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Microsoft is about to launch two new Xboxes: the flagship Xbox Series X and the cheaper Xbox Series S, both of which go on sale at the exact same time.
The Xbox Series S offers a cheaper entry-point into next-gen gaming, but with a sacrifice to some features and overall performance – so is the price drop worth it?
We’ve reviewed the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S so go read those for our in-depth thoughts after testing each, or read on for a more direct comparison between them so you make the best choice for your next-gen gaming needs.
Price and availability
Before we delve deeper into the differences between Microsoft’s two next-gen consoles, let’s first discuss pricing. The flagship Xbox Series X costs £449/$499 while the Xbox Series S comes in at a more affordable £249/$299, albeit with sacrifices to performance and features.
Both the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S are set to be released worldwide on 10 November 2020, but pre-orders have started already. If you’re interested in getting in on the action, check out our guides to where to pre-order the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S – it’s worth noting that at the time of writing the X is completely sold out, but the S is still available from several retailers in the UK for launch day.
Despite the similar branding, the Xbox Series X and Series S look absolutely nothing alike.
The headline Xbox Series X sports a design not dissimilar to that of a desktop PC tower, a big step away from the traditional console vibe of the previous consoles. There‘s a grille at the top with hints of green underneath if you look at just the right angle, but it’s largely nondescript, with a black finish and very little styling – especially when compared to the futuristic PS5.
It may look small in photos, but it’s actually quite large at 301x151x151mm.The good news is that you’ll be able to place it horizontally, but even so you might find that it doesn’t fit in the normal places you’d store your game console.
While Microsoft went bold with the Series X form factor, it didn’t want the cheaper Series S to steal its thunder, so Microsoft’s budget-friendly console sports a similar design and form to the current consoles.
It’s more rectangular in design, although it sports a large black grille on the side of the white console, which many are likening to a loudspeaker or a washing machine when stood on its side. It’s also much smaller than the Series X, at just 275x151x63.5mm.
Ports on the two consoles are identical except for the headline omission: there’s no disc drive in the Series S. That means you can’t use it as a Blu-ray player, but also can’t play your old disc games through backwards compatibility, and will be limited to buying digital editions of games going forwards.
Both consoles sport a single USB 3.1 port on the front for quick access, along with another two USB ports on the rear. You also get HDMI 2.1, ethernet, a power socket, and a slot for Microsoft’s custom expandable storage cards – more on that later.
While the consoles have seen a big redesign, one area that remains largely untouched is the controller. Yes, it’s a new Xbox Wireless Controller, but it’s very similar to the last-gen console. The D-pad has been redesigned slightly to be more circular, the ergonomics have been tweaked, and there’s a new Share button for posting screenshots and clips to social media. It’s also introduced USB-C, but since it still uses AA batteries the benefits there are negligible.
The lack of changes are even more noticeable when compared to the advancements of Sony’s new DualSense controller for the PS5 – though the benefit for Xbox is that it means you’ll still be able to use your old controllers with the new consoles.
In case you were worried the same Xbox Wireless Controller will be available for both the Series X and Series S, though the X ships with a black model and the S with a white one.
The Xbox Series X introduces a substantial performance boost even compared to the high-end Xbox One X released in 2017. Inside the tall black tower, you’ll find a custom AMD Zen 2 eight-core CPU and a custom GPU based on the company’s RDNA 2 architecture with the aim of providing high-end graphical features like real-time ray-tracing.
There’s 12TFLOPS (52CUs at 1.825GHz) of graphical power on offer from the Xbox Series X, besting not only the Xbox One X but also the PS5, and 16GB of GDDR6 RAM to play with too. All that means the Xbox Series X is able to output [email protected]60fps as standard, with support for 120fps for some games and the potential of 8K output down the line – though few TVs will support either of those anyway.
By contrast, the Series S also features a custom AMD Zen 2 eight-core CPU, but it’s clocked a little lower at 3.6GHz per core compared to 3.8GHz on the more expensive console. More importantly there’s a substantially less powerful GPU (4TFLOPS, 20CUs at 1.565GHz), and only 10GB of RAM rather than 16GB.
The Series S still supports ray-tracing, HDR, and framerates up to 120fps, but by default it outputs at 1440p (aka 2K) resolution, and some optimised games, like Sea of Thieves, are still sticking to 1080p. However, there is built-in scalar rendering tech that will upscale to 4K if the console is connected to a 4K TV, so you’ll need keen eyes to spot the difference.
Microsoft has also confirmed that the Series S isn’t powerful enough to run the Xbox One X versions of backwards-compatible games, which may deter existing One X owners from upgrading to the cheaper console.
Microsoft also made the decision to step away from the spinning hard drives of current-gen consoles and include solid-state drives in the next-gen consoles. These provide a number of benefits, with the most noticeable being improved loading times. The new Quick Resume feature also lets you switch between games almost instantly and return to right where you left off – no need to go back through the in-game menus each time.
The Xbox Series X has a 1TB SSD, while the Series S has just 512GB. Once you factor in the OS and other system storage requirements, that drops to around 800GB and 360GB of usable space respectively.
In practice, that means 5-10 games will fit on the smaller Series S, and 10-20 on the bigger Series X – though this will of course vary, and mammoth installs like the 100GB+ Call of Duty games will really eat into that space quickly.
If that’s not enough for you, both consoles include the expansion slot for proprietary SSD expansion cards mentioned above. At launch there’s only one available – a 1TB card from Seagate – at £219/$219 for 1TB, it isn’t cheap.
Regardless of the console, you’ve also got the option of connecting standard external hard drives via the USB-A ports. You’ll need a drive that’s USB 3.0 or faster, and even so you you won’t be able to play new releases directly from these drives because of their speed limitations. Instead you’ll have to swap games back and forth, or simply use the external drive to play Xbox One or older games via backwards compatibility.
Speaking of backwards compatibility, it’s set to continue with the next generation of consoles. All Xbox games, be they from the Xbox One, Xbox 360 or even the original Xbox era, will be compatible with both the Xbox Series X and Series S at launch. There are only a few exceptions – mainly those that require the Kinect peripheral, a now-defunct part of the Xbox ecosystem.
It’s also crucial to remember that any older games that you own on disc won’t be playable on the Series S – it doesn’t have a disc drive, after all. So if you have a hefty physical game collection you want to hang onto, the Series X is the way to go.
There won’t be any games available on Xbox Series X that aren’t on the Series S, so the only difference between the two consoles will be in performance in those games – mostly just a question of resolution, though we may eventually see some titles that also hit a higher framerate on the Series X than on the S.
At launch there aren’t any exclusive games for either console, with Microsoft instead focusing on cross-generation titles for the foreseeable. That means there’s no urgency to update to either console right now.
Both consoles also support the Xbox Game Pass subscription. For £7.99/$9.99 per month – or £10.99/$14.99 for the souped up Game Pass Ultimate – you’ll get access to a mammoth library of existing Xbox games, along with day-one access to just about every future Microsoft release. If you pay the extra for Ultimate you’ll also get Xbox Live Gold, EA Play, and Xbox cloud gaming all thrown in too.
It’s smart of Microsoft to release two consoles side-by-side, covering both the high-end and entry-level markets – that’s something Sony hasn’t done, as the cheapest PS5 option comes in at £359/$399.
The benefits of the Series S are that it’s substantially smaller, making it much easier to fit into most living room TV setups, and that at £249/$299 it’s also almost half the price of the Series X – it’s a huge saving.
On the other hand, the £200/$200 upgrade gets you 4K graphics, double the storage, and a disc drive to play Blu-rays and physical games – both old and new.
If you don’t have a 4K TV anyway then the Series S is almost a no-brainer, but even those with a 4K screen should ask themselves if they can spot – or care about – the difference between true 4K and the Series S upscaled 4K output. Of course, those with a huge library of old Xbox games on disc may not be willing to give up on the Blu-ray drive just yet either – and remember that new physical games are often cheaper than digital, so you may make some of that price difference back eventually.
For a casual gamer the Series S downsides aren’t likely to be as hard-to-swallow as somebody that lives and breathes 4K gaming, so the decision is based in part on how much of a pedestal you put specs and performance on.
The Series S also makes a huge amount of sense for anyone planning to buy a PS5 anyway – you can use the Sony console for PS5 exclusives and multi-platform hits in true 4K, with the budget Xbox and Game Pass to make sure you don’t miss out on Halo or Gears.