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Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: what's the difference?

Everything you need to know about the future of Xbox

The Xbox Series S and the Xbox Series X side by side Credit: Microsoft

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With both Xbox and Playstation 5 pre-orders now live and set to arrive on shelves this November, the next generation of video game consoles is finally at hand. Just like the Playstation 5, there are two new Xbox consoles: the Xbox Series X and the digital-only Series S. Though both of these consoles will play current games and next-generation titles, there are some major differences between the two when it comes to hardware, features, and price.

If you're hoping to invest in a next-gen Xbox but you can't make heads or tails of your options, we're here to help. Here's everything you need to know about the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S.

What are the major differences between the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S?

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: Difference in Size
Credit: Microsoft

The Xbox Series S is the smallest Xbox Microsoft has ever developed.

Size

The first thing you'll notice when taking a side-by-side look at the two new Xbox consoles are the differences in size and aesthetics. The Xbox Series S is the smallest Xbox Microsoft has ever made—about 60% smaller than the Xbox Series X. At launch, the Series S is only available in white. The Series X, on the other hand, is currently only available in black.

Physical vs digital-only

From a usage standpoint, the biggest difference between the two new Xbox consoles is the manner in which games are installed and played; the Xbox Series X features a UHD Blu-ray disc drive for hardcopy games, while the Series S does not. Being an all-digital experience, the Series S leans heavily on its limited 512GB of internal storage. The disc-drive-equipped Xbox Series X, however, comes with 1TB of storage—nearly double the Series S.

The Xbox Series S and the Xbox Series X also offer significantly different in-game experiences.

Performance

The Xbox Series S and the Xbox Series X will offer significantly different in-game experiences, starting with resolution. While the Xbox Series X supports 4K resolution (3840 x 2160), the Series S tops out at a resolution of 1440p (2560 x 1440). The Xbox Series X also supports frame rates of up to 120 FPS (Frames Per Second) at 4K resolution, but the pared-down Series S only supports 60 FPS/120 FPS gaming with a maximum resolution of 1440p. Eventually, the Xbox Series X is primed to support 8K resolution gaming at 60 FPS.

What does this mean for you? Well, if you already own a 4K TV, the Xbox Series X will make the most of it by offering native 4K gaming and an opportunity to play UHD Blu-rays, too. On the other hand, if you already own a 4K TV and opt for the Series S, you'll enjoy a 1440p resolution upscaled to 4K.

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How much do the new Xbox consoles cost?

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: Difference in Cost
Credit: Microsoft

The Xbox Series X retails for $499 while the Xbox Series S retails for $299.

As mentioned above, the Xbox Series X retails for $499 while the Xbox Series S can be had for just $299. Both consoles come with an Xbox controller and all of the cables you need to get started.

If you'd rather not pay the full cost of a Series X or Series S, Microsoft is offering a monthly payment plan for both of its newest consoles in select markets. Dubbed Xbox All Access, the payment plan shakes out at $24.99 per month (for 24 months) for the Xbox Series S and $34.99 per month (for 24 months) for the Xbox Series X. Neither payment plan requires any upfront payments and both include 24 months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.

Do I need a new TV for the Xbox Series X or Xbox Series S?

TCL 6-Series (2020)
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

You don't need a new, fancy TV to run an Xbox Series X or Series S, but a 4K TV with a 120-Hz native refresh rate is a go a long way in improving your experience.

The answer to this question really depends on the TV you currently own and which Xbox you're planning on buying. If you don't already own a 4K TV with HDR we recommend upgrading to one regardless of which Xbox you've got your eyes on. Check out our round-up of the best TVs for Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S for up-to-date recommendations.

While you'll still be able to run these consoles on a 1080p TV, you won't be able to take advantage of their various features. Fortunately, there's never been a better time to buy a 4K TV—even the most affordable TVs on the market today tend to carry 4K resolution.

Pay attention to your TV's refresh rate.

One aspect you ought to pay attention to—particularly if you're eyeing the more value-forward Xbox Series S—is your TV's refresh rate, which will ultimately determine whether your TV maxes out at 60 frames per second or 120 frames per second. Most affordable TVs (and those that have a few years on them) top out at 60 FPS.

This matters whichever model you choose, but here's why it really matters if you're going with the Series S: One of the main appeals of the Xbox Series S is the console's ability to display games in 120 FPS. In fact, Microsoft is betting that gamers will appreciate next-gen frame rate more than they'll miss gaming at a 4K resolution. Should you decide to buy a new TV to support your new Xbox, we recommend investing in one with a native refresh rate of 120 Hz. We've written all about these TVs in our round-up of the best gaming TVs you can buy.

In any event, if you're planning on springing for the Xbox Series X in order to take advantage of the advanced, next-generation features that haven't arrived yet (like 4K gaming at 120 FPS), you'll need a TV that offers HDMI 2.1 inputs. There's a handful of TVs on the market that offer such ports, and they're also detailed in our round-up of the best TVs for gaming.

Should I buy the Xbox Series X or the Xbox Series S?

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: Xbox Series S Hardware
Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft reports that the Xbox Series S, while not as powerful as the Xbox Series X, contains four times the processing power of the Xbox One.

If you're after the best possible performance, as well as future proofing, the Xbox Series X is the way to go. You're getting 4K support (up to 120 FPS), a 4K/UHD Blu-ray player, double the storage space, and better overall performance. It costs significantly more than the Series S, but your investment will also be rewarded down the road when developers begin to take advantage of these specs.

If you're not yet ready to upgrade your home theater to a setup that can take advantage of everything the Series X has to offer, the Xbox Series S is a fine compromise. You'll still have access to the library of current- and next-generation titles and you'll still be investing in a console that Microsoft reports has four times the processing power and three times the GPU power of the Xbox One. You'll be limited to digital games at a 1440p resolution, but 120 FPS support is a great feature to hang your hat on.

For more of our thoughts on the next generation of Xbox gaming, head over to our Xbox Series X review.

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