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Xbox 360 to use notebook hard drive

Xbox 360 to use notebook hard drive

Xbox 360, featuring a detachable 20GB 2.5 inch notebook hard drive

There appears to be some confusion in the community about the hard drive option for the Xbox 360 which we would like to clear up. As announced last week the £279.99 / US$399 Premium Bundle will come complete with a detachable 20GB hard drive for gamers to "store their games, music, downloaded trailers, levels, demos and community-created content from Xbox Live Marketplace and more".

One would reasonably assume that it is detachable so you can take your save games around to a friend's house, but it also serves the purpose of making the hard drive a future upgrade option for the cheaper Xbox 360 Core System bundle, priced at £209.99 / US$299. Microsoft argues that some gamers would prefer to pay less up front, and then expand the system to their own tastes and budgets later on.

Since it is hard to imagine anyone wanting to play games without saving their progress, the two price points are actually £232.98 and £279.99 - the former is the Core System plus the £22.99 64MB memory card. Many will question whether anyone will choose to save £47 when they can have 20 gigabytes compared with 64 megabytes, especially considering the Premium pack also comes with an Xbox Live headset, wireless controller and HD-AV cable as well. Yet others are confused by the cost of the hard drive as an optional accessory - a whopping £69.99.

The original Xbox featured a standard 3.5" desktop hard drive, which contributed to the system's reputation as something of a porker, especially compared with the slimmer PS2. It was the best option at the time, and was a key difference between the two consoles of that generation. However, 4 years have passed, and Microsoft have responded to the criticism by using smaller 2.5" notebook hard drives for Xbox 360.

If you have never seen one of these drives, it can be hard to appreciate the significance of this move. Here are some photos of the two together:

The dimensions of the familiar desktop model are decidedly imperial: 4 inches wide and 5.75 inches long (approx 10cm x 15cm) and 23mm tall. In contrast, the notebook drive is 2.75 x 3.94 inches (7cm x 10cm) and is less than 10mm tall. Their weights are also dramatically different: a desktop drive can weigh 600g or more, where as 2.5" notebook drives are typically around 100g. Both of these factors a important to Microsoft's goal of portability. It is also worth noting that at just 83mm wide, the Xbox 360 case simply isn't wide enough to accommodate a 3.5" hard drive.

With reduced size, weight, power consumption and heat generation, the only remaining issue is price. Xbox guru J Allard was grilled in a recent Q&A by gamers who wanted to know why the 20GB option was US$100 when a 20GB drive could be bought for as little as US$30, or indeed, a massive 200GB drive could be had for the same hundred bucks. The answer, as we now know, is the move from 3.5" to 2.5" form factor, though this doesn't tell the whole story.

Seagate were a supplier of hard drives for the first Xbox, so assuming they will contiune this relationship, we can buy a 20GB Seagate Momentus 5400rpm notebook hard drive for £36.43 inc vat. Considering Microsoft will be buying literally millions of units, we would expect the cost price to be perhaps £20 or less. Factor in a few quid for the plastic casing and you're still looking at a 100% markup. Why is the memory card only 64MB when a 512MB USB pen drive costs the same at retail?

The answer is perhaps less sinister than you might think. As has been common practise in the console market for years, it is widely believed that Microsoft will make a calculated loss on each Xbox 360 sold. Rumours circulated back in June that the cost of manufacture of the bare console is as high as US$375. Most people are aware that this loss is made back through royalties made from the sale of games, but hardware accessories are also carry a high margin. Our advice is to save those extra pennies and buy the Premium bundle - you will be better off in the long run.

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