Game Installations and the NXE: The 120GB Question

Now that the New Xbox Experience is here, and has blown our minds with its transplendent introduction film (I hear there are also some new features), the software side of the Xbox 360 has never looked better. But this free upgrade also presents a question of whether to boost the box itself.

As it happened, I was the last to learn that I needed a new Xbox 360 hard drive. I mean, my current hard drive works fine. Sure, it's only a measly 20GB in size, but that's enough for some Police DLC, and a few episodes of the Batman Animated Series. What more does a gamer really need?

Turns out he needs a lot more, according to my colleagues, who all seem to have migrated to bankrupt electronics retailer Circuit City today like a flock of consumerist birds, in search of a $100 deal on a 120GB drive. And now they're flocking this way, attacking my easily-swayed videogame libido.

I need that 120GB. I need to spend that $100+. Why? To install games, of course.

PC gamers are chortling away right now.

The New Xbox Experience, coworker Chris Faylor explained as he would to a three year old, allows you to install games to your hard drive, significantly improving the load times of many of the Xbox 360's most popular titles. The larger 120GB hard drive would provide enough space for plenty of game installs, along with more room for your favorite HD movies, television, and hundreds more trial downloads of Xbox Live Arcade titles you'll never play.

Now, as a non-Netflix subscriber, I did use the Xbox 360 to purchase and rent HD movies and TV in the past. But as a newly converted Netflix subscriber, the option to stream Netflix content to the 360 makes that argument less relevant. And even when downloading Marketplace movies to my hard drive, it is only ever a minor annoyance to delete my previous week's entertainment.

And so I am left to primarily consider the game installation issue. As supporting evidence of the benefits of installs, I was provided a link to this chart, which attempts to collate consumer reports of the load time decreases when playing installed games.

At first glance, this evidence is hardly convincing. Is it really worth $100+ to save 15 seconds when loading Assassin's Creed? I'm a patient man. Time may be money, but a few seconds aren't going to buy me much--and it certainly won't pay for a 120GB hard drive.

And according to Bungie, Halo 3 will in fact load slower when installed due to the way it caches content.

But then we have a game like Lost Odyssey, which, according to this Youtube video, has its obnoxious load times cut nearly in half when installed. And if you're into that sort of game, that can reduce the severity of a lot of headaches.

Ninja Gaiden II's initial load time of nearly 120 seconds was reduced by more than half, an astounding reduction that we have since independently verified. And like other games with clunky menus (see: Fable II), Ninja Gaiden's in-game loads are now much speedier, inventorily speaking. Reports are also coming in of subtle boosts in snappiness experienced in titles ranging from Rock Band to GRID, as even the most minor of load times are sped up.

Chris further points out that while you still need the disc in the drive to play, installation could theoretically save you from having to worry about dirty or scratched discs. This isn't really an issue for those of us that treat our $60 platters like plastic pets, but for anyone currently using their GTA 4 disc as a coaster, it may be something to consider. More attractive is the decrease in overall noise when eliminating the 360's whirring disc drive.

And though it's easy to make the argument that saving a few seconds on videogame load times isn't worth the kind of money we're talking about, I have spent a few extra dollars on an extra-speedy Raptor hard drive to put in my PC. This kind of upgrade is really no different.

With all the exhibits splayed in front of me, I may be heading to the store later. Tell me, Shackers--am I making a mistake? If you upgraded to a 120GB drive, what was your reasoning? Was the benefit worth the cost? Am I, and the rest of the unfashionable 20 giggers, now living in the Xbox stone age? Or is this an upgrade we can do without?