(Zane Pickett made substantial contributions to this review.)
It has been seven years since the last major generational upgrade to the Xbox series when Microsoft released the Xbox One. Once dubbed 'Project Scarlett' more than two years ago, the time has come for some of the hottest electronics to be released in the U.S. starting today and just in time for the holidays. Earnings for video games have skyrocketed since the beginning of the pandemic in all aspects. Creativity in games is flourishing at an intense rate, while the future of gaming has never looked brighter, all the while bringing players closer to decade-old titles and streamers that they have grown to love with new standards with a strong force in graphical power and processing speed that make previous and leading titles look incredible. The next-generation console from Microsoft has finally arrived, the Xbox Series X.
We are getting not just one but two new consoles. The all-digital version Xbox Series S and then the top-of-the-line Xbox Series X. Zane Pickett, who has written about many games for Moor Insights & Strategy and I spent the past week testing the Xbox Series X, provided by Microsoft. I wanted to provide some commentary from this past week, and I have been impressed with just about every new game console for one reason or another, but Xbox Series X has been positioned as the ultimate gaming console, with far more performance than its previous powerhouse, the Xbox One X. I wanted to answer the big question that I have been getting asked from friends and family. Is the Xbox Series X worth it? Let's dive in.
The size and UI
There have been all kinds of different feelings and opinions about the Xbox Series X design, and some say it looks like a mini-fridge. Microsoft even took that opinion and even created an XBOX fridge - touché Microsoft. It has a minimalistic and simplistic design with an exhaust that comes out of the top. The obvious first issue you may run into is its size, which I honestly did not find a huge deal, but at the least – challenging. There are rubber feet on the sides that allow you to place it on the side like its predecessors. Even though it has a very modern look to it, one issue I did find is putting it inside of our entertainment center, I am sure this would not be the case for the Xbox Series S given its slimmer design, but until we find a place for it, it will surely be a conversation starter. Let's say that my wife did not care much for seeing the chunky device out in the living room.
Back in 2013, I mentioned that I thought that the XBOX One was a gargantuan device. I should have considered the size of future consoles with that previous statement. Next-generation consoles are not meant to become slimmer. We are out of the era of PlayStation and 360 Slims. Now, the next-generation console, the Xbox Series X, is genuinely a gargantuan device. The Series X comes in at 301mm (11.85 inches) tall and 151mm (5.94 inches) in width and depth. Of course, the Series X is wider than the PS5, but the latter makes it up in the center. The two are nearly the same in terms of weight, though, with the PS5 coming in at 4.5kg (9.92 pounds) while the Xbox Series X weighs 4.45kg (9.8 pounds). And by losing the 4K Blu-ray disc drive, the PS5 Digital Edition sheds down to 3.9kg (8.59 pounds), but as for the Xbox Series S, it comes in 275 (11 inches) tall and 275 mm (5.9 inches) in width 65mm (2.6 inches) in depth.
Once the placement has been determined, turn it on, and you are greeted by an improved 'welcome' screen and a familiar UI. On the top-right corner of the Xbox logo, you will see a glossy black Xbox logo that illuminates white with the same power on alert when the system is positioned vertically. Directly below the logo is the disk drive and the disc eject button; to the bottom-right corner of that, you will see a USB Type-A 3.1 Gen 1 port and the pairing button for your wireless controllers. Behind the console, you will see a Kensington lock slot, a pair of USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A slots, a memory expansion slot, a Gigabit Ethernet jack, an HDMI 2.1 port, and a power input.
Let's move on to the user interface. I feel that most Xbox users thought that the Xbox one dashboard felt as if it was in a perpetual state of beta throughout the last generation cycle and has been heavily scrutinized, revised, and iterated upon. As a result, the Xbox Series X launches with perhaps the best Xbox dashboard to date with a surprising amount of functionality packed in the customizable guide with a few esthetic differences like the moving backgrounds the ability to change your home screen. The dashboard and store are far more responsive, fast, and intuitive, allowing you to navigate the dashboard's high traffic areas in line with your priorities as a player. You can change your game titles on the home screen, organize pins easier but you cannot interchange or take any out. There is an accessibility options' ease of access', which is straight forward, so it has comprehensive close caption options and button remapping and its surface level to push towards disabled gamers to make their own play experience unique and enjoyable.
Is it user friendly? I still feel it needs some work in that department, but it is still a comfortable and familiar UI that allows you to have quick access to the ecosystem's elements when you want and when you want them. That is just the whole homogenized look that Microsoft is going for that everything between its systems looks practically the same. A fluent design of the Xbox One interface has been a point of content for all generations, but its transition to Series X shows its true potential. But I feel that if you are coming from something more linear like PS4, this may become more chaotic. If you are expecting this brand new, next-gen experience in terms of visuals of the interface, you might be disappointed. This is about playing your games and fast. Every click goes immediately to everywhere you want it to go, and it happens at a rapid-fire rate. It takes no time to do anything, and I find that a big deal.
The newest add-on for the Xbox Series X is the new 'Quick Resume' tool. It is an impressive new feature that all players and streamers will love, and it worked better than expected. The feature is exclusive to Xbox Series X and S consoles recall a game directly into storage, similar to how suspending an application works on your tablet or smartphone. The game is virtually frozen in this state and is available for use almost instantly once you revisit it. The Xbox One had a relatable feature, but it appeared to only work for one game at a time, and it seemed to cause instability in certain games. The games that are eligible for this will show a play symbol with the words' Quick Resume' on the game's top-right that will slide in for 10 seconds then go into the save state. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is excellent for Quick Resume, works after you restart or turn off and unplug the console. The feature can store around 4-6 games, depending on how large and complex they are. It would be nice to have something signifying which games are capable of Quick Resume right now and if Microsoft could implement a way to switch the task to switch between stored games. I am sure it will take some time for all Xbox players to not force-close games, myself included. Quick Resume is just another nice feature that makes it hard to go back to the previous-gen consoles.
The Xbox Series X is an absolute powerhouse, rocking an eight-core AMD Zen 2 processor running at 3.8GHz, a custom RDNA 2 AMD GPU that puts out 12 TFLOPs of processing power, 16GB of GDDR6 memory, and a 1TB Custom NVMe SSD. Here's what the Xbox Series X specs look like on paper:
- Memory: 16 GB GDDR6 w/ 320b bus
- Memory Bandwidth: 10GB @ 560 GB/s, 6GB @ 336 GB/s
- Internal Storage: 1TB Custom NVME SSD
- External Storage: USB 3.2 External HDD Support
- Expandable Storage: 1TB Expansion Card (matches internal storage exactly)
- Optical Drive: 4K UHD Blu-ray Drive
- I/O Throughput: 2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s
- Die Size: 360.45 mm2
- Process: 7nm Enhanced
- CPU: 8x Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.6 GHz w/ SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU
- GPU: 12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @ 1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU
- Performance Target: 4K @ 60fps, Up to 120fps
So, what does that mean in terms of real-world performance?
As I fought my way through a Yokohama district of Isezaki Ijincho, which is based on Yokohama's real-life Isezakichō district, while taking fun selfies. The magnificent city begins to reveal itself to you; the more you explore as Xbox Series X hardware-accelerated DirectX Raytracing brings worlds to life with dynamic reflections and shadows, rich graphics, and high visual fidelity. This will be used in even backward compatible games from the previous-gen consoles to leverage an innovative HDR reconstruction technique to enhance existing SDR games with no work from developers and no impact to available CPU, GPU, or memory resources.
One of Xbox's more exciting features is the Velocity Architecture that utilizes four components: the custom SSD, Hardware Accelerated Decompression, Direct Storage API, and Sampler Feedback Streaming. The custom SSD and Hardware Accelerated Decompression of the puzzle decrease load times by improving how well assets load from storage and reducing the space the assets take upon the SSD. The remaining elements work to reduce CPU workload and streamline GPU usage, only rendering the portions of the scene's assets currently needed.
One of the vital fundamental components is the Xbox Velocity Architecture for the Xbox Series X. This component was said to "unlock new capabilities never-before-seen in console development" from Microsoft. This feature streamlined storage and improved how Xbox Series X loads games from the SSD to reduce space that occupies the drive. There are challenges that modern-day titles face, and that's an installation that is vigorously demanding more space like Call of Duty: Warzone and to support complex next-generation games while also reducing load times, which solves these two problems.
I want to talk about what will hit home for all people, which is the ability to play in 4K gaming at 120-hertz gaming with frame rates at 120 frames per second. All that power and I had to wait last minute to test out the Yakuza: Like a Dragon to see the polished title to test out those teraflops. I did play Yakuza: Like a Dragon and Assassins Creed: Valhalla, which both have been optimized to run at 4K, 60 fps, and 120 fps. This is an investment to get the best gameplay. Please do your research on monitors and TVs before spending a pretty penny and sparing a possible headache. It all comes down to how appealing you want your games and responsive speed to be. Especially with HDMI 2.1, or your 2.0 will only run 1080p. One thing that I find pleasant is if you pick up a new tv that supports HDR, then some of the older games that you get thanks to backward capability will be fine-tuned for HDR and intelligently do it on its own that will give you those qualities colors, get increased dynamical range then it will increase just being on the system. If you care about backward compatibility, then there are many benefits to playing them on this system. Microsoft’s indicative position best showcase of the Series X is the showcase of games from 2018 and 2019. For example, Forza Horizon 4 and Gears 5. Those are just two of many games that have been optimized for series X. The console delivers gorgeous 4k resolutions and up to 120 fps, a remarked improvement over its Xbox One counterparts, and highlights just how much the previous generation of hardware was limiting developer ambition. Everything that I have been able to test has been smoother and more stable with a console natively improving all the backward compatible titles without any additional work required for developers.
The system runs surprisingly quiet and calm even after lengthy games that are optimized for the series X. I kept mine right next to be plugged into my TV, and this console is extremely quiet. I felt the heat exhaustion from the console, so if you put two or three years from now with dust build-up and 4k and 120fps, that will push the fans. Series X is a system that is designed to change the ways games feel on screen and in your hands, and it is built to last. The graphics look deeper and richer, thanks to the auto-HDR, while the load times have been improved by over 70% thanks to the SSD, with framerates and stability have improved across the board. The Xbox Series X is a powerful machine to make games from all generations look, feel, and play better than ever. The Xbox series x is an impressive machine. It is quick and responsive and a smarter iteration of what has come before it. To reduce load times and the ability to leap between games in a suspended state and a faster user experience. I would like to see how that holds once 8K compatibility is available. It does feel that the Xbox series X is doing everything it can to get out of your way to let you play the best versions of your favorite games possible. It has removed so much friction from the Xbox ecosystem I feel that no one could go back to the XBOX One.
Controller & audio
The Xbox Series X controller is familiar to the previous Xbox One X Elite 2 controller, but there are some nice suitable changes. I have always liked it when controllers add the grip threading, and this controller comes with it in black-matte treading for the back-palm and trigger buttons. The grips have been reweighted, and a smaller redesign as the trigger and bumpers improve comfortability with Improved analog sticks. I have seen my son rub his sweaty palms on his pants one too many times due to long hours of playing Call of Duty: Warzone, so the new grip thread will surely help keep hold of the controller and not slip away. You will need all the traction you can get with the latest battleground craze. The controller's most noticeable change is the new hybrid D-pad, which is a four-directional pad and a rounded diagonal pad.
Changes have been made by the millimeter compared to the Elite 2 with the crosshair rising a bit to hold your finger or thumb comfortably, where it felt I hardly needed any pressure applied to the button for making a responsive play. What is does take from the Elite 2 is the USB-C. It allows you to charge and play simultaneously, but it still takes double-A batteries. So, you will need to buy battery packs to capture it through that. But overall, USB-C is better than Micro USB. Now, I feel that having to use batteries for a controller while PlayStation has been using rechargeable controllers for years lacks innovation and comes off lazy. I do hope this will change sooner rather than later; it is overdue.
Microsoft is using what it is calling Xbox Wireless Radio as a standard way to work with people's PCs, iOS, and Android phones that will allow you to play remotely via phone, tablet, or PC. I gave it a try, and it worked magnificently. Of course, playing games like Call of Duty: Warzone or APEX Online will be challenging to see on your phone while depending on your internet connection for latency but luckily my experience had zero latency, and I am looking forward to using this feature again. It will also use Bluetooth Low Energy to do so more quickly and reliably, which is a plus for streamers. Another important addition is the share button, and it is integrated into the center of the controller. You create a quick screenshot, or if you hold it, then you can save a clip. It makes it easier when under pressure with the rise of the battleground games. That brings the Xbox into the lineup with the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, and I am sure PlayStation 5 will a way to take a screenshot with a press of a button. What is the point of instant screen capturing if you can’t show off your clips or screenshots? Xbox Series X and S allow you to share your creations with friends and social media networks easier than ever now. Microsoft has not changed the Xbox controller's layout in 15 years, and for a good reason. The XBOX gamepad is still considered by many to be the gold standard. Microsoft has opted to leverage small iterations on the XBOX One gamepad for the millimeter changes in the Xbox Series X Controller as a testament to its legacy.
In addition to the gorgeous graphics, the Series X also has 3D audio to create a more immersive gaming experience. Both the Series X and Series S can produce spatial audio. Microsoft's audio technology works with Virtual Surround Sound for the Dolby Atmos for headphones. Like PlayStation 5, the Series X will rely on the GPU and Head-related Transfer Function (HRTF) for its immersive soundscapes. For those that do not know, HRTF deciphers how an individual's ear receives sound since everyone's ears interpret sound based on their shape.
Microsoft is coming out swinging with the Xbox Series X powerhouse, but it did get a couple of strikes along the way. Packed with teraflops, a rapid-fire fast SSD, Raytracing, and an array of spectacular features, the Series X is the new most powerful console in the world. The games are gorgeous in 4K, HDR at 120 fps with its modern and minimalistic design, the Series X blurs the line between gaming PCs and consoles. When you receive a next generation console, you want to feel it before turning it on. I always think of one beloved iconic character, and that’s John-117 (Master Chief) from the hit series game ‘Halo.’. You can feel the absence of him despite ‘Halo Infinite’ being represented on the XBOX Series X packaging. Microsoft needed a big game to launch with the next-generation console and not just the many backward compatibility games already its digital marketplace. PlayStation 5 has ‘Spiderman: Miles Morales’ that has become another hit. Again, the optimized games are lovely and will be loved by all nostalgic gamers, but it needed to show off a more iconic and Xbox exclusive title at launch to bring the heat, but I feel it is now a missed opportunity. Let us hope the games come out on a reasonable schedule.
Unless you do not have any way to play Xbox or game pass games then I think the Xbox Series X isn’t worth purchasing just yet. Even the Series S is the replacement for the One X, which I feel would be the way to go. I couldn’t imagine spending $499.99 on this right now. Despite having Quick Resume, raytracing, variable-rate shading, and performance that are all superb. It is an investment. You would need to purchase a 4k monitor that can perform at 120 hertz and 120 fps. But you will not get so much of a different product now as you will in 6 months when more games have been released for it. My conclusion is just sitting on it for a little bit. In these pandemic times, especially with the holidays around the corner. Purchasing the console for $499.99 is not worth it until more exclusive Xbox games come out, so instead, consider The Series S for $299 to get into the new generation of consoles.
The Xbox Series X I am reviewing is priced at $499.99, while the Xbox Series S costs $299.99. The Series S lacks a physical disc drive, is an only digital console and a more familiar design to its predecessors. Overall, the Xbox Series X is just about everything you would want in something called a next-gen console. It is sleek, powerful, packed with innovative features, and has serious potential for greatness with its backward capability game library. This console makes few compromises with its add-ons and UI, but after spending minimal time with it, going back to an Xbox One or PS4 would be unbearable.
Note: Zane Pickett, Moor Insights & Strategy games writer, made substantial contributions to this review.