Bypass Microsoft's Xbox 360 Silly Peripheral Prices

You've got real dollars, and then you've got Microsoft dollars. In Microsoft dollars, you'll pay $100 for an Xbox 360 USB 802.11g wireless adapter. In real dollars, you can scare up the equivalent part for as little as $20. In Microsoft dollars, a gigabyte of disk storage costs precisely $1.25, or $150 for the official Xbox 360 120GB hard drive. In real dollars, you'll pay about 25 cents a gigabyte, or $40 for a 120GB drive. Assuming you can find them. Anything under half a terabyte these days is on the verge of becoming extinct.

Microsoft's logic? The company won't comment on component pricing--nothing insulates like ambiguity--so your guess is as good as mine. I'm certainly not out on a limb if I suggest it's to offset the money lost in upfront console hardware sales. It's a shell game. Now you see it, now you don't. Microsoft's just taken the art to new heights by adding margins to peripherals that'd probably have OPEC taking notes.

Want to work around the system? Here's a list of things Xbox 360 owners can do to offset those upgrade costs.

Use a wireless Ethernet bridge. What's the difference between a wireless USB adapter and a wireless Ethernet bridge? Cosmetics. The trouble with wireless Ethernet bridges is they still cost nearly as much as the Xbox 360 wireless adapter itself. The solution? A little utility called DD-WRT, which lets you hack a stock wireless router (say an old one just lying around, or any of the dozens available new or used for $30 or less) and turn it into a full-fledged wireless Ethernet bridge. All you need is a couple feet of Ethernet cable ($1), the wireless router ($30), DD-WRT's firmware (free), and verification that your router makes the compatibility list. (Tip: The Linksys WRT54G family seems to work best.) Potential savings: $69

Install your own 120GB hard drive. We'll tell you how. You can grab a Western Digital 120GB drive for $55 or less. You'll want one of those--the Western Digital Scorpio specifically--and you'll have to do a trifling bit of tinkering to get it up and running. The result? The thrill of DIY coupled with the momentary charge you'll get knowing you've circumvented Microsoft's exorbitant "imaging" and "quality control" tax. Potential savings: $95

Use your wireless controller in lieu of the Universal Media Remote. Do you really need the remote's bells and whistles? I don't, and truth be told, I actually use my wired gamepad to manipulate the audio/video controls. (I forgot my wireless adapter back home when I moved abroad and haven't missed it since.) Potential savings: $20

Turn your Xbox 360 video cable into a VGA cable. If your video device has a VGA input but no HDMI, you can get HDMI-quality playback without dropping $40 on Microsoft's VGA HD/AV cable. Cost? According to Engadget's Ben Heck, about $7 and a bit of DIY. Potential savings: $33.

Don't buy Microsoft's HDMI cable. It costs $50. Sure, you get optical audio, which is great for the 1 out of 1,000 of you who'll have the kit necessary to take advantage of it. The other 999 can just grab a cheapo HDMI cable for a buck or less. Potential savings: $40-$50.

Steer clear of the cosmetic nonsense. Faceplates cost between $20 and $30. Sure, some of the artwork's amazing, but do you really need to "personalize" a piece of glorified ABS plastic that already glows like an irradiated lime? Potential savings: $20-$30

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