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The Xbox One X has a tragic flaw: that tiny hard drive

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4K systems are fueled by data, and data takes space

A photo of an Xbox One X console with an Xbox One controller resting on it top panel. Microsoft

The Xbox One X has succeeded in its primary goal to be the most powerful game console on the market. If you have a 4K display and don’t mind paying a little extra for the best visuals possible without going over to the land of the PC, Microsoft’s newest console is going to be an easy purchase. It’s a system that exists to be powerful, and it delivers that power.

The Xbox One X costs $499.99, making it the most expensive console on the market as well as the most powerful. But that makes sense; it’s a premium experience. If you want the best, you’re going to have to pay for it.

The only expense spared is storage.

This is kind of a big deal

The system comes with a 1 TB hard drive, and there are no options to purchase a system with more storage. That amount of storage is not enough.

“Games are massive these days, especially if they have 4K assets like many Xbox One X Enhanced titles do, and I quickly filled up the console’s internal storage,” we stated in our review. “Four of my installed first-party games — Forza Motorsport 7, Gears of War 4, Halo 5: Guardians and Quantum Break — weigh in above the 80 GB mark, and three other titles are bigger than 50 GB.”

The Verge also noted this issue.

“One thing to note: buy an external drive for the Xbox One X,” Tom Warren stated in his review. “I ran out of space on the 1TB drive of the Xbox One X with around 14 games installed and 20 apps. Most Xbox One games are around 40GB or 50GB in size, but I’ve noticed the Enhanced for Xbox One X games are significantly bigger. Gears of War 4 and Halo 5 are at least 100GB, and Titanfall 2 is around 70GB.”

Xbox One X on top of Xbox One S, left front angle view Austin Pikulski/Vox Studios

4K gaming is going to take up a lot of space, and the Xbox One X doesn’t give you the option to not download these updates or the larger versions of games. If you have the system, you’re going to get all the data that it could possibly use, even if you’re playing on a 1080p display. You’ll get a benefit from techniques like supersampling, and Microsoft is looking at ways to adjust how the extra content is delivered to you, but at the moment you’re going to get everything.

The 1 TB hard drive is bound to create anxiety in players who are upgrading their existing games, or simply want to keep a lot of titles available to play at any time. Players will have to make hard choices when they pick up a new game and have to decide what other game they’re willing to delete to free up space.

It’s not like players own 10 games when a new console launches, but it’s easy to imagine Xbox fans who already own many of the “enhanced” games or supported Xbox 360 titles. They’re going to want to try as many as possible, and they’re going to run out of space very quickly.

Or at least it feels that way. Microsoft has another point of view.

This may be an issue of bias

“Most people aren’t in the industry with hundreds of games ready to be downloaded to their box,” Microsoft’s Albert Penello, senior director of marketing for Xbox consoles, told Polygon this week. He’s noticed the discussion over size as well, but he believes that it may be more of an issue for reviewers with long lists of games and less of a problem for the average player.

“I think the one terabyte discussion is a little bit of an industry problem,” he continued. “If I’ve got people who are filling out that hard drive, they are a super active customer. Most people, and you look at this historically, buy maybe 10 or 15 titles across the life of the console ... we can look at the telemetry data, and I think for most customers, one terabyte is the right amount based on the number of games that they actually own.”

The Xbox One X also supports external hard drives, and Penello brought up an interesting strategy for customers with slow connections or data caps. You can bring an external hard drive to a friend’s house to grab game data, then plug it into your own Xbox. It will play the games you own while asking you to purchase games you don’t. The idea of a sneakernet for Gears of War downloads is bizarre, but it’s another option.

Penello may be right — maybe this concern over storage space is mostly limited to the game makers and critics. But you’re already an edge case if you’re buying a $499.99 console to get the best visuals out of your console games. Worrying about space, or needing to buy an external hard drive, is a bummer. This is also a problem with the 1 TB PlayStation 4 Pro, which also uses 4K assets for games; storage concerns aren’t limited to Microsoft’s consoles.

It’s likely that storage space will go up as the price of the Xbox One X drops over time, meaning the most avid fans are likely going to be stuck with the smallest hard drive unless they upgrade the system themselves. Such is the price of early adoption.

Samit Sarkar contributed to this article.