After four years, Microsoft's contract with NVIDIA on the original Xbox
was up. Their solution: release the Xbox 360 a year ahead of Sony
's consoles. The 360 featured a continuation of the Xbox Live service with improvements over the original. The system itself continued to be DirectX-based
like its predecessor, thus it was still relatively easy to port games from the PC platform. This was greatly aided by Microsoft's developer tools; said tools have been praised by, among others, John Carmack of Id Software as the best development environment he's ever seen on a console, which helped mitigate the change of CPU architectures from an X86 Out-Of-Order CPU (very much like that in a PC) to a POWER-architecture based In-Order CPU (which requires more careful programming). The 360 continued what the original Xbox
's trend with one difference: it finally began outselling Sony's console
. As a result, the 360 began getting more exclusive titles as well as securing many of the third-party franchises that were once glued to PlayStation consoles. Microsoft was beating Sony so badly in the Console Wars
early on that, for a while, their primary competition came from Nintendo's unexpectedly successful Wii
As of the end of 2008, the Xbox 360 was in second place behind the Wii and still comfortably in the lead over the PS3
in most regions (apart from Japan, where its more modest sales are blamed on a lack of exclusive content aimed at Japanese gamers). That lead has narrowed since its initial release, while Microsoft has stopped dropping prices in favor of upgrading hard drive sizes and bundling additional software and features. The 360's business model in general relies on selling consoles at a loss (although, unlike the original Xbox, the 360 console has turned the corner into profitability) while making money on
accessories and DLC
. Online purchases are priced in "Microsoft Points," which allows users to make purchases without a credit or debit card while reducing the credit card transaction fees Microsoft would otherwise have to pay should one be used.
Microsoft did have to take a few shortcuts to keep their system in a reasonable price range, including a cooling system that proved inadequate and a CPU that's a slightly modified version of the PlayStation 3
's Cell Processor's PPE architecture, though limited to a 10 MB frame buffer. There were widespread reports of "Red Rings of Death" (i.e. general system failure) errors causing consoles to die abruptly, particularly in earlier hardware revisions of the console where the excess heat would cause the solder to melt and then set incorrectly as it cooled. In the end, Microsoft reported that more than half
(51.4%) of all 360 systems were affected by the defects, and ultimately took the step of extending the 360's warranty to cover all general system failure issues for three years, at the cost of $3 billion.
The "Red Ring of Death" issue gradually subsided thanks to improved hardware, and a major firmware update (the "New Xbox Experience", or NXE) has revamped the user interface and brought new features, such as Netflix integration and the ability to install games to the system's hard drive (although you still need to have the DVD in the tray to play the game, and some older games that cache their data on the hard drive anyway might not experience an increase in speed).
Xbox Live, the online component, has been praised for its large community and user-friendly friend management and game launching interface, and there's a large variety of content on offer for download. On the other hand, much of the multiplayer base has been characterized as juvenile and unfriendly
and there's a relative dearth of free downloadable content, with the multiplayer service itself requiring a Gold membership unless a particular game (such as EA sports games) has its own subscription service.
System region locking is an optional feature for publishers. It's possible, though difficult, to change a console's region, but fortunately most games are published region free, Electronic Arts
products and many Japanese releases being the notable exceptions
Despite the usual 5-6 years of active life for a console, Microsoft has said that they have no plans to discontinue the 360 and expect it to remain on the market at least until 2015 (about two years after the release of the Xbox One
A new hardware redesign, officially dubbed Xbox 360S or Slim
("Valhalla" by its internal codename) premiered in the Summer 2010. The motherboard was streamlined further, even compared to the recent "Jasper" version, with the chipset shrinking to the just two chips (CPU, GPU and RAM all-in-one, made possible since they're now made by 45 nm process instead of original 90 nm), which greatly reduced costs and improved cooling. It also allowed the company to make the 250 GB HDD, encountered before only on the expensive Super Elite
series, a standard equipment, and install it inside the case itself rather than the outside cab. Wi-Fi is now standard, inside-the-case equipment as well, while the console's outer dimensions were significantly reduced; it now has a much more aggressive design, reminiscent of a cross between an original Xbox and PS2
Although the RROD problem seems to have abated with the release of both the Jasper chip and the 360S (which, at any rate, now uses a blinking red light and onscreen error display rather than the traditional rings), the lightweight design has led to disc scratching, particularly if the console is picked up, moved or shaken while a game is running, becoming a more significant problem.
Autumn 2010 saw the release of the Xbox 360's most significant peripheral: Kinect
(which ended up becoming a standard part of the system's successor). Formerly dubbed "Project Natal," Kinect is essentially a camera capable of tracking players' positions with a high degree of accuracy, allowing controller-free gaming and menu navigation. This has paved the way for a series of experimental, family-friendly games
, while some enterprising users have discovered other, surprisingly awesome applications
for the technology.
In 2012, Microsoft launched SmartGlass, a second screen experience similar to the capabilities of the Wii U
only using a "bring your own device" setup, being available for Windows 8/RT PCs and tablets, Windows Phones, as well as select iOS and Android devices. All first-party and select third-party games in the future will make use of the system, the first of which being Halo 4
and Dance Central 3
It's interesting to note that unlike most other consoles, Microsoft is not afraid to radically update the console's OS from time to time in order to allow room for more content and keep the experience fresh. It's worth noting Microsoft's background as a software company (as opposed to a consumer electronics company like Sony) as the primary motivation for doing so. The original blade interface was scrapped in 2008 with the release of the NXE or New Xbox Experience
based off the "Twist" UI used in Windows Media Center and Zune players of the time. The release of Kinect in 2010 saw a revised version of the NXE based off Microsoft's then-relatively new "Metro" design standard, although for the most part was functionally unchanged save for the addition of the Kinect hub. The fall 2011 update now features the second major overhaul, expanding on the Metro concept and keeping it consistent with that of Windows Phone and Windows 8. It also has the functional advantage of being able to navigate with either controller or Kinect in the same UI, and adds a new search function powered by Bing for more easily finding game and video content from the ever growing list of providers.
Microsoft, after some rumors about a successor, announced, in 2013, the Xbox One
. Its reception, however, was far from good. Check the correspondent page for details. Around the same time, they introduced a smaller model intended to look similar to the Xbox One
, the Xbox 360 E model.
For the Xbox 360's online video game store, see Xbox LIVE Arcade
- The CPU is an IBM POWER5 based tri-core processor codenamed Xenon (then Falcon, then Jasper) that runs at 3.2 GHz. Each core can service two threads in hardware. In a interesting fluke, the cores are a modified version of the main core in the PlayStation 3's Cell processor.
- The GPU is an ATI designed chip codenamed Xenos running at 500 MHz.
- Its architecture is very similar to the Radeon X1800 released for computers, but it had an interesting property. Back in the day, GPUs had two distinct pipelines for geometry and pixel processing. The Xenos had those same pipelines, but they were reconfigurable to do either geometry or pixel processing. This allowed better efficiency of the resources.
- The latest models combine the two into one chip.
- The 360 has 512 MB of unified GDDR3 memory clocked at 700 MHz for a transfer rate of 22.4 GB/s
- On the GPU was 10 MB embedded DRAM running at 500 MHz but had a transfer rate of 32 GB/s. All the Post-Processing Video Effects happened on here because it could do it really fast.
- Initially storage was on a 20 GB hard drive for the higher-end SKU. The lower end model required the use of 64 MB memory cards to save games, but could be upgradable. As more configurations became available, hard drives available for the 360 increased up to 320 GB, while all 360s had 4 GB of internal flash memory. Later models also allowed the use of thumb disks in the USB ports.
- The Xbox 360 can take any 2.5" hard drive with some tweaking.
- Games are stored on regular DVDs, which have 8.5 GB of space. However, some space on each disc is reserved for Copy Protection and other data, leaving about 7 GB for the games themselves, which was increased to 8 GB by a system update in 2011.
- The 360 is capable of outputting all the way up to 1080p. However, games are usually rendered at 720p or 640p and then scaled up.
- The graphics API is an enhanced version of Direct X 9.0.
- Maximum polygon throughput is 500 million per second and 16 gigapixels per second. However, this is only achievable if the GPU is doing one or the other.
- AV output is either through a proprietary analog AV connector which can support HD resolutions (although curiously, it also has the optical out for audio) or HDMI.
- The E model's analog output was reduced to just composite output, using a 3.5mm" TRRS connector (which has the upshot of being standard, hopefully).
- There's two USB 2.0 ports in the front and (depending on the model) one to three ports in the back.* Typically used for wired controllers, memory sticks, the Kinect, or something else.
- Network connectivity includes Ethernet and 802.11 wireless LAN. Prior to the S model, if one wanted 802.11 wireless capabilities, they had to buy a receiver for the 360.
- The controller has a port on the center bottom edge to attach a headset or keyboard.
List of games:
Exclusive to Xbox 360:
Exclusive to Xbox 360 and PC:
Special Versions / Remakes for Xbox LIVE Arcade