We are now entering the 9th generation of games consoles and Microsoft’s Xbox has come a long way since the original back in 2001.
This year Microsoft is releasing two new state of the art consoles, the Xbox Series X and Series S, while they share some similar features, unlike the PS5 and PS5 Digital they are two very different machines aimed at different gamers.
At first glance the Xbox Series S may seem like just the little brother to the ‘most powerful console in the world’ but it doesn’t just languish in the X’s shadow. The S brings the speed and performance you’d expect but in a more compact and affordable package.
Firstly both Xboxes have gone for a much more striking look this time around.
I was impressed at the compact size of the Xbox Series S. The matte white rectangular design looks minimal and modern without looking brutal or boring although it does look slightly like a large speaker.
It measures 6.5cm x 15.1cm, 27.5cm tall and weighs only 4.25 lbs for reference it is 60% smaller than the Series X making it the smallest Xbox ever.
No text, just a small, unobtrusive logo for a power button. It looks sleek and elegant when compared with the PS5 and while its design is similar to the Xbox One S, there are some differences that help it stand out.
The most eye-catching detail is the black circle which highlights the main cooling fan and while it does draw the eye it still looks attractive and inconspicuous next to or underneath the TV.
At the front of the Series S is a USB A 3.2 port, on the back are the rest of the ports including a figure 8 cable for power, external SSD memory port, two USB A 3.2 ports, a HDMI 2.1 port and an ethernet port.
Much like the previous Xbox One S All Digital edition, the Series S is a digital-only system meaning it has no optical drive and cannot read discs at all.
This means the series S can’t play Blu-ray discs or the physical edition of games. This is important if you currently own a large library of discs, nevertheless a digital-only system means less clutter of cases and discs lying around.
You purchase games through the Microsoft Store and download them to the console’s hard drive.
This lack of a disc drive is one of the things that makes the Series S so much smaller and cheaper But it does make you more reliant on internal storage space.
You can also pre-order and pre-install upcoming games so you’re ready to play the moment they launch rather than waiting or trying to find it in the shops.
Because of the backwards compatibility of many games I was able to play straight out of the box.
In a digital-only console, storage is one of its most important features, as all your games files will play from the inbuilt memory and not from a disc, which is why the Series S’s storage capacity of 512Gb is a little confusing.
The Series S uses an inbuilt solid-state drive, meaning load times are much faster due to the lack of moving parts or the drive needing to be spun up like on a standard hard disk.
It is the same 4th Gen NVME SSD drive as the X which is capable of a swift 2.4Gb a second of uncompressed data.
The increasing file sizes of modern games, with patches and DLC means the supplied SSD can be filled very quickly if you’re not careful, especially as only 364Gb of memory is useable.
Even some current generation games are approaching the 100Gb file sizes. One of the game Call of Duty Warzone, is 100Gb. Warzone isn’t alone in that size, some other games I tested were also around the 100Gb mark were:
With just five games I could easily fill the drive, thankfully games on the Series S will be around 30% smaller due to the 1440p resolution textures instead of 4K.
There are other storage options.
Compatible external HDD and SSD Game Drives are an option but games installed on those drives will be limited to a max speed of 20Gbps and less on some drives.
Another option allowing you to retain your high speed loading times is a 1Tb Seagate Storage Expansion Card which retails for £219 and is compatible with both the X and the S series.
Surprisingly the S doesn’t sacrifice much on brainpower as its CPU is very similar to its big brother the Series X, an 8-Core AMD Zen 2 CPU clocked at a slightly lower 3.6GHz.
It also uses 10GB of GGDR6 RAM, which runs at a slower speed than the Series X’s 16GB.
This means it offers brilliant performance, the UI is quick and responsive, games load faster than before and the system also can handle any current-gen titles that you can throw at it without any struggle and the CPU still has room for future developers to push the hardware further in future with features like hyperthreading.
The GPU is the biggest difference between the Series X and S. The S is still no slouch, utilising an AMD RDNA 2 GPU 20 CUs clocked at 1.565 and powered at 4 Teraflops.
Teraflops measure how many trillion calculations being performed per second and are vital for rendering large complex games.
This is dramatically reduced when compared to the X’s 12 TFLOPS but remember the S is running at a lower resolution meaning its graphical power is more than enough.
Games play at a targeted resolution of 1440p and on a 4K TV, upscaled, this still looks great and will suit most as the average gamer won’t be able to see a difference.
The Series S is a great option if you don’t own a 4K TV or if you’re not too bothered with the higher than HD resolutions.
Video content can be streamed at 4K but the Series S does not run games in native 4K.
Xbox Series S can support up to 120 frames per second on compatible TVs. Although this isn’t yet a common feature meaning you’d need a pretty new TV with HDMI 2.1 to make use of a 120Hz refresh rate. The quicker frames rates look fantastic for fast motion games especially racing like Dirt 5 or Forza giving the smoothest animations possible.
The Series X and S both benefit from an inbuilt feature called Auto HDR. High Dynamic Range improves the assortment of colours making the image appear more vibrant and bright.
The fan despite being so prominent on the console was always quiet and barely noticeable, However the console did seem to get very warm while I was playing, and while I did not notice any performance issues I was surprised at the amount of heat the single fan was blasting out.
When compared to last generation’s Xbox One X, the new Xbox Series S’ graphical capabilities may look like a downgrade on paper but the console takes advantage of faster RAM, RDNA 2, Raytracing, Velocity architecture, SSD, all of which blows all previous models out of the water.
Another helpful addition for budget conscious gamers is that the Series S can use your previous controllers from the Xbox One on the new system, saving you more money.
The Series S features backwards compatibility not just with the previous-gen like the PS5 but is compatible with thousands of games from all four generations of Xbox and letting you keep playing your old favourites on a new system.
This means that at launch you will already have access to thousands of select games some with improved performance, resolution and framerate due to the new advanced hardware and some being optimised.
Quick Resume enables gamers to switch between up to 6 titles and resume instantly from where they last left off without waiting through loading screens, which is a nice touch and really gets you into your gamers quicker.
Xbox Smart Delivery is a really clever feature that means on supported games your console will download the best most optimised version of a game for whichever console you are using be it a series S, Series X or Xbox one
So far, there has only been a small selection of Smart Delivery games optimised for the new system but more are being added post-launch.
The Xbox Series S and X both also feature Variable Refresh Rate.This means that if your TV is supported, it will match its refresh rate to the frame rate of the game automatically.
This is important as some scenes with a lot of action or that are more graphically demanding on your hardware may momentarily cause drops it’s framerate from say 60 to 30 or lower to compensate and ease the workload.
But with Variable Refresh Rate, matching your frame rate and refresh rate you will see a much smoother experience and less noticeable tearing and stuttering.
The most important feature for any new console is the games, and Xbox, unfortunately, doesn’t have the edge on exclusive titles at the moment.
This is due to the delay of first-party title Halo Infinite so they are relying more on third party games like Cyberpunk 2077 which was also delayed.
Having said that, Microsoft’s monthly games on-demand service Game Pass features over 100 games to keep you entertained and when coupled with the Xbox’s impressive backwards compatibility you already have an extensive library at your fingertips.
And being a purely digital-only system the Series S is built for Game Pass which offers amazing value for money at only £10.99 a month and can be used on PC also.
You can even purchase a Series S with no upfront cost, pay a monthly fee of £20.99 per month for 24 months and it comes with Game Pass making it even easier to get into the Xbox ecosystem.
The Xbox Series S is a surprisingly capable system balancing performance with price but looks a little light on exclusives.
Boasting many of the same impressive next-gen features and some of the same hardware as the Series X, The S lacks the additional storage and power.
And while it may lack the raw GPU power of its big brother, is the lower price point, smaller physical profile and ability to play past, current and next gen games beautifully is all that matters.
The Xbox Series S significantly lowers the point of entry for next-generation gaming, and is a tempting way to get newcomers into the Xbox Ecosystem. It easily suits the needs of most gamers, appealing to parents, casual gamers, and as a second console.
The Series S when bought with Game Pass is an unstoppable combination.
The Xbox Series S is out 10 November for £249.99