Xbox Series X review: Better, Faster, Stronger

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When Microsoft entered the gaming market with the original Xbox back in 2001, gamers were sceptical that the PC giant would last. But over 19 years each iteration of their console evolved, becoming a more refined gaming machine. The new Xbox Series X feels like the culmination of that work.

The Xbox Series X is one of two new next-generation consoles aimed as one two punch attempting to floor Sony’s new system the PS5.

Originally teased back in 2018 under the name project Scarlet, then confusingly named Xbox Series X, not to be confused with the Xbox One X.

This isn’t an incremental upgrade, oh no, everything has been redesigned to be faster, better, faster and much more powerful.

Some have compared the distinctive look of the Xbox to a fridge

Look

The radical new design won’t appeal to everyone, but the brutal looking, black monolith really makes a statement and highlights that this system is meant to stand out.

The X features a strong new design, with no sleek lines or bright colours and curved edges this black box has more in common with a desktop PC than a games console.

This makes sense as the next generation hardware brings over some PC bridges the gap between high-end PC gaming with higher frame rates and resolution but for a fraction of the price.

While you can stand it vertically or horizontally the Series X looks far better standing upright allowing you to be in awe of its intimidating presence.

The front of the machine features a single USB 3.2 port and a 4K Blu-Ray drive. At the back there are two USB 3.2 ports, alongside an ethernet port, a storage expansion slot, and HDMI 2.1 out.

The Dimensions of the console are 15.1cm wide, 15.1cm deep and 30.1cm tall, making it larger than the Series S but not as big as the PS5. It weighs 9.8 lbs so you won’t be lugging it around.

Hardware

The CPU of the Series X is an 8-Core AMD Zen 2 CPU clocked at 3.8GHz which is incredibly powerful for a just a games console and more powerful than the PS5’s 3.5Ghz CPU.

The Series X also includes 16Gb RAM which uses a faster clock speed at 336 GB/s as opposed to the S’s 56 GB/s

The GPU is the Series X’s main feature and the biggest difference between the Series X and S. Using an AMD RDNA 2 GPU 52 CUs clocked at 1.825Ghz and powered at 12.15 teraflops, it is a powerhouse.

For comparison the PS5 is 10.28 teraflops, the Xbox One X is 6 teraflops and the Xbox Series S is 4 teraflops. To give some perspective that means the Series X is twice as powerful as last generation’s flagship the Xbox One X.

It doesn’t just look good on paper, the Series X really delivers incredibly fast performance at full native 4k resolution. The resolution of most games is targeted at 4K, but the Series X is technically capable of rendering up to 8K.

Delivering stunning visuals, from incredible details to realistic lighting, games look better than ever before. Any games using dynamic resolution will be able to steadily maintain higher resolutions due to the sheer GPU power of the system.

Xbox gamers can also benefit from 120 frames per second on HDMI 2.1 compatible televisions. It looks impressive on fast-paced action and racing games, providing the smoothest, most fluid animations.

However, this isn’t widely available on all TVs yet so this is a feature that won’t be accessible to everyone.

Despite my TV being 4K and 2 years old, it was unable to refresh 120fps meaning all the games I played were locked to a decent 60fps.

Due to its unique design, split motherboard and powerful fan heat is distributed and the system is kept cool and running efficiently. This means the Xbox can output some serious power without the worry of any kind of throttling due to overheating.

The Series X is near silent too, I never heard the fan unless I put my ears next to it, it never seemed to struggle and when I checked the temperature it was sometimes warm but definitely not hot.

While the new controller is very similar to the previous generation at first glance, it feels more comfortable due to the textured triggers and bumpers, and hybrid circular D-pad.

The most notable addition is the share button allowing you to take clips and screenshots quickly, easily and share them with friends online.

The UI is very reminiscent of the current Xbox interface; it’s simple but effective and supported by the new hardware it’s faster than ever. There are also some limited customisation options, you can change the background, and what icons you want on your home screen.

While the X is certainly a capable entertainment hub with the ability to watch Netflix, Disney plus, Prime etc and built-in Blu-Ray player, make no mistake this is a gaming machine.

Watch Dogs Legion running on the Xbox Series X using Ray-Tracing

Storage

With the convenience of online stores, despite the Blu-Ray disc drive you’re more likely to download your games directly from the Microsoft store which means you’ll need a decent amount of storage space.

The Series X features a blisteringly fast 1Tb 4th Gen NVME Solid State Drive, capable of 2.4Gb a second of uncompressed data. The benefit of this is faster downloads and dramatically faster loading times in game.

Nevertheless, only 802Gb of this is usable for game storage and while that seems ok some modern games like COD Warzone are around a whopping 100Gb.

You can install a decent amount of games, but with most next-gen games becoming larger and larger you may need to consider additional storage.

You can use an Xbox compatible hard drive but you’ll be limited by the speed of the drive.

However, if you want the same incredible speeds as the onboard storage the 1Tb Seagate Storage Expansion Card is also an option which retails for £219 and is compatible with both the X and the S series.

The Xbox series X is a towering achievement and blends bleeding-edge technology with killer features and a great service like Game Pass.

Microsoft’s monthly games on-demand service Game Pass features over 100 games for only £10.99 and when coupled with the Xbox’s impressive backwards compatibility you already have an extensive library at your fingertips.

While Sony has the edge with exclusives, Gears 5 and Gears Tactics are the closest to exclusives currently on the console until Halo Infinite arrives 2021.

However, Microsoft has been busy buying up studios, most noticeably Bethesda, creators of the modern Fallout, Wolfenstein and Doom franchises, meaning future games in these franchises could become the exclusives Microsoft desperately needs.

Cross generation multiplayer is also available on Microsoft’s own titles meaning you can play Some games against friends on different models of Xbox.

The Series X hardware leads to staggeringly short load times

Loading times

The new SSD and CPU coupled with the impressive Velocity Architecture give this system remarkable performance but dramatically improve booting up, loading times, loading save games and transition to new areas, almost making loading a thing of the past.

For example, loading times for The Outer Worlds on the Xbox One X were around 23 seconds, compared to a mere 7 seconds on the Series X. Meanwhile, Red Dead Redemption 2’s 90 second loads were taken down to just 50 seconds.

Assassin Creed Odyssey’s loading time went from one minute 9 seconds down to 30 seconds.

And it wasn’t just older titles, newer games like Watch Dogs Legion loaded in 8 seconds and Yakuza Like a Dragon loaded in 5 seconds.

It will be interesting to see if future games maintain these incredibly short load times or if they will continue to grow in complexity until longer load times creep back in.

Features

The Series X isn’t just about raw power, it has an array of cutting edge unique features that really make the system stand out.

Variable Refresh Rate

Variable Refresh Rate means that supported TVs adjusts the refresh rate to match the framerate. This is important as when there is a lot of action, enemies on screen, explosions and particle effects or anything more graphically demanding a console will drop its frame rate to compensate.

But with Variable Refresh Rate your TV will also match the frame rate so you’ll have a smoother experience and less noticeable tearing and stuttering.

Xbox Smart Delivery

Smart Delivery is a game-changer. Supported games will be downloaded as the most optimised, best version for the console you are using, regardless if it’s the One X, Series S or Series X.

So if you have a Smart delivery game for your old system, when you boot it up on your Series X it will download an enhanced version for the new console for free.

DirectX Raytracing

Brings stunningly realistic lighting effects and reflections that really have to be seen to be believed.

While the unique design makes the Xbox look more like a PC it’s very effective at cooling the hardware

Auto HDR

Another graphical innovation brought to the series X is Auto HDR or high dynamic range. This improves the assortment of colours making, giving a higher contrast ratio between lights and darks making games look more striking and vibrant. It even benefits older games making them look better than before.

Velocity Architecture

Improves how game packages and assets are loaded, as well as compressing them thus using less space and further increasing loading times. Microsoft has said it will benefit large open world games the most, allowing assets to be sourced quickly on the fly.

Quick Resume

This allows you to switch between games and continue where you left off, meaning you spend far less time waiting for your games to load up and it feels great to jump right into your games and spend less time waiting.

I hopped into 6 games simultaneously, however I wish there was an indicator of how many games were “live”, also I can’t imagine anyone actually needing that many games running all at once.

Backwards compatibility

The Series X features backwards compatibility not just with the previous-gen like the PS5 but is compatible with games from all four generations of Xbox, from Xbox One, 360 and even some original Xbox games. Some old discs will even work too.

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.

It’s awesome to see some of your favourite games receive improved framerates, performance and graphical tweaks automatically.

Verdict

The Xbox Series X is much greater than the sum of its parts, The advanced capabilities of this machine leapfrogs what was expected to deliver a powerhouse of a console that’s built for staggering speed and packed with brilliant features.

The Series X is more than just an upgrade to the Xbox One the Series X, creating a much smoother, faster and much more enjoyable gaming experience, making it impossible to go back to anything else.

Shockingly I feel I’m still yet to see a game that utilises the Series X’s full potential and really see it flex its muscles, making this machine future proof at least for a while.

But if you’re looking for a dedicated top of the line gaming machine then X marks the spot.

The Xbox Series X is out 10 November and retails for £449.99



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