The Xbox Series X is an apology for the Xbox One in almost every way. Microsoft's last console was weighed down by being $100 more than the PlayStation 4 at launch -- even though it had less GPU power -- and it featured a bundled Kinect camera that wasn't very useful. The company tried to course-correct with mid-generation systems, the Xbox One S and One X, but by then the damage was done. As of this year, the PS4 is estimated to have sold more than twice as many units as the Xbox One.
Gallery: Xbox Series X | 9 Photos
Gallery: Xbox Series X | 9 Photos
So with the Series X, Microsoft is trying to get everything right from the start. It's being positioned as the ultimate gaming console, with far more performance than its previous powerhouse, the Xbox One X. This new machine can deliver 4K gaming more reliably, push up to 120 frames per second, and load games far faster than ever before. It'll even play all of your old games with better performance and HDR! It's as if Microsoft is just begging gamers to love it.
- Powerful hardware
- Near-silent fan
- An SSD speeds up load times
- Extensive backward compatibility
- Adds HDR to older games
- Launching without compelling games
- Few titles use ray tracing right now
And after playing the system for the past week, it's definitely something hardcore players will appreciate. It delivers most of what you'd want from a decent gaming PC, except it's in a convenient console box. But do you need one right away? Given that there aren't many compelling exclusives, that's a more complicated question.
Hardware: Putting the box in Xbox
Yes, the Xbox Series X is big, which seems to be the trend for this console generation. It measures 5.9 inches by 5.9 inches and stands about a foot tall, giving it an almost perfectly rectangular profile. It also weighs a hefty 9.8 pounds, over a pound heavier than the Xbox One X. We're used to Microsoft's recent systems being a bit boxy, but the Series is more like a shrunken computer case than something you'd expect to find underneath your TV. Once I got over the initial shock of seeing it in person though, I warmed up to it pretty quickly.
The Xbox Series X feels strong and sturdy -- though not as dense as the significantly smaller One X. The case itself is made out of thick plastic, with minimal design flourishes. Up front, there's a disc slot, a single USB port and a controller pairing button, while the small Xbox power button sits in the corner. The one bit of flair you'll definitely notice is the giant fan exhaust at the top, which features an array of holes (a tryptophobe's nightmare) with neon green accents alongside one of the largest electronics fans you've ever seen.
You can orient the console vertically -- where it truly gives off PC tower vibes -- or horizontally. I appreciated the small rubber feet on one side of the system, which made it clear that it was meant to sit on the floor in horizontal mode. (This may seem like an odd thing to call out now, but keep it in mind for our PlayStation 5 review.) The only downside with that position is that the circular vertical stand is left sticking up, as if the Series X is a Star Wars Droid that's fallen and can't get up. In practice, that didn't bug me too much, but I've seen a few folks on Twitter wishing they could remove it entirely.
The Xbox Series X fit cleanly inside of my entertainment system when laying on its side. (Perhaps because it so closely resembles Logitech's large Hyperboom speaker, it seemed right at home alongside my Pioneer center channel speaker.) I just had to make sure to leave some open space for the fan to eject warm air. The Series X doesn't spew out as much heat as a gaming PC, but I'd bet it wouldn't be happy in a closed entertainment center. You've got to give all of your new consoles some room to breath, because they're pushing a ton of pixels.
So sure, the Series X just looks like a box. But it's what's inside that's truly compelling. The Xbox Series X is powered by a custom 8-core Zen 2 CPU running up to 3.8GHz and a powerful new 12-teraflop RDNA 2 GPU. That's impressive, but remember it's pretty much the same hardware that's inside of the PS5. The difference is that Microsoft’s console has a larger GPU to eke out a couple more TFLOPs of performance. While they both offer 16GB of fast GDDR6 RAM, Microsoft offers faster bandwidth than the PS5 for 10GB of that memory. The remaining 6GB, meanwhile, runs slower than Sony's console.
The Series X also features a speedy 1TB NVMe SSD, which is light years faster than the slow mechanical drives in the previous Xbox consoles. If you've moved from a laptop with a traditional hard drive to an SSD, it's pretty much the same leap. The Xbox Series X is able to move large data files much faster and with less latency, which is key for the massive textures 4K gaming demands. You can also expand the system's storage with Seagate's $220 1TB expansion drive, which fits into a rear slot on the console. That drive may seem expensive today, but that's not too far off high-end NVMe SSDs for PCs, and it'll deliver the same speeds as the internal SSD.
Additionally, you can use a standard USB 3.1 external hard drive for "cold storage" for Series X games, though you'll have to move them to the internal SSD or Seagate expansion drive to play them. Older backwards compatible games, meanwhile, can be played right from the USB drive, though load times will suffer.
While Microsoft clearly put a ton of thought into the Series X's overall design, the new controller is only slightly different than before. There's a circular directional pad that's satisfyingly clicky, a share button sandwiched below the two middle buttons, and some rough bumps along the underside of the handles to help with grip. It runs on two AA batteries, as usual, and holds a charge as long as existing Xbox gamepads, lasting three-ish days with regular use for me. The company basically lifted as many ideas as it could from the Xbox Elite Controller without changing the overall design of its standard gamepads. Xbox fans will be right at home here, but after seeing the amount of innovation Sony stuffed into the DualSense, it's disappointing that Microsoft didn't deliver anything truly special with its new high-end console.