Microsoft will launch two new consoles on November 10, 2020. Should you buy the big Xbox Series X or the much smaller (and cheaper) S-series? Let’s take a look at the differences and what is the best buy.
X or S series: what’s the difference?
First, we need to take a moment to discuss Microsoft’s confusing naming conventions. The new next-gen Xbox consoles are the S and X series. They should not be confused with the Xbox One X or One S, both of which are next-gen machines.
With that out of the way, here are the main differences between the X series and the S series:
A disk drive
The two machines are also very different. The X series is tall and all black, while the S series is 60% smaller and white with a black vent.
Both machines will launch on November 10, with pre-orders starting September 22. Both machines are available for purchase directly or as part of Microsoft All Access Program, which works like a mobile contract. You pay a monthly license fee for the console over two years, when it is yours.
The X Series will launch for $ 499 or $ 34.99 per month through All Access. The S Series will retail for $ 299, or $ 24.99 per month on All Access. There is no upfront charge if you want to pay monthly.
The second major difference is the target resolution. The Xbox Series X is a native 4K gaming machine. This means that it will render games to (or as close to as possible) 2160p. To enjoy it, you will need a 4K (or Ultra HD) TV or monitor.
The S series targets 1440p, which is half the resolution of 4K. For gamers who still have a 1080p (HD) TV or monitor and aren’t planning to switch to 4K anytime soon, this is ideal. You’ll still be able to play 4K media files and scale lower resolution content, but the device won’t render games above 1440p.
While the X-series comes with 1TB of storage, the S-series only has half of it at 500GB. Both machines use the same high-speed SSD required for next-gen performance. They can also both be upgraded in 1TB increments through Microsoft’s additional proprietary storage solution.
Finally, the Xbox Series S is a fully digital console. This means it does not have a disc drive. You will need to download all the games from the internet (or stream them if you prefer). There are some things to consider before going all digital, such as whether you are ok with lack of used games or UHD Blu-ray playback.
Is the S Series a Good Buy?
Despite its major differences in price and target resolution, the Xbox Series S still strives for the same high performance goals as its more capable sibling. Chief among these is a new 60fps base for smoother gaming, with some games supposedly hitting 120fps.
To qualify, however, you will need a high refresh rate monitor of 120 Hz or better. Microsoft has announced a handful of games (including the upcoming multiplayer part of Infinite halo) which will target 120 images. During the Xbox Series S showcase, the console was shown running Gears of War 5 (released earlier this year) at 120 frames per second.
At this point, it remains to be seen how many games will actually achieve these goals, and whether the S-Series can really keep pace with the more powerful X-Series. the same library of games to move forward.
It’s worth mentioning that the X-series has around three times the GPU power of the S-series, although that metric (in teraflops) rarely translates into raw performance. The S series still uses the same eight-core AMD Zen 2 processor as the X series, although it is slightly clocked on the less powerful model.
If you are considering the S series, you might also want to think about your plans to upgrade over the next few years. Above all, are you going to buy a 4K TV soon? If so, the S series can really show its age when you hook it up to a higher resolution display. However, 1440p output on a 4K display will still be better than 1080p output on PS4 and Xbox One.
Another thing to think about is that the S series will not perform the Improved versions on Xbox One X existing games. And that library has been growing steadily since 2017, when Microsoft first released the One X.
Instead, Microsoft announced Improved versions of the S series. Coupled with the lack of a disc drive, the Xbox Series S might not be the best for those who value backward compatibility.
As with any all-digital console, there are additional things to consider before ditching a disc player, such as not having access to physical games or the second-hand market. You also lose the ability to use your console as a Blu-ray player.
Short of money? Xbox All Access could help
Microsoft has announced that both consoles will be available through Xbox Unlimited Access. For a monthly subscription, you get a console and Game Pass Ultimate, which grants access to over 100 games, including first-party versions on release day. At the end of the two-year contract, the console is yours and you can also extend your Game Pass if you wish.
If you want an X Series, but only have enough money for the S Series, All Access might sweeten the deal. At $ 34.99, a Series X costs just $ 10 more per month.
Plus, if you calculate the numbers, All Access is a surprisingly good deal. If you add the cost of an Xbox Series X ($ 499) and 24 months of Game Pass Ultimate ($ 359.76), your total cost is $ 858.76.
If you’re new to Game Pass, you get your first month for $ 1, reducing your total cost to $ 844.77. If you get Series S instead of Series X, you can earn an additional $ 200.
All Access costs $ 34.99 per month for two years. So an Xbox Series X with two years of Game Pass Ultimate would cost $ 839.76 in total. For an S Series plan, the total cost would be $ 599.76.
An all-access plan will save you $ 19 on an X-series, or $ 59 on an S-series, of the total price. Keep in mind that if you’re not interested in Game Pass Ultimate for two years, it’s always better to buy direct.
Microsoft also announced that Game Pass now includes EA Access, further enhancing the value proposition of both consoles. From day one you’ll get proprietary Microsoft titles, new releases released by EA, and a handful of third-party titles.
You’ll also save more money with the X Series if you buy used games or physical copies from retailers when they’re on sale. Fully digital players will still be stuck with Microsoft’s digital pricing and Game Pass availability.
Sony and Microsoft face off
The launch of a new generation of consoles is always exciting, but it can also be disappointing at first. Launch titles barely scratch the surface of what hardware is capable of, so we’ll likely see a lot of intergenerational releases until the devices mature a bit.