Hardware Test: Xbox 360 Elite • Page 7

Has Microsoft done enough revision?

The Verdict

I find it quite amazing that there's so much to write about a machine that is essentially a tweaked version of the same console that launched at the tail-end of 2005. It's perhaps because the original 360 was such a flawed classic. It's a system that offers so many essential gaming moments - it's just sad that they're all accompanied by a constant raucous racket from the DVD-ROM drive. Additionally, thanks to the terrible reliability issues and the spectre of the three red lights of doom, you're left with the nagging worry that every gameplay session may well be your last.

So, the first facelifted model to come along is going to face a lot of scrutiny - not just for the additional functionality and options it offers, but to see just how much Microsoft has responded to the criticism of the original unit's shortcomings. And in these respects, the Xbox 360 Elite is something of a Jekyll and Hyde scenario.

Oooh you are awful...

On the one hand, the core issue that most gamers had with the machine has barely been addressed. Yes, the machine is tangibly quieter than the current unit, but it's still loud when running a game from the DVD-ROM. It's also still a lottery as to which drive you'll end up getting, with the BenQ unit being a little less noisy than the Hitachi. However, the notion that there should be any disparity at all between any given system is crazy in the first place. Why not one use one supplier with a quiet drive? The stupidly large power block is unchanged too - another aesthetically hideous aspect of the 360 that I really wanted Microsoft to do something about.

console

While the 120GB hard disk is a nice addition, I was disappointed that the transfer cable to port across your data was not included in the package. Microsoft should have recognised that their hardcore fanbase are going to want to upgrade and it should have given them all the tools to do so painlessly. Of far more value of course would be the ability to allow users to back-up their stuff onto an external hard disk or flash drive in the first place. The files are encrypted and DRMed up to the eyeballs any way, so what's the problem in storing them remotely?

The jury's also out on reliability. The Elite is a little quieter and hopefully the tweaked cooling solution will help the machines last longer. But the bottom line is that the same components are still pumping out the same amount of heat and historically that has not been good news for reliability. That being the case, we're inclined to ask where the 65nm revision of the PowerPC CPU has got to? It's not in the Elite, that's for sure.

... But I like you

However, on the plus side, I can't help but really like the new console. A lot. I've always admired Microsoft's philosophy of bringing HD gaming to as wide an audience as possible. Every HD-ready plasma and LCD has a component port, but with the 360 launch they went one better and provided VGA support - opening up a whole new range of potential new HD gaming screens for their system, or just freeing up an extra port on well-specified displays.

With the Elite, they've done it again with a brilliant quality digital output that works beautifully on any screen you plug it into, be it a low budget GBP 100 Chinese LCD monitor or a GBP 3,000 Panasonic 1080p plasma. Microsoft has stripped away the copy protection nonsense that plagues PS3's digital output and made exceptional picture quality available to gamers no matter what kind of equipment they use.

In many ways, the HDMI port and the bigger hard disk makes this the machine that the launch unit really should have been. However, I find it hard to recommend the Elite as an upgrade to a current model as all the evidence suggests that pumping the cash into an improved display gets you all the picture quality you could ever want from the current system.

But as I said, it's hard not to like the 360 Elite. Microsoft's 360 offering is simply a great console, and the fact that the Elite is undoubtedly the best version makes it hard to resist.

The Xbox 360 Elite launched in North America in 29th April, and is due for a Europe-wide roll-out in the autumn.

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About the author

Richard Leadbetter

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry  |  digitalfoundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.

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