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Xbox Series X console and controller on a graduated green graphic background Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon | Source image: Microsoft

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Everything we know about the Xbox Series X

Get ready for the next generation of Xbox

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The next generation of consoles is right on the horizon, and both Microsoft and Sony have revealed quite a few facts about their new machines.

Microsoft debuted the Xbox Series X under the codename “Project Scarlett” at E3 2019, and gave us a first look at the console’s design in December. It wasn’t until September 2020 that the company officially confirmed that it was also releasing a second next-gen model, the lower-powered Xbox Series S. With anticipated exclusives like Halo Infinite, and a big focus on backward compatibility, the platform has a lot to offer — even though a number of questions remain. Here’s everything we know about the Xbox Series X and Series S.

What is the Xbox Series X and Series S release date?

The Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S will both launch on Tuesday, Nov. 10. The announcement of the release date came on Sept. 9, when Microsoft showed off the new consoles as well as the different ways in which players can buy them. Both consoles will be available for pre-order on Sept. 22.

What are the prices for the Xbox Series X and Series S?

The two models of the next-gen Xbox will play the same games, but will be available at very different price points. The 4K-oriented Xbox Series X will cost $499 in the U.S., while the Xbox Series S, with reduced graphical power and no disc drive, will go for $299.

a product render, from the front, of the Xbox Series S lying horizontally with a controller standing in front of it
The Xbox Series S is an all-digital console — no optical drive.
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft will offer payment plans for both consoles under its Xbox All Access program. It allows people to pay off the cost of an Xbox Series S or Series X over a period of two years, and doesn’t charge any interest. But it requires that customers also sign up for (and pay for) Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, the higher tier of Microsoft’s game library subscription, which offers games on both Xbox and Windows PC; starting in September, Game Pass Ultimate will also include access to xCloud, the company’s cloud-based game-streaming service.

Under Xbox All Access, an Xbox Series S will cost $24.99 a month for 24 months, while an Xbox Series X will cost $34.99 per month for 24 months. The total comes out to $599.76 for the Series S and $839.76 for the Series X.

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate itself costs $14.99 a month, so over two years, it would add up to $359.76. Add that to the retail price of the consoles, and you get $658.76 for the Series S and $858.76 for the Series S — which means that the Xbox All Access payment plan would save Series S customers $59 and Series X customers $19 over two years.

Customers who are currently paying off an Xbox One via All Access can upgrade to an Xbox Series S or Series X. But they’ll still be responsible for the minimum balance of the Xbox One installment plan’s total cost — making at least 18 of the 24 total payments, or 75%. They can take advantage of the upgrade immediately to pre-order a next-gen Xbox, but may have to make monthly payments for both the Xbox One and Series X/S concurrently until they make the minimum number of Xbox One payments. (See the full terms here.)

What is the Xbox Series S, and how is it different from the Series X?

An image of the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S consoles
The Xbox Series X (left) and the comparatively svelte Xbox Series S.
Image: Microsoft

The Xbox Series S is Microsoft’s smaller, cheaper next-gen option. It’s designed to play all the same games as the Series X, with similar performance, but at a lower resolution — 1440p instead of the 4K that the flagship console will deliver. Unfortunately, until we’re able to actually see and play games running on both consoles, we’ll just have to take Microsoft’s word on performance.

But if the Series S lives up to its billing, it’ll be a great choice for customers who haven’t upgraded from a 1080p display and/or don’t care about buying physical games. That’s right: Unlike the Xbox Series X, the Series S does not come with a disc drive. Oh, and it’s white instead of black.

What are the hardware specifications of the Xbox Series X?

Here’s the tl;dr before we settle into tech jargon: The Xbox Series X is over 9 times more powerful than the launch-model Xbox One, and more than twice as powerful as the Xbox One X, according to Microsoft. The guts of the Xbox Series X will allow the console to play games in 4K at up to 120 frames per second, with theoretical support for 8K at 60 fps, alongside cutting-edge graphics features like hardware-accelerated real-time ray tracing.

The Xbox Series X contains a custom GPU from AMD based on the company’s RDNA 2 architecture. (RDNA 2-based graphics cards don’t yet exist, but AMD reportedly plans to release them later this year.) Microsoft says it wanted the console to deliver a consistent level of GPU performance, so the chip’s 52 compute units always run at a frequency of 1.825 GHz. That amounts to a computational capacity of 12.155 teraflops — making the Xbox Series X over 18% more powerful than the PlayStation 5, at least on paper. Both consoles have 16 GB of GDDR6 RAM.

Microsoft chose an eight-core CPU based on AMD’s Zen 2 microarchitecture that runs at a locked 3.8 GHz when simultaneous multithreading (SMT) is disabled, and at 3.6 GHz with SMT enabled across the eight physical cores and 16 threads. (SMT is a technique that can significantly improve computational efficiency by spreading work across processing “threads”; it requires more effort to program for it, and the majority of modern games don’t take advantage of it.) The Xbox Series X also has an edge over the PS5 in this category, albeit a much smaller one. As with its GPU, Sony opted for a variable-frequency CPU in the PS5, settling on a maximum clock speed of 3.5 GHz with SMT always enabled.

However, the Xbox Series X appears to have a marked disadvantage when it comes to data throughput. Microsoft developed a system dubbed the Xbox Velocity Architecture, which produces read speeds from the console’s 1 TB NVMe SSD of 2.4 GB per second of raw data and 4.8 GB/s of compressed data bandwidth. The company says this “effectively eliminates loading times,” but it’s half as fast as Sony’s solution, which can deliver 5.5 GB/s (raw) and 8-9 GB/s (compressed). As for the storage size, Xbox Series X owners will be able to double the capacity by buying a proprietary memory card-like device that packs a 1 TB NVMe SSD into a small unit that plugs into a slot on the back of the console.

What are the hardware specifications of the Xbox Series S?

The Xbox Series S will have a custom 512 GB NVMe SSD, down from the 1 TB of internal storage offered on the Xbox Series X. The lower-powered system has “a similar CPU” to the Xbox Series X’s, according to Microsoft — it will use the same AMD Zen 2 architecture, but is downclocked a hair to run at 3.6 GHz with SMT off and 3.4 GHz with SMT on, rather than 3.8 GHz and 3.6 GHz, respectively. The Series S comes with 10 GB of GDDR6 RAM, and has a lower memory bandwidth.

With these specs, Microsoft says the Xbox Series S should be able to run all the same games as the Xbox Series X with similar frame rate performance of up to 120 fps, but at native 1440p rather than native 4K. The Series S also runs on the same Xbox Velocity Architecture, which should keep the load times on both consoles similarly short. Another slightly more practical difference is that the Series S doesn’t have a disc drive.

What does the Xbox Series X’s design look like?

product image of Xbox Series X standing up with controller standing up in front of it, on a black background
The Xbox Series X measures 11.85 inches in height, with a width and depth of 5.94 inches.
Image: Microsoft

As with the PS5, the Xbox Series X’s design is a radical departure from the typical look of a piece of electronics built for the living room. It’s kind of a nondescript monolith in matte charcoal gray, a long (or tall, if it’s standing up) rectangular box that’s similar to the size of two GameCubes stacked together. Looking at the console in its vertical configuration, the unit has a square footprint — 5.94 inches for both width and depth — with a height just shy of a foot at 11.85 inches.

The front of the Xbox Series X features a power button, an eject button for the console’s 4K Blu-ray drive, the disc slot, and one USB-A 3.2 port. The rear port array consists of the aforementioned storage expansion slot, two more USB 3.2 ports, an Ethernet jack, an HDMI 2.1 output, and a power port.

What does the Xbox Series S’s design look like?

Xbox Series S front view with controller floating in front of it Image: Microsoft

The Xbox Series S looks more like a traditional console than the Series X. The Series S has an all-white color scheme that Microsoft is calling Robot White, and it’s much slimmer than the massive Series X. In fact, according to Microsoft, the Xbox Series S is the smallest Xbox that the company has ever produced. The company hasn’t released the exact dimensions of the unit, but says it is nearly 60% smaller than the Xbox Series X.

One of the most notable differences between the two consoles’ designs is the fact that the Xbox Series S does not have a disc drive; it will not be able to play disc-based games or Blu-rays.

What Xbox Series X and Series S accessories are there?

The Xbox Series X’s wireless controller represents a refinement of the Xbox One controller rather than a full redesign. Microsoft worked to make it more comfortable for a wider range of people, especially those with smaller hands. In addition to the Xbox Series X, the gamepad is compatible with Android, iOS, and Windows PC. And it offers a built-in 3.5 mm headphone jack, a USB-C port, and — taking after the PlayStation 4’s DualShock 4 — a Share button for instant access to capturing screenshots and gameplay clips.

The only other official Xbox Series X/S accessory that Microsoft has announced at this point is the aforementioned Storage Expansion Card, for which the company partnered with Seagate. There’s no information yet on how much it will cost. The card will be compatible with both the Xbox Series X and Series S.

Will the Xbox Series X or Series S get delayed past its release date?

It’s always possible, but probably not. For the time being, Microsoft has assured fans that the console is still on track to meet the Nov. 10 release date, despite concerns about delays from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

What kind of games will the Xbox Series X and Series S have?

The Xbox Series X will have all of the third-party releases that you would expect from every console. That means franchises and games like Call of Duty, Destiny, Fortnite, NBA 2K, and FIFA will all be on the console. But the real draw of a console is its exclusive games.

Console exclusives aren’t what they used to be, but there are still a few Xbox exclusives kicking around for the Xbox Series X. It’s worth noting here that “exclusive” is sort of a relative term. Every first-party Xbox Series X and Series S game will also be released simultaneously on Windows PC, so “exclusive” basically means that it won’t show up on a Sony or Nintendo console in the near future.

a dark-haired bearded man and Master Chief look to the right in Halo Infinite Image: 343 Industries/Xbox Game Studios

Microsoft’s crown jewel remains the Halo series, which has been true for nearly 20 years. The Xbox Series X will have its own entry in the series with Halo Infinite, which was originally scheduled to launch alongside the console but has been delayed to 2021. Beyond that, Microsoft announced new entries in the Forza Motorsport and Fable franchises in July, and a Gears title is probably on the way — though Gears 5 was only released in 2019, so it could be a few more years before the franchise arrives on the new console. And Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 also doesn’t appear to be coming anytime soon.

Will the Xbox Series X and Series S play Xbox One games via backward compatibility?

If you care about backward compatibility — about being able to play current-generation (and older) games on your next-generation console — then the Xbox Series X is your best bet. Prioritizing Xbox 360 backward compatibility was one of the key steps in Phil Spencer’s efforts to turn around the Xbox One’s fortunes, and Microsoft has put in a lot of work over the years to expand the initiative. Now, the company is promising that its next console will support “thousands of your favorite games across four generations of gaming,” from the original Xbox to the Xbox 360 to the Xbox One to the Xbox Series X.

This also extends to Xbox One accessories: They’ll be compatible with the Xbox Series X, whether that’s the standard wireless gamepad or the Xbox Adaptive Controller. In addition, players’ Xbox Achievements and — via Xbox Live’s cloud-based game saves — their game progress will carry over across generations.

Microsoft says that backward-compatible games will run using the “full power” of the Xbox Series X CPU, GPU, and SSD. Players can expect “higher and more steady framerates and rendering at their maximum resolution and visual quality,” along with “significant reductions” in load times thanks to the console’s fast SSD. And Microsoft is even promising the ability to automatically add HDR color to older games and double the frame rate on some of them, going from 30 fps to 60 fps or from 60 fps to 120 fps.

One thing that’s worth remembering for backward compatibility is that if you have most of your Xbox 360 games on physical discs, you’ll want to buy the Xbox Series X, since the Series S won’t have a disc drive.

Are there cross-generation games across Xbox One and Xbox Series X and Series S?

Gears 5 running on an Xbox One X (left) versus the version that’s been optimized for the Xbox Series X (right). Note the vastly improved accuracy of lighting and shadows, particularly beneath the overhang of the upper level of concrete. The overall look of the scene is much less flat.
Image: The Coalition/Xbox Game Studios

Microsoft has a program called Smart Delivery for Xbox One games that later get released on Xbox Series X. Smart Delivery makes sure that you’re playing the right version of the game no matter which console you’re playing on. So the short answer is: Yes, you get both versions of whichever game you buy.

For many games, especially those that are coming out right before the launch of the Xbox Series X, they will automatically upgrade to improved versions of the game if they’re launched on the new console. Microsoft has provided a list of games that are confirmed to be compatible with Smart Delivery so far:

How will Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass work on Xbox Series X and Series S?

Microsoft’s online service for the Xbox has a few different options. To play games online at all, you’ll need Xbox Live Gold. It costs $9.99 a month or $59.99 a year, and it grants you access to online play as well as a few free and discounted games through the Games With Gold program. But there are a few more options available as well.

Xbox Game Pass gives you access to a library of dozens of games at any given time, including certain new or recently released games. As long as you maintain a subscription, you can download these games and play them at any time. Xbox Game Pass also costs $9.99 a month, but it does not come with Xbox Live Gold, so you’ll need to subscribe to that separately.

As a third option, you could subscribe to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. This bundle comes with all the games of Xbox Game Pass, along with Xbox Live Gold, for $14.99 a month. As a bonus, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate also lets you access the PC version of Game Pass, in case you’d like to play some games there instead. On top of that, Game Pass Ultimate also includes EA Play, which will give players access to Electronic Arts’ library of games as well as first-party Xbox games, and the game-streaming service xCloud.


Xbox Game Pass Ultimate

  • $45

Prices taken at time of publishing.

Best Buy is throwing in another three months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate when you buy a three-month membership at the standard price. That’s a six-month membership for the price of three months.

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