It’s fairly hard to review the latest crop of consoles. Nintendo, for example, just released a black Wii – it’s the same Wii, but black – and, not to be outdone, Microsoft just sent out their Xbox 360 S, a full-bore replacement for the space heaters known as the Xbox 360. Do you buy a Slim? Do you replace your old 360? Or do you sit tight until the next generation? Questions, questions, questions.
An exhaustive review is a bit of overkill for this update, so let’s just talk about what’s different. First, and most important, the processor (codenamed Valhalla ), eDRAM, and GPU are now on one 40nm die, which means that the problems associated with failing heatsinks should be negligible.
Just as an aside, the reason Xboxen failed so often is because the GPU and some of the other components would pull away from the circuit board for a number of reasons, the primary one being overheating. You can read all about it here but here’s a general description:
One possible cause of the General Hardware Error may be cold solder joints. The added mass of the CSP chips (including the GPU and CPU) absorb the heat flow that allows proper soldering of the lead-free solders on the motherboard, therefore, the solder has not properly melted underneath these chips, which can lead to voids (air bubbles) and weak spots in the solder known as cold solder joints. Because of prolonged constant temperature changes inside the console, the voids cause cracking. Some officials claim this issue does not exist, and claim it is caused by a confusion over this issue. They have suggested that the dull appearance only suggests that the joints are cold soldered, as lead-free solders, even when properly soldered, take on a dull appearance that non-professionals might mistake for a cold solder joint (as the older lead/tin solder solder-joints became dull when not heated sufficiently). This suggestion is, however, rejected by the majority of experts. Lead-free solder requires a greater amount of heat (213 degrees celsius) to solder properly when compared to older lead/tin solders (185 degrees celsius). The Nyko Intercooler has also been reported to have led to a general hardware failure in a number of consoles, as well as scorching of the power AC input.
The expectation now, with a single die and a more robust cooling system, is that the Xbox Slim will survive a few months or years longer than its white-cased brethren. As someone who has thus far owned two broken Xboxes including a recased one clad in a Lian Li XB01 case, this is good news.
This new device also runs 802.11n wireless which is sufficient for most gaming applications. I found that the wireless was a bit touchy on my AirPort Extreme and I eventually decided to use Ethernet, but your results may vary. This kit also includes a 250GB hard drive for movie and music downloads as well as for ripping games to disk.
The console is also quieter. When on and not spinning up a disk, you can barely hear it running. Once a disk is in, however, it’s a different story. The sound is a bit loud at first but then levels off and nearly disappears. This thing is definitely not silent, but it’s quiet enough to warrant a bit of praise.
The trade dress is also quite handsome. The piano black case will look great next to your black Wii and your NeXTcube while the “buttonless” buttons – really touch sensitive parts of the panel and not mechanical buttons – add a bit of futuristic geekery to an otherwise staid, featureless case.
This model also features a prominent HDMI port and a less prominent set of component cables. This is definitely a game machine aimed at HD TVs. This is also Kinect ready, which means it has some USB ports – 5, to be exact, up from three on the previous versions – and one special port for Kinect. Your best bet, in terms of sound and video, is HDMI out with optical audio to a receiver.
As for the on-screen interface, nothing major has changed. If you haven’t seen the Xbox lately, think of it as a melding of the Zune interface with scrolling menus that pop up a number of features including video and music playback as well as Twitter and Facebook feeds for social media lovers to a more media-savvy version of the Wii’s Mii interface. You can create an avatar of yourself and populate that avatar with clothing, achievements, and little doodads like a digital magpie. Netflix and Last.fm round out the offerings.
So which console is the best console? Man, don’t even ask. The Wii is great for kids and the Xbox and the PS3 are fighting neck and next for supremacy in the coveted “kids who can stay up past 9pm” demographic. Which would I recommend? I’ve played Xbox for years now and love the games but PS3 fans would beg to differ. If you’re buying this for yourself, you already know what you want. If you’re buying this for your grandson, ask him. The obvious pain point here is Blu-Ray support on the PS3, which could be a deal-breaker for those on the fence. Sadly, Microsoft bet on the wrong horse a few years ago and released an HD-DVD drive for the Xbox. If you want one, my buddy Rick has one. He’d probably sell it to you cheap.
Regardless, the new Slim is an interesting departure from the old hardware and well worth a look if you’ve fallen out of the Xbox crowd due to a bricked console. It’s a sturdy and handsome upgrade to a workhorse console and, at $299 it isn’t too dear to consider in the upgrade path.