What Is the Difference Between Xbox 360 Models?
So, you've decided to buy an Xbox 360. Good for you. There are some great games on there: Halo 3, Grand Theft Auto 4, Bioshock, Madden, and the list goes on. What you might not know is that there's more than one version of the same console and some of them have some very significant differences. Hopefully, this article will set things straight and help you avoid making what might be an expensive mistake.
What Every Xbox Can Do
The first thing to know is what any of the 360 consoles can do, regardless of its SKU.
- All 360s can play Xbox 360 games. This is true even of the Xbox One. When it was first released in 2013, Xbox One could not play games designed for 360. In 2015 Microsoft announced that it had modified Xbox One to be compatible with older Xbox games.
- Every single one of them can play DVDs and CDs as well.
- If you have it hooked up to your network, you can include your 360 in your Microsoft Windows network, allowing you to share media between your PC and the 360.
Types of Xbox 360
Xbox 360 Pro or Premium
- The original 360 model includes a 20 or 60 GB hard drive which allows you to download games, movies, music, demos, and downloadable content for titles like Rock Band. Pro comes with either 20 or 60 GB, while Premium only comes with 20 GB.
- Pro/Premium models that are for sale new are usually refurbished. These are old (read: used) Premium models that have had their innards replaced with less failure-prone hardware. This is a good compromise if you want to pay an Xbox Arcade price for Elite performance.
20 or 60 GB?
- 20 GB is relatively small, but for most purposes it is adequate. However, it is possible that the smaller drive will delete some demos or titles you've already purchased. Don't worry, though. If you've paid for a game, you can re-download it at no cost.
- In my experience, 60 GB of space is enough for all but the most prolific packrat. However, if you're like me and can't stop buying new songs for Rock Band and hate to delete even the worst demo, you might still be filling that up as well.
Note: Even among original Pro or Premium systems, there are divisions. The 360 Pro edition is split between three different hardware models. Know what you are buying to avoid machines with faulty motherboards.
Elite and Slim
Xbox 360 Elite
The Xbox 360 Elite comes packed with a 120 GB hard drive. Your 360 can fill up fast, and with this roomy bad boy, you'll never have to delete anything ever again. At $299 dollars, it is the most pricey of the available models, but still a great value. Costing only one hundred dollars more than little brother Premium, the Elite comes with a $150 hard drive, making this a $50 savings.
Xbox 360 Slim (AKA: The 250GB Elite)
The Xbox 360 Slim replaced the Elite line. Here are the differences between the two:
- The Slim features built-in WiFi (no cables for using the Internet!) while the Elite and the Arcade have no WiFi.
- The Slim Xbox 360 features a 250 Gig hard drive. The Elite generally has a 120 Gig while the Arcade has no hard drive.
- The Xbox 360 Slim is several inches smaller and thinner than either the Elite 360 or the Arcade.
- 360 Slim features larger venting areas along the sides. This is to prevent the infamous overheating/Red Ring of Death problems.
- The 360 Slim has one large fan instead of two small ones. This makes it quieter than the loud Elite and Arcade models.
Microsoft Kinect is a motion sensor Xbox system that came out in November of 2010.
- I put together a more detailed article about Kinect, but a general comparison would be to say that Kinect is more of a toy than a classic gaming device. The hardcore gamer is likely to stick with the regular Xbox 360 hardware.
- The Xbox 360 Slim has a special USB port that makes it easier to use with Kinect, although all 360 systems are able to use this device.
- The Xbox 360 4GB Kinect Bundle is a budget version of the 360. Like the Arcade, it is priced lower but comes included with a small hard drive. For Kinect buyers who don't already own a 360, this is one of the most popular options.
I can say one thing for the Xbox 360 Arcade: It is cheap. At $199 when it came out, it cost about the same as the famously affordable Nintendo Wii. (Now you can get it for about $40). But it comes as no surprise that you get what you pay for.
- The package comes with a measly 256 MB hard drive, capable of holding very little data. If you own a 360 Arcade, you will not be able to download most game demos and certainly not any movies. At best, you will be able to download some of the smaller Xbox Live Arcade titles, but even some of those are coming in too big for the Arcade to handle now.
- A truly inferior product, the Arcade lacks the mutability of 360. What makes Microsoft's product so distinct is the vast number of downloads, small independent games, a wide array of demos, and other content. Losing this makes the 360 a significantly less attractive console. Even the multi-player experience will suffer.
- While you can still play online with the Arcade, you will not be able to download any patches or new content, leaving you behind your peers. As a consolation prize, the Arcade comes with a few pack-in arcade-style games, but they're definitely not worth what you lose. Only buy the Xbox Live Arcade if you never, ever, ever, ever plan on going online with your system in all the years that you will own an Xbox.
- Worse still, Arcade split the 360 market, making developers strip their games of features to be able to include content that people using the Arcade can still participate in. It takes an especially bad console to punish even the people who didn't buy it.
Crap, I already bought an Arcade. What should I do?
- If you already bought an Arcade model and I just made you feel bad, I apologize. You can always trade-in your Arcade and buy one of the better models. Microsoft does offer an external Xbox 360 Hard Drive if you want to bring your gaming machine into the twenty-first century. Be warned though: It is expensive. Costing a pricey $150, you get an extra 120 GB of space. It might be worth picking up if you were planning to go from the Arcade to the Elite model, but if you just want to be able to play the new Halo 3 maps, you're better off trading in for a Premium.
Other Xbox Models
There are a few other models available, although they aren't currently on the shelves or are specialty kits.
- Xbox 360 Core: Part of the original launch, this was replaced by the Arcade. Like the Arcade, this is junk. In fact, it is even worse: It was shipped with no hard drive at all. If you're buying used, avoid it at all costs
- Halo 3 Special Edition: No longer available, this was a special offer during the release of 2009's hit Halo 3. Coming in a distinctive green finish, this console is otherwise similar to the Premium system still on sale.
- An Elite-style system was announced in 2009 to be released with Modern Warfare 2. This was the first Xbox 360 with 250 Gigs of memory. It also comes with a wireless headset and two wireless controllers.
- The Halo Reach bundle is the first true Xbox 360 Slim bundle available. It is also one of the hottest selling.
Avoid the "Red Ring of Death"
- Original 360 Pros: These models include all of the original Xbox 360 hardware, which should make you wary. Why? Four words: Red Ring of Death. For those not in the know, this is an error caused by a number of internal problems, including overheating. 360 owners using the old hardware will suffer a failure rate of close to 50% while using these older models. Microsoft is well aware of the problem and will replace a failed Xbox 360 free of charge, but you will be without a game console for a few weeks.
- 20 GB Hard Drive: 360 models built after 2007 contain the Falcon motherboard and chipset, a significant improvement over the more failure-prone machines. If you buy used from eBay or a retail outlet, be careful of the older models. It is difficult to tell when they were made, but there are a few tricks you can use. The first is to open up your Xbox and take a look, but that's a whole article in itself. The second is to look at the original box. Find the SKU info under all of the product descriptions. If you have a 360 that came from lot 0734 or higher, you're in the clear. If it is lower, then you have the older, less reliable, motherboard.
- 60 GB Hard Drive: Other than more space, there are no significant differences between the recent 20 GB and 60 GB models.
Do I Even Want an Xbox 360?
Well, I don't know, do you?
- They are great systems, but they have only limited backward compatibility to original Xbox games. The PS3 has improved greatly since it was originally released and is now a solid competitor for the 360.
- Prices have dropped, especially since the release of the Xbox One, and 360s are very affordable. If you're looking to take up an affordable gaming system with a great library of titles to enjoy, I would say make this your choice.
- Finally, this is only a quick and dirty overview. There are some more specific differences between editions that cover very hard-core nuts and bolts aspects of the system. If you have any questions not answered, leave a comment!