Xbox 360 Slim heading our way? Will it launch with Natal?

The video gaming rumor mill leapt into overdrive today after pictures claiming to be a new Xbox 360 motherboard were leaked on a Chinese language message board. Almost instantly, the Xbox 360 Slim was born. Kotaku seemed to break the story in English first, so we'll direct you to them for more info.

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A few points (or really, a few earlier rumors) lend credibility to the idea of a smaller, cheaper Xbox 360. Back in March, during a talk on cloud computing at the University of Washington, Steve Ballmer mentioned new form factors for the Xbox 360:

You get exactly the Xboxes that we build for you. We may have more form factors in the future that are designed for various price points and options, but we think it's going to important.

Add to that the long-running rumor of an incoming Valhalla chip for the Xbox 360. Joystiq described it like this back in 2008:

The second, "Valhalla", is rumored to combine the 65nm CPU and 65nm GPU into one awesome super chip. It would only require one cooling system, meaning Valhalla would be quieter and (one would hope) more dependable. It would also be considerably cheaper.

Plus of course, the PS3 Slim rumors (which turned out to be true) started in a very similar way: a leak on a Chinese language forum.

Last piece of the puzzle is Project Natal, Microsoft's motion control system for the Xbox 360. It's scheduled to come out in Fall 2010 and Microsoft has said the launch of Natal is going to be a big deal, like a new console launch. Gather all these pieces together and my speculation is that a lighter, smaller, cheaper Xbox 360 will launch at the same time Project Natal does, and there'll be a bundle package that includes both. Some have speculated that Natal will come integrated into an Xbox 360 but I don't see that happening. The Natal cameras have to be aimed at the user and so placed conspicuously near the television; one hopes that Microsoft lets us do that via a small detached bit of hardware, not by placing the whole console under the TV. If Natal has a separate processor unit, that might be built into a new 360, but the business end (ie, the cameras) will remain detached. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict a smaller form factor Xbox 360 with a 250 GB hard drive will be on store shelves by holiday season 2010. Price for this unit will be $249. For $299 you can get the same smaller chassis and hard drive with Project Natal included. Don't expect an announcement any time soon though; we'll be given a Project Natal ship date at E3 but the 360 Slim will remain rumor until much later in the year. What do you think, is my prediction right? Or am I totally off-base? Let's discuss it in the comments.

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