Last time Microsoft updated the Xbox 360, it had been 2010. The so-called Xbox 360 S added some much-needed upgrades to the 360, including built-in Wi-Fi, a more substantial hard disk drive, and a smaller chassis. Moreover, the 360 S was quieter, and incorporated a fresh hardware design that eliminated the notorious “Red Ring of Death” overheating issue that afflicted the 360 because it was initially introduced in 2005.

For 2013, Microsoft has introduced another version of the 360, referred to as the Xbox 360 E. But using its successor, the Xbox One, hitting stores in November — along using its arch-rival, the PlayStation 4 — will there be any reason to sink $300 right into a new 360? And regardless if you do set your sights on the 360, may be the latest model the largest value for your money? I spent a while with the 360 E, and some tips about what I found out.

The brand new 360 vs. the prior 360
A bit smaller than 2010’s Xbox 360 S (I’m talking millimeters here), there’s really just a few aesthetic changes to the look of the 360 E. To begin with, it’s made to fall consistent with stylings of the Xbox 360’s incoming successor, Xbox One. The 360 E shares an identical glossy and matte mashup with angled grilles at the top and on either side for venting.

Three iterations of the Xbox 360 Sarah Tew/CNET
On the trunk panel, the all-important HDMI connection remains, but there is no longer a multi-AV out port. Instead, what’s left is a jack for a 1/8-inch breakout AV cable. A cable for a composite connection (yellow video plus red/white stereo audio) will come in the box, but you will need to locate a component one for HD. The glad tidings are that the cables are no more proprietary. The bad news? Still, even today, you cannot play Xbox 360 in HD right from the box without supplying your own cables.

Microsoft has eliminated a number of the versatile connection interfaces which were present on the 360 S — which is really sort of a bummer. Gone may be the dedicated optical audio-out entirely on earlier 360 models. Which means the only method to get surround sound is through the HDMI connection. If you are like me and also have a slightly older AV receiver that can’t accept music over HDMI, you could be in trouble.

There’s less to love around back. Sarah Tew/CNET
If this wasn’t enough, the Xbox 360 E actually removes a USB port aswell. You’re probably not likely to feel the impact of only having a complete of four ports (two in leading, two in the trunk) instead of five, however when you’re paying the same price as a 360 S, you might assume that the parts will be kept intact.

Another slight difference: the touch power and eject controls from the 360 S have already been replaced with more-traditional physical buttons.

There are, however, a couple of things that survived the trip from S to E. The 360 E maintains the elusive infrared port (so, unlike the IR-less PS3, you can still use standard remote controls) and a replaceable hard disk drive (you’ll still have to utilize the proprietary Microsoft model, not simply a standard notebook computer HDD).

Everything contained in the Xbox 360 E box Sarah Tew/CNET
What else differs? Not a good deal. The 360 E can stand horizontally or vertically. The energy slot is differently shaped, however the inline power brick from the S continues to be present. Ethernet and Wi-Fi remain onboard for online connectivity, and the dedicated Kinect port remains.

Microsoft debuted the E console saying it could run quieter and cooler. Within my couple of weeks with it I did so notice those a couple of things to be true, but nowhere near to the dramatic improvement going from a “classic” white 360 (the 2005 version) to the 360 S (2010 version). If temperature and noise are your two biggest known reasons for seeking an upgrade, let me talk you from it.

Gaming and entertainment options
The Xbox 360 may be the top-selling game console of the generation with justification. The overall game library is top-notch, challenging top third-party games you will also find on PS3 (Madden, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, BioShock, Batman: Arkham Asylum, etc), plus a couple of key Xbox exclusives, including the Halo, Gears of War, and the Forza series, in addition to the upcoming Titanfall. There’s also an excellent collection of smaller downloadable indie titles on Xbox Live Arcade.

The Xbox 360 can still only play DVDs and CDs — Blu-ray movies won’t work, because they will on a PS3, and the upcoming PS4 and Xbox One.

Both PS3 and Xbox offer online multiplayer games, but Xbox Live is arguably a more substantial, more engaged community. The catch is that as a way to play online, you should upgrade to the Xbox Live Gold plan, which costs $60 annually (though you could find deals for nearer to $40).

Annoyingly, the Gold plan can be required to access the Xbox entertainment apps. That’s unfortunate, because Xbox arguably offers the best selection of nongaming software out there, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, ESPN, Fox Now, Crackle, YouTube, and Vudu. (Full disclosure: additionally, there are applications for CNET and several of its sister CBS Interactive properties, including GameSpot and Last.fm). Quite simply, it is advisable to pay the gross annual “Xbox Live tax” to gain access to some of those services through the 360, including otherwise free kinds like Crackle and YouTube. Understand that you can get a lot of those services at no extra charge on a PS3, Apple TV, Roku, or Chromecast. Indeed, a Chromecast ($35) or Roku LT ($50) could be yours for under the gross annual Xbox Live Gold subscription fee.

The Xbox One, as far as we know, may also require Xbox Live Gold for online gaming and entertainment software aswell. The Sony PS4 will demand an identical PlayStation Plus subscription for multiplayer online gaming, but PS Plus will never be necessary to access entertainment software like Netflix. (Currently, the PS3 requires no extra service fees for online gaming.)

Bottom line: if you need to accomplish anything fun on the 360 beyond playing single-player games, you will want to budget the gross annual Xbox Live Gold subscription into your plans — or anticipate getting among those alternatives instead.

The existing competitive landscape: 360 E vs. 360 S vs. PS3
Just like the 360 S before it, the 360 E will come in many different flavors, too: there’s a 4GB version ($199), a 4GB unit bundled with Kinect ($299), and the 250GB version (without Kinect) for $299. Since you are going to desire a healthy amount of storage for all the downloadable goodies owning an Xbox 360 provides, I must say i can’t recommend either of the 4GB versions.

For the 250GB version of the 360 E — that’s tough to recommend, too. Consider that some teardowns of the console show that the 360 E is a more affordable system to manufacture, but those savings have not at all been passed along to the client. The 360 E can cost you the same $299 that its predecessor did — despite offering one fewer USB port no optical output.

In the meantime, the sooner 360 S model — which includes that extra USB and optical digital audio tracks port — is designed for the same price or less, sometimes with a lot more attractive bundles. For example, the Spring Value Bundle packs in Darksiders II and Batman: Arkham City for the same price of a fresh (gameless) 360 E. For an Xbox 360 newbie, it’s sort of a no-brainer.

Meanwhile, the Ps3 3 — which, again, supplies the Blu-ray capability that the Xbox 360 lacks — is designed for $270 to $300, in a variety of bundles with great games like God of War: Ascension, Uncharted 3, Assassin’s Creed III, and (in September) Grand Theft Auto V, with hard-drive capacities up to 500GB.

Sarah Tew/CNET
Choose the new 360, stick to the old one, or await next-gen consoles?
Yes, the 360 is nearing the finish of its life cycle, but there are a good amount of new titles planned for the platform from now deep into 2014. Likewise, it is important to remember that the Xbox One will never be able to play Xbox 360 games; it’ll take years for the Xbox One’s gaming library to eclipse that of the Xbox 360’s.

Of course, it’s the impending November release of the Xbox One that’s the elephant in the area. Do you get yourself a $300 Xbox 360 now, or put that money toward the $500 price of the Xbox One — or the $400 PS4? If you have waited this long without buying an Xbox 360, it’s probably smart to wait before Xbox One and PS4 are released to see if indeed they pique your interest. Judging from what I’ve seen and played up to now, next-gen gaming will deliver the graphics and eye candy for a while, but will take some time to essentially mature into platforms that drastically distance themselves from what’s currently available.