Xbox One vs Xbox One S: should you make the upgrade?

Xbox One X vs Xbox One S vs Xbox One

Xbox, meet Xbox, meet Xbox. With more consoles than ever in the Microsoft family to choose from, how is a gamer meant to choose?

Up until today, if you’re thinking of jumping into the newest generation of Xbox gaming you only had two points of entry to choose from: the original Xbox One and its more powerful mutation the Xbox One S. 

But now there's a powerful, native-4K option out there: Xbox One X

This system brings 12GB of DDR5 memory and a crazy 6 Teraflop GPU. Not only can it do native 4K UHD gaming – a feature no other console can currently do – but it will also play games in HDR and most games at higher frame rates. It's one of the finest pieces of hardware Microsoft has ever made.

And with chatter growing about the next console generation – the Xbox Scarlett, which could be with us as early as 2020 – gamers will be thinking carefully about when and how much to invest in a current-gen console.

Whether you’re trying to choose which console should be your first step into the Xbox One family, or you’re trying to decide whether an upgrade is a worthwhile cost, we’re here to help by weighing up the features of all three consoles and breaking them down to tell you which is best for your gaming needs. 

Xbox One X vs Xbox One S vs Xbox One: Design 

Out of Microsoft’s two currently available consoles, the Xbox One S is definitely the smaller option. It measures 11.6 x 9.0 x 2.5 inches which makes it around 40% smaller than the original Xbox One which measures 17 x 14 x 5 inches. Its smaller size is also helped by the fact that it’s a console that can be lain horizontally or slotted into a tighter space vertically.

Really, this is just down to a more efficient use of space as despite its much smaller casing, the console’s exterior still has the same HDMI In and Out ports, the same two USB ports and the same Ethernet ports as its predecessor.

Now, as we haven’t seen it yet we can’t be sure whether or not Microsoft plans to continue to go smaller with One X, but its use of a high-tech vapour chamber for cooling suggests that the console has the potential to be very compact. 

Xbox One X vs Xbox One S vs Xbox One

Another advantage the Xbox One S and Xbox One X will both have in terms of design is that neither have that bulky external power brick that takes up so much room alongside the Xbox One.

The Xbox One X is very much a clone of the Xbox One S. It's made a few minor changes, like the disc drives move to the middle of the console, and the shift to a nice Space Grey color, it's nearly identical. Well, on the outside at least.

Xbox One X vs Xbox One S vs Xbox One: Graphics 

While form factor is important, it’s the power and features offered by these different consoles which is likely to play a larger role in whether or not you upgrade. 

One of the biggest changes between each of these consoles is in how they handle 4K and HDR content. If you have a 4K TV and you want to experience your games in 4K with HDR color, the original Xbox One is not for you. 

The Xbox One S on the other hand very well could be. The Xbox One S isn’t able to run 4K content natively like Xbox One X will, however, it does output 4K through a process known as upscaling. The games themselves are rendered at a maximum resolution of 1080p (otherwise known as ‘Full HD’) and then stretched to have it fill the entirety of a 4K screen. 

Since 4K is four times the resolution of Full HD this means that with the One S each one of the game's pixels is being stretched across four of your television's pixels. This form of upscaling does therefore result in an image that’s much less crisp and detailed than what 4K is truly capable of.

Select games are also available with HDR functionality on the Xbox One S, however at present the total number pales in comparison to the total Xbox One library. 

Xbox One X vs Xbox One S vs Xbox One

4K output will take a further step up with Xbox One X, the console that’s being hailed by Microsoft as offering true 4K. As you’d expect, Xbox One X will be capable of outputting 4K natively. 

Digital Foundry's recent analysis included a screenshot of a version of Forza Motorsport which had been ported to the One X after just a couple of days of work. The game was apparently running at 60fps at a 4K resolution, and it was doing this with GPU horsepower to spare. 

As well as outputting native 4K, Xbox One X can also output games at higher frame rates and in high dynamic range, also known as HDR.

Recent tech demos unearthed by Windows Central have given us an interesting idea of how different games will look across Xbox One X and Xbox One. Check them out here

4K support isn’t limited to games, either, with the Xbox One S and Xbox One X both offering 4K Blu-ray players and 4K streaming support for services such as Netflix and Amazon. 

Xbox One X vs Xbox One S vs Xbox One

Xbox One X vs Xbox One S vs Xbox One: Performance 

Aside from the visuals, there are also some other performance differences that should be taken into account. When moving from the Xbox One to the Xbox One S, Microsoft added a smaller and more efficient CPU as well as a slightly faster GPU which gives the Xbox One S a slight edge performance-wise. 

For example, games with unlocked frame rates were reported by Digital Foundry to perform 7-11% better on the Xbox One S than they do on the original Xbox One. Depending on what your priorities are, the difference between 40 and 46 frames per second could be purchase-altering or eyeroll-provoking. 

We’re looking at a much more significant performance boost when Xbox One X is released as the recent hardware reveal has confirmed that the console will be capable of full 4K at a perfect 60 frames per second. 

Microsoft is promising that this is going to be a noticeably more powerful console and the recently released hardware specs have us inclined to agree. 

As far as the CPU is concerned, it's not the latest technology but the console has an eight core processor capable of 2.3 GHz which makes it around 30 percent faster than the original Xbox One.

The GPU, meanwhile, is around 4.6 times more powerful than the Xbox One thanks to its 40 customized compute units clocked at 1172MHz which is a very high clockspeed for a console. 

The console is indeed capable of that 6 teraflops of power Microsoft promised (which is much higher than the 1.3 teraflops of the original Xbox One) and there's 12GB of GDDR5 RAM, with a memory bandwidth of 326GB/s. 

This 12GB means the console has an impressive amount of memory available – it has 4GB reserved just for the system while games have another whole 8GB at their disposal which is a significant increase on the 5GB the Xbox One had available. 

Xbox One X vs Xbox One S vs Xbox One

Basically, all this high power means very fast streaming of high-quality art assets which makes the console more than capable of outputting those native 4K Ultra HD resolutions that Microsoft promised as well as running games at 1080p more efficiently. 

There's a faster 1TB 2.5-inch hard drive, and a UHD Blu-ray drive just like the Xbox One S.

In terms of input and output ports, Xbox One X is identical to the Xbox One S which means there's still no Kinect port though that HDMI in port is still there. 

Just as there was a performance improvement between the Xbox One and Xbox One S, the same will happen here and thanks to its more powerful CPU and GPU, Xbox One X will run all games more smoothly than either of its predecessors.

According to Eurogamer, the new console has enough power to run existing Xbox One games at 4K resolution at 60 frames per second without much porting work.

Even if you don't have a 4K TV you'll see an improvement in game performance and visuals with the One X. With a standard Full HD TV you'll be able to choose between performance modes that make the game run better, or resolution modes that will supersample the 4K image down to your display which guarantees excellent image quality no matter what kind of display you have.  

Essentially, Xbox One X will be able to run every Xbox One game better in one way or another whether it's been patched with an enhanced mode and whether you have a 4K TV or not. 

According to Eurogamer, though all of these improvements won't be applicable to all titles, Xbox One X's faster and more powerful hardware means it will be capable of offering faster load times, improved textures, higher resolutions, and smoother performance for Xbox and Xbox 360 titles. 

  • A great looking console deserves a great sounding setup. Check out our guide to the best soundbars if your TV's audio could do with a boost.

Xbox One X vs Xbox One S vs Xbox One

Xbox One X vs Xbox One S vs Xbox One: Games 

Despite differences in performance, all three consoles will offer the same games. Microsoft has promised that there will be no Xbox One X exclusives so whether you own the original Xbox, an Xbox One S or you buy the new One X console, you’ll still be able to play all the latest Xbox titles. 

It’ll just be the the case that the newer the console you have, the better the game will perform. 

When you install a game on your Xbox console, the game will detect what hardware you're using and then utilize the appropriate visuals and features.

Though a 4K enhancement patch won't necessarily be available in every game  – developers will have to enable the experience and many of them might not want to do so – because of the way the way Xbox One X runs, every game, no matter whether it's received a patch or not, will run better on the console. 

Xbox One X vs Xbox One S vs Xbox One

We already know that Fallout 4 and Battlefield 1 will both be equipped for Xbox One X and Microsoft has said that it's aiming to make most if not all of its first party titles compatible with the One X. that means Gears of War, Forza and Halo will all be supported. If rumors are true, Red Dead Redemption 2 will also support the console. 

This cross-console peace also extends to backwards compatibility. Despite being the newest console, Xbox One X will still be able to access the same backwards compatible library as the original Xbox and Xbox One S.

There will, however, be a difference in content when it comes to virtual reality. Xbox One X will offer support for virtual and mixed reality headsets which the Xbox One S and Xbox One don’t. If you’re interested in joining the virtual reality revolution via your console, you’re likely to want to pick up the One X rather than its predecessors. 

Xbox One X vs Xbox One S vs Xbox One: Controller 

Xbox One controllers

It’s worth noting that Microsoft made some improvements to the Xbox controller between Xbox One and Xbox One S. They’re not major changes, but the addition of true Bluetooth means that you don’t require a wireless dongle to connect your Xbox One S controller to a Bluetooth compatible device as you did with the Xbox One controller. 

Further minor changes were that the controller became slightly lighter with more ergonomically-minded features that would make it more comfortable to play for longer periods.

It’s not clear whether or not we’ll see improvements made to Xbox One X’s controller but considering Microsoft does consider the controller design as an integral part of the overall console experience it’s possible we could see some more minor changes that will improve appearance if not performance. 

Xbox One X vs Xbox One S vs Xbox One: Price 

If you’re not swayed by hardware changes, we’re willing to bet that price will play a large part in which console you decide to go for in the end. If price wasn’t an issue we’d just buy every console out there, let’s face it.

Naturally, the Xbox One S is more expensive than the Xbox One but there are some great bundle deals to be picked up for the Xbox One S as that’s the console Microsoft is pushing most at the moment. The Xbox One S 1TB version currently retails in bundles for around $349 (£299 / AU$499) while the standalone 500GB model sells at around $299 (£249 / AU$399).

This actually isn’t a huge jump from the Xbox One which you can pick up for around $285 (£230 / AU$380).

The beefier Xbox One X is predictably heavier on your wallet, sitting at around $469 / £449 / AU$649.

Xbox One racing

Should you upgrade?

Well, that depends on a few things. If you own a 4K UHD TV with HDR capabilities then you’ll definitely want to go for the Xbox One S or Xbox One X. Actually, even if you don't own a 4K UHD TV but own a 1080p display instead, both of these consoles will cater to you with improved visuals. 

It’s likely to be dependent on your budget but if you’re looking for native 4K and improved upscaling, Xbox One X will be worth its higher sticker price. It’ll also be the go-to console for the latest virtual and mixed reality experiences as well as the smoothest performance in gameplay. 

If you’d be happy with less intelligent 4K upscaling as well as a nice Ultra HD Blu-ray player, you could very well be happy with the Xbox One S. The Xbox One S is also likely your most affordable option if you don’t own a UHD TV but would still like to enjoy smoother gameplay. 

Essentially, if you want the most powerful console on the market and you're willing to pay the price to get it,  Xbox One X is likely to be the console for you. If you're just dipping your toes into the new generation and 4K visuals, though, the Xbox One S is still a very respectable option. If we're honest, though, at this point things aren't looking great for the original Xbox One which looks woefully outdated in terms of the visuals it's able to offer, particularly as the Xbox One S is so competitive in terms of pricing.