Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: which Xbox is right for you?

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S
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Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S, which console should you buy? Both look pretty similar, which isn't helped by the fact they're always advertised together with new games. However, both contain some pretty major differences between features, power, and overall capabilities. If you're looking to get an Xbox, here's a guide to help you distinguish which system is better for you. 

As with all console battles, there’s no clear winner here when it comes to the Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S. The one that’s right for you depends on your preferences, your budget, and what you’re after from a gaming system. For example, do you really need a disc drive? How high is native 4K output on your list of priorities? Things like this need consideration.

You can read our Xbox Series X review and Xbox Series S review for an in-depth look at each console; we’re familiar with the strengths and weaknesses. We believe the Xbox Series X is undoubtedly the powerhouse between the two. Next to the PS5, it’s the best console you can buy today. Still, the Xbox Series S has a lower price on its side, thanks to not having a disc drive and cheaper components.

We’ll help you decide which of the two you should buy to suit both your budget and your setup.

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: key differences

Xbox All Access

(Image credit: Microsoft)

If we had to highlight three key differences between the consoles, it's these: the Xbox Series X has a 4K UHD Blu-ray drive capable of playing physical games and movies, while the Xbox Series S does not. 

The Xbox Series X packs a large 1TB SSD that can store, on average, around 16 games, Meanwhile, the Xbox Series S has a 512GB SSD that only stores around four to five, though both can be expanded with a 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB Storage Expansion Card from Seagate. Finally, the Xbox Series X renders games in native 4K at 60 frames-per-second, while the Xbox Series S targets 1440p.

Otherwise, both include the same user interface, the same controller, and the same Xbox Velocity Architecture that enables features like Quick Resume. Both have the same media apps like Netflix and Prime Video, but more importantly, both can play exactly the same games. From what we’ve seen, people are drawn to the sheer power of the Xbox Series X. But don’t overlook the advantages of the more affordable model. Both work well and both can serve a different audiences. 

Let's break them down even further. First up is the Xbox Series X, Microsoft’s flagship console. It’s capable of 4K graphics and is currently one of the most powerful consoles available. On paper, these specs are impressive, and it has a compact tower-style design that manages to be both unique and unobtrusive. It’s expensive, though, at $499 / £449 / AU$749, the same RRP as the PS5.

The Xbox Series S is far more affordable and a less powerful alternative for you to consider. However, it’s digital-only, so you’ll be at the mercy of the Microsoft Store for any purchases you make. That said, Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft's Netflix-like subscription service and Xbox Cloud Gaming (only available for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers), lets gamers stream games and alleviates some of the digital-only restrictions. 

Overall, the Series S' price point is aimed at those who are willing to compromise on power for a much better price.

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: price

Xbox Series consoles

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The Xbox Series X costs $499 / £449 / AU$749 and was launched on November 10, 2020. Packed with cutting-edge technology, this console goes head-to-head with the PS5, which also costs $499. The price point may be too expensive for some, but it puts the Xbox Series X in a strong position to compete with Sony’s hardware. 

The Xbox Series S launched alongside the Series X and its price is much lower at just $299.99 / £249.99 / AU$499. A $200 saving will be very appealing to the more cost-conscious consumer. That’s considerably cheaper than the PS5 Digital Edition too, which retains the base PS5’s specifications but initially came in at $399.99 / £359.99 / AU$599 instead.

Right now, these prices look set to stay the same. Between the Oculus Quest 2 and PS5 price hike, console manufacturers are upping prices lately, citing soaring inflation globally. Thankfully, Xbox won't follow PlayStation with price hikes, and we've seen Nintendo confirm the same for Nintendo Switch. But Xbox doesn't rule out future price hikes, so we'll keep this updated if anything changes.

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: specs

Xbox Series X internal parts

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The Xbox Series X is a beast of a console that's truly brought us into the latest generation of gaming.

Xbox Series X specs

CPU: Eight-core 3.8GHz (3.6GHz with SMT) custom AMD 7nm GPU: 12 teraflops 1.825GHz (locked) RAM: 16GB GDDR6 Frame rate: Up to 120 fps Resolution: Up to 8K Optical: HD Blu-Ray disk drive Storage: 1TB NVMe SSD

With a 12 teraflop GPU capable of up to 120 frames per second, the Xbox Series X is twice as powerful as the Xbox One X, Microsoft’s former flagship console for the last generation. It supports various exciting new-gen features such as ray tracing, variable rate shading, and support for 8K resolution. 

The Xbox Series X makes the wait when booting up games or loading new levels a thing of the past, thanks to its custom-designed super-fast NVMe SSD. The SSD is part of the console’s new Velocity Architecture, which allows multiple games to be suspended in the background while you’re playing something entirely different. Everything is more responsive and snappier as a result, too.

Microsoft is also trying to make latency a thing of the past on Xbox Series X. Forward-thinking features such as Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), communication improvements to the Xbox controller, and Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) support take full advantage of TVs with HDMI 2.1 support.

Xbox Series S specs

CPU: Eight-core 3.6GHz (3.4GHz with SMT) custom AMD 7nm GPU: 4 teraflops at 1.550GHz RAM: 10GB GDDR6 Frame rate: Up to 120 fps Resolution: 1440p with 4K upscaling Optical: No disk drive Storage: 512GB NVMe SSD

The Xbox Series S packs significant power for a small box. The console targets a resolution of 1440p instead of native 4K (some games do support native 4K, though), and is capable of 120fps gaming. It's got an almost identical CPU to the Xbox Series X, but the GPU is considerably less powerful, coming with 10GB of GDDR6 RAM instead of 16GB.

That might sound like a big compromise on paper, but remember the Xbox Series S is targeting 1440p/60fps instead of 4K/60fps. This means it needs less power to reach its pixel count, but it can still deliver all the new-gen features Microsoft is focusing on like ray tracing and 120fps. 

There’s no disk drive, of course, and the storage is almost halved compared to the Xbox Series X. That’s admittedly concerning for a digital-only model, but Microsoft is undoubtedly hoping people are taking advantage of Xbox Cloud Gaming. That involves no downloads, since games are streamed from Microsoft’s remote data servers.

The storage of both consoles can be expanded, however. Microsoft is selling a proprietary expansion card that plugs into the back of the console, available in 512GB, 1TB, and 2TB options. The best Xbox One games can also be stored on a standard external hard drive to help free up space. 

The Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X also support Spatial Sound, including Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision, via streaming apps at launch. Dolby Vision support for gaming was introduced post-launch and is now available. 

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: games

Halo Infinite

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Here’s what you need to know: both the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S can play exactly the same games, although they’ll undoubtedly look best on Xbox Series X. The compromises we’ve usually seen on Xbox Series S mainly focus on the resolution drop to 1440p from 4K, and likely more minor changes that probably won’t be as noticeable. 

Both consoles offer full backward compatibility with Xbox One, Xbox 360, and original Xbox games. Some FPS Boost games aren’t supported on Xbox Series S though, while others see greater benefits on Xbox Series X.

So while we're still waiting for some of the biggest new-gen exclusives like Fable 4 to launch, there's still plenty to play, particularly if you have a large library of titles already. If you own a lot of physical copies, though, be mindful that these won’t work on Xbox Series S, due to the lack of disc drive.

If you're hoping to get Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for an even cheaper price, we've got good news. While this is currently being trialled in just the Republic of Ireland and Colombia, Microsoft is looking to launch an Xbox Game Pass family plan, allowing you and four players to jump in for a monthly cost of €21.99 – which comes to around $21.99 / £19.99 / AU$32.99

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: verdict

Xbox Series X top view of console

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft may be onto something here. By offering two consoles that target different audiences, consumers ultimately have more choice and more ways to enter into the Xbox ecosystem. If only the best will do, pick up an Xbox Series X, but be prepared to pay a premium. Want to enter the next generation without breaking the bank? The Xbox Series S is a fantastic entry point, thanks to a tempting price.

Microsoft seems to have created two appealing iterations of its console, without one appearing less attractive than the other. Crucially, it can now fight the PS5 on two important fronts: price and performance. The Xbox Series S costs significantly less than the PS5 and the PS5 Digital Edition.

By creating an argument for Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S, Microsoft has essentially done its best to turn consumers’ heads where it might not have done so before, was it a straight fight between Xbox Series X and PS5. And that’s surely a win for Xbox as a whole.

Adam was formerly TRG's Hardware Editor. A law graduate with an exceptional track record in content creation and online engagement, Adam has penned scintillating copy for various technology sites and also established his very own award-nominated video games website. He’s previously worked at Nintendo of Europe as a Content Marketing Editor and once played Halo 5: Guardians for over 51 hours for charity. He is now an editor at The Shortcut.

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