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Microsoft Xbox Series X vs Series S: which console should you buy?

Torn between Microsoft’s next-gen consoles? We take you through everything you need to know

Call it a hunch, but we reckon right before you opened this page, you probably typed “Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S” into Google. If so, congratulations – you’re in the right place. We’ve got the answer.

After some rampant initial stock shortages (which plagued both Xbox consoles and the PlayStation 5), both of Microsoft’s next-gen consoles are, thankfully, now relatively easy to find. If you’re already set on which one you want, that’s great, but chances are, if you’re on this page, you’re either not sure which one’s worth spending your hard earned cash on, or what the differences between the two models are.

Fear not, for all is about to be explained…

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: price

Xbox Series X
Xbox Series X

Both the Xbox Series X and Series S landed on the 10th of November 2020. Since that initial release date, prices have held steady at Microsoft’s RRP, thanks largely to the difficulty in getting hold of one throughout 2021.

The Series X carries a premium, setting you back £449 compared to £249 for the Series S. For context, the digital edition of the PlayStation 5 is £349, while the standard (disc drive-packing) version is £449.

Clearly Microsoft is charging more for the Series X beyond just the design differences (which we’ll get on to in a bit). For now though, let’s dive into the meat of this comparison.

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: specs and power (aka, why is the Series X more expensive?)

What ports will it have?

It’s all about the hardware and performance. The Xbox Series X is, simply put, the most powerful console ever made, squeezing past even the beastly PlayStation 5 in raw computational power —and the spec gap between the Series X and its Series S brother is even greater.

Check out Microsoft’s official spec sheet, which directly compares the two consoles:

But what do all those numbers mean in the real world? For starters, the Series X’s 12 teraflop GPU lets it handle up to 4K/120fps gaming, which is a feat previously reserved for the beefiest of gaming PCs. Note we said “up to”, as demanding AAA games will still likely be hovering around the 4K/60 FPS mark, although a few heavy hitters like Halo: Infinite can push 120fps at 4K. In contrast, while both consoles share similarly powerful AMD processors, the Series S’ GPU has less RAM and power in general, capable of pushing out only four teraflops in comparison.

We’re not going to dive into what teraflops are, or shove boring performance graphs down your throats. Instead, all you need to know is that the Series S is designed to provide the same smooth up-to 120fps gaming experience, just at a lower 1440p (or, if you prefer, 2K) resolution. While some less demanding games can run at 4K on the Series S, Microsoft is aiming the Series S at gamers that don’t need the highest frame rates and resolutions, as well as those with non-4K monitors. That seems pretty reasonable if you ask us.

How much will the Xbox Series X and Series S cost?

Other key differences are the fact that the Series X has a 4K UHD Blu-ray drive for playing physical copies of games and films, with a larger 1TB SSD to boot. In contrast, the Series S is a digital-only affair, meaning you’ll have to download your games and stream content. In this digital age, that’s unlikely to be a differentiator for most of us – unless you get the majority of your games from second-hand stores. The Series S’ 512GB SSD might be problematic for more serious gamers though, as it’ll only store around a maximum of five AAA games at a time, compared to around 16 games on the Series X.

Software-wise the Series X still provides the same apps, as well as features like Quick Resume, and, of course, super-speedy next-gen load times.

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: design

The design language difference between the Series X and Series S is, with some loose interpretation, literally night and day.

The Series X is a serious-looking, imposing tower with an aggressive, slightly curved top riddled with precise holes to allow hot air to escape, courtesy of its large built-in cooling fan. It’s only available in black, with no other colour options officially announced at the time of writing.

The series S, in comparison, is much dinkier and surprisingly portable. Slathered in white with a black circular ventilation grille, it’s equally handsome, albeit in a different way. It’s a closer match to the previous-gen Xbox One S, but even more compact. Microsoft calls it the smallest Xbox ever.

Design is subjective, and we think both consoles look great, but the Series X’s more subdued all-black paint job would probably suit more living rooms better. While the Series X isn’t as gigantic as the behemoth that is the PlayStation 5, it’s still designed to stand upright, so can’t slot into a home entertainment centre or beneath a TV like the adorable little Series S can, so it wins on the portability front.

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: games

This one’s easy: putting frame rate and resolution aside, both Xbox consoles support the exact same games. Both the Series X and Series S also both offer backwards compatibility with Xbox One, Xbox 360 and original Xbox games.

If backwards compatibility is your jam, though, it might be worth considering the Series X. It has wider support for the FPS Boost feature, which lets select games run at up to four times their original frame rate compared to previous-gen Xbox consoles. The Series S can handle a decent number of titles, but usually tops out at 60fps (up from 30fps on original hardware) on supported games. THe Series X can manage 120fps in certain games.

Whichever version you go for, you’ll have access to the same tantalising bang for buck offered by Xbox Game Pass, which offers a regularly-expanding library of games for a flat monthly fee.

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: verdict

What will the Xbox Series X and Series S look like?

Microsoft should be applauded for its next-gen approach. The Xbox Series X and Series S are substantially different enough in key areas to provide a significant price difference, which is great news for gamers on more of a budget, or those not looking to go beyond 2K/ up to 120fps gaming for the foreseeable future. The Series S offers incredible value for money, in a package that’s as delightful to look at, as it is to use. 

Naturally, if you want the ultimate no-compromise console experience (and are willing to pay for it), then the Series X is the way to go, especially if you want to hit a max of 120 buttery-smooth frames per second at glorious 4K resolution in certain titles.

Either way it’s a win-win for gamers, and you can’t go wrong, especially as the nasty days of bots and scalpers appear to be behind us. Happy gaming.