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Xbox 360 Console Guide: Holiday 2008

In the past, I maintained a chart comparing the various Xbox 360 models to their Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii competition. But let's be serious: You're either going to buy an Xbox 360 or you're not, and a technical comparison, while interesting on a certain level, isn't really going to tip the scales one way or the other. In lieu of continually updating that increasingly irrelevant chart, I think it might be more interesting to keep track of what's happening with just the Xbox 360. Microsoft is continually changing its console lineup, usually in small but important ways, and for this holiday season, the software giant has introduced some attractive bundles for each model that makes them an even better value.

Xbox 360 model comparison

Microsoft current markets three distinct Xbox 360 product models, the Xbox 360 Arcade, the Xbox 360 (sometimes mistakenly referred to as the "Pro" console), and the Xbox 360 Elite. The low-end Xbox 360 Arcade ($199) dates back to 2007 and replaces the Xbox Live Core unit that first shipped in the initial 2005 launch wave. This version of the Xbox 360 doesn't include a hard drive, but instead ships with 256 MB of internal RAM (or, if you have a slightly older unit, a 256 MB Memory Unit). The mainstream Xbox 360 ($299) now features a 60 GB hard drive, up from the 20 GB unit that shipped in the initial launch wave. And the Xbox 360 Elite ($399) turns things up a notch with black plastics all around instead of the standard Xbox 360 white, a 120 GB hard drive, and bundled HDMI cables.

All Xbox 360 consoles share some common hardware attributes. These include:

Processor: 3.2 GHz PowerPC with 3 dual-threaded processor cores
GPU: 500 MHz ATI-based custom processor
Video RAM: Up to 512 MB GDDR3 system RAM (700 MHz) plus 10 MB embedded DRAM (eDRAM) frame buffer
Native video resolutions: 16:9 widescreen 720p, 1080i, 1080p (will downsample to standard definition)
Output types supported: HDMI, Component, Composite
Sound: Dolby Pro-Logic II (analog), 5.1-channel Dolby Digital
System RAM: 512 MB GDDR3 RAM (700 MHz), shared with GPU, running at 22.4 GBps
Optical drive: 12X dual-layer DVD
USB 2.0 ports: 3
Ethernet: 100 Mbps; 1 port
Wireless networking: 802.11g is optional only
Controller support: 4 wireless (plus 3 wired controllers via USB)

Here's a comparison of these consoles models.

  Xbox 360 Arcade Xbox 360 Xbox 360 Elite
Price (US) $199 $299 $399
Design White body with white matte DVD drive White body with chrome DVD drive Black body with chrome DVD drive
Storage 256 MB (internal) or 256 MB Memory Unit 60 GB hard drive 120 GB hard drive
Controller (included) 1 wireless controller (white) 1 wireless controller (white) 1 wireless controller (black)
Headset (included) No Yes, wired (white) Yes, wired (black)
Video cables (included) Composite Composite, Component Composite, Component, HDMI
Ethernet cable (included) No Yes Yes
Compatible with classic Xbox games No Yes Yes

2008 holiday season bundles

For the 2008 holiday season, Microsoft has made attractive bundles available that, for the first time, actually supersede the standalone consoles. In other words, if you're buying now, you'll get some additional goodies for the same price as the standalone consoles. The following bundles are now available:

Xbox 360 Arcade Holiday Bundle

This bundle includes everything that normally comes with the Xbox 360 Arcade plus Sega Superstars Tennis and 5 free Xbox Live Arcade games (Boom Boom Rocket, Feeding Frenzy, Luxor 2, Pac-Man Championship Edition, and Uno).

Xbox 360 Holiday Bundle

This bundle includes everything that normally comes with the Xbox 360 plus two free games: LEGO Indiana Jones and Kung Fu Panda.

Xbox 360 Elite Holiday Bundle

This bundle includes everything that normally comes with the Xbox 360 Elite plus two free games: LEGO Indiana Jones and Kung Fu Panda.

Buying advice

It's hard not to recommend the midline Xbox 360 console, the one that ships with the 60 GB hard drive, as it's such an obvious compromise between storage and price. That said, if you're going to use the Xbox 360 purely for games, and will never take advantage of the console's digital media features, the Xbox 360 Arcade is a bargain. And you can always add a hard drive later: Microsoft sells a 120 GB hard drive for $160 (which is ridiculously steep, but it will come down over time). I can't really recommend the Elite at all: At $399, it's expensive, and that price doesn't justify the additional storage (and HDMI cable) you get vs. the midline Xbox 360. Whichever way you go, however, you can't go wrong: Microsoft appears to have overcome the hardware reliability issues that dogged this console at year and this year's games lineup is as strong as ever.

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