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Hands-on With the Xbox 360 and USB Storage

Our impressions and observations about today's flash-memory-enabling Dashboard update.
by Arthur Gies

April 6, 2010 - Microsoft released the much-talked about Xbox 360 firmware update today allowing players to use USB storage media for gamertags, XBLA titles, game installs and more. If you haven't yet, you can check out IGN.com's news story detailing the nuts and bolts of the update. In the meantime, I was tasked with experimenting with the update to see just how it works, and came away with a few not so obvious facets of the Xbox 360's latest firmware.

It's Easy

It's surprisingly effortless to format a USB device for the Xbox 360, once you know how to do so anyway. After inserting a USB device, I simply navigated to the system settings area and selected "Memory". From there, your USB drive should appear as an unformatted memory unit. After selecting it, you're given the option to format it for the 360 or configure it, which allows you to adjust the amount of space the 360 will reserve on the drive.
And that's pretty much it, actually. It's a painless process. Just make sure that you choose "Configure" if there's stuff on the USB drive you want to save.

Back Up Your Saves

When you put in an Xbox 360 formatted drive into your PC with hidden folders set to visible, you can actually see the folder created by the 360 to store your saves. Since your PC just sees the files created by the 360 as unreadable archives, you can't explore those file folders (yet, though we're sure enterprising hackers will address that at some point), but you can copy them, meaning you can, in a manner of speaking, back up your saves.

There's a catch though (of course). If you back up saves from a USB device on to your PC or some other location, you can only put those saves back on to the original USB device. If you lose that USB drive, the saves you backed up are useless – for now, anyway. This has to do with the way the Xbox 360 formats USB drives; if you inspect the numbered "Data" files on the 360 formatted USB drive, you'll likely find one in particular that seems especially small.

I'd hazard a guess that this contains information about the specific USB device it was placed on originally. Copying the contents of one USB device to another (even one of roughly the same capacity) won't get you anywhere, as the 360 won't recognize that drive as a formatted memory device for the system.

What we Tried

We tried a number of flash drives and solutions with the Xbox 360, with pretty positive results. First we tried a 1GB Cruzer Micro, which met the built in requirements on the 360 for read and write speeds as well as capacity (though again, 1GB is the absolute minimum for USB drives). This left us with about 500 MBs of space for saves, profiles, etc. Next up was a generic 2GB flash drive given to us by a publisher a while back, which also formatted effortlessly. Then we decided to mix it up a little bit with a 4GB MicroSD card in a USB adapter, and I'm happy to report that it worked without a hitch and met all recommended requirements (so consider this a viable option, which I'm a little surprised about, to be honest).

Finally, just for the fun of it, we tried an iPod Nano and an iPhone. The 360 actually recognized the Nano as a USB storage device, but when we tried both "configure" and format options, we received an unspecified error message. The iPhone didn't even make it that far. I have a feeling the iPod could actually work as a storage device for the 360 with some finagling, but at this point I can't say for sure.

Other Things We Should Mention

  • Flash Drives are slower than you think, and not all Flash drives are created equal. Try to find the highest read/write speed you can given your budget. Also, USB hard drives are typically slower than an Xbox 360 hard drive or flash drives, and Microsoft is recommending against installing retail games to them.
  • You might notice that the "Play from hard drive" option is no longer visible when you view a game's details page from the Dashboard. Fret not; the 360 always detected whether or not you had a game installed properly on the system and acted accordingly anyway, and this appears to remain the case.
  • Certain non-game related aspects of the dashboard might be faster. Non-scientifically speaking, my friends list seemed to populate faster and the guide didn't lag as much with my profile located on a USB drive. Let us know in the comments or by email if you have a similar (or different) experience.
Things We're Hearing

People on forums like NeoGAF are complaining that ODST won't allow co-op with just a USB drive detected. In better news, games like Fable II, which previously prevented players from moving saves, have had their saves "unlocked," allowing you to move them wherever you wish. We can't confirm this works for every game, but if you encounter a problem, let us know in the comments. We'll update as more information becomes available and we have more time to play with the update. If you figure anything new or interesting out, be sure to let us know!

Source: IGN
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