Holiday Tech Guide: Xbox 360 Slim

By: Brooks Clarke Editor-in-Chief

Does the Xbox 360 Slim’s function match its form?

If you bought an Xbox 360 since its 2005 launch, chances are you’ve had at least one system fall to the dreaded red ring of death. And if the console’s CPU (central processing unit, basically a computer’s director) wasn’t overheating, it was the meager 20 GB hard drive filling up all too quickly. The point is, as awesome as the games, online play and controller were (with the exception of that crappy d-pad), the Xbox 360 always had some kind of flaw that kept it from achieving true perfection. And even though Microsoft has continued to improve upon those flaws, the Xbox 360 had yet to receive a complete redesign until June of last year.

So, after a year on the market, has the 360 Slim proven itself to be the Xbox everybody wanted from the start, or does it have the life expectancy of a red shirt on Star Trek like those that came before it?

To understand how the Xbox got to where it is today, let’s take a look at exactly what changed between the Vanilla 360, the Elite and Slim. The launch Xbox 360 was released on November 22, 2005, and sported a curvy, matte white chassis. It featured a 20 GB hard drive (the entry level model didn’t have a hard drive at all) and the 90 nm (smaller is better) IBM Xenon chipset. Prone to overheating, these early models began dropping like flies.

The first major change to the 360’s design didn’t occur until April 2007, when Microsoft released the matte black, 120 GB Xbox 360 Elite. Early versions featured the 65 nm Falcon chipset which ran cooler, quieter and required less power.

The final Xbox prior to the slim redesign featured a 250 GB hard drive with a 65 nm Jasper chipset, which introduced on-board flash memory and further-reduced power consumption.

Announced during the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2010, the Xbox 360 Slim (officially just “Xbox 360”) features a completely new internal architecture, as well as the 45 nm XCGPU, which combined the CPU and GPU, and is whisper-quiet, even when running games.

In addition, the Slim has five USB ports (two more than previous models) and has replaced the power and DVD eject buttons with touch-sensors. The overall look of the slim Xbox is more angular with a glossy finish (though a matte finish is being reintroduced), and the reduced size allows it to literally fit inside of the chassis of older models with about an inch to spare.

The glossy finish does have a reputation for showing fingerprints and dust, but I haven’t experienced this problem in my time with the Slim.

Of course, what’s the point of buying a new console without games? Well, you’re in luck, because the Xbox 360 sports one of the best collections of games around.

In addition to a massive back catalog of hits like Halo, Gears of War, Forza Motorsport and Fable, the 360 also has an entire virtual marketplace with modern and oldschool arcade classics. As if that wasn’t enough, upcoming triple A titles like Modern Warfare 3 will be releasing downloadable content exclusively on 360 for the first few months.

So there’s no doubt that, tech-wise, the 360 Slim is superior in every way to the older models, but is it worth another $300? Well, that all depends on how much you would use it on an everyday basis.

If you’re a casual gamer looking for more Angry Birds-esque games on the Xbox Live Arcade, you’d be better off getting the stripped down 4 GB 360 for $200. Chances are, if this describes you, then you might consider spending an extra $100 for Kinect, Microsoft’s fullbody motion control add-on. With a much-improved library of motion games over last year, including the hilariously fun puppeteer western, “The Gunstringer,” Kinect offers family fun for those without a Wii.

However, if you’re a hardcore gamer looking to upgrade systems or switch from the Playstation 3, the Xbox 360 Slim is well worth the investment. The next wave of consoles isn’t expected until holiday 2012 at the earliest, with a 2013 release more likely. So it’s a safe bet to indulge in a new tech toy now without worry of laying down more cash in the near-future. The 360 Slim is such an improvement over previous SKUs, you shouldn’t baulk at the chance to upgrade.

The only consumers I wouldn’t recommend the new slim to are those unlucky enough to buy a new 360 Elite just prior to the Slim’s launch. The newest Elites had a 250 GB hard drive like the Slim, making it possible to install every game in your library, and thus rendering the Slim’s quieter CPU/GPU a moot point. However, if you’re the type of person who just has to have the newest gadgets, the Xbox 360 Slim won’t disappoint you. It’s what the Xbox 360 should have been from the start.