New Xbox 360: the tech breakdown

New ports, refined chipset, cooling.

As expected, and indeed widely leaked yesterday, Microsoft has revealed a brand new slim rendition of the Xbox 360.

At the company's E3 media briefing earlier today, details on the new console were finally unveiled: a somewhat Marmite-looking device in glossy black with "chrome accents", featuring a bump in hard drive capacity from the Elite standard 120GB up to the more spacious Super Elite 250GB. Also included is in-built Wi-Fi functionality, at the fastest 300mbps "N" standard to boot.

Subsequent to the briefing, official PR materials from Microsoft offered up further details on the new hardware. First up, it looks as though our story from 17th March was on the money: the motherboard we saw there was almost certainly a prototype of the PCB found in the final console announced today. The big news is that the CPU and GPU are combined into one single package, with a die-shrink from 65nm for both components down to the more power-efficient, cooler 45nm.

This integrated design also allows for a more refined cooling solution: the twin fan arrangement from the original Xbox 360 is gone in favour of a single, larger fan that should be significantly quieter. Indeed, Microsoft is promising that the new console is "whisper quiet" - strongly suggesting that the notoriously loud DVD drives from suppliers including Toshiba, Benq, Liteon and Samsung have been given the heave-ho in favour of a more refined design.

What's interesting is that the external hard drives of the existing 360s are no longer compatible at all with new hardware. The virtually extinct memory units, or MUs, are also a thing of the past and won't work on the new console. Most other existing accessories should work just fine though, and it's curious to note that the existing three USB slots on the current 360 have been bumped up to a far more respectable five. With the inclusion of internal Wi-Fi and the obsolescence of the old dongle, this move is somewhat unexpected: Kinect aside, just what use do the additional ports have?

Over and above that, changes to the new SKU look like more basic refinements. The somewhat agricultural buttons on the older Xbox 360 have been binned off in favour of touch-sensitive versions, and the external power brick has been shrunk once more, featuring a plug connection that makes the PSUs completely incompatible between the old and new machines. Over and above that, other refinements include a Toslink optical audio output, meaning that you can connect your 360 to the HDTV via HDMI and run out an additional surround sound feed direct to your amp.

So far, so good, though any one expecting a price drop to accompany the cheaper-to-produce console is in for a disappointment. For now at least, Microsoft is holding the price at the Elite level $299. While the US market is set to receive the new machine later this week, sources from Microsoft suggest that Europeans will need to wait until 16th July to get their hands on the new edition.

The new Xbox 360 in detail.

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