Among the Elite

Xbox 360 EliteI think most 360 owners have the experience of owning more than one machine, albeit rarely by choice, but when my premium machine started to show those ominous signs of imminent death – random crashes, usually the herald of the red ring of death – I decided to be proactive. I wasn’t going to risk having GTA IV sat here while my 360 was in the repair centre, no doubt with a backlog of plenty of others who experienced similar quirks of bad timing.

A trip to Gamestation and £259.99 later, I had a shiny new 360 Elite and free copy of PGR4. Why an Elite? Well HDMI was an attraction, and while new premiums boast the same output, the Elite has the £35 official HDMI cable (needed for optical audio) in the box. And it also had that 120GB hard drive, which is almost certainly overkill (I’m not even close to filling my PS3’s 60GB drive, even with several movies, a few installs and countless demos on the hard drive), but costs a ridiculous £130 on its own, and if the GTA IV DLC is really on the scale that they’ve been talking, the 5GB of free space that I have on my 20GB drive might start to pinch. Plus, you know, it’s black.

Of course, a secondary benefit to avoiding the 360 service centre roulette is that you pretty much ensure yourself one of the newer, quieter, less failure-prone, 65nm ‘Falcon’ units. Using the highly scientific ‘check the wattage of your power brick’ test – old machines have 203W supplies; the less power-hungry Falcons are only 175W – and the fact that the idling 360 now runs at a volume comparable to a PS3 at full pelt, it seems I’m now well-equipped in that department.

Presumably because Microsoft doesn’t anticipate too many people to spend another £280 on a second machine, the biggest oversight of the Elite package becomes apparent when you’re trading up: out of the box, there’s no way to transfer your data from an old hard drive to the lovely black 120GB model. The solus hard drive comes with the necessary adaptor, but getting one for the Elite requires a phone call to Microsoft and a wait that, assuming friends who have done it are typical, could be anywhere up to ten weeks. It’s free, but that’s a long time to actually have to make space for demos.

Thankfully I could borrow the transfer kit from a friend, and it was nice and easy: 20GB drive on the 360, 120GB drive attached via USB, insert disc and away you go. It formatted the 120GB drive (except it doesn’t, because after transferral mine had sprouted several demos and Live Arcade trial games that I didn’t download) and transferred 13GB of my data across in a bit over an hour, which seemed like a long time considering that I can back up my 120GB laptop drive in about 25 minutes. Regardless, it worked and I was ready to go, now showing almost 100GB of free space.

Overall I’d say that the Elite is an improvement. It certainly seems quieter, although the main culprit – the disc drive – still sounds like a jet engine when it’s spinning a disc up to full speed. Would I prefer shorter load times or quieter operation? Somewhere in the middle would be good, I think. The D-pad on the sexy black controller seems to be improved on my launch day controller, feeling a bit less spongy. I’m going to blame my atrophied Call of Duty 4 skills on having a new pad that hasn’t been worn in yet – that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

One point that I do want to make that I haven’t seen anywhere else, though, is that while the console is quieter the smaller power brick has a fan (did they always?), which now makes up most of the system volume. A side-effect of this is that turning off the console during a download so that it goes into its low-power mode now makes little appreciable difference to the system volume, whereas before it was like flipping a switch. That’s a bit annoying, but it’s not enough to stop me saying that while the Elite probably isn’t going to be worth trashing your old machine for the upgrade, it should be the version that new 360 buyers look at.

That or wait for the Blu-ray version. Now that I’ve bought a new machine it’ll be announced in a matter of days. Mark my words.

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