For those taking a more cautious "wait and see" approach, you might have been put off by the Xbox Series X launch lineup. You may have been wondering how the consoles held up over time. After over six months of near non-stop usage, I'm pretty confident to call the Xbox Series X my favorite console of all time.
For over a year, my Xbox Series X has become my primary console of choice, and the cornerstone of my leisure time. And after Microsoft's E3 2021 showcase, I couldn't be more excited for the platform's future.
As the Xbox Series X passes its first birthday, we're going to cover the hardware and design, its capabilities as a gaming console, as well as a centerpiece of your entertainment system. What are we losing, and what are we gaining? Are the tradeoffs worth it? Do the games honor Microsoft's claim that this is the most powerful gaming console ever made? And is the Xbox Series X a worthwhile gaming investment for the future?
Xbox Series X
Bottom line: The Xbox Series X hardware will not disappoint. It's powerful, sleek and modern, and games that are optimized to take advantage of all the new hardware will truly shine. The launch lineup was looking sparse, but after E3 2021, we now have a truly bright future to look forward to.
- Superb design in powerful hardware
- Efficient cooling and silent sound
- Quick Resume multiple games faster
- Xbox Games Pass future is exciting
- Huge investments in exclusive content
- Disappointing media center and smart home features
- Content sharing and social capabilities feel increasingly dated
Xbox Series X review: Specs, hardware and design
|Category||Xbox Series X|
|Processor||8 cores @ 3.8GHz (3.66GHz w/ SMT) custom Zen 2 CPU|
|Graphics||12.155 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @ 1.825GHz RDNA 2 GPU|
|Memory||16GB GDDR6 w/ 320MB bus|
|Memory bandwidth||10GB @ 560GB/s, 6GB @ 336GB/s|
|Internal storage||1TB Custom NVME SSD|
|I/O throughput||2.4GB/s (raw), 4.8GB/s (compressed, with custom hardware decompression block)|
|Expandable storage||1TB Expansion Card (sold separately)|
|External storage||USB 3.2 external HDD support|
|Optical drive||4K UHD Blu-ray drive (No 3D Blu-ray support)|
|Performance target||4K @ 60 FPS, up to 4K @ 120 FPS, 8K @ 60 FPS|
|Size||301mm x 151mm x 151mm|
When the Xbox Series X design was first revealed, people were immediately shocked by its apparent size. Not too long after, we learned that the PlayStation 5, the Xbox Series X's main competition, sports a similar volume. The reality of thermodynamics is catching up to console design; as PCs push ever-increasing power, the form factor of consoles also changed to accommodate necessary cooling technology.
With this in mind, it's hard to find anything to fault in the Xbox Series X's visual design, unless you intend to lay it out flat, that is. Clearly, this console was designed vertically first, with a profile that is at least superficially similar to modern smart speakers and compact PC towers. The design is comfortingly familiar while also being undeniably Xbox.
Microsoft doesn't score any points for its horizontal configuration, though, which many may be exploring. The unsightly foot at the base just looks awful when exposed, as if the console had been toppled over. It at least remains functional, with small feet that keep the side panel from scraping on the surface of whatever it's placed on. The feet are barely visible if you're concerned about them being an eyesore when you do have the console stood up vertically.
Having the console horizontal or vertical won't affect the thermals or usability of the system in any way from our testing. The ports' layout is a tad more annoying than they were on the Xbox One S and X. Instead of a line of ports, they're stacked on top of each other in an irregular pattern. Microsoft tried to make it easier by adding engravings next to the ports to feel them out with your fingers. It's a nice touch, but when there are wires, USB devices, memory cards, and dongles plugged in, it doesn't help as much as I'd like.
|Loading speed test||Xbox Series X (SSD)||Xbox One X (HDD)|
|Monster Hunter: World||4.7 seconds||35.6 seconds|
|Gears 5||8.9 seconds||47 seconds|
|State of Decay 2||13.1 seconds||1 minute, 3.4 seconds|
|Fortnite||10.2 seconds||24.3 seconds|
|Rocket League||4 seconds||5 seconds|
Speaking of ports, Microsoft opted for a proprietary tech solution to expandable storage, in the form of the $220 Seagate 1TB NVME Expansion Card. The next-gen consoles use NVME SSD storage not only to speed up loading times but also to give developers more next-gen tools. The cards themselves are small and well built, and Microsoft says other manufacturers will offer competing solutions, which should bring the price down. The metal parts of the cards do get incredibly warm (as NVME storage would inside your laptop as well). Thankfully, they have thick plastic handles for removal and insertion. The cards are certainly easier to manage than typical NVME m2 drives we get for laptops. And the fact the cards are hot-swappable is also pretty awesome. Taking your games, saves, and Xbox Live profile to a friend's place has never been easier, but that price is going to be a tough sell for most.
NVME storage may get pretty toasty, but thankfully, the Xbox Series X itself doesn't. Microsoft built the Xbox Series X to direct air from one end and out of the other, expelling warm air from the concave vent at the system's top end. The craftsmanship and engineering prowess here is undeniable. I reviewed the Xbox Series X initially in the winter months of the UK, but even in the summer I don't find the Xbox Series X getting unmanageably warm in an unconditioned room.
The Xbox Series X is not only generally cooler than its predecessors, but also quieter. Using a $300 microphone and a sound meter, we were effectively unable to detect any noise coming out of this system, which is impressive indeed.
For a full rundown of how hot the Xbox Series X gets head to this link. But as you can see from the above heat signatures, the Xbox Series X remains on the cooler end of computing hardware. By comparison, the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro get significantly warmer running games that max out their specs while also being noisier. Games optimized for the Xbox Series X like Gears 5 and Gears Tactics top the system out at around 52C, which is impressive for a 12TF system. Running backward-compatible titles designed for Xbox One, the heat expulsion was even lower, at around 35C.
When it comes to engineering and design, I'm pretty confident to state that the Xbox Series X is the best Xbox console Microsoft has ever built. It's really not as large as it seems in pictures, and getting PC-like power in such a compact, cool, and quiet device is simply remarkable. But a video game console is far more than its design.
Xbox Series X review: Features and OS
The Xbox Series X is a tale of gains and losses, at least when it comes to features. On paper, this is an all-new generation, but the reality is more complicated. The Xbox Series S and X share an OS with Xbox One, and the 2013 Xbox One is a wildly different proposition than what we have today.
For fans of the old school Xbox vision as the center of your entertainment system, the reality is that the Xbox Series S and X are dropping many of the features that enabled that. HDMI pass-through is gone, along with the IR Blaster. This means that the Xbox Series S and X cannot control your TV/cable box for surfing channels seamlessly without switching hardware signals.
The OneGuide TV app has been completely removed, and perhaps oddly, even the ability to play 3D Blu-ray has been killed as well. Typically, Microsoft cites low usage as its primary reason for removing features. In fairness, the trends certainly seem to suggest viewership is increasingly moving towards apps like Netflix and Disney+, as over-the-air and cable TV viewership wanes. Still, if you built up your entertainment system around the Xbox One's features, it may sting to know that these are gone.
The Xbox Series S and X do still have an IR receiver, though, which means you can still use media remotes like the PDP Talon (opens in new tab) to control apps. If you have a modern TV that supports HDMI-CEC commands, you can even use those remotes to control your set as well. All of our recommendations for the best TVs for Xbox Series X do utilize HDMI-CEC, alongside most modern TVs after around 2017 in general.
Just like the Xbox One consoles, the Xbox Series X still supports 4K UHD Blu-ray, 4K playback for media apps, and videos, alongside HDR10 and now Dolby Vision, with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X surround for audio. The Xbox consoles also support Amazon Echo and Google Assistant voice commands as well. When paired with HDMI-CEC, you can even set up routines that are at least reminiscent of the good old Kinect days, that control your Xbox and TV simultaneously.
While the Xbox Series X media support is a bit of a mixed bag, Xbox doubles down on gaming features with considerable success.
The first headline act is Quick Resume, which is quite literally a game-changer. Thanks to the NVME SSD, the Xbox Series X storage is fast enough to take an entire game state and commit it to storage memory. This is similar to how it works with apps on your smartphone, but to be able to do it with a piece of software as large and complicated as a video game is no easy feat. When saved in a Quick Resume state, you can re-open your games in mere seconds after the console has been shut down into standby, or even after being completely powered off and unplugged.
The Xbox Series X (and S) are also capable of doing this for several games simultaneously. You can keep your favorite multiplayer game like Overwatch or Monster Hunter: World suspended in the lobby while you wait for friends to log on and jump over near-instantaneously to that single-player game in your backlog. The exact number of games available for suspension varies by their size and complexity, and as of writing, there aren't any tools for managing how Quick Resume works. For example, it would be nice to give certain games Quick Resume priority over others since if you're cycling through many different games in short succession, there's no way to know which is being kicked out of the Quick Resume state. Most gamers won't use it this way, though, unless you're as indecisive about what to play like I am.
An earlier downside I've encountered, is some games that resume out of Quick State have corrupted audio or lose audio completely. Thankfully, this has been rectified in recent updates. Microsoft has also added tools to manage how Quick Resume works, with the ability to view at a glance in your library which games are presently suspended. It can still be a bit inconsistent, though, which makes it an unreliable replacement for simply saving your game.
When a game is in a Quick Resume state, it has a couple of arrow icons over it in your game library and shows a "Quick Resume" message in the top right corner on the title screen when it loads in. After having Quick Resume for a few months, issues aside, it's simply impossible to go back to an Xbox One console.
The Xbox Series X (and S) take advantage of many of the latest HDMI 2.1 features, including Auto-Low Latency Mode or ALLM, which makes sure your TV is set to Game Mode when it detects that an Xbox console is connected. The Xbox Series X can also take advantage of 4K 120Hz and 8K 60Hz outputs, which some games in the launch lineup are gunning for. Microsoft has also added a unique "FPS Boost" feature to the Xbox Series X and S consoles, giving backward-compatible games a frame rate boost, and in some cases, "Auto HDR" as well. Microsoft's impressive push for game preservation continues.
For the launch of the Xbox Series X, Microsoft has also given us a refreshed dashboard experience, which follows Microsoft's latest fluent design principles, while also pulling away a bit from Windows itself, taking on different fonts to give Xbox a bit of its own identity. These new stylings are persistent across the Xbox Game Pass apps on PC and mobile, as well as the new Xbox app, which comes with a handy new feature for new Xbox Series X console owners as well. While you wait for the Xbox Series X to download its initial updates, you can sign in and install your games and settings via the mobile app on Android and iOS, streamlining the whole process. Microsoft also refreshed the Xbox store's design across the board, making it incredibly speedy in the process.
The Xbox Series X dashboard also sports Dynamic Themes, which are animated and stylish, but they aren't as sexy as they could be since they're blurred by 1080p HD limitations. This is one thing that continues to bug me about the Xbox Series X, and it's the fact the dashboard is HD and doesn't support HDR. Flipping between a 4K HDR-enabled game and the dashboard will cause your set to go blank for a little while, which is an irritating, albeit minor issue. But when your TV media switching is slower than the Xbox Series X is to actually load a game, it sort of defeats the point of Quick Resume.
Various fan-favorite features from the old Xbox One days are still missing. Picture-in-picture for media apps is still gone, which was pretty handy for grinding segments in certain games. The Upload Studio app is still dead, which means making content out of your Game DVR clips still requires oft-expensive third-party PC or mobile software. Things like party chat messaging also still feel quite sluggish compared to modern messaging platforms like Discord, WhatsApp, and Telegram, for no good reason. Microsoft has begun porting the new Edge browser to the Xbox Series X and S consoles, though, and has improved its mobile app offerings a bit here and there, but it's a slow process. But the problems are small, and don't hurt the overall experience.
What we have is an OS that refines upon all of the mistakes and forced-Windows 8 integrations of yesteryear, prioritizing speed, usability, and gaming above all else. Almost every best Xbox One accessory and all of your best Xbox headsets carry forward.
The Xbox Series X and S dashboard is a painstakingly polished and responsive experience, which is a far, far, far cry from the sluggish and clunky Kinect-first environment we got back in 2013.
Xbox Series X review: Games and ecosystem
Witcher 3's performance mode hits 4K 60 FPS with ease, even without the future optimization patch CD Projekt RED is working on.
The Xbox Series X has promised to be the "world's most powerful console," but what does that mean in reality? At least, in theory, it means that games will hit 60 frames per second more consistently, at 4K resolution more consistently, while also bringing in some next-gen visual features. Some of those advanced features include ray-tracing reflections and shadows, which aims to cast light more dynamically, rather than artificially, elevating the visual fidelity of your games. Microsoft also offers FPS Boost and Auto HDR to enhance past-gen games, too, while other companies are eager to sell those enhancements for a premium.
The architecture brings in some of the latest tech from AMD, with a massive CPU boost over the past-gen consoles. The way Microsoft has built its Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S platform enables past-gen games designed for Xbox One to gain natural performance boosts on Xbox Series X.
Games like Monster Hunter: World with uncapped frame rates go from 30 frames per second on average to anywhere up to 60 frames per second (FPS), without any developer intervention. Various games with unlocked frame rates and dynamic resolutions should perform far better across the board on the Xbox Series X. Others would need updates to "unlock" the frame rates, but various Xbox One games we've tested like State of Decay 2, Monster Hunter: World, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice see vast improvements. Even games that are capped at 30 FPS see improvements, with a vast reduction in lost frames during complex sequences. Jedi: Fallen Order, for example, never drops below 60 or 30 in its respective performance modes on the Xbox Series X — this is a game that was notorious for performance problems.
What about next-gen games, though? Well, what about them indeed. As of writing, there aren't really a huge amount of games that are fully built from the ground up for the Xbox Series X, but that is about to change very soon. Microsoft's E3 2021 showcase offered a wide-ranging glimpse at some of its future games, and they look absolutely mind-blowing. Forza Horizon 5 has some of the most impressive visuals ever seen, and Halo Infinite's notorious delay has yielded great results for the game's graphical quality. Flight Simulator also pushes the boundaries of cutting-edge photorealism, while even games from smaller studios like The Ascent impress with their detail and lighting quality. Microsoft's purchase of Bethesda last year is really starting to bear fruit in the exclusives department too, with Starfield, the next game from the legendary creators of The Elder Scrolls, now touted as a permanent Xbox console exclusive.
As of right this minute, we do have a decent variety of games that take advantage of the performance overhead from the Xbox Series X. Gears 5 for example, has been given a next-gen makeover. Ray-tracing appears on puddles and certain reflective surfaces, and Microsoft has pushed the multiplayer out to 120 frames per second. Gears 5 is staggering in its beauty, a monument to the skill and passion of The Coalition game studio. Other games like Falconeer and DiRT5 are also pushing 120Hz modes, but neither game is particularly mind-blowing in visual complexity, even if they have great art styles.
As we move deeper into the Xbox Series X generation, we should see even more games that are more optimized around the system that hit 4K60 without compromising on things like ray-tracing, as is the case with Gears 5. There is a range of smaller improvements across the board, though, which makes the gaming experience far better than what we ever had on the Xbox One.
The NVME SSD alone has massive implications for game development. Fast traveling in Watch Dogs: Legion is near-instantaneous. Loading screens have become brief to the point of irrelevancy. Monster Hunter: World maps went from anywhere up to a minute's worth of loading down to around 10-15 seconds. The vast majority of games we've tested see similar speed enhancements, too.
Save for the SSD loading speeds, the big difference between the Xbox Series X and the Xbox One from 2013 is that Microsoft didn't really have anything ready to showcase the technology at launch, instead very largely on Watch Dogs: Legion and the Xbox One-enhanced version of Gears 5. In the case of Gears 5, is it worth going back to for a bump in visual quality? I'm not sure, but I'd guess most would rather play something new. Into the summer and towards winter of 2021, though, we'll have Battlefield 2042, Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, The Ascent, Flight Simulator, Far Cry 6, and various other games that truly showcase the tech. Many of them will also be included in Xbox Game Pass, at no additional cost. This ultimately brings us to the future.
Xbox Series X and the future
A console is only as good as its ecosystem, and when it comes to Xbox, Microsoft certainly has a few tricks up its sleeve. Microsoft has purchased Bethesda Softworks and ZeniMax Media, which would give it controlling ownership of DOOM, Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Dishonored, Prey, and various highly anticipated games like Starfield. After E3 2021, we practically have confirmation that the vast majority of these games will also be exclusive to platforms where Xbox Game Pass exists, effectively making them Xbox console exclusive.
Microsoft has been investing in its first-party portfolio more than it ever has in the past. Hellblade II's in-engine trailer from 2020 is tantalizing. Microsoft is absorbing major industry talent in California with its studio, The Initiative, to build Perfect Dark. Fable is coming back, built by a large team at Playground Games. And Forza Motorsport 8 is in the pipeline as well.
Microsoft continues to enjoy robust support from major third-party publishers, including Ubisoft, 2K, and EA. Microsoft also invests in projects from second-party studios, with Asobo's Flight Simulator 2020, and Moon Studios' Ori the Will of the Wisps. A cursory glance at our best upcoming Xbox games list reveals dozens of titles worth looking forward to.
Where Microsoft has struggled a bit more is with some of the "trending" games that we see pop up from time to time, but Microsoft has been improving in this area too. Targeted exclusivity deals for Xbox Game Pass including MLB: The Show, Outriders, and STALKER 2 continue to shine a spotlight on the value of the service. Microsoft has even started gradually improving its JRPG offering, grabbing Octopath Traveler and Dragon Quest XI.
With ZeniMax's properties on board, and effectively confirmed as exclusive, the situation has changed very rapidly. Then, you also have Xbox Game Pass, which is undeniably one of the best deals in gaming. Games like Elder Scrolls 6 are guaranteed to launch day one as part of a $10-per-month subscription on Xbox Game Pass, alongside all of Microsoft's other games. Gears of War, Halo, Forza, Fable, Hellblade, Fallout, DOOM, The Elder Scrolls, Dishonored, Prey, Wolfenstein, The Evil Within, and many hundreds of others comprise this vast library of content, which is exclusive to Xbox on consoles right now. Ultimate-tier subscribers can even take their games onto Android and the web with Project xCloud via Xbox Game Pass Cloud Gaming. EA has also brought dozens of games from its back catalog into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate as well.
The Xbox Series X didn't necessarily have a compelling lineup when it launched, but Microsoft is ramping up rapidly. A huge library of content awaits just around the corner, and for just $10 per month, rather than the $70-per-game argument competitors offer.
Xbox Series X review: Final thoughts and summary
The Xbox Series X is a spectacular console. Every aspect of it is dripping with the love of a massive team that clearly cared about every millimeter, every line of code that was poured into this monolithic whole. Waiting for the full-blown feature set of RDNA 2 may cost Microsoft the sales race in Q4, but for those who are lucky enough to get their hands on it, the Xbox Series X is console gaming at its most excellent and most refined.
In terms of the ecosystem the Xbox Series X is attached to, Microsoft has struggled to change the narrative over its exclusive game offering, but that's beginning to change. A tidal wave of investment has brought the entire ZeniMax portfolio exclusively under Xbox, alongside a robust lineup of satellite studios which include heavyweights like Obsidian, Playground, 343i, and many more.
The backward-compatibility effort on the Xbox Series X cannot be understated for its meticulousness and execution. Thousands upon thousands of games are launching with this console, from your favorite service-type experiences like Rocket League and Fortnite, to single-player classics like DOOM and Fallout 4. Hundreds of games are effectively getting free "remaster" treatment, boosted to their maximum resolutions and frame rates thanks to the forward-looking design of the Xbox ecosystem architecture.
- Great design meets powerful hardware
- Well cooled and silent
- Quick Resume multiple games and boosted loading speeds
- Xbox Game Pass and future first-party investment bring exciting possibilities
- Vast roadmap of exclusive content
- Media center capabilities are degraded
If you're a hardcore Xbox gamer, you're likely already sold on this thing. If you're looking to jump in for the first time with the best the ecosystem has to offer, the Xbox Series X will not disappoint. Unmatched value, a truly huge stable of studios building exclusive content, and power that rivals some of the most powerful gaming PCs out there. The Xbox Series X is the best video game console Microsoft ever made. And honestly, it's now my personal pick for the best console ever made.
Xbox Series X
The full next-generation experience.
Xbox Series X is Microsoft's new flagship, as its most powerful console with over 12TF GPU performance and a custom SSD. It boasts up to 4K resolution and 120 FPS, full backward compatibility across four generations, and ray-tracing support.
Next-gen in HD
Xbox Series S
Experience next-gen gaming for less.
Microsoft serves the next-generation for less with its budget-friendly Xbox Series S. The console packs the same high-performance CPU and SSD technology as Xbox Series X, while scaling back the GPU and removing the disc drive.
Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!
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