Xbox chief Phil Spencer took to the company’s primary blog to make a hardware announcement on Wednesday, but it had nothing to do with recent rumblings about the future of the gaming console. Instead, Spencer came to bury its past.
“While we’ve had an amazing run, the realities of manufacturing a product over a decade old are starting to creep up on us,” Spencer wrote in his announcement that Xbox 360 system production has officially ceased. Remaining 360 consoles will continue to be sold in stores, and Xbox Live-related services and connectivity for current 360 users will continue to function, but if you’re looking to buy a brand-spanking-new 360 system, your time is limited.
Spencer’s announcement didn’t go so far as to announce how many 360 systems have sold in its nearly 11 years of life—which is probably because recent Xbox-related announcements from Microsoft have lumped in sales figures for both the 360 and the One to make the latter sound better. Still, we know the platform has at least surpassed the 84 million sales mark announced in 2014.
What’s probably most notable about the 360 hardware is how much Microsoft couldn’t leave not-so-well-enough alone. Most home electronics enjoy under-the-hood changes in their lifespan, to coincide with parts dropping in price or changing suppliers, but a major overheating debacle made the Xbox 360’s revision process a much more public one than consumers might be used to.
The Xbox 360 received a significant “slim” redesign in 2010, but its hardware actually went through a few major revisions over the years. For starters, the Xbox 360 was the first major home gaming console to launch in multiple configurations—mostly so that Microsoft could advertise a cheaper, lower-memory “Arcade” option to soften the blow of the $399 “Premium” model. Xbox 360 systems remained available in multiple memory configurations throughout the line’s 11-year lifespan.
Once Microsoft acknowledged widespread Xbox 360 overheating in 2007, there was also a tenuous span of time in which shoppers didn’t know exactly which motherboard they were getting if they purchased a Premium configuration. The first major motherboard revision, the Zephyr, was designed to rectify overheating issues while adding HDMI support, but the problem wasn’t wholly fixed until Microsoft rolled out the later-2007 motherboard revision dubbed Falcon, which moved the CPU to a 65nm process.
Before the wider rollout, you could only guarantee that you got a Falcon if you opted for the pricier, higher-memory Elite model; if you were more frugal, you had to roll the dice in terms of which mobo your Premium system came with. In this author’s case, a 2007 hunt for a Falcon-powered Xbox 360 Premium proved fruitless, and my first, Zephyr-powered 360 red-ringed just in time for the Xbox 360 S’s 2010 launch—which came with a very welcome 802.11n wireless adapter (and a built-in Kinect port, which reduced the required cabling for that accessory when it launched later that year).
That model persevered until this week’s announcement, with the only major hardware revision coming the following year with a revised power supply and a tweak to block a “reset glitch” hack that enabled unsigned code—and a 2013 front-face tweak, dubbed “E,” that removed optical-out functionality. (Thanks to Ars reader solomonrex for the reminder on E!)
Even if you didn’t find yourself buying new hardware variants, your Xbox 360 still offered surprises over the years thanks to a seemingly endless run of software “dashboard” updates, which saw the console’s interface transition from a “blade” series of panels to an avatar-dominated, Metro-loaded mess of logos and advertisements. Throughout those years, the Xbox team tried to find the right balance between enabling a whole new era of digital-download purchases and making its Xbox Live software less of a pain in the neck to actually locate.
For many owners, that didn’t matter, since the Xbox 360 was the first major living-room box to support Netflix on-demand streaming, and the system wound up being used more for video streaming than online multiplayer. That revelation has led us to wonder if the Xbox 360 would ever see a shrunken, Roku-like rebirth at a lower price point as a streaming box.
With today’s Spencer announcement, however, that’s not likely. We may very well get a shrunken Xbox One with such functionality later this year, but the 360 hardware has officially ringed its last red.