Not What It Cracked Up To USB
As I was running Zelda back to the vet's to have stitches taken out of her side this morning, I had a later start than usual, so I decided to play some Transformers: War for Cybertron and see whether my Xbox 360 was still in an argumentative mood.
Three lock-ups (one while the game was still loading the multiplayer lobby) and a red light error message (code E 79) in the space of ten minutes gave me my answer.
I did a smattering of homework, and discovered that the E 79 code indicates a problem with the Xbox's hard disk drive. Some folks over on the Xbox World forums suggested playing without it. This evening, I shifted some data from the hard drive over to a USB stick I keep handy, removed the hard disk and joined a session of War for Cybertron's Escalation mode.
I managed to get as far as Wave 6 before Vickie served dinner, but it certainly didn't crash. Still, I did get twice as far before a console freeze not long ago.
Anyway, I started thinking: If my console's issue relates to the hard disk drive, maybe I can circumvent it by taking the drive out and using a USB-based external storage unit. The Rooster Teeth guys did some tests back when Microsoft released the update allowing Xbox 360s to read and write to USB sticks back in April, and they seemed pretty pleased with the performance of USB drives with the 360. On top of that, a 500GB drive only costs around $150, giving me twice the 360 Slim's storage for a whole lot less cash.
Then I did some more homework, and was reminded that the maximum space an Xbox 360 will let me use on any USB drive is 16GB (which Geoff of Rooster Teeth actually mentions fairly early in the video of the aforementioned tests). Although 16GB USB sticks only cost $30 I'd still be in a worse situation than I am now, and if my 360 does fail permanently (as the folks on the Xbox World forums contend), I'll be left with $30 of USB stick I otherwise wouldn't really need.
You know, I was warming to the idea of a USB external hard drive. At its core, the Xbox 360 Slim doesn't really do anyting my current console doesn't do already: While our TV is HDMI-capable, I'd only really be reducing the overall cable count by one; speaking of cables, I already use a network cable to connect my 360 to the Internet, so the inbuilt WiFi module is redundant. There's the romantic idea of keeping the old kit going against all odds. FInally, there's the advantage of saving a few hundred dollars!
On the other hand, I've chafed at the limits of my 360's 20GB hard drive before; having 250GB would allow me to install more games to the hard drive (I can only get away with one at the moment) and even buy the odd Game on Demand. I've also been told that video through HDMI is of better quality than that sent through component AV cables. Last but by no means least, there's the highly-gratifying thought of having an Xbox 360 that not only takes up less shelf space and looks prettier but also works properly.
Still, I have at least a month to make my mind up, which is enough time to get this refinancing jazz sorted out. In that time I'll keep using my current USB stick for the moment; I'm interested to see how it works out.