model with a 60GB or larger hard-drive, probably not right now. Time will tell how reliable this unit is, but initial impressions are promising; if you’re new to the system, skip the older models and any possible hassle with the old warranty, which even after being extended for three years will soon expire. £199 for the new system is a good deal all-round, but might be too pricey for some. A new, matte-finish 360 S which ditches the 250GB hard-drive in favour of 4GB of internal memory will hit soon, so that could also be considered. In my case, I happen to be pretty crafty with eBay and shopping around online, so I only had to ask myself “Will I pay £20 to upgrade my 360?”. Hell yes!







One response to “Silence is Black and Green”

  1. The Rook avatar
    The Rook

    I will get the new model at some stage. No real need for it at present, so it could be a spur of the moment “why not” situation at some stage. I do like the bigger hard drive though as I’ve ocme close to running out of space on the 120gb a few times.

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