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Xbox 360 Console Guide: Holiday 2009

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 evolving its Xbox 360 console lineup, and as we head into the 2009 holiday season, the software giant has again made some interesting changes. Here's what's happening.

Xbox 360 model comparison

Microsoft currently markets two distinct Xbox 360 product models, the Xbox 360 Arcade and the the Xbox 360 Elite. (The previous best-seller, the Xbox 360--sometimes mistakenly referred to as the "Pro" console--is no longer manufactured, though you may still find it in stores.) The low-end Xbox 360 Arcade ($199, same as last year) 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. The high-end Xbox 360 Elite ($299, or $100 less than last year) turns things up a notch with black plastics all around instead of the standard Xbox 360 white and a 120 GB hard drive.

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 and 802.11n are available optionally and separately only
Controller support: 4 wireless (plus 3 wired controllers via USB)

Here's a comparison of these consoles models.

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

2009 holiday season bundles

For the 2009 holiday season, Microsoft has made attractive bundles available. 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:

Modern Warfare 2 Limited Edition Elite Console

The Modern Warfare 2 Limited Edition Elite Console costs $399 and includes a 250 GB hard drive, an exclusive design based on the game Modern Warfare 2, two wireless controllers (black), an Xbox 360 wired headset, an Ethernet cable, a composite AV cable, and a copy of the game Modern Warfare 2.

Xbox 360 Elite Holiday Bundle

This bundle includes everything that normally comes with the Xbox 360 Elite plus two free games: LEGO Batman and PURE. It costs $299.

Buying advice

Thanks to the price cut, it's hard not to recommend the Xbox 360 Elite console this year as it ships with 120 GB hard drive, which will prove important to those who wish to download digital media or install games to the hard drive. 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 $150 (which is ridiculously expensive) and a 60 GB unit for $100. Whichever way you go, however, you can't go wrong: Microsoft appears to have overcome the hardware reliability issues that dogged this console a few years back and this year's games lineup is as strong as ever.

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