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Microsoft XBOX 360 Microsoft Xbox 360: We take a quick look at the XBOX 360 and go over the technology and user features.
Date: November 23, 2005
Written By:
Price:

Unless you've been living under a rock, or you're not much of a console gamer, you're probably well aware that Microsoft has finally unleashed the Xbox 360 upon the masses yesterday. We were lucky enough to snag one of the last few Standard systems in the city (though our luck ran out soon after... more on that later) and have enough to cover the features of Microsoft's latest entertainment hub.

The Xbox 360 is packed in a good sized white box with a few bits of foam and cardboard brackets to secure it. It's done reasonably well, and I would expect it to protect the unit quite well. All the parts have their own little areas, making the unpacking process rather logical. The Xbox itself is wrapped in a clear plastic bag to protect it from random dust particles and small bits (like the batteries) from making contact with it should they come loose.

The unit is pearl white with chrome outlines, which we personally find quite nice in an understated kind of way. You can customize the Xbox with if white isn't for you, though I'm not quite sure how that would look given that the rest of the unit will still be white. While we like the colour, Microsoft is sort of targeting this as a living room entertainment hub, and given 90% of A/V equipment is black, we think the Xbox may stand out just a little too much.

We're not going to run off a bunch of specifications here, as any information you are looking for will be on , but there's a few items I think many here will like some coverage on:

Processing Power
There are three IBM PowerPC-based processors, each clocked at 3.2GHz and capable of handling 2 hardware threads each. The processors are each armed with 1MB of L2 cache and within the Xbox, operate as symmetrical cores. What this means basically is that the Xbox 360 is capable of executing 6 hardware threads simultaneously. While the launch titles currently available will not require that much power, future titles certainly may.

Video
The Xbox 360 ditched NVIDIA this time around and uses a custom ATI Xenos VPU. The chip has 10 MB of embedded RAM and doubles as the North Bridge for the system. Yup, the Xbox 360, though less so than its predecessor, is still something of a PC at heart. The Xenos is capable of processing pixel and vertex shader instructions at the same time which makes it very efficient, and somewhat simpler than traditional pixel and vertex units we're used to seeing on the PC platform.

The Xbox 360 will support high-definition resolutions up to 720 progressive scan and 1080 interlace. According to Microsoft, you do not require a HD television to run the system, and the Xbox will run just fine on standard definitions of 480 interlace. The comes with the Standard System, but not with the Core System. In fact, the Core System lacks many features, though it will retail at about $100 less.

Standard versus Core
There will be two types of Xbox 360 systems available at launch, Standard and Core. The easiest way to think about it is the Standard comes with everything, and the Core is just the console and controller.

Standard
Core
Controller
Wireless
Wired
Hard Drive
20GB
No
HD AV Cable
Yes
No
Compatible with legacy Xbox games
Yes
No

All of the "standard" items found in the Standard System can be purchased separately for the core system. Monetary-wise, if you have the money, we suggest going straight for the Standard System from the get go.

Storage
The Xbox 360 comes with a 12x DVD-ROM (dual-layer) which is plenty fast enough for home media use. In addition to the DVD-ROM, the Standard System also comes with a 20GB SATA hard drive.

The hard drive is a 2.5" notebook drive manufactured by Samsung (this may change as Microsoft ramps up volume). The drive is removable and you can bring your saved games and downloaded content from system to system much like the Playstation's memory card. Speaking of memory cards, there are two slots for Xbox 360 cards for those of you who need either additional storage, or in the case of the Core System (which comes with no hard drive), another option for storage. These cards will retail for .

The hard drive is required for legacy Xbox game support. Currently, , with more likely to come through downloadable software updates. The hard drive is also upgradable according to Microsoft, though user upgrades (those into the modchip scene in the past know what we mean) are not going to be supported.

Controllers
There are currently two types of controllers, and . Depending on which system you purchase, one of the two (and only one) will be provided. The internal wireless connectivity can support up to 4 wireless controllers without the need for any special hubs or adapters.

While I was never a fan of the original Xbox controllers, the new controller is quite nice. It's about the same size as the "S" controller, but has a more ergonomic feel to it. We also received a remote which can be used to perform some basic functions on the Xbox 360, but will probably be used primarily as a DVD remote by most people.

Networking and Xbox Live
An Ethernet connection comes standard with the Xbox 360 and the unit is also wireless ready with the purchase of a .

There is also a USB 2.0 port located in the rear (two in the front) for additional connectivity options, but they also function the same as they would on a PC.

For the Xbox live, current subscribers can use their existing account to connect to the service. For new owners of the Xbox (or new subscribers), here's what Microsoft has to say:

The Xbox Live Silver Membership is free to all Xbox 360 owners, and includes access to the Xbox Live Marketplace where you can download demos, trailers, and more. Plus you'll get access to voice chat and voice messaging. For a monthly fee gamers can upgrade to the Xbox Live Gold Membership which includes multiplayer gaming, video chat (coming soon), and more.

Final Words

We wanted to explore the unit in a lot more detail today, but we're jumping straight to the conclusion since the unit we purchased was DOA. Everything looked ok, no dents, nicks, security sealed box, but within 5 minutes of powering the system on, there was a faint electrical burning odour. Now, at first we thought it was coming from our PC which we were going to use for screen grabs (wouldn't be the first time), but moving it to our TV still displayed a black screen. Putting the old nose to the unit test revealed that yes, something cooked inside the 360.

We returned the unit to Best Buy and while there were a good 20 units left when we picked it up at 4PM, by 6:30, they were sold out, so an exchange was not possible. Therefore, we won't be going over the games today for the simple reason that we're unable to. We can tell you that we spotted quite a few titles in the stores, and I had picked up Madden 2006.

At this time, I'm not sure how common this problem will be, and hopefully we'll be able to pick up a unit before the holiday rush and wrap up our look at the console. Otherwise, the PS3 isn't too far away...

Editor's Note: Well, I suppose a failure rate of 1 in a few thousand is generally ok, but we're pretty sure Microsoft can't be all too happy with the people are getting with their product. We have already received about 20 emails (you guys can stop sending those by the way, we get the point ) with about half with the same issue as we experienced of power supply cooling problems.

Unfortunently for us, unlike some who may have gotten evaluation units, we're like the rest of you... picked it up for a cool $500 or so. Unfortunently for us again was that the high demand didn't allow for a replacement when we returned it since they were all sold out. (Source: Slashdot), so hopefully their customers will have a satisfactory ending to this story.

If you have any comments, be sure to hit us up in our forums.

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