Microsoft Xbox 360

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, November 2005, updated October 2006
Published by: Microsoft Corporation
Requires: Any available television or computer monitor for display output, stereo w/ or w/o subwoofer, or 5.1 surround sound speaker set up for audio output
MSRP: US$299.00 (Core system), US$399.00 (Premium system)

Some people say that the only way to play a so-called "computer game" is to play it on a dedicated console designed specifically for the purposes of gaming and entertainment only. In reality, and in league with the singularly more arrogant attitudes of all the single-player adherents and the legions who guard the secrets of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) supremacy, the real power in gaming currently resides inside massively customized PCs sporting dual-SLI video cards, many gigabytes of RAM, a CPU hot enough to double as charbroiler at Denny's, and a cooling system powerful enough to keep your Jolt nice and frosty. But the console makers are not just a bunch of dopey stooges sitting around with their thumbs up their butts, watching the PC parade pass them by. In the Xbox 360, Microsoft has delivered to us a complete entertainment center which can be used by hardcore gamers of all stripes (racing competition, team sports, MMORPG, RPG, FPS and you name it), movie lovers who want to kick back with a good DVD, and music lovers who want to listen to CDs or MP3s. Stir in multimedia access to digital photos and digital cameras, direct access to your iPod, some high-speed general network and Internet connectivity and you've got a combination which screams for attention. Microsoft's eagerly anticipated Xbox 360 game and entertainment console was released in North America on November 22. Releases in Europe and Japan are scheduled for December 2 and 10 respectively.

Under the covers, the Xbox 360 is a very powerful computer. The custom IBM PowerPC CPU contains three processing cores, each one multi-threaded and one each running at 3.2GHz. Graphics processing is handled by a customized ATI graphics processing unit (GPU). Installing the premium package for gaming is simple. Use the component video cables to connect the console to the appropriate inputs on your TV, connect the A/V cable and switch it to HDTV, plug in the power supply and turn everything on. Start playing. Battery life for the wireless controller is excellent. Basic network installation is also a breeze. The built-in Ethernet connection allows your router to immediately recognize the Xbox 360 and assign an internal network IP address. Accessing a Media Center Edition PC (MCE PC) on the network was problematic, and it took an hour of on-screen configuration fiddling before I could stream movies or music from the MCE PC through the Xbox. Microsoft needs to fix this—after all, Windows XP MCE is definitively a Microsoft product.


All new games for Xbox 360 are required to be high definition, capable of being output at 720p or 1080i. The results are amazing especially when you consider that most of the current crop of compatible games have yet to be fully tweaked to take advantage of all the available processing power. Individual blades of grass ripple in counterpoint to wind and player movement. Watch NBA players run the court with their jerseys rippling from the movement. Note the beads of sweat running down a soldier's face in Call of Duty. Shake your head at the remarkable physics of explosions, impacts, pictures rattling on walls when a door is slammed, and small stones rolling away from the impact of a soldier's boot in the ruined roadway.

On the entertainment side of things, the Xbox 360 might be able to replace whatever it is you currently use for an entertainment system in your living room. The exception to this is the need for a separate high-definition DVD player. The Xbox offers terrific high-def game output, terrific high-def output of movies recorded on a networked Windows XP MCE PC, dead clean and expansive Dolby 5.1 audio output, but no high-def video output for DVD movies. It's weird and slightly dumb, so don't throw out your current component deck just yet. Aside from that oddity, the console performs admirably. Experienced gamers will love the way this baby responds through the controller to rapid input commands. I tried for hours and hours to glitch the wireless controller, but the thing would not lock up, slow down, lock the console or crash. It just works extremely well. I also tried a number of digital cameras (several Canon, Nikon and Sony point & shoot models), all of which were recognized by the console instantly, making it easy to read the storage media and display photos. I can't conceive of people buying an Xbox 360 mainly for this purpose (or as a music machine to use with your iPod or for streaming MP3s from your home network), but the functionality is there to be sure.

As far as I'm concerned, the bundle to get is the $399.00 Premium package which includes the console, one wireless controller, component video cables for attaching the Xbox 360 to an HD TV set, VGA adapter for connection to a PC monitor, removable 20GB hard drive, headset, a variety of console face plates, AC power block, and a free pass for a basic subscription to Xbox Live. For the spec-conscious consumer who has essentially been living in a cave for that past six months and missed all of the fuss and ants-in-the-pants over this, here's a list of all the important Xbox 360 technical specifications:

  • Custom IBM Power-PC Based CPU
    Three symmetrical cores running at 3.2 GHz each
    Two hardware threads per core; six hardware threads total
    VMX-128 vector unit per core; three total
    128 VMX-128 registers per hardware thread
    1 MB L2 cache
    CPU Game Math Performance
    9 billion dot product operations per second
  • Custom ATI Graphics Processor
    500MHz processor
    10 MB of embedded DRAM
    48-way parallel floating-point dynamically scheduled shader pipelines
    Unified shader architecture
    Polygon Performance
    500 million triangles per second
  • Pixel Fill Rate
    16 gigasamples per second fill rate using 4x MSAA
  • Shader Performance
    48 billion shader operations per second
  • Memory
    512 MB of GDDR3 RAM
    700 MHz of DDR
    Unified memory architecture
    22.4 GB/s memory interface bus bandwidth
    256 GB/s memory bandwidth to EDRAM
    21.6 GB/s front-side bus
  • Overall System Floating Point Performance
    1 teraflop
  • Storage
    Detachable and upgradeable 20GB hard drive
    12x dual-layer DVD-ROM
    Memory Unit support starting at 64 MB
  • I/O
    Support for up to four wireless game controllers
    Three USB 2.0 ports
    Two memory unit slots
    Optimized for Online
  • Built-in Ethernet port
    Wi-Fi ready: 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g
    Video camera ready
    Digital Media Support
  • Support for DVD-Video, DVD-ROM, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, CD-DA, CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, WMA CD, MP3 CD, JPEG Photo CD
    Ability to stream media from portable music devices, digital cameras and Windows XP-based PCs
    Ability to rip music to the Xbox 360 hard drive
    Custom playlists in every game
    Built-in Media Center Extender for Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005
    Interactive, full-screen 3-D visualizers
    High-Definition Game Support
  • All games supported at 16:9, 720p, and 1080i, anti-aliasing
    Standard-definition and high-definition video output supported
  • Audio
    Multi-channel surround sound output
    Supports 48KHz 16-bit audio
    320 independent decompression channels
    32-bit audio processing
    Over 256 audio channels

Cons: While the Xbox 360 is definitely smaller than the original Xbox, I expected the new model to be smaller still than the unit which was previewed in May 2005 at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). It's still too big, especially considering the fact that it's supplied with a massive external power supply. I don't like the vertical position option—it looks unstable. All of the computing power inside the console throws fry-your-eggs-'n-bacon heat out the back panel, so adequate ventilation is an absolute necessity (do NOT stack anything on top of this baby and DO leave plenty of room at the rear so that the heat can dissipate properly). There's an HDTV/TV switch at the end of the A/V connection cable and if you don't set it to HDTV, you won't get surround sound output (with all the technology built into this thing, you'd think they could include automatic switching). No DVI/HDMI output, so forget about hi-def on your computer monitor. The majority of Xbox-compatible games are currently adaptations to accommodate the Xbox hardware. The really superb stuff which takes greater advantage of all the power under the hood won't start showing up until 2006. No integrated access to MSN Music or MSN Hotmail. DVD movie playback is the biggest disappointment. While all the games are high-definition and gorgeous, movies output only at a paltry standard 480p in standard 4:3 TV format. There's no high capacity optical media support (Blu-Ray or HD-DVD, both of which have shown up in force during 2006) so we can only hope for an inexpensive drive upgrade in a few months. Setting up multimedia streaming from my HP Media Center PC was a hit & miss affair which took almost an hour to get up and running—not an activity for the faint of heart. The iPod support is limited to prevent you from playing copy-protected songs.

Pros: This is the state of the art in console design, power and technology. The crown is Microsoft's to lose considering how strongly the Nintendo Wii hit the market and how poorly the expensive Sony Playstation 3 has been received. From Project Gotham Racing 3 and Madden NFL 2006 to the marvelous Star Wars: Knights of the Republic, Halo 2, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, the gory Beyond Good & Evil, the gritty and realistic Call of Duty 2, and the visually and emotionally engrossing Psychonauts, the games look gorgeous and play beautifully even though most of them do not yet take full advantage of the Xbox's capabilities. There were 18 new titles at launch, but there are about 200 compatible existing titles available, with new titles being released almost every week. The odd-looking wireless controller is excellent, with a well-designed, non-fatiguing grip and hand position, along with (most important) superb and instantaneous game response. Wireless controllers have truly arrived and fully displaced wired devices. Network connectivity through either the built-in Ethernet port or the optional 802.11a/b/g adapter was flawless. Microsoft has the console installation nailed—even the most technologically bereft, all-thumbs newbie should have this one up and running in five minutes. It actually takes longer to get all the parts out of the package than it does to set it up. Forget about gaming for a moment—DVD movie playback on the unit's progressive scan deck is superb, with error-checking that easily handled my worst (nicked, scratched, abraded) movie discs. Tons of power under the hood provides an immersive game environment, especially for those people who can connect the unit to a beefy or otherwise good quality surround sound system. 720p and 1080i game play is marvelous. Mono, stereo and Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound audio output is clean, clean, clean, with no trace of hiss, cross-channel interference or other obvious annoyances. Original music CDs sound great. Buy now, prepare to enjoy, then get another burst of serious satisfaction when the Xbox 360-specific games start showing up in 2006. Microsoft has outdone themselves. This is a great game console and very good multimedia entertainment center. Highly recommended.

Looking for cool games for your Xbox? Then check this out:
Top Xbox 360 Games!





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