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Which is the right Xbox for you? Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S

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Expert Reviews Staff
15 Nov 2021
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We compare next-gen Xbox consoles to help you choose the right one for you

A new Xbox will be near the top of a lot of Christmas lists, but this year there’s one big question. Do you go for the lovely, value-packed Xbox Series S or the powerhouse Series X? To help you work it out, we’re going to look at the two consoles, their specs and their different features so that you can make the right call, one way or the other.

The 4K powerhouse meets everybody’s console

The key to making sense of the two Xbox consoles is that they suit slightly different wants and needs. The Series X is for those who want the most powerful console out there, running games with all the graphical effects dialled up to max on a 4K TV. The Series S is aimed at more casual gamers, running the exact same games at a lower resolution on a gaming monitor or Full HD (1080p) screen. 

You can see this reflected in the way the two consoles look. The Series X is a mighty tower 30cm high, with a design focused on keeping its high-speed components cool. The Series S is roughly the size of a shoebox, and arguably the cutest console since Nintendo launched the Wii.

Inside the Series X you’ll find an AMD Zen 2 processor with eight cores running at 3.8GHz and an integrated AMD RDNA2 graphics processor with 56 compute units running at 1.8GHz. That gives the Xbox Series X an incredible 12 teraflops of graphics processing power – even more than Sony’s mighty PS5. The Series S has a similar eight-core processor, running at 3.6GHz, but this time the integrated graphics processor has 20 compute units running at 1.56GHz, for roughly four teraflops of graphics processing power. What’s more, where the Series X comes packing 16GB of RAM, the Series S comes with 10GB.

Does this make the Series S puny? Not at all. It plays the exact same games as the Series X but at lower 1080p or 1440p resolutions. It doesn’t need as much RAM because it doesn’t have to work with the highest resolution 4K art. In fact, the big secret of the Series S is that games still look amazing, whether running on a Full HD TV or monitor or upscaled to run on a 4K screen. They run with most of the same effects and at the same speed, and with the same High Dynamic Range (HDR) levels of brightness, contrast and colour. 

Play Forza Horizon 5, and the Series S delivers incredible vistas of Mexico as you tear through its canyons, jungles and whitewashed towns in hundreds of the world’s greatest cars. Driving around those epic landscapes is as seamless as on the Series X and entering a new road race or off-road scramble is practically instant. You can see the Series X difference, but it’s hardly night and day, and the Series S also consumes less energy in use. 

Where the Series X shines is in giving you the absolute best graphics imaginable with the highest levels of detail on a 4K HDR screen, and in giving you additional options, like the ability to run some games at an unbelievably smooth 120 frames per second on a compatible 4K TV. If you’re a big-time gamer with an eye for cutting-edge graphics, you’re going to want the Series X, but it’s going to cost you. Where the Series S is just £249.99, the Series X is £449.99.

Buying games and storage

The other big differences cover how you install games and storage. Basically, the Series X has a built-in 4K Blu-ray drive, which means you can buy a physical copy of a game and install it from a Blu-ray disc. This also means the Series X can double as a 4K Blu-ray player.

The Series S hasn’t got a Blu-ray drive of any sort. Instead, you buy games online from the Microsoft store and download them to your console. You can do the same thing on your Series X, but the Blu-ray drive gives you more choice.

This isn’t a huge issue. For one thing, the Microsoft Store has its own occasional sales. For another, the Xbox Series S makes a great vehicle for Xbox Game Pass. It’s a bit like a Netflix for video games, where you have access to a library of over 300 Xbox titles, which you can download to your console and play as much as you like while they’re in the collection. New titles are always being added, and that includes Microsoft’s own big flagship Xbox releases, on the same day that they go on sale. Sign up for the service, and you can pay month by month or buy a prepaid card for one month or three months at a time. It’s seriously one of the best-ever bargains in video gaming.

Games Pass also works across Xbox Series X, and here the bigger console does have one key advantage: a whopping 1TB of built-in solid state storage for your Game Pass treats. The Series S has just 512GB, and, with the system software and apps installed, only 364GB is free to use (against 802GB on the Series X).

Again, though, this isn’t a deal breaker. You can add more SSD space later through the Seagate Xbox Expansion Card, or store games you’re not actively playing on an external SSD or hard drive, which plugs into one of the console’s USB ports. There’s plenty of room for a small-ish selection of games.

The same next-gen experience

Otherwise, the two consoles have a lot in common. They run the same games, use the same slick system software, and give you access to the same great line-up of TV, video and entertainment apps, including Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime. Both have an HDMI 2.1 port, so they’ll support the latest gaming features of high-end 4K TVs, and both will run all existing Xbox One games and many Xbox 360 titles. Both also use the same Xbox Controller, and will work with the same excellent accessories, including Microsoft’s brilliant Xbox Wireless Headset and the awesome Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2. The latter gives you a controller worthy of the world’s top professional gamers, with adjustable tension thumbsticks, interchangeable components and up to 40 hours of rechargeable battery life.

Most importantly, both consoles deliver a true next-gen gaming experience. Load up the latest chapter of Microsoft’s Halo series, Halo Infinite, and the graphics put you right there with the Master Chief in a sci-fi action epic on a truly massive scale. If you want the most intense combat and big set-pieces to die for, you’re going to get them on either console, with awesome cross-platform PC/Xbox multiplayer to boot. The same goes for the other big hits of the season, including FIFA 22, Call of Duty: Vanguard or Battlefield 2042. Buy the Series X if you want the best, fastest, and most powerful console out there, but for under £250, the Series S puts the latest, greatest games in reach of us all.

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