Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: How to Pick the Console Right for You

Which next-gen Xbox console should you buy?

Microsoft is breaking new ground with the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. Both consoles will be available at the same time, both play the same games, and they share much of the same hardware, but they have drastically different price points and different capabilities. We'll look at pricing and capabilities, other important differences, and similarities as well to help you choose which console wins a spot in your living room in the battle between Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S.

Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S

Overall Findings

Xbox Series X
  • Large monolithic design.

  • Powerful CPU and GPU.

  • 4K gaming at 60 FPS.

  • MSRP: $599.

  • Game Pass bundle financing available.

Xbox Series S
  • Small compact design.

  • Powerful CPU with a pared-down GPU.

  • 1440p gaming @ 60 FPS.

  • MSRP: $299.

  • Game Pass bundle financing available.

The Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S look quite different, with the former taking on the appearance of a black monolith, and the latter being like in size and configuration to a tissue box. Both systems share similar CPU and GPU architecture, with the Xbox Series X leveraging more powerful specifications to offer better graphics. The Series X also comes with a disc drive, which the Series S lacks. Meanwhile, the Series S has a big edge in the pricing department.

Specifications: The Xbox Series X Is a Beast

Xbox Series X
  • CPU: 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.8GHz.

  • GPU: 12 TFLOPs, 52 CUs at 1.825GHz

  • Memory: 16GB GDDR6/256-bit.

  • Storage: 1TB Custom NVMe SSD + 1TB expansion card.

  • Physical Media: 4K UHD Blu-ray disc drive.

  • Graphics: 4K @ 60fps, Up to 120 FPS.

Xbox Series S
  • CPU: 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.6GHz (3.4GHz with SMT enabled).

  • GPU: 4 TFLOPs, 20 CUs at 1.565GHz

  • Memory: 10GB GDDR6 (8GB @ 224GB/s, 2GB @ 56GB/s)

  • Storage: 512GB Custom NVMe SSD + 1TB expansion card.

  • Physical Media: None.

  • Graphics: 1440p @ 60fps, up to 120 FPS.

The raw stats of the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S are surprisingly similar, with both systems sharing a lot of the same architecture. However, the Series S hardware is pared down significantly to save money and offer a lower price point. The CPU runs a bit slower, for example, while the GPU is significantly less powerful.

In fact, the Xbox Series X is capable of 12 teraflops (TFLOPS) using 52 compute units (CU), while the Xbox Series S tops out at just 4 TFLOPS with 20 CU. Due to these differences, the Xbox Series X targets 4K graphics at 60 frames per second (FPS), while the Xbox Series S targets a more modest 1440p at 60 FPS.

Putting things plainly, the Xbox Series X leverages its better hardware to provide superior graphics. While both systems will play all of the same games, the Series X will play them in higher resolution and with more advanced features like HDR.

Game Library: Exactly the Same With a Minor Caveat

Xbox Series X
  • Plays all Xbox Series X/S games, including exclusives like Halo: Infinite.

  • Compatible with games from all previous Xbox consoles.

  • Plays both digital and physical versions of backwards compatible games.

Xbox Series S
  • Plays all Xbox Series X/S games, including exclusives like Halo: Infinite.

  • Compatible with games from all previous Xbox consoles.

  • Backwards compatibility limited by lack of disc drive.

The Xbox Series X game library and Xbox Series S game library will be identical, as the lower-powered Series S is designed to play every game the Series X can play. That means you can buy a Series S and be secure in the knowledge that you won't miss out on any games, although you will miss out on things like enhanced graphics and performance that are made available by the more powerful Series X.

The biggest difference between the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, in terms of game libraries, has to do with backwards compatibility. The Xbox Series X will play Xbox One games on day one, so Xbox One owners will have a large library of games to start with. It will also be able to play the same Xbox 360 and original Xbox games that the Xbox One is capable of running.

While the Xbox Series S will also have backwards compatibility, it lacks one key feature: a disc drive. Since the Xbox Series S lacks a disc drive, it won't be able to play your physical Xbox One, Xbox 360, or original Xbox games. Backwards compatibility will, in fact, be limited to games that you download from Microsoft on the Xbox Series S.

Controllers and Peripherals: Identical Support

Xbox Series X
  • Xbox Series X controller is a slight update of the Xbox One controller.

  • You can use Xbox One controllers with the Xbox Series X.

  • Other Xbox One peripherals are also compatible with Series X.

Xbox Series S
  • Xbox Series S controller is exactly the same as the Series X controller.

  • You can use Xbox One controllers with the Xbox Series S.

  • Other Xbox One peripherals are also compatible with Series X.

While the Series S has a pared down version of the Series X hardware under the hood, the controller didn't receive the same treatment. Both consoles will use the exact same controller, and you can also use your old Xbox One controllers and peripherals with both new systems.

The new controller that ships with the Series X and Series S looks and feels a lot like the Xbox One S controller, with minimal changes made for ergonomics and performance. The d-pad has received a facelift, and the controller includes a dedicated button for sharing screenshots and video recordings, so no more digging through menus just to save or share some game footage.

In addition to working with both the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, the new Xbox controller will also be backwards compatible with the Xbox One and work with games on your Windows 10 PC as well.

Design and Pricing: Different Looks and Price Tags

Xbox Series X
  • Massive monolithic cuboid design.

  • Black with a green-accented vent on top.

  • Designed to stand up or lay on its side with the aid of rubber feet.

  • MSRP: $499.

  • Game Pass Bundle: $34.99/mo for 24 months.

Xbox Series S
  • Small, flat, rectangular cuboid design.

  • White with a speaker grill-like vent on top.

  • Small size makes it easy to fit into most entertainment systems.

  • MSRP: $299.

  • Game Pass Bundle: $24.99/mo for 24 months.

The Xbox Series X and Series S are vastly difference in appearance, with the former being a large black monolith and the latter being a small white box. While previous generations of Microsoft consoles have all tried to keep a somewhat similar design aesthetic within a single generation, these consoles don't really look anything like one another.

The Xbox Series X is designed to stand up, but its size and height mean that some people won't have room for that configuration. With that in mind, it can also lay on its side in a slightly more traditional positioning. Laying it on its side also allows the disc drive to operate in a horizontal orientation.

The Xbox Series X is much smaller, and while it is often pictured in a standing position like its more powerful sibling, its size and configuration make it much easier to fit into most home theater setups when laid flat.

Aside from he massive differences in appearance, and the performance differences mentioned earlier, it's important to also note the huge price differential between these consoles. With a suggested price tags of $499 and $299, going with the Series S saves you enough money to buy nearly three brand new games, or subscribe to Game Pass Ultimate for over a year, but you don't get as powerful a system.

Final Verdict: Power and Graphics vs. All Digital

There really is no clear winner in the comparison between Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S, so it's impossible to say that one wins and the other loses, or even to make a recommendation that will work for everyone. The Xbox Series X is the clear winner if you're just looking at specifications and performance, but the Series S has a different purpose: to offer a more affordably entry into next-gen gaming.

The fact is that you should buy an Xbox Series X if you have a 4K HDR television and can fit the more expensive console into your budget, while the Xbox Series S will work fine for anyone working on a tighter budget and gamers who haven't yet upgraded to 4K. The Xbox Series X also has better backwards compatibility going for it thanks to the disc drive, although that's less important than performance and price.