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Xbox Series X

Xbox Series X

Written by John Yan on 11/30/2020 for XBSX  
More On: Xbox Series X

The Xbox Series X is Microsoft’s next big console that delivers unprecedented performance for the couch gamer and an experience that any Xbox One owner is used to. As an owner of each Xbox console over the past 19 years, it’s a nice, but familiar console that doesn’t do too much to change what has worked in the past.

I luckily secured an Xbox Series X on the pre-order date from Best Buy and had it delivered the day after the official launch date. Compared to the PlayStation 5, the packaging for the console is more compact and offers a nicer presentation.

Opening up the box, you’re presented with the Xbox Series X itself wrapped in a thin sheet of foam that is front and center. Akin to some high-end phone unboxings, Microsoft here duplicates the same experience with how it’s designed the packaging to make the unveiling feel more premium.

Powered by the AMD RDNA2 architecture, the Xbox Series X is the most powerful console on the market by sheer teraflop numbers. It’s also the only console to feature support for all RDNA2 features, unlike the PlayStation 5. Variable rate shading is the feature that is only currently on the Xbox Series X and one that won’t appear on the PlayStation 5 until a future firmware update for enhanced speed in some games. Microsoft made the decision to produce the Xbox Series X later in the year to ensure the console has support for the full compliment of RDNA 2 features, which could be nice benefit in the future.

The console itself has a very monolithic design with a nice black matte finish. In the hand, it feels solid and compact. I was surprised at how small it was and you shouldn't have any problems fitting it in your entertainment center. The UHD Blu-ray drive in one corner lets you play movies and disc-based games all the way back to the original Xbox—but more on that later.  In one corner is the power button with the familiar Xbox logo that lights up white when the console is powered on. In another corner is the sync button along with one USB Type-A connector. No USB-C on this console, which is a slight disappointment since the controllers now have a USB-C connector.

The Xbox Series X does seem to be made to be placed vertically as there’s a large grated vent hole at what it would be the top in this position. The concave port allows for all the heat to be vented out the top with the help of physics and a very large yet quiet fan. When in use, I found the heat coming from the Xbox Series X to be warm, but easily tolerable. It’s not a jet of uncomfortable hot air when gaming, and like the PlayStation 5, the console operates very quietly.

If you do want to place it on the side, you can easily do so. I would assume the internals would get slightly warmer as you’re not getting the natural help of heat rising to help cool the Xbox Series X, but it shouldn’t affect the operation of it any less. There’s no stand necessary for either orientation and that’s one of the benefits of such a simple rectangular design.

On the back are two more USB Type-A connectors, and HDMI 2.1 connector, Ethernet, power, and a storage expansion slot to plug in one of those fancy schmancy new PCIe Gen-4 NVMe Seagate hard drives. Since the console is billed for 4K 120Hz HDR gaming, the HDMI 2.1 connector will deliver enough bandwidth to achieve this goal. Microsoft was also nice enough to include an HDMI cable that can facilitate this. So if you have, say, a new OLED TV which is rated to run at that resolution and speed, you’re going to be good to go with all that comes out of the box.

The Xbox Series X comes with 1TB of internal storage with an available space of 802GB. With the size of today’s AAA games, it’s going to fill up quick. You can attach an external USB drive to move Xbox Series X games to and from to help alleviate some of the space, but you can’t launch Xbox Series X games from it. One small bit of good news is any older game can stay on the external drive and be launched from there.

No, if you want to truly expand the storage on the Xbox Series X, you’re going to have to spend money on the proprietary solution from Seagate. For now, you’ll be able to expand it another 1TB, but I’m expecting different sizes and different manufacturers in the future. I wish Microsoft went the Sony route and let you put in off-the-shelf NVMe storage, but we know Microsoft isn’t a stranger to forcing you to use their products to expand the console.

The Xbox Series X really does take advantage of the new storage technology with its Quick Resume feature. Depending on how much free space you have left, you can quickly move from one game to another game previously launched in a matter of seconds. It’s a pretty slick feature that can get you into the game in no time flat if you’re one of those that switch what you play often. I really like how I can jump around my most played games without having to wait long, and I’m really hoping this is one feature that comes to the PC soon.

For going online, the Xbox Series X has both a hardwired and wireless option. Unlike the PlayStation 5, Microsoft stuck with an 802.11ac or Wifi 5 wireless adapter rather than going with an 802.11ax or Wifi 6 adapter for future proofing. I think Microsoft should have went to the next step here, but Wifi 5 should be adequate for most things.

Firing up the Xbox Series X, you’re going to be greeted with a very familiar UI if you already own an Xbox One. Here’s where Microsoft went with the familiarity approach. The Xbox One’s UI was updated not too long ago and Microsoft carried it over to their next generation console. While Sony revamped everything for the PlayStation 5, the same UI will allow current Xbox owners to navigate  around quickly. If you’re looking for something new to see along with the new console, you’ll be disappointed, but I have no problems with this approach. I’m not trying to fight my way through menu options and trying to find where the settings are as it’s the same as before. Some people will not like it, some will, but as I said, I can see the benefits with either approach to the UI.

Moving to the controller itself, it’s pretty much a slightly updated Xbox One controller. There’s a nicer texture on the bottom and grip area and the D-Pad has been updated to more like the Elite controller’s D-Pad. It’s a great upgrade and I like this design much more than the Xbox One controller. An additional share button is here for you to easily access sharing features, and we have USB Type-C now instead of micro-USB which is great for easily plugging a cable in it without any fuss.

The controller isn’t an exact one-to-one copy though as the battery area is slightly smaller than the Xbox One controller. For those who have rechargeable battery packs that go inside, you’ll be able to move that over to the Xbox Series X controller as long as it doesn’t replace the battery door. I have some rechargeable batteries with built-in battery door housing external contacts that allow me to place my Xbox One controller on a charging dock and those would not fit the Xbox Series X controller. So while they might look the same, there are slight differences that may make your older controller peripherals incompatible.

Sony went with a brand new controller design and added functionality that makes it one of the best controllers I’ve used, whereas Microsoft went with the same-as-before design that many people love. This ensures that if you have an Xbox One controller, you can use it on the Xbox Series X without any issues, unlike the PlayStation 4 controller not being usable for PlayStation 5 games. That means you can save a little bit of money here if you upgrade your console. Again like the UI, it’s a decision where I have no problems going either way and I do like the benefits of not having to upgrade all the controllers if I don’t have to.

Backwards compatibility took a huge leap with the Xbox Series X. We’re talking games all the way back to the original Xbox that you can play on the new console. Of course, there are some minor exceptions such as Kinect games and some other small titles. But for the most part you can play a game from any Xbox on the Xbox Series X. Do you have an old disc? Just pop it in and you’re good to go. That’s pretty awesome and it’s a great way for those who collect old games as well as those who like to relive some of the older titles—and to do so without any problems. Kudos to Microsoft for making backwards compatibility so complete with the Xbox Series X.

I’ve been getting into remote play more and more by streaming my PC or console to my mobile device or another TV. Microsoft is taking a nice initiative in not only enabling remote play on a mobile device but with Project xCloud. I was easily able to connect to my console with my phone with my Xbox controller plugged in, and was remote playing my titles on the console.

Project xCloud is the Stadia-like option that will stream games from Microsoft’s servers in the cloud. If you have solid internet speeds, it works really well. Just pick a game and in a few minutes it’ll start up. I like having access to a large library of games in the cloud when you don’t even have to own the game to play it: another nice decision from Microsoft.

Currently, there’s no way to remote play on a PC, which is rather strange because Microsoft is a PC-centric company and you’d think they have a way to do it. You can remote play an Xbox One, but the Xbox Series X is currently unavailable. I mean you can remote play with the PlayStation 5 right now on a PC with a DualSense controller and it’ll work without any problems. It’s odd that Microsoft didn’t have this feature working from the get go with the PC, but at least it currently works on a mobile device.

So while the Xbox Series X is, on paper, a very powerful console, what it currently lacks are new exclusive games to play. Halo Infinite has been delayed. There are some new games but they're all multi-platform. Games that would show off the power of the Xbox Series X and only the Xbox Series X are nonexistent. And that’s a shame as one of the great things with new consoles are new exclusive games to play.

There are plenty of games to play though as backwards compatibility will make sure there’s no shortage of them on the new console. That does make those wanting to jump to the next console a little easier as they won’t have to give up any of their old games to do it. But, it is disappointing there’s not one new game you can point to and say that is the launch title for this system. It’s this alone that makes the scenario of waiting to pick one up viable as you’re really not missing out on a need to play any particular title right now. And perhaps this also makes waiting easier as it’s really hard to buy one right now from retailers. If you don’t get one by Christmas, it’s OK as you’re not missing out much by not having one in your home this year. Next year, it’ll be different.

Also, if you’re a PC gamer, I find very little reason to pick one up as long as you have a solid gaming machine. Most first-party titles will be coming to the PC and for those with very high end gaming machines, it’s already going to be more powerful than the Xbox Series X. That said, if you do want to play in the living room, getting one to compliment your PC setup would be a nice option.

Microsoft is banking on the Xbox Ultimate Game Pass to provide the value for the console, and it’s a great option at that. You get a ton of games to play with at a low monthly fee and, if you aren’t currently a subscriber, you can buy up to three years at a very low price. It’s what a lot of us on the staff did and we find great value all the time with the Ultimate Game Pass. Especially for owners of both an Xbox and a PC, the Ultimate Game Pass is one of the best values out there for gamers.

The Xbox Series X is a hardware leap over the Xbox One that’s also stuck to a lot of what made it work. The UI and controller have stayed pretty much the same so it will be familiar to Xbox One owners. Lack of launch games does hurt it a bit, but you do have the ability to play an enormous library of old games right now. Combined with Xbox Ultimate Game Pass, you will have access to a large library of new and old games to play with. Finding an Xbox Series X though will be an issue for a little while, but that might be OK without any AAA exclusive launch title currently out there.

Lack of launch titles is probably the only big thing against the Xbox Series X. Those that want change will be disappointed by the controller and UI. And Xbox Ultimate Game Pass is a tremendous value.

Rating: 8.8 Class Leading

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About Author

I've been reviewing products since 1997 and started out at Gaming Nexus. After writing for a few different sites that went under, it's nice to bring back a site that's not dependent on revenue and just wants to deliver news and reviews of products.

I'm married, and enjoy first person shooters, sports games, and real time strategy games.

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