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A Portable Xbox LIVE Profile: The Pros and Cons

In my recent article, How Microsoft Can Fix the Xbox 360 in 2011, I pointed out some shortcomings in Microsoft's video game console and provided suggestions for fixing these issues in the coming year. The biggest functional hole in the Xbox 360, I think, is the first one I mention in that article, the lack of true Xbox LIVE profile portability. That is, when you logon to a console with your Xbox LIVE profile, or gamertag, it pretty much locks that profile to the device. If you have two or more Xbox 360s (as I do), or want to use your profile at a friend's house, there's a fairly laborious and time-consuming process for getting all of yopur profile info on that new Xbox. And then, of course, you have to do it all over again when you go back to your own console.

A number of readers pointed out that Microsoft does, in fact, partially support what I'm looking for--a seamless way to move from Xbox to Xbox, taking your profile and all of its information with it--though it's current method isn't perfect. Still, it's an option and once you understand the trade-offs, you'll know enough to decide if you'd like to give it a try as well.

Here's how it works.

On a hard drive-equipped Xbox 360, you typically store your Xbox LIVE profile information--what you may consider to be your gamertag--on the hard drive. This makes sense: The hard drive has a lot of storage, and you will be associating a number of downloads--avatars, game add-ons, map packs, videos, and so on--with that profile. Plus, it's attached to the console and will travel around with the Xbox 360 if you move it. So it makes sense to keep everything together.

If you don't have a hard drive attached to your Xbox 360, however, you need a different solution. And over the years, there have been a few different, non-hard-drive-based storage solutions for the 360. With the original console, you could utilize a proprietary Memory Unit (MU), which range in size from 64 MB to 512 MB, a paltry amount no matter how you look at it. More recently, Microsoft added the ability to use USB memory key storage instead, and this works with devices up to 16 GB, which is far more acceptable. And then there is the modern Xbox 360 S; with the hard drive-less version, you get 4 GB of internal flash storage. Because this storage is non-removal, it works like the hard drive and is beyond the scope of this discussion.

With an MU or USB memory key, you can utilize much of the same content that those with hard drive-based Xbox 360s can. The difference, of course, is the amount of storage, so these types of system aren't good candidates for people that want to store a lot of video or related content.

Interestingly, these storage devices can also be used by those with hard drive-based Xbox 360s. They can be used, among other things, for making your Xbox LIVE profile more portable. What you need to do is move your profile--and it is move, not copy, as it can only be in one place at a time, thanks to Microsoft's protective policies--from the console's hard drive to the MU or USB memory card.

This process is actually surprisingly easy and, as important, very quick: You just boot into the Xbox 360 Dashboard, insert the MU or key, navigate to My Xbox, System Settings, Memory, Hard Drive, Gamer Profiles, and then the name of your profile. Then, choose Move. The Dashboard will need to sign you out to perform this operation, and then will allow you select a device to which to move the profile. Choose the Memory Unit or USB key. 

If you're using a standard PC-based USB key, you will need to "configure" it first, which is basically an Xbox-compatible format. (Read more here.) Microsoft also sells branded Xbox 360 USB keys made by SanDisk, though they're a bit expensive. 8 GB and 16 GB versions are available. Note, too, that third party USB keys will be tested for certain performance characteristics, and not all keys are compatible.

So why wouldn't you want to do this?

The biggest problem with utilizing removable storage for your Xbox LIVE profile is that it introduces a second storage device into the mix. So every single time you startup a game, it will ask you which storage device--the hard drive or USB memory key (or MU)--you want to use for game storage. And even if you choose one or the other the first time around, it will continue asking you, every single time you load each game. It's a monotonous extra step.

Also, the USB key (or MU) can't be used to store all of the content that can be stored on a hard drive. Movies can be stored on a hard drive or USB memory key, but not an MU. And music files and original Xbox games can only be stored on a hard drive. Finally, you must be connected to Xbox LIVE (and, thus, the Internet) to access certain content from a secondary console due to DRM concerns.

What this comes down to, then, is what is more important to you: the convenience of a portable profile or less of a hassle when you use your own console. If you really do need to move your profile around a lot, I say go for it. But if you don't, do what I'm going to do: Keep a USB key handy for this purpose and use it to temporarily store my profile only for those infrequent times when I do want to use a different console but still access my own profile. It's easy enough to move the content back and forth. And it's quick too.

Thanks to everyone who wrote in about this topic.

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