Microsoft: Xbox 360 S The Best Box We've Ever Built

Xbox 360 S

It's smaller, shinier, and back in black: Microsoft's new Xbox 360 took many by surprise at E3 this June, though some of us had speculated for months that a 'slim' model was in the works.

More than just a component and size shrink, Microsoft added 802.11n wireless (previously a $100 external USB adapter) and packed in its premier 250GB hard drive without adjusting the standard system's $300 price tag.

What changed inside and why? How'd they make it quieter? Will t really reduce your electric bill? And why does it automatically shut down if it gets too warm?

I spoke with Microsoft's Senior Director of Xbox Product Management, Albert Penello, to find out. (The first part of the interview is here.)

Game On: The Xbox 360 S jumped from three USB ports to five, two on the front, three on the back, plus you've added the separate Kinect port. Why isn't Kinect using USB?

Albert Penello: It was just part of redesigning the board. There's a lot of stuff that in retrospect I wish we would've done with the original Xbox 360. Now it's like, there's a lot of Rock Band accessories and stuff, so let's do it, because we've got the power on the board.

But the reason there's a special Kinect port...actually Kinect does use USB, but the USB ports on the back of the Xbox 360 S don't have enough power to run the Kinect camera. So the Kinect port on the back of the Xbox 360 S is actually just a high-powered USB port. We changed the connector so you don't accidentally plug something else in there. Likewise, we don't want you plugging Kinect into a regular USB port because it won't work.

On the older model Xbox 360, you'll plug Kinect in through one of the USB ports, but then it'll require a cell-phone sized wall plugin power adapter. So Kinect still works with all versions of the consoles, we just eliminated the need for a power supply with the new Xbox 360 S.

GO: You're still running HDMI 1.2 spec, right?

AP: Yes.

GO: And though the PS3 supports HDMI 1.3, the only benefit for you would be if the Xbox 360 were offering something like Blu-ray playback?

AP: That's right.

GO: And just to be clear, while the PS3's ethernet connection specs 1Gb, you're still at 100Mb with the Xbox 360 S?

AP: Yep.

GO: The tray touch-opens now, it's quieter while it opens and closes, and it's strikingly quieter than the original when the drive's spinning at top speeds. How'd you accomplish that?

AP: The team spent a lot of time working on just the thermal and acoustic properties of the new packaging. We moved to one larger fan from two smaller fans and worked on damping the drive. It was just one of those things we really wanted to do.

The original Xboxes were...you're basically trying to cram a small PC into a box. For the Xbox 360 S, with its smaller CPU size, smaller power consumption, and a lot of knowledge over time from building the boxes, they spent time on thermal and acoustics just trying to get things packed in a certain way. That's why we moved to the single fan on the side now, and they did some damping stuff on the drive itself.

Unfortunately we still have physics to contend with, and we're spinning the disc at 12x, so there's still going to be a little more noise than our competitors, because that's the reality of how fast our discs spin. That said, I think it's pretty impressive what our engineers were able to accomplish.

GO: The fans on the original Xbox 360 never bothered me as much as the drive spin noise, but the new fan seems exceptionally quiet.

AP: It's pulling air in from the top and bottom and venting it out the side...well, depending how you orient it. If you have your console standing vertically, it's pulling air in from the top and venting it out the side.

Next: But will it actually save you money?

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