Hey Microsoft, 250 GB for the Xbox 360 Won't Cut it

Xbox 360 Hard Drive

Swollen with thousands of save games, MP3s, videos, and full-game installs to counteract nettlesome DVD-drive noise, my Xbox 360 officially feels like a walk-in closet trying to squeeze into a shoe box. It's a problem without a solution: Microsoft's links and locks on its proprietary storage architecture won't let me spend all the money in the universe to remedy the situation. The largest hard drive on offer tops out at 120 GB. I'm frozen in space with a paltry tenth of a terabyte, a blip in the burgeoning storage-verse, a thimble-sized data repository to wrestle with an ocean of bits and bytes.

My only way forward at this point: Scour. Delete. Compromise.

Bizarrely, Microsoft just released a 250 GB Xbox 360 hard drive in Japan, the one place the company can't seem to move systems (just over a million units sold to-date, versus nearly 10 million Wiis and 5 million PS3s). Expect to see that 250 part manifest stateside shortly, not that it solves my problems. I'll need more space than that soon enough. Why, for that matters, such a trivial size increase given dwindling storage costs? Why not something bolder like 320 or 500? What if I want to leave my full games library installed and at the ready? Disc-swapping may be an issue only the most petulant would grouse about, but installing games can takes upwards of 10 minutes on the Xbox 360.

Unlike Sony's PlayStation 3, which supports off-the-shelf hard drive upgrades, Microsoft's Xbox 360 takes a mechanically analogous 2.5-inch optical drive, slides it into an oblong side-bracket, then renders authentication checks to ensure you're using their signed and sealed product. You can work around this by way of byzantine home-hackery, but you're limited to the 120 GB ceiling. You can in fact drop a larger drive in the unit, but the OS comes purpose-built to cynically recognize up to 120 GB only.

Microsoft's spin boils down to claims about quality control. "Security testing" and "software preload" show up like talking points in interviews. That's to justify charging $150 for 120 GB or $1.25 per GB, compared with just $60 for an off-the-shelf 320 GB drive or about $0.19 per GB. We're paying a dollar premium per GB, in other words, for 'quality control'. Some people call that fair market value (anything worth whatever anyone's willing to pay--and people are clearly paying). I call it brilliant propaganda. If Microsoft's 'quality control' is so important, why doesn't Sony charge for something similar? Because the PS3's a cheaper product? Sony doesn't care about its consumers? Why don't we see user-upgraded PS3 hard drives failing? Users cramming support lines (or spilling over to message boards)?

I griped about this last July. I'm griping about it again now because I'm full up and loathe to clean house when I could just as well have something five-bedroom deluxe. Instead, Microsoft limits me to the closet under the staircase, where their rival hands me the deed to the acreage and says "Build whatever you like."

Microsoft's game profits lie chiefly in software, service, and peripheral sales. Their software attach rate generally trumps Sony's and Nintendo's and has since the 360 launched in 2005. Their Xbox LIVE service has grown by leaps and bounds, counting in excess of 20 million users, many if not most of those paying $50 a year for Gold member benefits. Their entertainment and devices division, including the Xbox 360, Games For Windows, and the Zune, just saw profits triple from $130 million to $375 million during their second quarter, which ended in December.

It's time to unlock the Xbox 360 hard drive, Microsoft. Allow the handful of users who have the need and know-how to apply what they already do with off-the-shelf 120 GB parts to larger 320 or 500 GB alternatives. It won't increase piracy rates (that horse left the stable four years ago and has nothing to do with drive size recognition limits). It won't increase support calls (homebrew upgraders tend to look after themselves, not to mention Sony's lack of support issues). And there's no reason to terrify your base with 'warranty void' threats, since you couldn't louse up the 360 per the current hack-around if you tried. Even if someone did somehow trash their hard drive or fumble the original install during the imaging process, hey, they'll just have to pay you $150 for a new one. That's called a 'win-win' in propositional terms.

I realize what I'm asking for probably won't happen. And I'll take it on the chin from Xbox 360 apologists who'd likely pay twice what you're asking for half as much offered just to spite naysayers.

Doesn't change my storage needs, or the allure of the competition's more customer-friendly upgrade angle.

Connect with Matt on Twitter (@game_on)

Subscribe to the Game On Newsletter

Comments