Xbox Series S Review: Verdict
In our Xbox Series S review, we discussed how this sleek, approachable console could be just the ticket for young, casual or budget-minded gamers who want the latest and greatest games, but arent quite ready to take a $500 plunge. On the other end of the spectrum, if youre planning to buy an Xbox Series X , the Series S makes a fantastic backup console for a bedroom or office, particularly since your library and save files can come with you anywhere.
The Xbox Series S is too niche to recommend to everyone. If you have a high-end 4K TV, youre arguably better off with the Xbox Series X particularly since with lower specs, the Series S may be less equipped to handle next-gen titles as they become more demanding in the next few years. The lack of a disc drive limits its backwards compatibility, and its hard drive will fill up pretty fast. Still, if those factors arent dealbreakers, you can buy an awful lot of games with the $200 youll save.
You May Be More Disappointed On The Backward Compatibility Side Though
Is the Xbox Series S worth it for back compat? Ive used both the Xbox Series X and the Series S, and I can say that as far as playing next-gen optimized games is concerned I didnt really feel like the Series S was a huge step down. It just felt like I took the resolution slider and knocked it down from 4K to either 1440p or 1080p.
Where I was really hurting while using the Series S, however, was with backward compatibility specifically with Xbox One X games that have high framerate modes.
The Xbox One X has a few titles that offer high framerate performance options, such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy 15. The Xbox Series X is capable of running the One X versions of games, and when you flip those high framerate modes on, the Series Xs much better CPU helps them hit 60 FPS a lot more consistently.
The Xbox Series S, however, doesnt even get a crack at running One X games. Instead, its backward compatibility forces the One S/One version of a game to run, which means a lot of times, you wont even get to see those high framerate modes in the menu. As far as the game is concerned, youre on an Xbox One from 2013. Your machine cant handle it.
Fortunately, backward compatibility isnt a total bust on Series S. Xbox 360 and O.G. Xbox games that got One X enhancements do still get upgraded, but will max out at 1440p instead of 4K.
Xbox Series S Is In Stock And Available To Buy
Yep, you read that right. Having been sold out for months following launch, the Xbox Series S is now routinely in stock and available to add to basket. That isnt to imply the Series S is less sought after, mind.
Much like the Nintendo Switch, Microsofts modest hardware is relatively easy to manufacture. The AMD die at the heart of Series S measures just 197mm², making it almost 50 per cent smaller than the 360mm² chip residing within Xbox Series X. Being smaller generally enables better yields, meaning more can be produced without defect.
Simpler production has taken on new meaning in these strange times, and Series S stands to benefit from a lean design thats easier to put on shelves. Now that Microsoft has halted production of previous-generation consoles, we expect Series S to remain in stock for the foreseeable future.
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Series S Is A True Next
Theres no getting around the fact Series S is the weaker of Microsofts two next-gen consoles. The eight-core AMD Zen 2 CPU is slower , theres less memory on a much narrower bus , and even graphics is at a fraction of its full potential.
The RDNA 2 GPU in Series S features just 20 CUs , compared to 52 in the Series X. Heck, the shaders are even downclocked, operating at 1.57GHz, compared to 1.83GHz for Series X.
Microsofts bigger, pricier sibling is undoubtedly more powerful, yet the Series S retains that next-gen feel through the use of a PCIe Gen 4 NVMe SSD. Solid-state storage is in our estimation the single most important upgrade available to the current crop of consoles.
Xbox One and PlayStation 4 were hampered by mechanical hard disks, leading to painfully long load times more often than not. Those delays were only exacerbated by the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro, two ill-advised last-gen consoles attempting to dabble with 4K gaming on hard disks that shudder at the thought of moving huge textures.
Gamers accustomed to making a cuppa while stuck on a load screen are in for a surprise. SSD at the ready, Series S offers drastically improved load times across the board. Were talking seconds as opposed to minutes, and with Quick Resume, whereby the current state of compatible games is saved to storage, it is possible to pick up where you left off almost instantly.
Xbox Series S Review: Backwards Compatibility
Like the Xbox Series X, the Xbox Series S is backwards compatible with just about every Xbox One title, plus dozens of Xbox 360 and original Xbox titles. Microsoft has discussed this feature at length for months, as has Toms Guide, so I wont reiterate in great detail here. Suffice it to say that if youve ever owned an Xbox console before, you can hit the ground running on the Series S with your library intact.
As I tested the Xbox Series S, I noticed a backwards compatibility problem that I didnt have with the Xbox Series X: theres no disc drive. This seems almost too obvious to point out, except that it makes backwards compatibility a little thornier. While buying digital games has become extremely common over the last few years, it wasnt widespread at the beginning of the Xbox One generation and it was even less accessible before that.
In other words, if you have a big physical Xbox/Xbox 360 library, it wont do you a lick of good on the Xbox Series S. Youll have to either buy those games again digitally, hope that they get added to Xbox Game Pass, or simply bite the bullet and buy an Xbox Series X.
The good news is that for backwards-compatible digital games, the Xbox Series S works beautifully, often running titles with better resolutions and frame rates than before. Its a boon for early adopters in the digital games market, if nothing else.
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It’s The Perfect Game Pass Machine
“I love my Series S! It’s a little GamePass machine.” So said my colleague Ashley Esqueda when we were discussing the merits of the Series S in our internal gaming Slack channel. And she’s right, of course. As a subscriber to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate — basically, Microsoft’s “Netflix for games” subscription program — I now have access to dozens of new and classic games from EA, Microsoft and other publishers. Right now, I can try out Flight Simulator for one hour or a thousand hours. That title joins old favorites like Grand Theft Auto V, Psychonauts and Titanfall 2, as well as newer games like Jedi Fallen Order, Control and Outriders. And since I don’t have a burning desire to own “event” titles like Madden or Call of Duty on the day and date of their release, I literally haven’t bought a new game since.
How Many Games Do They Plan To Store On Their Console
Help us understand your gaming habits and well find the console that works with you.
Help us understand their gaming habits and well find the console that works with them.
7 OF 7: LETS FIND THE PURCHASE OPTION THAT BEST FITS YOUR NEEDS
7 OF 7: LETS FIND THE PURCHASE OPTION THAT BEST FITS THEIR NEEDS
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What To Look Forward To
Well continue to test the Xbox Series X and Series S as software arrives, and well update this guide with our thoughts and impressions on the user experience accordingly. Additionally, Wirecutter senior staff writer Chris Heinonen, who is responsible for much of our television coverage, has tested the Xbox Series X as well as just about every major 2020 and 2021 television model with HDMI 2.1 support, and has screen recommendations for various budgets to get the most out of the new consoles.
Xbox Series S Review: Performance
At the risk of stating the obvious, the Xbox Series S is not nearly as powerful as the Xbox Series X. If youre familiar with the two consoles hardware specs, then youll know why. Whereas the Series X boasts a GPU with up to 12 teraflops of output, 16 GB RAM, 1 TB SSD storage and a 4K Blu-ray disc drive, the Series S has a GPU with up to 4 teraflops of output, 10 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD storage and no disc drive at all.
Most Xbox Series X games will run at 4K resolution and 60 frames per second, although certain titles will support resolutions up to 8K and frame rates up to 120 frames per second. Xbox Series S, on the other hand, has a max resolution of 1440p for games although the 120 fps frame rate is still technically possible.
Without getting too granular, the bottom line is that the Xbox Series S is much less powerful than the Series X, which is why it costs so much less. However, the Series S modest specs can be either a dealbreaker, an annoyance or a nonissue, depending on your setup and how you plan to use the console.
I ran three tests to evaluate how well the Xbox Series S performed. First, I chose four games from Microsofts optimized for Xbox Series X/S list: Gears 5, Maneater, Ori and the Will of the Wisps and Yakuza: Like a Dragon. These games all function just fine on Xbox One, but Microsoft promises better lighting, textures, frame rates and so forth on the Series S and especially the Xbox Series X.
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The Lesser Of The Two
To its credit, Microsoft has always been extremely upfront when it comes to the Xbox Series S. The tech giant has never claimed the console is capable of the same performance levels as the more expensive Xbox Series X.
The table below lays out the full technical breakdown, but the biggest discrepancy between the two machines is easily the GPU. The Xbox Series S sports an AMD RDNA 2, 4 teraflops, 1.6 GHz, which is much less powerful than the beefy AMD RDNA 2, 12 teraflops, 1.8 GHz found with the Xbox Series X.
|Xbox Series X|
|8K, 120 fps||1440p, 120 fps|
The two consoles also differ when it comes to RAM and storage capacity. Of course, the hard drive size doesnt impact performance, but it does mean the Xbox Series S can only hold a small handful of the best Xbox games before youll need to look at alternative storage options.
Weve tested both consoles extensively found that the Xbox Series X trumps the Xbox Series S in terms of performance in basically all areas. Of course, this is hardly surprising, but the worrying thing is the performance gulf between the two consoles seems to be growing.
Xbox Series S Upgrades The One S Series X Upgrades The One X
The $300 Xbox Series S was always designed to be an upgrade for those happy with their $300 Xbox One S systems and setups. People who use 1080p or 1440p display to enjoy games without breaking the bank will get a genuinely massive upgrade if they move across to an Xbox Series S.
Many past, present, and future games will enjoy frame rate enhancements and other improvements.
Many past, present, and future games will enjoy frame rate enhancements and other improvements to make games feel better â even if they won’t get the crispness of 4K gaming on a 4K TV.
The $500 Xbox Series X is the definitive upgrade for those who have a $500 Xbox One X, with enough GPU power to get the most out of their 4K TVs, alongside other visual enhancements that require more serious GPU performance.
Both systems will benefit from the large bump in CPU performance, and the near-instantaneous loading speeds on the SSD, and other improvements as developers get to grips with new APIs like DirectStorage and the broader Xbox Velocity Architecture. Many older games will get enhancements to take them beyond their Xbox One S versions on the Xbox Series S, improving frame rates and general smoothness. Meanwhile, future games built for the new development environment will take advantage of all these new features out of the box.
Whichever console you decide to jump into next-gen with, there are exciting times ahead for gamers everywhere.
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The Series S Is The Best Looking Next
A problem the Series X has is that it isnt beautiful. Its a boring black box, I love the futuristic design of the PS5, but the Series S is the best-looking next-generation console.
The Series S is beautiful, standing upright. Or on its side. Its black fan makes it look like a futuristic speaker. Its a rare combination of gorgeous design with fantastic engineering Microsoft should be proud.
You already know my opinion. I 100% think you should buy the Series S, but I need to balance this article, so here are some of the consoles issues.
Is Xbox Series S Worth It
Microsoft really changed the game in 2020 by introducing two new next-gen consoles at the same time. The Xbox Series X is the flagship the powerhouse that costs more, and is built for those who want a top-notch console gaming experience. The Xbox Series S, meanwhile, is the more affordable option that makes some sacrifices, but still promises to do a lot of the same things. Today were answering the question: Is Xbox Series S worth it? Can you get by spending $299 versus $499?
Lets dive in.
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Dedication To Backward Compatibility
All Xbox One controllers will work flawlessly on the new consoles.
A nice perk of gaming on PC is that the nature of the platform is incredibly backward compatibility-focused. When you upgrade the hardware in your PC, you ultimately still come back to the same user interfaces and library of games that you’re used to having access to. Additionally, all of the hardware accessories and peripherals that you buy for your PC will remain compatible with a system you upgrade as well.
Traditionally, backward compatibility has not been a priority for console developers. Still, Microsoft has changed that in recent years with its efforts to make games from the Xbox 360 era and some titles for the original Xbox playable on the Xbox One family. With Xbox Series X, Microsoft is continuing to lean into this direction by adding full backward compatibility for Xbox One games on top of Xbox 360 and original Xbox ones . On top of this, many of these games are being enhanced so that they look better on the more powerful hardware . It’s also worth noting that the new consoles use a polished and streamlined version of the Xbox One interface, which helps provide existing Xbox users a familiarity that PC gamers have exclusively enjoyed up until now.
Classic Xbox titles like Knights of the Old Republic will be playable on Xbox Series X/S.
The Series S Gpu Is Underpowered
The Series S weaker GPU is the biggest problem over the Series X.
Certain games only get a 60fps patch on the Series X, not the Series S. Examples are The Outer Worlds and Wreckfest. Both run 60fps on the Series X but only 30fps on the Series S.
The difference in graphical bandwidth between both consoles with the Series S GPU being roughly 1/3rd as powerful as the series X.
However, Microsoft has made strong strides to fix these issues with the FPS boost, a feature that nearly doubles the actual frame rates of selected titles, making games smoother causing the gameplay to be more immersive. Take a look at the FPS boosted titles here.
You will see only a few games like Dying Light are only boosted for the Series X. The VAST majority are enabled for Series X and S.
I think a lot of the issues surrounding the Series S GPU are overblown Call Of Duty Cold War on my 2016 4K HDR Samsung TV looked AMAZING on the Series S. If youre playing older games like the Witcher 3, you wont even notice a difference between 1440p and 4K on an HDR TV.
For a deeper dive into the Xbox Series X/S CPUs/GPUs and the equivalent PC build, please read my detailed article.
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Many Gamers Wont Need A Disc Drive
Heres what youre paying for with the $499 Xbox Series X: 4K gaming and a UHD Blu-Ray disc drive. Weve covered the 4K bit already, so all thats left is the drive.
This is going to be the second biggest factor for many gamers for one very significant reason: Used games. I totally get that for many gamers, the ability to buy used games or trade in games is important. For some households, being able to play your Blu-Ray collection is also important. If these factors are important than you should absolutely not buy the Xbox Series S. Opt for that excellent $35/month All Access deal for the Series X instead.
If, on the other hand, youre like me you probably never put discs in your consoles at this point. I only very, very rarely play a DVD or Blu-Ray. I have some, true, but I could always play them on my PS4 Pro or Xbox One X if I need to . The fact is, I get most of my games digitally at this point, whether Im buying them or getting review codes .
I was actually able to snag a PS5 Digital Edition, which means that I may very well opt for the Xbox Series X just to be safe, just to know that at least one of my consoles has the disc drive, but if Id gotten the PS5 with a drive I would be more inclined to go with the Series S.