Does Xbox One X really improve loading times?

Xbox (Image credit: Windows Central)

Does Xbox One X really improve loading times?

Putting the Xbox One X to the test

Microsoft's flagship home gaming console, Xbox One X, is holding its ground with its top-tier silicon. Promising the hardware to drive a premium gaming experience, 4K resolution, High Dynamic Range (HDR) and improved framerates are all among the console's capabilities, entering the market as the most powerful console to date.

While the Xbox One X's advances are almost exclusively visual, the console has also been marketed to deliver shorter loading times. Microsoft attributes these gains to an improved storage setup under the hood, boasting an "up to 50 percent" increase in hard disk drive (HDD) bandwidth over the standard Xbox One X. While the 1TB drive at 5,400 revolutions-per-minute (RPM) isn't dissimilar from those in previous Xbox One consoles, various enhancements like SATA III support ensure the device fully leverages the drive's speed. Combined with significant leaps in CPU and GPU capabilities, improved loading times are a welcome by-product of this hardware leap.

With these claims in mind, we set out to test a limited range of games on the Xbox One X and Xbox One S, to see how these changes realistically translate between different game engines and genres. Using the internal drives of the two consoles, we looked to see how these claims stack up and whether the benefits are a worthy selling point.

To test games between the two devices, we attempted to create near-identical conditions on both consoles. While variations in game design meant that securing a consistent loading screen is challenging, we found points across chosen titles to capture comparable results. Precautions were also taken to restart games between recording times, to prevent cached data from drastically skewing results. After collecting 10 loads per game on both devices, results were compiled into a more consumable format.

How our favorites stack up on Xbox One X

The first of our titles trialed was Forza Motorsport 7, a game developed in-house by a Microsoft-owned developer, Turn 10 Studios. As one of its flagship franchises, the game's "ForzaTech" engine has been built up with Xbox One X in mind – and was even used to showcase the console's capabilities a while back under the "Project Scorpio" codename. With native 4K, consistent 60 frames-per-second (FPS) and other visual enhancements on Xbox One X, it's clear the game and console share a close bond.

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ConsoleMinimum time (s)Max time (s)Average time (s)
Xbox One X44.146.946.0
Xbox One S57.864.761.2

Forza Motorsport 7 load times on Xbox One X vs. Xbox One S.

During our testing, we found Forza Motorsport 7 saw significantly reduced load times when played on Xbox One X. In some cases, the Xbox One X version was cutting loading times by a third, all while loading improved assets on the console. Even the Xbox One S's quickest load time failed to catch the Xbox One X at its slowest, drawing the gap in these two devices. The optimization for Xbox One X has clearly paid off, delivering shorter load times without comprising on visual upgrades.

Assassin's Creed Origins

Assassin's Creed Origins (Image credit: Ubisoft)

Moving onto third-party game releases, we chose three games developed with the Xbox One X in mind – Assassin's Creed Origins, Call of Duty: WWII and Star Wars Battlefront II. Each of these is powered by in-house game engines developed by their respective publishers, which provides a better sense at how the vast majority of triple-A titles may fair on Xbox One X.

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ConsoleMinimum time (s)Max time (s)Average time (s)
Xbox One X39.551.043.6
Xbox One S46.354.948.7

Assassin's Creed Origins load times on Xbox One X vs. Xbox One S.

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ConsoleMinimum time (s)Max time (s)Average time (s)
Xbox One X24.430.825.8
Xbox One S29.342.432.6

Call of Duty: WWII load times on Xbox One X vs. Xbox One S.

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ConsoleMinimum time (s)Max time (s)Average time (s)
Xbox One X54.056.755.1
Xbox One S59.964.362.3

Star Wars Battlefront II load times on Xbox One X vs. Xbox One S.

Between all three titles, we did see gains, however, only minor benefits on average across single-player activities. These cuts are welcome on top of Xbox One X enhancements, though their effect on the experience is realistically negligible. You'll be consistently knocking a few seconds off loading times by playing on Xbox One X, though ultimately there's little benefit — especially not $499 of value.

Beyond Xbox One X Enhanced games


GTA V (Image credit: Rockstar Games)

While games are increasingly tailored for Microsoft's Xbox One X console, those yet to be formally upgraded should promise the best returns. Without the additional data of 4K assets to load, this is a showcase of how games can deliver noticeable benefits if simply running on the hardware.

First up was Mirror's Edge Catalyst, positioned among EA's open-world titles that missed an Xbox One X upgrade. Despite a lack of 4K assets, only minor improvements were proven on the hardware.

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ConsoleMinimum time (s)Max time (s)Average time (s)
Xbox One X29.230.629.5
Xbox One S35.336.536.0

Mirror's Edge Catalyst load times on Xbox One X vs. Xbox One S.

One of the most impressive titles throughout our testing was Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V), a game notorious for its excessive loading times on other platforms. With a seamless open world absent of loading once in-game, first starting the game often comes with a longer wait. From start-up to Story Mode, GTA V showed the largest gain, both proportionally and in raw time.

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ConsoleMinimum time (s)Max time (s)Average time (s)
Xbox One X52.359.354.4
Xbox One S99.9107.5102.3

Grand Theft Auto V load times on Xbox One X vs. Xbox One S.

On average the initial start-up time was 47 percent shorter; a figure that closely backs up Microsoft's marketing claims. While inconsistencies in networking made it harder to accurately measure GTA Online load times, these also reduce on Xbox One X. It's the best gain we experienced, highlighting how its storage can still bring benefits for titles lacking graphical enhancements.

Halo 3

Halo 3 (Image credit: Bungie)

Our most interesting find was when revisiting a few Xbox 360 titles, being played via the Xbox One's backward compatibility capabilities. Halo 3 was among our most-tested titles, among the "enhanced" for the Xbox One X. However, to our surprise, the game took longer to load on average, when on Xbox One X.

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ConsoleMinimum time (s)Max time (s)Average time (s)
Xbox One X40.450.344.3
Xbox One S39.242.640.6

Halo 3 load times via backward compatibility on Xbox One X vs. Xbox One S.

It currently unclear what causes this minor increase in loading times on Xbox One, though is likely linked to the various upgrades in place for the system. Microsoft made minor software modifications to the Xbox 360 emulator to put these upgrades in place, essentially tricking the game to run at a higher than intended resolution. Neither Halo 3 or its engine were built with Xbox One X support in mind, which could contribute toward this extended loading period. Briefly testing other Xbox 360 games shows a trend doesn't appear to be in place; it just shows that not everything is better for the Xbox One X.

While the gains in loading times may not be revolutionary, the Xbox One X does live up to the promise of delivering improvements across most titles. Though these improvements may be minor at times, gains are still welcome, especially in conjunction with improved visual fidelity. It comes as no surprise that loading times don't sell the Xbox One X on its own, but still makes for another attractive aspect of an already promising package.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.