Everything We Know About Xbox Series S

The first round of Xbox Series X|S pre-orders have come and gone, leaving broken records and downed websites in their wake, but with more preorders on the way (according to Xbox) we thought now was a good time to talk specifically about the Xbox Series S. Especially since so many people are only focusing on the PS5 and Xbox Series X, as they are the cornerstones of the next generation. So whether you're debating picking up the system for yourself on launch or generously considering it as a gift for your friends and family, here is everything you need to know about the Xbox Series S.

Hardware | According to the announcement trailer, the Series S is 60% smaller than the Series X. It is, as they say, the smallest Xbox ever. Now, this is due to a few different reasons. For one, the system has no disc drive and we'll get more into that in a bit. Secondly, the system internals were reorganized to fit a completely different form factor. The Series S doesn't share the Series X's "mini-fridge" design and instead feels like a more natural progression from the Xbox One S. In fact, if you look at the Xbox One S All-Digital edition, the Series S isn't too far off. Although, physical comparison videos show that it is still smaller than those current-gen (or last-gen if you are reading this after November 10) systems. Just like the Series X, the S only has one fan, that sits under the black vent cover, to cool the system, but even if that exhaust is accidentally blocked the system has holes on the sides as well to make sure it doesn't overheat. While it's probably preferred that you lay the system down flat, so hot air can rise out of the larger vent for maximum cooling, the system does have rubber grips on the side so you can stand it upright as well.

Speaking of hardware, I can't neglect to mention the new Xbox controller that comes bundled with Series X|S consoles. Xbox went with an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach, and the controllers aren't significantly redesigned, with the main changes being a new directional pad, textured triggers, and a new Share button akin to the one present on the PS4 and Nintendo Switch controllers. If you have existing Xbox One controllers laying around, don't sell them just yet, because they do work on the new systems and the new controllers work on the One as well.

Specifications | Let's move on to the nerdy stuff. For some of you, these numbers will make complete sense. For others, they are pure gibberish. Don't worry though, I'll put them into simpler terms in due time. The Series S has an 8-core AMD Zen 2 CPU @ 3.6GHz (3.4GHz with Simultaneous Multithreading enabled) and an AMD RDNA 2 GPU with 20 Compute Units @ 1.565GHz. While the CPU is nearly identical to the Series X, the GPU is significantly less powerful with the X using an AMD RDNA 2 GPU with 52 Compute Units @ 1.825GHz. Furthermore, the Series S has 4 TFLOPS of GPU power which is less than a third of Series X's 12.15 TFLOPS. For RAM, the Series S has 10GB GDDR6 RAM instead of the 16GB GDDR6 RAM in the X. And lastly, the Series S comes with 512GB of storage which is a little over half of what the Xbox Series X comes with. 

The worry for some players is that going purely off the numbers, the Series S seems to be less powerful than the Xbox One X. And the fact that Xbox isn't directly comparing the S to the One X and choosing to only pin it against the One S isn't promising. To be honest, yes, the One X in some ways is more powerful than the Series S. For starters, the One X has 6 TFLOPS of GPU power, 12GB GDDR5 RAM, and 1TB of storage. Not to mention that its resolution can go up to 4K. However, it's important to keep in mind that the Series S specifically has an AMD RDNA 2 GPU and it's RAM is GDDR6. Plus, it's 512GB storage is SSD while the 1TB on the One X is HDD. And it's all backed by Xbox's Velocity Architecture. To put it simply, the Series S will be able to play games better than the One X.

Resolution | Unlike its big brother, the Series S does not and is not capable of playing games at 4K. If you want a future proof console that you won't have to replace until the end of the generation or if you plan on getting 4K TV in the next few years, then the Series X is the ideal choice. However, if resolution does not matter for you, as long as it looks good that is, then the Series S is more than capable of providing a crisp gaming experience. I do want to mention though that some tech gurus, who are far better than me at identifying the power of system parts, have come out to say that they doubt the Series S's GPU can actually handle the targeted 1440p. Based on the internal specs I listed above the real estimate is that save for a few games that may play at 1440p resolution, the majority of games will only hit 1080p. But with no systems out in the wild for testing, it's hard to tell for sure. So we'll just have to wait to get our hands on the Series S to see for ourselves.

Framerate | The good thing is, looking at those same specs, the Series S on paper is more than capable of running at the targeted framerates with even 120fps being plausible. Now obviously this is very much so up to the developers on if they want to take advantage of the added fluidity or not, but it's a safe bet to assume that at least a few of Xbox's first-party games, Halo Infinite being one of them, will run at that max 120fps. Though, on the topic of framerate, much like how not a lot of consumers have 4K TVs to take advantage of true 4K gaming, just as few probably have monitors capable of 120Hz. For the most part, the Series S will play games somewhere between 30 to 60fps, and with the performance of certain games on current-gen consoles that's a huge plus as is. On the Xbox Podcast with Larry Hryb, Jason Ronald at Xbox has also discussed the ability for developers to optimize their last-gen games for Series X|S saying that it will be easier than before for developers to double the framerate of their games with an update, if they choose to, while Xbox will take care of the rest of the optimization on the system end. That's not to mention the platform level enhancements like improved texture filtering and faster load times.

All Digital | This is a very big turn off for a lot of people, myself included, because it removes the option of buying a physical game on sale or sharing with a friend completely out of the equation. While digital games going on sale makes it easy to pick up a few for real cheap, the real selling point for an all-digital Xbox system is Game Pass. It's no exaggeration to call Game Pass "the best deal in gaming" with it offering access to hundreds of great games for $15/month. And thanks to Xbox's commitment to the service, more games and collections are being added every month. If you haven't heard already, EA Play will be added to Game Pass Ultimate and Game Pass on PC later this year at no additional cost. Plus, if you own any Xbox One games digitally already, you can play those on your Series S on Day 1.

I want to mention that there have been rumors that Xbox will release a USB disc drive for purchase after release, but I really wouldn't pay these rumors much mind. Xbox has placed their bets on some interesting ideas in the past but this Build-a-Bear console that lets you buy a $299 base console and then add on modular parts later, seems a bit farfetched. (Though who knows, I've been surprised before.) Now being an all-digital console, the 512GB SSD that comes with the Series S may not be enough for some players, especially considering the size of certain games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare this generation, and Xbox has already confirmed that additional SSD storage can be bought. Leaks suggest that it will cost an excess of $200, almost as much as the system itself, though no official word on price and size availability is out at the moment. Older games, from the Xbox One, 360, or OG Xbox, can be loaded onto a regular USB hard drive, but it is encouraged that new games be downloaded to the SSD to take advantage of faster load times and quick resume.

Still Next-Gen | There are a few more things to consider before entering your credit card information. Despite the slight downgrade, the Series S is still a next-gen console and that comes with expected features and benefits. This includes, but are not limited to, Xbox Velocity Architecture, quick resume, DirectX raytracing, variable refresh rate, variable rate shading, dynamic latency input, Smart Delivery, Dolby Vision, and Dolby True HD with Atmos. This all adds up to providing a smooth and seamless next-gen experience. Of those, the ones that personally caught my eye are quick resume, which lets you switch between 6 games and pick up right where you left off with minimal loading, raytracing, which makes even simple games like Minecraft look beautiful and atmospheric, Dolby Vision and Atmos, which the Xbox One has for streaming movies but the Series X|S will be the first consoles to apply it to games, and Smart Delivery, which ensures that you are playing the most optimized version of a game, wherever you are playing.

Launch Titles | Now the juicy stuff. You want to buy a new system but what can you play on it to take advantage of that additional power? A small disclaimer before the list, I've broadened the scope of the term "launch titles" to mean any significant release that will be out Holiday 2020 for the Xbox Series X|S and not just games that will launch day and date with the system. With that out of the way, here is the list of upcoming games for Xbox Series X|S that will release this year:

  • Assassin's Creed: Valhalla
  • Borderlands 3
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  • Cyberpunk 2077
  • Destiny 2: Beyond Light
  • Devil May Cry: Special Edition
  • DiRT 5
  • Fortnite
  • Gears 5
  • Gears Tactics
  • Immortals: Fenyz Rising
  • Madden NFL 21
  • Maneater
  • Marvel's Avengers
  • NBA 2K21
  • Observer: System Redux
  • Outriders
  • Scorn
  • Tetris Effect: Connected
  • The Ascent
  • The Medium
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
  • Watch Dogs: Legion
  • Yakuza: Like a Dragon

And there it is. Everything you need to know about the Xbox Series S before making the leap into next-gen. The last thing I will say about the Series S is that I myself am getting one. Along with everything you've read above, a few personal reasons, such as the fact that most of the games we receive for reviews are digital, meant that the Series S was the obvious choice for me. I enjoy high resolutions but if the S can play games at 1080p at anything from 30 to 60fps then I am content. And with The Witcher 3 getting a free next-gen upgrade thanks to the wizards at CD Projekt Red, I'll have a next-gen experience with one the last generations best games waiting for me. If, like me, you've decided on the Series S, you can pre-order it for $299 outright or go for Xbox All-Access which costs $24.99/month for 24 months and comes with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate bundled in. If after reading all this you decide that you'd rather go for a PS5 or a Series X, then be sure to check out our ultimate buying guide for those systems.

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