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Hardware Test: Xbox 360 Elite

Has Microsoft done enough revision?

The Package

There really are very few surprises about the 360 Elite packaging. Colour aside, the basic design of the box, and the contents themselves are pretty much identical to the current Premium Pack. So the basic inventory is essentially:

  • The console
  • Wireless controller
  • Headset
  • HD component cable (SD switchable)
  • Headset
  • 4x AA batteries
  • 120GB Hard Disk
  • Audio dongle
  • HDMI cable

Obviously the last three elements are all-new. The 120GB hard disk actually weighs in with 107GB of free space - enough to handle all the Live download content you could possibly want. You still can't transfer over your video files though, so you can't help but think that it's actually a case of overkill in terms of storage potential. It's not as if Europeans are going to be making use of the Live Video Marketplace any time soon, buying TV episodes or 'hiring' HD movies.

The audio dongle supplements HDMI audio by offering a route to a surround sound amp either via dual RCA phonos (stereo) or Toslink optical audio (5.1 surround). It's also useful when using an HDMI-to-DVI cable as there is no provision for audio at all in this scenario otherwise.

The HDMI cable may well be Microsoft grey with a nice little hologram sticker on it, but it's really just a bog standard cable. Still, at least it's actually present...

Build Quality & Noise Levels

Let's not beat about the bush - this may well be a revised model but any actual improvements over the current model are relatively slight. It's the same case, the same monstrous power supply and the same controllers (still complete with dicky d-pad). The only obvious difference, colour aside, is the inclusion of the all-important HDMI output on the rear of the unit.

Internally there's a very slightly refined motherboard with what looks to be a tweaked cooling assembly. Hopefully, this should help with the reliability issues the 360 has had, but we're still suspicious about its effectiveness as the new console doesn't feature the new heatsink being implanted into refurbed 360s. Maybe it'll make it into the final European version of the Elite.

The only other major change under the bonnet is the new HANA video display chip, replacing the old ANA version in the classic 360. This chip has erroneously been described as the silicon that deals with the 360's inbuilt hardware scaling. In truth, Microsoft has now confirmed to us that it's merely a video output chip - a means of transferring the framebuffer into all of the different signals: composite, s-video, RGB SCART, component, VGA and - the key addition with HANA - HDMI. Scaling itself is actually performed by the Xenos GPU (most likely using a variation of Lanczos resizing) so in that respect the Elite performs identically to the original Xbox 360. The presence of HANA confirms that there will be no aftermarket HDMI solution for the current model.

Moving onto the cooling situation and there's no doubt that noise levels are still poor, but marginally improved over the current model. It's difficult to provide a comparison as many retail 360s run at various fan speeds, but put it this way: if you can run Live Arcade games and demos and the fan speed stays low, like a constant whirr, that's what the Elite is like too - maybe a touch quieter in fact. If your fans don't stay quiet in this scenario, expect the Elite to be a revelation. With all 360s, heat dissipation seems to be much improved if your console rests vertically.

The disk drive is still far too loud though. Our test unit has a Hitachi drive that while much quieter than the launch model is still insanely noisy compared to the PlayStation 3 drive, or indeed any modern DVD-ROM. The Philips/BenQ drive is quieter, but not massively so.

In short then - the 360 has evolved, it handles all its new features nicely (but not spectacularly) and it seems as though a little effort has been expended on sorting out its issues. But it's not nearly enough to be honest; it's as though the design has "stopgap" written all over it.

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About the Author

Richard Leadbetter avatar

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry

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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