Most of the Xbox Series X is an apology for the Xbox One in nearly every aspect. Even though it had less GPU power, Microsoft’s previous console was $100 more expensive at launch than the PlayStation 4, and it came with a bundled Kinect camera that wasn’t very functional. Microsoft tried to right the ship with the Xbox One S and One X mid-generation systems, but the damage had already been done. More than twice as many PS4s have been sold this year as Xbox Ones, according to estimates.
To put it another way, Microsoft is going all out with its new Series X. It’s being marketed as the ultimate gaming system, with significantly more power than the Xbox One X. This new system can deliver 4K gaming more reliably, push up to 120 fps, and load games faster than ever before… Even your old games will run smoother and look better with HDR! Is Microsoft inviting gamers to fall in love with it?
Moreover, after playing the system for a week, I can confidently say that hardcore gamers will be pleased with it. However, it lacks several of the features you would expect from a high-quality gaming PC. However, how urgently do you require one? Given the lack of intriguing exclusives, that’s a more difficult question to answer.
Hardware: A big box
Certainly, the Xbox Series X is massive, which is becoming the norm for this generation of consoles. At 5.9 inches by 5.9 inches, it has an almost precisely rectangular shape, and stands roughly a foot tall. Over one pound heavier than the Xbox One X is the 9.8-pound PS4 Pro. In the past, Microsoft’s systems have been a touch boxy, but the Series seems more like a downsized computer case than something you’d expect to find under your television. However, once I got past the initial shock of seeing it in person, I immediately warmed to to it.
Even though it’s substantially smaller than the Xbox One X, the Xbox Series X feels solid and durable. A strong plastic housing with few design flourishes is used to house the device. There is a disc drive, a USB port, and a controller pairing button on the front of the console, while the Xbox power button is located in the bottom right corner. With its neon green trimmings and an array of holes (a trypophobe’s nightmare), the enormous fan exhaust at the top stands out as one of the most unique design aspects.
The console can be oriented either vertically or horizontally, which gives it a PC-like feel. As a result of these rubber feet, I was able to tell right away that the system was supposed to be used in the horizontal position. If you haven’t already, keep this in mind when you read our PlayStation 5 review. As a result, the circular vertical stand of the Series X appears to be a Star Wars Droid that has fallen and is unable to get back to its feet. A few people on Twitter have expressed a desire to get rid of it completely, but I didn’t find it to be a problem in practice.
When laying on its side, the Xbox Series X fit perfectly inside my entertainment system. My Pioneer center channel speaker felt totally at home with this speaker because it looks like Logitech’s huge Hyperboom speaker. I merely had to leave a little room for the fan to disburse the warm air. However, I doubt the Series X would be comfortable in an enclosed entertainment center because of its relatively low heat output (compared to a typical gaming PC). With that many pixels on display, you’ll need to give each of your new consoles some breathing room.
As far as I can tell, the Series X is just a rectangular box. What’s inside is what really draws you in. Eight-core Zen 2 processors running at 3.8GHz and a new 12-teraflop RDNA 2 GPU power the Xbox Series X. That’s impressive, however keep in mind that the PS5 has the same hardware. Because Microsoft’s console has a bigger GPU, it can squeeze out a few more TFLOPs of performance. When it comes to GDDR6 RAM, Microsoft delivers faster bandwidth for 10GB of that memory than PlayStation 5. Moreover, the remaining 6GB are slower than Sony’s system.
Microsoft’s next-generation Xbox consoles have a 1TB NVMe SSD, which is a massive leap forward from the previous generation’s slow mechanical drives. If you’ve already upgraded from a laptop with a hard drive to an SSD, the transition is nearly identical. To handle the huge graphics that 4K gaming requires, the Xbox Series X is capable of moving large data files significantly more quickly and with less latency. A Seagate 1TB expansion drive, available for $220, can also be used to increase the system’s storage capacity. This drive slots into a rear slot on the console. Despite its current high price, this drive is comparable in performance to high-end NVMe SSDs for PCs and will give speeds comparable to the system’s internal SSD.
For “cold storage,” you can also use a USB 3.1 external hard drive, but you’ll need to relocate the games to the internal SSD or Seagate expansion drive to play them. It’s possible to play older backwards compatible games directly from a USB drive, although the loading times will be slower than on an older console.
While Microsoft clearly put a lot of effort into the overall appearance of the Series X, the new controller is just marginally different from the previous model.. Handles have rough ridges on the bottom to aid grip and a circular directional pad that is satisfyingly clicky. There is also a share button wedged in between the two main buttons. Powered by two AA batteries, it can last up to three days on a single charge for me with regular use. For the most part, Microsoft’s Xbox Elite Controller was used as a source of inspiration for the company’s conventional gamepads. Fans of Sony’s DualSense will feel right at home, but it’s unfortunate that Microsoft didn’t give anything genuinely remarkable with its new high-end system after witnessing the amount of ingenuity Sony packed into the DualSense.
Once you’ve decided on vertical or horizontal mode, connect in the HDMI 2.1 cable, and turn the system on, you’re good to go. The Xbox mobile app can be used to establish WiFi and other settings, however in fact, that failed for me.. As long as I was able to get my WiFi connected, the app functioned properly. However, after that, I had to use my controller to finish the setting process. Even though it was straightforward, the failure of one of the system’s first “next gen” features was disheartening.
After the familiar Xbox One ring (and an excellent new launch sequence) sounded, I was ushered into the new Xbox user interface. So far so good: I was able to speed through menus, open store sites, and browse my big collection of games with ease. In contrast to the previous Xbox One lineup, I felt like I was racing to keep up with the system’s performance, rather than waiting for it to catch up to me. With a focus on huge pictures and simple navigation, the new interface (which is also available for the earlier systems) looks terrific overall. Even though it runs at 1080p rather of 4K like the PS5, I didn’t notice much of a difference when playing it. However, if you’re going to be sitting very near to the screen, this could be an issue.
I couldn’t just start playing right away, like I could with any other current console. My first order of business was to download a quick system update that just took a few minutes. After that, I started downloading all the games I would need. Dirt 5, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and Red Dead Redemption 2 were some of the Xbox Series X-enhanced games included in the bundle (yes, seriously). After that, all I had to do was wait. I was able to download a 75GB game like Forza Horizon 4 in an hour or two, depending on what else was going on in my WiFi connection.
While I was sleeping, I queued up a bunch of games and let the system do its work overnight, but I’m sure kids and parents will be crestfallen when they learn how long it takes to really play stuff. The PS5 was able to sidestep this a bit because it preinstalled Astro’s Playroom on every console. So here’s a public service announcement for all parents: You should set up the Xbox Series X or other current console before giving it to your child, and download all the necessary updates and install all the games you intend to give them. If you can, do it overnight while connected to your router over Ethernet.
How does the Xbox Series X fare when it comes to gaming? One word: stunningly. Dirt 5’s cars and terrain have a higher sense of realism in the preview edition, especially if you’re driving on wet and murky roads. If you’re looking to get the most out of your gaming experience, you may choose from one of three graphics modes: a 60 fps mode, a high-quality 4K mode, or a rapid 120 fps option. If you don’t have a current HDMI 2.1 display with 120Hz compatibility, you won’t be able to use the latter mode.
Every option in the game looked excellent on LG’s CX OLED 48-inch. But I like the framerate setting, which maintained a steady 60 fps better than the picture quality mode, which gave a bit of a performance dip for better shadows and reflections in exchange for a performance hit. In a launch Series X game, 120 fps support astonished me, because it functioned even better than the other two modes did. When driving at high speeds, the game is much more responsive with a higher framerate. However, I didn’t think the additional frames were worth the sacrifice in terms of graphics detail; 60 fps was plenty smooth for me.
Compared to 30 fps performance on prior systems, 60 fps is like a completely new experience. A few titles on the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro have that higher framerate, but now it’s nearly mandatory. It’s not as subtle as the transition from 2K to 4K. At 60 fps, gaming looks and responds more fast to your actions, making it more enjoyable to play. 120 fps is a step up, but it’s not quite as dramatic compared to going from 30 to 60 fps.
This version of Gears 5 is completely different from the original. A dynamic 4K resolution, 60 fps, and ray-traced lighting make the campaign and cutscenes look better than ever before, and they both run at 60 fps. I couldn’t tell the difference between the new console and my gaming PC with an RTX 3080 when playing the game. Notably, the ray tracing feature is still missing from Gears 5’s PC release.
It takes roughly 10 seconds to load a level on Series X, instead than the 30 seconds it took on the One X to do it. That’s because the game doesn’t yet utilize the full potential of the console’s “Velocity” architecture, which is much quicker than the current generation of consoles. But it serves as a reminder of how much of a leap it may be to go from a mechanical hard disk to a solid-state drive.
The multiplayer version of Gears 5 supports 120 fps, which reduces graphical detail in order to accommodate more frames. In my opinion, this was the most enjoyable gameplay I’ve ever experienced in a video game. When using sniper rifles to take out targets in the head, a lower latency frame rate proved really helpful. There appears to be no barrier between your button presses and the on-screen response of the game. Your controller will feel more like an extension of your body if the framerate is as high as it can be.
At some point, I realized the Xbox Series X was almost completely silent during a major Gears 5 set piece. There’s a good reason why this system’s tower-like design and massive fan are so effective at keeping things cool. There is a chance that future games will make the fan work harder, but I couldn’t get it to go any louder than a lovely whir.
For those who like a smooth 60 fps, Yakuza: Like a Dragon offers three distinct performance modes: 4K, 60 fps, and the more balanced 60 fps speed. While all of the modes looked fantastic, I found myself gravitating toward the higher framerates on this occasion. As of this writing, the immediate advantages of additional frames are significantly more visible than native 4K rendering on a new CX TV.
I’ll be honest: there weren’t many games I could attempt that took full advantage of the system. I was unable to play upcoming games like Watch Dogs Legion and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla at the time of this review. Halo Infinite, Microsoft’s most anticipated launch title, has been postponed until 2017. First-party games like Forza Horizon 4 perform better on the device, but there isn’t a major difference in graphic quality between the Xbox One X version and the standard Xbox One version. Only a few games, such as Sea of Thieves, benefit from a superior 4K/60FPS boost over 30FPS rendering or lesser quality.
Even if a game isn’t designed specifically for the Series X, a fast SSD and a contemporary GPU will still benefit it. In particular, Red Dead Redemption 2 loaded a full minute faster on the Xbox One X than on the Xbox One. While I was hoping for the lightning-fast next-generation experience I had hoped for, getting into the game took approximately 30 seconds instead of the 90-plus seconds on my previous console. Even in 4K, Red Dead 2 ran smoothly at 30 frames per second. Hope Rockstar takes the effort to optimize it for new consoles so that we get a 60 fps mode as well as a slew of new visual effects.
Series X’s compatibility with Xbox One, 360 and even original Xbox games is a further perk. Nearly two decades worth of games, all of which will benefit from the new console’s upgraded technology. Microsoft can dynamically apply HDR to older games, a feature I’ve never seen before on any device. Again, shorter load times are crucial. Unlike the fake HDR options you may have on your TV, this uses AI to create lighting highlights when necessary. When I played games like Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and Alan Wake, it had a profound effect on my mental health. My OLED screen was nearly blindingly bright, and it made me eager to play more classic games on the system.
It’s a little sluggish at times, but the overall experience was great. The option to tweak the HDR settings is something that’s very usual in HDR-enabled games, so I hope Microsoft provides this feature. It would also be wonderful if the function could be completely disabled for people who prefer to play the game the way it was originally intended.
As I tried out a variety of games, I quickly realized how useful Microsoft’s Quick Resumption feature was. In this way, you don’t have to start over from the beginning of a game every time you want to play again. It took me around five seconds to go from Red Dead Redemption 2 to Gears of War 5. After that, returning to Alan Wake took all of three seconds. For now, Quick Resume is only available for a limited number of games and isn’t supported by all titles, so save frequently. A similar feature was offered by Microsoft with the Xbox One, but I never used it because it was so unstable. At the very least, it appears to be rock-solid and actually useful this time around.
If you’re interested in playing games from the past, Microsoft’s Game Pass membership service gives you access to hundreds of titles. First-party games will be available, as will a rotating selection of popular titles from EA Access, as well as Bethesda games in the future. As I’ve previously stated, it’s a great deal, especially if you’re paying for Game Pass Ultimate, which includes Xbox Live multiplayer for only $15 a month. Game Pass Ultimate and a no-interest loan for a Series S or X are both included in Xbox All Access, making it one of the finest ways to buy a next-gen console.
Series X owners don’t need to subscribe to Game Pass, although I strongly encourage it. This is especially true if you’re a parent who doesn’t want to go broke buying new games for your children every week.
There is more to the Series X than merely playing games. All the streaming video apps are supported, including Apple TV. It plays 4K Blu-rays perfectly fine. Video app navigation was noticeably faster on the One X thanks to the device’s more powerful processor, but that’s not a difficult task to accomplish with today’s budget streaming boxes.
Should you get one?
Even though I was blown away by the Series X, even I have to acknowledge that there aren’t enough intriguing new titles to justify the $500 price tag. If nothing else, at least it’s not as niche as the One X’s marginally better GPU performance. With the Series X, you’ll witness a massive performance boost if you’ve been using the original Xbox One or One S. Xbox One X owners, at the very least, who are looking for the highest performance, may feel compelled to make the switch.
If you have an older 4K or 1080p TV and don’t plan on upgrading in the near future, the Series X console may be too much for you. That’s where the $299 Series S comes in, with its lower price tag. Every new Xbox game will work, but at a lesser resolution. The Series X’s additional advantages, such as backwards compatibility, automatic HDR, and a fast SSD, are still present. There is only 362GB of storage available from a 512GB disk, which limits the number of games you can fit without having to buy an additional drive. For $220, you could just get the Series X instead of the 1TB extension drive from Seagate.
The Series X and PlayStation 5 can’t yet be compared because we haven’t discussed what the latter has to offer. There are better options out there if all you’re interested in are amazing new generation games, such as the upcoming Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls remakes. Sony’s platforms have always excelled at exclusive big-budget games, so this isn’t really a surprise. Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t have enough titles to entice a steadfast Sony fan to switch platforms. The coronavirus epidemic has made life extremely tough for engineers, as well as everyone else.
What the Xbox One wasn’t is what the Xbox Series X is. It’s lightning-fast in every regard, and it has no problem handling 4K games. Instead of being a half-hearted all-in-one entertainment gadget, it focuses solely on offering the finest gaming experience possible. The major issue is that there aren’t many exciting games available at launch, leaving Microsoft vulnerable against the PlayStation 5. Although the Series X lacks a large number of exclusive games, it is still capable of running many modern PC games just as well as a PC. While this may suffice for some gamers, for others, it’s all they need.