Feature Article

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S Comparison: The Biggest Differences

We break down the key differences between the two next-generation Xbox consoles, the Series X and the Series S.

Microsoft's next-generation Xbox strategy is coming into focus. The company recently announced its second next-gen Xbox, the Xbox Series S, and confirmed a price of $299 USD and a release date of November 10. This console will be sold alongside the more powerful Xbox Series X, which will cost $499 USD and launch on the same day. Both consoles will be available to pre-order beginning on September 22.

Now that the Series S has been announced and detailed, many might be wondering how the two systems compare and which one might be right for them. The two systems will both run the same games, but there are some major differences between them. Here we're rounding up all the key differences and details about the consoles. If you want to jump into the next-gen of Xbox at launch, make sure you figure out which system you want soon--they might sell out quickly.

No Disc Drive For The Series S

First and foremost, the key difference between the Xbox Series S and the Xbox Series X, is that the Series S has no disc drive. Microsoft has experimented with a disc-free console before with the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, so this is not uncharted territory for the company. It also won't be the only next-gen console with no disc drive, as Sony is releasing the PS5 Digital Edition.

The lack of a disc drive might be a very important element to consider for some consumers. NPD's Mat Piscatella reminds us that ISP broadband coverage and data caps remain a "huge challenge" in some parts of the United States. And with the Series S only having 512 GB SSD, the hard drive might fill up very quickly. It can also take an extremely long time to download games before you can play them. If file sizes continue to grow for next-gen games, that could be an even larger issue.

Front view of Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S
Front view of Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S

Performance And Power

The Xbox Series S also does not offer as much performance and power. It sports 4 teraflops compared to 12 teraflops for its beefier cousin. That said, the Series S is no slouch, as it has roughly the same CPU as the more expensive model; it's capable of 1440p at up to 120 FPS and it can deliver 4K upscaling. The Series S also supports DirectX raytracing, variable rate shading, and variable refresh rate, just like the Xbox Series X does. A Series S video released by Microsoft also revealed that it runs at 3.6GHz.

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Storage

The Xbox Series S comes with a 512 GB SSD compared to 1 TB for the Xbox Series X. As many have pointed out, the Series S storage situation could become an issue, especially when game sizes are growing larger and larger (we're looking at you, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare). It's expected that the Series S will be compatible with external storage solutions like the Series X, so that could help alleviate some of those concern even if it costs extra.

The Xbox Series S also supports the Seagate Storage Expansion Card for up to 1TB of additional storage. While you can use other USB 3.1 harddrives to store games or play previous generation titles, games that are optimized for Xbox Series S and Series X must be played from the internal SSD or a Seagate expansion card for optimal performance. These cards are expected to be quite expensive, possibly as much as a few hundred dollars.

The Games

It is expected that the Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X will play the same games, the main difference being that people on Series X will get better quality graphics and framerates due to the increased horsepower. For first-party games from Microsoft, these games will likely all work on previous Xbox One, Xbox One S, and Xbox One X systems, as well. For third-party companies, they could support only Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X out of the gate.

Both consoles will support Xbox Game Pass, too, so the titles in that catalog--including backwards compatibility games dating back to the OG Xbox--will be playable. Additionally, Microsoft's game-streaming service, xCloud, is expected to be available on both systems so players may not even need to download local files to their hard drives.

Xbox Series X and Series X side by side
Xbox Series X and Series X side by side

Halo Infinite was expected to be a launch title for the Xbox Series X (and S), but the game was recently delayed to 2021 due to complications related to COVID-19 and working from home. Microsoft has yet to announce the full launch lineup for its next-gen Xbox consoles, but we know there will be strong support from third-party developers, too. Gears Tactics will be a launch title after previously only launching on PC.

Ubisoft is bringing Assassin's Creed Valhalla and Immortals: Fenyx Rising to the console this year, while Activision will launch Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War on the system. EA Sports, meanwhile, is working on next-gen editions of Madden NFL 21 and FIFA 21 for release on the next-gen Xboxes this year.

This is just a small sampling of next-gen Xbox games; be sure to see our full roundup of Xbox Series X/S games to learn more.

Xbox All Access

With this new console generation, Microsoft is moving closer to the smartphone business model with its Xbox All Access program. Microsoft has confirmed it will sell an Xbox Series S for $25/month and the Xbox Series X for $35/month under the subscription program. People are familiar with the idea of paying off their phones over a period of time, and Microsoft is betting that this will translate for consoles, too. Microsoft has been conducting subsidized console tests since the Xbox 360 days, but the company appears primed to focus more on it this time, with Phil Spencer even saying that All Access will be "critical" to Microsoft's next-gen strategy.

The Specs

Simply put, the Xbox Series S is the budget-priced Xbox, and it has specs that reflect that. You can see the full rundown of specs and other important details about the console below.

Xbox Series S

Xbox Series X

CPU

8-core AMD Zen 2 CPU at 3.6 GHz
3.4 GHz with SMT enabled

8 AMD Zen 2 CPU cores at 3.8 GHz
3.6 GHz with SMT enabled

GPU

AMD RDNA 2 GPU
20 CUs at 1.565 GHz
4 TFLOPS

AMD RDNA 2 GPU
52 CUs at 1.825 GHz
12 TFLOPS

RAM

10 GB of GDDR6 RAM

16GB of GDDR6 SDRAM

Performance Target

1440p at 60 FPS, up to 120 FPS

4K at 60 FPS, up to 120 FPS

Storage

512 GB SSD

1TB SSD

Expandable Storage

1TB Microsoft expansion card slot

1TB Microsoft expansion card slot

Optical Drive

No disc drive

4K UHD Blu-ray

I/O Throughput

2.4GB a second raw, 4.8GB a second compressed

Max Output Resolution

1440p with 4K upscaling

8K

Max Refresh Rate

120Hz

120Hz

Disc Drive

Digital Only

4K UHD Blu-ray

Price

$299 USD

$499 USD

Cloud Gaming

Microsoft Project xCloud

Microsoft Project xCloud

Backwards Compatibility

Yes (Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One)

Yes (Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One)

Dimensions

Smallest Xbox ever

5.94" wide, 5.94" deep, 11.85" high (15.1 cm wide, 15.1 cm deep, 30.1 cm high)

Color

White

Black

Release Date

November 10

November 10

What Does This All Mean?

At a glance, there's not a lot separating these two consoles. Both will feature the same AMD Zen 2 CPU (not one of the new ones AMD is announcing in October), with the Xbox Series X seemingly allowing for an ever-so-slight speed advantage of up to 0.2 GHz in some cases. While that difference is marginal, having both consoles share the same CPU does mean developers that utilize it for things like AI calculations, pathfinding, and more won't need to cater to a less-powerful version of the hardware when designing games for either Xbox.

Both the Series X and Series S feature the same underlying graphics architecture in AMD's RDNA 2--its next-gen solution that will soon debut on desktop components, too. Considering AMD has yet to fully detail many of its underlying features, it's difficult to discern exactly how big of a leap these will provide over current-generation consoles (unless you go strictly according to teraflops, which PS5 system architect Mark Cerny rightly pointed out as potentially misleading metric earlier this year). But at the very least, both versions of the new Xbox will be equipped with AMD's new cutting edge architecture.

Xbox Series S and X size comparison
Xbox Series S and X size comparison

In terms of their differences, the specifications Microsoft provided make it clear why the Series S is only capable of aiming for 1440p. With only 20 compute units (CUs) as opposed to the Series X's 56 CUs, it is a drastically less-powerful GPU in terms of raw computing output (that's where the 4 TFLOPS vs 12.5 TFLOPS comes in). But the computing requirements games need increase exponentially when targeting 4K, which is evident by how much more power the Xbox Series X is being given to achieve that.

RAM is another area where the two consoles diverge, with the Xbox Series X shipping with a total of 16GB GDDR6 memory as opposed to the 10GB GDDR6 in the Xbox Series S. The confusing RAM label aside, this memory directly relates to the amount available to the GPU. If you're familiar with desktop GPUs, it's identical to VRAM. With the Xbox Series X aiming for 4K gaming, it requires more RAM to cache larger game assets, like 4K textures, for quick access. The Xbox Series S, by comparison, is only aiming for a max output resolution of 1440p, lowering its overall RAM requirement. This helps keep the cost of the system down, while also ensuring none of that RAM is going to waste.

The only other big difference (outside of the omission of an optical drive with the Series S) is the storage size. While the Xbox Series X will come with 1TB of SSD space, the Series S will only include half that at 512GB. Considering the size of games on current-generation consoles (have you seen Call of Duty: Modern Warfare lately?) that's likely concerning. But there's hope that game sizes might shrink with the introduction of SSDs. As Sony's Mark Cerny explained during the initial Road to PS5 presentation at GDC earlier this year, many game developers are forced to double (sometimes triple) their assets for current-generation consoles in order to mitigate the slow read speeds of their hard drives. That won't be the case for games specifically created for consoles with SSDs, although there's no confirmation yet by how much this might influence install sizes.

Microsoft has already detailed some methods that will be used in both Xbox consoles to help compress texture data, which is often one of the leading causes of ballooning install sizes. Additionally, with Microsoft's Smart Delivery, the Xbox Series S will only be downloading assets specific to its hardware, which will omit large 4K assets it won't use. This could help storage woes initially, but time will tell for how long. Eventually, you might need to upgrade, with the Xbox supporting two methods of storage expansion. One is a proprietary external SSD made with Seagate that is identical to the internal one, allowing you to install and run Xbox Series X and S games off of it. The other is a standard USB 3.1 HDD, like the ones used to expand storage on current generation consoles. These can be used to store and play previous generation Xbox titles via backwards compatibility, so you can separate your library in that way. However, to make use of the Velocity Architecture on the new consoles, they'll need to be moved to the SSD.

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