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A brief history of the Xbox 360

6 min read


Welcome back to part 2 of our look back at the history of Xbox. By now, you’ve probably read part one and will want to read it again. That’s ok, that’s cool, we’ll wait for you. The Xbox One launches locally on September 23, and we’ve already covered the foundation that the very first console laid down when it launched in 2001. But it was the Xbox 360 that proves that Microsoft could stand with the big boys, and make gaming even more mainstream. Let’s put our hands on our hips, jump to the left and travel back in time.

The Beginning Part 2: Begin Harder

Xbox prototype

The year is 2003, and Microsoft wants to get ready for a next generation of gaming. They’ve got some ideas in the pipeline for a successor console that will be bigger, better and boxier than the original device. Some of the names thrown around for this console were the Xbox Next, Xenon, Xbox 2, Xbox FS or NextBox, before Xbox 360 was chosen as the final designation.

With an ATI graphics card deal in place, headhunting for top executives to help steer the project and courting numerous developers to develop for it, Microsoft meant business this time around with the sequel console. The development itself was also shrouded in secrecy, with Microsoft’s David Shippy and Mickie Phipps remarking that IBM employees had to hide their work from the prying eyes of Sony, as PlayStation was also in bed with IBM for the Cell Processor on the PlayStation 3 console.

The Specs

  • CPU – 3.2 GHz PowerPC Tri-CoreXenon
  • Memory – 512 MB of GDDR3 RAM clocked at 700 MHz
  • Graphics – 500 MHz ATI Xenos
  • Storage
    • Detachable Hard Drives – 20, 60, 120 or 250 GB (older models); 250 or 320 GB (Xbox 360 S models)
    • Memory Cards (Removable)(Original design only) – 64 MB, 256 MB, 512 MB
    • On-board storage chip – Arcade Consoles (later models)
      256 MB, 512 MB
    • Budget level “Xbox 360 S” consoles – 4 GB
    • USB storage device – 1 GB to 32 GB
    • Cloud storage
  • Audio
    • Analog stereo
    • Stereo LPCM (TOSLINK and HDMI)
    • Dolby Digital 5.1 (TOSLINK and HDMI)
    • Dolby Digital with WMA pro(TOSLINK and HDMI)

The Controller

xbox controller

The original Xbox controller was a massive piece of plastic, roughly the size of a Volkwagen Beetle and even more unwieldy to use. Microsoft eventually rectified this, creating a far more ergonomic controller for their system. Seeing no excuse to fix what wasn’t broke, the Xbox 360 controller had the same button layout: Two trigger buttons, two shoulder buttons, four face buttons, two analogue sticks, start and select buttons, a home button and a D-pad.

The shape of the controller however, was designed to be far more ergonomic, creating a comfortable input device that was easily the best of the bunch in that generation of gaming. The rumble was perfect, gamers could jack in a stereo headset to communicate with friends on Xbox Live and the battery life with regular AAs was meaty to say the least.

Xnox 360 (4)

The controller got an upgrade a few years later, which included an improved D-pad for purists, as well as slight tweaks to the analogue sticks.

The Release

Xnox 360 (7)

To drum up interest in the Xbox 360, Microsoft began a promotional campaign centered on an alternate reality game called OurColony, that gave players special access and sneak peeks if they completed certain challenges. A viral marketing campaign in 2005 began, with mysterious messages directing the public to sites such as Hex168.com, a website made up of conspiracy theories and images that eventually revealed itself to be a massive competition that would hand out Xbox 360 consoles on launch.

Carrying on the campaign over the build-up with more traditional methods as well, the Xbox 360 eventually launched on November 22, 2005 in the United States and Canada. Going global on December 2 2005 with a Japanese launch, the console then reached all across the world with more launches in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, and Russia.

By the end of its first year, the Xbox 360 had broken a world record, having arrived in 36 countries. At a retail price of $399 for a Core unit or $299 for an Arcade unit, the Xbox 360 also had a price advantage over the more expensive PlayStation 3 back then. An Elite package was also offered not long afterwards, that boasted a black colour scheme and a heftier hard drive.

The Impact

Xnox 360 (6)

The Xbox 360 wasn’t just another games console. It was a multimedia device as well, giving gamers a more varied music and video option, as well as an absolute juggernaut in the online space. There weren’t just games to be played with friends online. There were games to be bought as well, demos to download and a new marketplace that catered to smaller developers with arcade games presenting players with a cheaper and quicker alternative to big budget releases.

Sales were high, with demand outstripping supply in North America and Europe, although Japan was another matter entirely, with 1.5 million units shipped within that debut year. As of May 2008, 10 million Xbox 360 consoles had been sold around the world, with that console eventually dominating the USA for a staggering 32 months between January 2011 and October 2013, outselling the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii U.

The Machines

If there was one chink in the armour however, it was that the Xbox 360 suffered from a notorious Red Ring Of Death. A general hardware failure that could strike at any time, this technical error would destroy a console, which resulted in Microsoft extending the warranty period to three years for the console, because of this. This also resulted in new consoles being developed at Microsoft to overcome these issues.

Two new models of the Xbox 360 would be revealed. The first was the Xbox 360 S in 2010, a far more angular console that nipped the RROD problem in the bud, included a Wi-Fi receiver, chunky 250gb hard drive, redesigned internal architecture, more USB ports, touch sensitive buttons and a 30% reduction in size. A budget model was also introduced, which had less storage capacity.

Xnox 360 (5)

The Xbox 360 E would then follow in 2013, taking a design cue from the upcoming Xbox One, but keeping the majority of the improvements that the Xbox 360 S had introduced. Its rear ports were also streamlined with one fewer USB port and no S/PDIF connections.

Xnox 360 (3)

Join us tomorrow, when we examine the games that mattered on the Xbox 360. Trust us, there were a ton of them.

Last Updated: September 18, 2014

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