Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: Is 4K worth an extra $200?

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft has finally confirmed that there will be two models of its next-gen console: the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S.

However, unlike the PS5 vs. PS5 Digital Edition, there are a number of meaningful differences between the internal specs of the Xbox Series S when compared to the top-of-the-line Xbox Series X and a $200 price break to go along with it.

I’ll walk you through how Microsoft’s next-gen consoles stack up to one another and help you figure out which one is the right choice for you this fall.

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: Price and release date 

Microsoft seems to have delivered on its promise of not being the overpriced console of this generation with a starting price of $499 for the Xbox Series X and $299 for the Xbox Series S. While we’ll have to see what Sony does with the PS5 pricing before we know the full story, Microsoft should be safe regardless thanks to the affordable price of the Xbox Series S..

Rumors had been on target with both of the console options from Microsoft, so no real surprises here. And while the Xbox Series X does match the launch price of the criticized Xbox One, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t a solid value when you consider the hardware within the Xbox Series X. 

On some metrics, the Xbox Series S delivers less than half of the performance of the Xbox Series X and, perhaps more crucially, half the storage. However, it should hit solid enough performance targets and will deliver support for next-gen games, which is all that many users will care about. 

Both consoles are also available using an Xbox All Access payment plan, which gets you the console and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for $35 a month with the Xbox Series X or $25 a month with the Xbox Series S. After 24 months, you will have paid off the console and would need to subscribe to Game Pass Ultimate separately if you wish to continue it at the then-current price ($14.99 a month at present).

Both the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S will be available starting November 10 and pre-orders kick off on September 22. 

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: Specs 

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Xbox Series X Xbox Series S
Price $499 $299
CPU Custom AMD Zen 2 8-core @3.8GHz (3.66GHz with SMT) Custom AMD Zen 2 8-core @3.66GHz (3.4GHz with SMT)
GPU AMD Navi RDNA 2 with 52 CU @1.825GHz AMD Navi RDNA 2 with 20 CU @1.565GHz
GPU Power 12.15 Teraflops 4 Teraflops
Memory bandwidth 10GB at 560 GB/s, 6GB at 336 GB/s8GB at 224 GB/s, 2GB at 56 GB/s
Storage 1TB PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD 512GB PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD
Expandable storage 1TB Proprietary expansion card, USB 3.2 HDD support 1TB Proprietary expansion card, USB 3.2 HDD support
I/O Throughput 2.4 GB/s (raw), 4.8 GB/s (compressed) 2.4 GB/s (raw), 4.8 GB/s (compressed)
Disc drive 4K UHD Blu-RayNone
Performance target 4k 120fps, 8K 60fps 1440p 120fps
Backwards compatibility Xbox One and supported Xbox 360 and Xbox games Xbox One and supported Xbox 360 and Xbox games
Dimensions 5.94 x 5.94 x 11.85 inches 5.9 x 2.5 x 10.8 inches

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: Performance 

(Image credit: Microsoft)

As expected, the Xbox Series S delivers roughly one-third of the raw GPU power of the Xbox Series X at 4 Teraflops to 12.15 Teraflops. This results in a dropoff from the 4K at 120fps and 8K at 60fps potential of the Xbox Series X (it’s worth noting that few games are claiming this performance yet) down to 1440p at 120fps. 

However, with a virtually identical CPU and matching I/O throughput, the Xbox Series S is hardly going to be a performance slouch. Given the decreased resolution, the actual real-world performance in games should look quite similar with load times nearly eliminated and frames hitting a  buttery smooth 120fps (if your TV supports it).

And while it won’t be outputting 4K, it will be able to upscale both media and games to 4K, so even if you upgrade your TV in the next couple of years, you might not feel the need to bump up to the Xbox Series X.

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: Design 

(Image credit: Microsoft)

I described the Xbox Series X as a monolith when I first wrote about it and I’m sticking to that assessment. As a subdued addition to an entertainment center, there’s nothing wrong with that, but no one would praise the Xbox Series X of having an interesting or eye-catching design. 

The Xbox Series S, on the other hand, gets a much more striking look with a white finish on its hard-angled rectangular design with a large contrasting circular black vent on the top or side depending on how you orient the console. While it is still a study in minimalist design next to either PS5, the Series S makes much more of a statement than the Xbox Series X and is my personal favorite of the next-gen console designs thus far.

There are no doubt plenty of consumers who do not care about the design of the consoles one bit. But aesthetics aside, the size difference between the two consoles could be meaningful for some. The Xbox Series X may not be the massive beast that the PS5 is, but it’s quite a bit larger than the Xbox Series S, which Microsoft boasts is 60% smaller. The unusual nearly 6 x 6-inch width and depth of the Xbox Series X may make it an awkward fit in many entertainment centers compared to the more traditional slim rectangle of the Xbox Series S.

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: Features 

Xbox Series X

(Image credit: Microsoft)

I already covered the performance differences, but there is really only one feature advantage that the Xbox Series X offers over the Xbox Series S: the inclusion of a Blu-ray drive. Although previous console generations ability to play media via disc drive was highly relevant, it’s now a thing of the past for most people these days, but that hasn’t rendered the drive irrelevant.

Game downloads are becoming enormous. We’ve seen several go over the 100GB barrier even in the current console generation. But unless you have an impressive internet connection, you are going to be in for some long waits on those downloads. And while most ISPs have moved to unlimited or at least 1TB+ monthly data allotments, you are going to want to be extra sure that is the case for you if you are going with the Xbox Series S.



(Image credit: Microsoft)

While the Xbox Series X buries the Xbox Series S in terms of pure performance, the $200 price gap keeps the less powerful console very much in the conversation. Despite raw GPU power being more on a par with current-gen hardware, the Xbox Series S looks like it could offer enough for those who aren’t all-in on 4K (or 8K!) yet or are just much more willing to part with $300 rather than $500 for their gaming needs.

Naturally, we’ll be putting both consoles through their paces when they launch this fall, but by the numbers, Microsoft seems to have made the right choices to deliver a next-gen console experience with both the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S. It’s really just a question of which fits in your entertainment center and your budget.

Sean Riley

Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more.  Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.