Xbox 360: 2TB update and load-speed test

With each new generation of video game consoles, their predecessors enter a period of semi-retirement, where they’re still technically supported and commercially available, but developers are no longer actively producing new content.

While the craze of porting older games to newer platforms continues to diminish the necessity of keeping old hardware on hand, many excellent games are too obscure to earn a re-release or remaster, requiring the original console to operate. The trouble with preserving/collecting these original systems, as well as  their associated mountain of discs/cartridges, is the physical space they occupy.

Which can add up- quickly.

Due to the cramped confines of my humble dwelling-space, I’ve warmed up to the idea of purchasing ‘digital content’ (movies, music, games, etc) instead of physical copies. While this prevents me from reselling the content when finished, it also allows me to switch titles without getting up from the couch, in addition to keeping my buddies from borrowing/breaking/scratching/losing anything.

On April 30th, the latest Xbox 360 system update unlocked the ability to use two external storage devices up to 2TB capacity (4TB in total), which had previously been limited to 32GB. While my Xbox 360 Slim (4GB) has more-or-less been gathering dust since the Xbox One arrived, I was determined to see if I could consider permanently pairing my 360 (already a capable media device) with a slim 2TB external drive to create a media center ‘omni-box’ that would contain all my favorite 360 games (and perhaps improve load times during playback), as this would drastically reduce the pile of Xbox games taking up space on my shelf.

To determine the right external drive for the job, I brought the Xbox 360 Slim and several external storage devices to my workbench, and armed with physical & digital copies of “Halo: Reach”, I tested the following:

  1. A physical (retail) disk copy (Xbox optical drive runs @12x, ~10-15MB/s)
  2. Digital copy on external 2.5″ SSD (rated 550MB/s read/write) *w/USB 3.0 dock
  3. Digital copy on external 2.5″ notebook HDD (rated 60MB/s read/write) w/USB 3.0 dock
  4. Digital copy on external USB 3.0 flash drive (rated 170MB/s read, 40MB/s write)
  5. Digital copy on internal (stock) 250GB Xbox HDD (**read/write unknown)
  • Notes: All drives are automatically formatted by the dashboard to FAT32.
  • *The Xbox 360 is equipped with USB 2.0 ports, not USB 3.0 ports.
  • **The internal (stock) Xbox HDD is a Hitachi @1.5Gbps SATA, 5400RPM.
  • For those who may suggest hardware emulation and console modding for archival/playback, I do not endorse the practice of circumventing console copyright restrictions (for stability, reliability and obvious legal reasons)

 

Load Test:
“Halo: Reach” campaign loading times (reference video recorded in 60p, times indicate [seconds;frames], lower scores are better)
 -a rather unscientific approach, admittedly
Test 1: Winter Contingency_Rally Point Bravo
  1. Optical (27;46)
  2. Ext SSD (23;47)
  3. Ext HDD (24;43)
  4. Ex Thumb (24;08)
  5. Stock INT- (17;56)
Test 2: ONI Sword Base_Rally Point Bravo
  1. Optical (32;01)
  2. Ext SSD (28;38)
  3. Ext HDD (29;19)
  4. Ex Thumb (29;00)
  5. Stock INT- (24:53)
Test 3: Nightfall_Rally Point Bravo
  1. Optical (30;40)
  2. Ext SSD (26;11)
  3. Ext HDD (27;13)
  4. Ex Thumb (26;35)
  5. Stock INT- (21;30)

RESULTS: Given the limitations of the external input device (USB 2.0 maximum), my ‘premium’ external devices fared almost equally; in day-to-day use, these results would be imperceptible.

The stock internal drive, with direct access to the 1.5Gbps SATA port, wins out each time. A pity one cannot replace the internal HDD with an aftermarket model, due to enforced software limitations.

Admittedly, not all Xbox 360 games benefit from installation/running from HDD (Halo 3 runs perceptibly slower when installed; games must be coded/optimized for installation on the Xbox 360) as the practice was introduced in 2008 with the NXE update. That, and games cannot simply be ‘transferred’ to the internal drive- any installed game will require the original disc in the optical drive to confirm ownership, and to transfer a license, one would have to repurchase the digital game on the Xbox Marketplace.

Whether it’s a $300 SSD, $80 2.5″ HDD or $15 flash drive, a ‘premium speed’ external storage solution would not improve results. If you still desire the benefit of all your games in one unit, I’d still recommend an ~$80 external HDD like this from any electronic reseller; a 2.5″ model will only require one cable to operate.

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Brett B.

writer, director, technomancer... working on composer.

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