Xbox 360: Which System Is Right for You?

GameSpot editors debate which Xbox 360 system to get at launch.


Choosing whether to buy an Xbox 360 at launch will be tough, especially since there will be two very different bundles: a full bundle equipped with all accessories for $399, and a more-basic system for $299. Find out which is right for you.

The $399 bundle will come with a wireless controller, Xbox Live, and a 20GB hard drive, among other things.

Xbox 360 Full System

The regular Xbox 360 system includes the Xbox 360 console, a wireless controller, a headset, Ethernet cable, HD component and composite AV cables, and a 20GB hard disk drive all for $399. The hard disk will come preloaded with an Xbox Arcade game, and Microsoft will also throw in a media remote control through the end of 2005. This hardware package should have all the accessories you need to get started playing any of the system's games at launch, both online and offline, including that hard drive to store all your saved games, so you won't have to worry about a memory card. Although both packages include a "Silver" level subscription to Microsoft's Xbox Live online gaming service, the full package also includes a headset.

Brian Ekberg/Sports Editor

Accessories like the 20GB hard drive are essential to the Xbox 360 experience.

Paying $400 for a gaming console is undoubtedly a lot of scratch, I'll grant you that. But listen up--if you're not shelling out that extra Benjamin for the $399 console bundle, you're not getting the real Xbox 360. In fact, I daresay you're getting ripped off. Nearly every accessory included with the $399 bundle is hardwired to Microsoft's vision of the next-generation console: the wireless controller (as opposed to the Core bundle's wired version), the 20GB hard drive (which should never have been separated in the first place), the component HD cable, the Ethernet cable, the Xbox 360 headset, and even the media remote control. Even if you don't have an HD-compliant TV or if you lack high-speed Internet in your home, chances are you'll benefit from one or more of the other accessories found in this bundle.

Face it, as a Core system owner, sooner or later you're going to want to take your 360 online and find out what the next generation of Xbox Live is like on your brand-new headset. Even though microtransactions don't sound that much different to me than, say, paying for course downloads in Links or new tracks in a Project Gotham Racing game, you'll still need somewhere to save all that extra data you went to the trouble to pay for.

And the 20GB hard drive will be your best friend when that time comes. As far as I'm concerned, several accessories in the $399 bundle--the headset, the hard drive, and the wireless controller--aren't optional in 2005; they're an essential part of today's gaming landscape. Bought separately, that trio of hardware will run you around $170. You do the math.

Sarju Shah/Associate Hardware Editor

Here is a white board drawing to better illustrate my point.

In my eyes, if you can't afford the $399 Xbox 360 package, you shouldn't be buying the system. It makes no sense whatsoever to buy the $299 Core Xbox 360 system. Buy an older console, or save up a little more money if your heart's set on getting the 360. The Xbox 360 Core system just isn't a good deal. You will, in all likelihood, spend far more in the end as you buy all the accessories to make up for your incomplete system.

With the Core system, you still have to buy a $40 64MB memory card (and 64MB isn't a lot; it could be a free toy in a McDonald's Happy Meal) if you want to save your progress in any game. Suppose you decide you want to get a headset for the already included Xbox Live Silver membership; it's an extra $20. And who knows, one day in the future you might decide that you want to play a game or download one that will make good use of the $100 20GB hard drive (by the way, normal 20GB notebook drives only cost $50). The end cost will be $459.

The lower priced package might be worth buying if Microsoft bundled the hard drive in with the Core system. But it didn't, so you have to spend, at the minimum, $340 to have a usable system. Don't buy the $299 Core system with the intention to upgrade over time. Bleed once and get it over with.

The full Xbox 360 bundle will have everything you need to play any launch game.

Bottom Line: Reasons for the full Xbox 360 system

  • The value of the accessory bundle is much greater than $100.

  • Includes everything you need to get the full Xbox 360 experience, including HD cables, Ethernet cables, a media remote, and a wireless controller to avoid tangles.

  • The package also includes an Xbox Live headset, so you can get online and chatting immediately.

  • Xbox 360 Core system lacks essential storage accessories that you'll have to buy anyway.

Choosing whether to buy an Xbox 360 at launch will be tough, especially since there will be two very different bundles: a full bundle equipped with all accessories for $399, and a more-basic system for $299. Find out which is right for you.

The basic $299 Core system will include a console, a wired controller, and standard composite AV cables.

Xbox 360 Core System

The core Xbox 360 package may not have all the accessories that the full system package does, but for some consumers, the options may be sufficient. In order to cut costs, Microsoft had to pare down the Xbox 360 to its core elements to offer a more-affordable, mass-market consumer-level package. For $299, the core system includes the console, a force feedback wired controller with nine feet of cable, and composite AV cables. Should you decide to play a game that will require you to save your progress, you'll also need to pick up a separate memory card, but as mentioned, the hard drive is optional, so it's implied that developers will be optimizing their games for the Core system, without requiring the hard drive. Currently, Microsoft plans to offer a first-party memory card that stores 64MB of data. According to Microsoft, "every 360 owner is a[n Xbox Live] Silver subscriber," but you won't get a headset. The package lacks many of the full system's features, but it's also $100 cheaper.

Andrew Park/Senior Editor

When Microsoft first announced it would release two different 360s, most of us made up our minds to get the hard drive version for the extra 100 bones. Most of us probably also agreed that the Core system, which will come with only a wired controller and a composite video cable, will be for so-called "mainstream" users, like uninformed friends and relatives who will buy the system for their soon-to-be unpleasantly surprised loved ones. However, the unit will cost $100 less, almost enough to buy two games (or one new game and a 64MB memory card). And for those of us who don't need the hard drive's functionality to keep track of things like multiple saved games or streaming in huge environments, the $300 bundle may actually make sense. It's also true that the cheaper system also doesn't come with a headset, but for those who aren't looking to immediately jump into Xbox Live, this isn't a problem either.

Some of us are only looking forward to a few games, and some of us will be playing them on the PC anyway.

But who's crazy enough to not want to play games with huge environments, or online? Maybe those of us who don't have broadband; those of us who already acutely feel the sting of the new $60 price tag for 360 games; and those of us who aren't convinced that the 360 is right for a long-term investment, especially if only a few of the launch games seem appealing. (As well as those of us who own good PCs and prefer launch-window games like Oblivion and Call of Duty 2 on our computers instead.) And anyway, a good portion of the launch lineup will be sports games that are still enjoyed the old-fashioned way: on the couch with friends. If all you want is the next Madden with your pals, just with better graphics, you might need an extra controller (or just tell your buddies they need to BYO). If you'd like to also play career mode, then you can grab a memory card to save your season and you're set. If you need more games and accessories, you can go out and get more...but considering the wide-open launch window, some of the most sought-after games might not be available for a while, and several will make an appearance on the PC anyway.

James Yu/Senior Hardware Editor

Since Microsoft announced that 360's hard disk drive would be optional, it seems reasonable to assume that developers will cater their games to the lowest common denominator by making games that work just fine without a hard drive. Not many developers will bother to add that support to improve game performance or augment gameplay when they know there will be a large group of system owners that don't even have a hard disk. The console landscape is littered with hardware accessories that were marketed as expensive add-ons or only packaged with the most expensive system bundles. Remember Nintendo R.O.B., the Sega CD, and the PlayStation 2 hard disk drive?

Beware. We all know what happened the last time a hardware publisher tried to add a hard drive to a console.

With all the uncertainty surrounding the hard disk drive, the basic Xbox 360 Core system just might be the best refuge for gamers that want an Xbox 360 but don't want to buy a hard drive attachment--at least until Microsoft can actually prove that the hard disk is a worthwhile accessory. The lack of storage will make saving games and maintaining a gamer profile an immediate problem, but the Xbox 360 memory card won't stay at $40 for very long.

I'm sure my colleagues have stressed the $399 system's value proposition, and I can see how a lot of people will want the extra accessories. However, if you're limited on funds, you can put that extra money you save from buying the Core system into a memory card and an actual game. Better yet, just forget the memory card and put all the money toward your first game purchases.

As for the accessories, I'm willing to bet that accessories of a higher quality or at least of lower cost will be available soon after launch, and it's possible you'll end up replacing a lot of the bundled accessories over time anyway. The Xbox 360 controller works with corded Xbox headsets and should also be compatible with cell phone headsets. If the hard disk actually takes off, you can count on seeing larger Xbox 360 hard disks on the market. Don't get stuck with a 20GB hard disk; even the iPod has more storage than that. Keep your options open with the Xbox 360 Core system.

The Core system should be enough to get started for some users, without the risk of unnecessary peripherals.

Bottom Line: Reasons for the Xbox 360 Core system

  • You don't need to invest everything into an unproven system.

  • Some might not need all the accessories right away.

  • Put the $100 towards games!

  • Better accessories might be available later in the system life cycle.