Microsoft's surprise E3 reveal--a slimmed up Xbox 360--looks smaller, sleeker, and comes packing serious feature punch, but what don't we know about it that might surprise us?
Is the DVD drive tray- or slot-loading? Based on the screenshots, the answer's probably tray-loading. Does it matter? Probably not, and I'm not privy to the general cost differential between slot and tray mechanisms, but a slot loader would arguably have been cooler, even if it forced Microsoft to slap its familiar tray-front 'Xbox 360' text somewhere else.
How hot does this thing really get? Smaller usually, though not always, means hotter, since your thermal ventilation space shrinks. It won't be clear how this applies (or doesn't) to the 'slim' until we've tested our review unit, but it'll be interesting to see how it dissipates heat from the current iteration Xenon CPU and Xenos GPU, or whether those two were subject to a die shrink. The Xenon CPU was last updated from 90 nm to 65 nm in February 2007, and last I checked, the Xenos GPU's was sitting at 65 nm. Also: See those stylish "vents" on the side? That look like the original Xbox's? They may move air more efficiently than the Xbox 360's "holes." In fact I'd stake my reputation on it.
Just how quiet is "whisper" quiet? Are we talking a muffler on the DVD drive? A larger, quieter fan? Both? The pre-slim Xbox 360's fan gets pretty darned loud in warm environments, but it's the DVD drive that can really sound like a muted buzz-saw. Hopefully Microsoft fixed the drive issues here, so we can go back to playing games off discs instead of chewing up hard drive space with full game installs.
How much does it weigh? The current model weighs just shy of 8 lbs. Presumably the Xbox 360 slim weighs less, but how much less? (Not that we're toting the thing around to LAN parties.)
Can you use it in close confines without invoking the dreaded red-ring-of-death? Does the new system even employ "red" to indicate trouble in its nether regions? Rest easy, alarmists: Microsoft more or less solved the red ring of death problem in subsequent Xbox 360 hardware iterations, and it's unlikely they'll allow the problem to resurface here. You can bet we'll punish ours thoroughly to be sure, but you can probably assume they've cooked these things in oven-like environments as insurance against another wave of panicked--and in hindsight, it seems, completely justified in their scorn--Xbox 360 owners. As for whether you can stick it inside a cabinet, turn it on, close the door, then throw away the key, common sense helps here: Gamer, ventilate thy high-end hardware!
How do existing Xbox 360 owners transfer their data over? You know how Microsoft bundles a one-time transfer cable to move all your savegames and personal data from one hard drive to another when you buy a hard drive upgrade? I'm guessing it'll work something like that. Whether such a cable's sold separately or included with every new Xbox 360 remains to be seen.
Will it be hard-drive upgradeable? Probably. Eventually. Once Microsoft release larger hard drives, that is. But I'm assuming it still won't work like Sony's PS3, where you can plug any old 2.5-inch SATA drive in. Microsoft makes most of its hardware money off peripherals, and while the 'slim' represents a commendable change of heart with regard to some of them, I doubt anything external's getting a price reprieve.
Just where is the hard drive on this thing? Good question. Beats us too.
How much will it really save me? Microsoft charges $100 for its USB WiFi adapter and a wallet-vacuuming $130 for a 250GB hard drive upgrade (if you're coming from a lower-end model). The flagship 250GB Xbox 360 before today's show cost $300 without a WiFi adapter. So in short, you're getting a slimmer, sleeker, ostensibly quieter version with 802.11n WiFi included for $100 less. A good deal? Assuming the hardware checks out, I'd say yes, though it's always bittersweet watching a company adjust already exorbitant prices downward, then tout that as dealmaking.
This story, "Things I'd Love to Know About the Xbox 360 'Slim'" was originally published by PCWorld.