Hands on: Xbox One X review

Native 4K/60fps gaming on consoles? You’d better believe it

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

The Xbox One X is certainly set to be the most powerful kid on the block when it comes out on November 7. With six teraflops of graphical horsepower contained within a smartly designed package, the Xbox One X looks like it's going to be about as premium as consoles have ever felt. The games that have been previewed on the machine already look absolutely stunning, with a fantastic level of detail accentuated by the console's HDR support. The jury is still out on whether the console will be able to justify its lavish price tag but, for now, you should be very excited about the future of native 4K HDR gaming in the living room.

For

  • Native 4K HDR gaming
  • 4K Blu-ray player built-in
  • Some games will play at 60fps

Against

  • Expensive for a console
  • Game support is unclear
  • Few benefits for 1080p TV owners

Updated: We've had the chance to try out a couple more Xbox One X enhanced titles on the upcoming system. Check out our thoughts in the Game Performance section below.

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When the Xbox One X comes out on November 1, 2017, it will be the most powerful console on the planet – a fact that Microsoft has made clear since the console’s debut back at E3 2016. 

Inside, it will rock an octa-core CPU overclocked at 2.3GHz, 12GB of GDDR5 memory and a gaming PC-worthy GPU with 40 compute units and 6 Teraflops of power. That will enable the console to run games in native 4K resolution and in High Dynamic Range (HDR). It will do all this, Microsoft has added, while maintaining 60 frames per second in first-party titles. 

In terms of the spec sheet then, the Xbox One X will offer everything you’ve been dreaming of.

But while it has all the markings of the future console generation, the Xbox One X is going to be rooted firmly in the present. That’s to say the Xbox One X will be part of Microsoft’s all-new “Xbox Family of Consoles” a program that lumps the original Xbox One, last year’s Xbox One S and the brand-new Xbox One X into a single, unified platform. 

The Xbox One Family of Consoles will play all the same games and use the same interface.

The Xbox One Family of Consoles will play all the same games, use the same interface with access to all the same apps and sync up with the same accessories. No one is getting left behind ... at least in terms of support. There are rabid fans out there who say this could hamper the ultra-powered hardware rather than help it, but it’s a move Microsoft is committed to.

And there’s also another future-facing technology to consider: virtual reality. Microsoft was adamant that the new hardware would be capable of running VR headsets at the speed necessary for lag-free immersive gameplay – in fact, some might say it was one of the cornerstones of the new system. 

But despite Microsoft’s bold claims at last year’s E3 for VR support, it has yet to actually supplement them with anything substantial. As of right now, we have no idea which headset the Xbox One X could use, which games we could see on the platform and just how this might fragment Microsoft’s brand-new Xbox One Family of Consoles program. For now, however, the answers to those questions will just have to wait.

So, you might be wondering, how much will Microsoft’s powerful new gaming hardware cost you? It'll be $499 (£449 / AU$649) when it launches, which, for reference, is about double the price of an Xbox One S, and a substantial chunk more than the Xbox One X’s closest competitor, the PS4 Pro.

Will the extra-powerful hardware be worth the money? Here are our initial thoughts on the matter, based on a small handful of hands-on experiences with the Xbox One X.

Design

With the Xbox One X you’re not getting something wildly different in terms of design – it’s near identical to the Xbox One S released last year. 

To put a finer point on it, the Xbox One X is a rectangular box the size of a large Blu-ray player or cable box that’s coated with a matte space grey color. It’s a far cry from the bulky VHS player-stylings of the original Xbox One, and the design only becomes more impressive when you consider what’s under the hood.

The noticeable differences here (if you can even notice them) are the color change from the white sheen of the Xbox One S to the space grey of Xbox One X, and the shifting of the disc tray from the top-right side of the console’s face to the middle-left. These changes are obviously aesthetic, however, and neither add nor take away any functionality from the system. Plus, that’s not such a bad thing considering how well-equipped the Xbox One S was. 

A small shift in the location of the disc drive is the biggest design difference between the X and the S.

The aforementioned disc tray not only plays Xbox One games (duh), but 4K Blu-rays as well. This might sound sort-of mundane if you’re not totally up-to-date on what 4K Blu-rays are, but considering that Microsoft’s 4K console is the only one on the market with that ability, you can understand why it’s worth pointing out.

Round the back the similarities to the One S continue. From left to right you’ve got a power connector, HDMI out, HDMI in, two USB ports, an IR out, an Optical Audio port and an Ethernet port. To the surprise of no one, the console will not see the return of the original Xbox One's Kinect port. 

Controller-wise the new machine is packing a new space gray themed gamepad which, for all intents and purposes, is exactly the same as the one that currently ships with the Xbox One S. 

However, what's especially interesting is that Microsoft has indicated that the console will support keyboard and mouse controls, which is more commonly seen on the PC. The Xbox One X won't be the first console to support keyboard and mouse (that award goes to the Dreamcast), but the feature will be welcomed by gamers who prefer this more accurate and responsive control scheme. 

Hardware specs

If you’re looking to see the real differences between the Xbox One X and every other console that’s come before it, all you need to do is open the lid. 

The console will come equipped with an eight-core CPU clocked at 2.3GHz, alongside 12GB of GDDR5 RAM. It features a GPU clocked at 1172MHz leaving the console with 6 teraflops of graphical computing power. It’s a fairly extensive offering, and one that should help usher in a new era of 4K HDR gaming in the living room. 

Let’s start first with the GPU, as that’s the main component enabling the Xbox One X’s crazy boost in power. Microsoft hasn’t given us the specific model sitting inside the Xbox One X, but we can safely assume it’s a custom component made for the system. Inside it, you’ll find 40 customized compute units clocked at 1172MHz. That works in conjunction with the upgraded 12GB of GDDR5 RAM and puts the card, on paper, close to the Nvidia Titan XP. 

But before you jump on the PC Gamer forums to tell them how consoles have finally surpassed PCs in terms of value performance, just know that unlike a video card’s dedicated VRAM, the Xbox One X’s 12GB of RAM is split in between the system and the GPU, i.e. it’s not comparing apples to apples. The closest comparison for the Xbox One X’s GPU to a card you’d find in a PC is a AMD RX 580 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 – but keep in mind that the Xbox One X has a tighter integration between system design and hardware that allow it to run at slightly higher speeds than either of those two cards.

The X's rear ports are identical to those on the Xbox One S.

On the CPU side of things, the Xbox One X is running a custom chip with eight Jaguar CPU cores clocked at 2.3GHz. That’s a 76% increase compared the CPU inside the original Xbox One and Xbox One S, but probably only puts it in the ballpark of a current-gen Intel Core i3 processor. What that means is that you’ll probably see games that look as good on Xbox One X as they do on a low-to-mid-range gaming PC, but we’re still a ways away from Xbox outclassing custom-built gaming rigs. 

The more important comparison for the Xbox One X, and the one Microsoft would rather you focus on, is to the PS4 Pro. Sony’s system is a fairly competent competitor – its GPU has 36 compute units at 911Mhz that works in tandem with a 2.1GHz CPU and 8GB of GDDR5 memory. That memory runs into a bit of a bottleneck at the buffer, which is limited to 218GB/s, but it still puts out around 4 Tflops of performance. 

Your takeaway? The Xbox One X will be a mighty powerful console when it comes out. While we expect that it won’t be able to run every game at 60 frames per second in 4K HDR, game developers with the right optimization experience should be able to get their games there. It’s a substantially more powerful console than the original Xbox One, and while it doesn’t blow away the PS4 Pro, it does out-perform Sony’s system on paper.

Game performance and library

Of course, what’s the end-goal of all this extra horsepower if not a better gaming experience? Thankfully the Xbox One X will have a pretty extensive library of titles when it comes out as the system will support all of the Xbox One’s existing games. That’s in addition to the hundreds of Xbox 360 and original Xbox titles those systems support, too.

What’s the point of shelling out for a new machine, then, if the only games it plays are the ones you already own? The Xbox One X might play the same games as the Xbox One and Xbox One S, but many of them will look and/or run much better on the new console. 

Microsoft is calling this feature “Enhanced for Xbox One X”, which is basically a marketing term that helps you identify which games will look and/or run better on the new hardware. 

Microsoft itself has been a little vague about what exact features constitute an Enhanced for Xbox One X title but, from the sounds of it, all a game needs to do to be lumped into the program is fall into one of three categories: it either needs enhanced 4K texture packs, HDR visual processing or code optimization that makes it run at a higher frame rate. And just one of three will suffice.

While the intricacies of the 'enhanced' label might be a little confusion, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Believe us when we say that games that do take advantage of the hardware look and feel incredible.  

Take, for instance, Forza Motorsport 7, a game that will support 4K Ultra HD, High Dynamic Range and Dolby Atmos audio to create an immersive all-around experience. 

While playing it, the Xbox One X’s power was being used to add fantastic amounts of detail both in and outside of the car. Sitting in the cockpit, you could make out the stitching in the steering wheel, and with a third-person camera cars, retained their crisp detailing even as they disappeared into the distance. But the really impressive work happened when the car started to hit higher speeds, and parts of the exterior started to rattle with the wind. Seeing the mirror, complete with reflection, vibrate was especially satisfying. 

Switching to Gears of War 4 allowed the console to show off its HDR capabilities with sunlight that almost had us shielding our eyes with how bright it was. The One X version of the game also features much sharper shadows beneath our character’s feet.  

Although all of these effects won’t be as apparent on a non-4K screen, they should still be present to a certain extent. Microsoft has said that the console will continue to render at 4K, but will supersample this content down to HD.  We haven’t had a chance to see this super sampling in action, but similar technology from Nvidia’s graphics cards produces improved, if not mind-blowing, images. 

More recently we had a chance to play a pre-release version of Middle Earth: Shadow of War's Xbox One X enhanced patch. Here the extra detailing offered by its native 4K resolution was the star of the show. 

The increase in draw distance combined with the bump in resolution meant that objects maintained their crispness far into the distance, which was very helpful when we were traversing the game's larger expanses. 

Even though we were sitting far closer to the screen than we'd ever suggest placing yourself, there were no jagged edges in sight, and everything moved along at a nice, solid, 60 frames per second. 

Moving along to Rise of the Tomb Raider, another title that will be shortly receiving an Xbox One X patch of its own, and the highlight (in a very literal sense) was its use of HDR. 

With each new room we entered into we were continually impressed by the bright light streaking into the room from cracks into the ceiling, which were really helped by the increase in peak brightness. 

Wikipedia currently maintains a list of all the games that will be released for the Xbox One X if you want to dive deeper or, if you want a more curated selection, head on over to our top Xbox One X games guide to read up on our most-anticipated titles.

Early verdict

There is a definite duality to the Xbox One X. On one hand, it’s easy to make the case that the Xbox One X is a solution looking for a problem – a console almost more powerful than the world is ready for. On the other, the Xbox One X is, well, a console almost more powerful than the world is ready for – something gamers, especially those with 4K HDR TVs, will almost certainly appreciate. 

Those lining up for the console on day one will certainly be in the latter camp, and for those fans Microsoft has made it abundantly clear that the Xbox One X will offer the most premium experience on the market – it’s native 4K HDR opposed to upscaled 4K vis-à-vis the PS4 Pro, and it comes with a built-in 4K Blu-ray player.

There are a couple of reasons to be cautious about the new hardware though. 

The first surrounds players with a 1080p TV or those looking for the best ratio of price-to-performance – a spot where the Xbox One S is currently the king on the throne. Considering the Xbox One X costs double that of the Xbox One S, it only follows the Xbox One X would have to be twice as powerful to be worthy of the title … something we just can’t say with any certainty at this juncture. 

The second is whether this level of games quality will continue. Obviously, Microsoft has been keen to show off the titles that make the absolute most of the hardware, those games that run at full 4K, with HDR, and at 60fps. 

But Microsoft hasn't mandated that all Xbox One X-enhanced games have to hit this same performance high, so it will be up to individual developers to make the most out of the hardware available to them. 

Stay tuned to TechRadar for when we get the hardware for ourselves to conduct a full review. Don't forget to stay up-to-date on the latest Xbox One X pre-order information, too.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.