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Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S - which one should you buy?

Now that Microsoft's two next-gen consoles have price tags and a release date, it's time for the inevitable Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S throwdown. Just what is the difference between them, other than their price? Are you getting a worse experience if you pick up a Series S instead of a Series X? Which one should you buy when both systems launch this November 10?

To help make sense of it all, we've broken down the differences between these next-gen consoles so you can make an informed choice this Holiday season. That includes the pros and cons of each system, not to mention an explainer on which one will suit your home setup. We've also got details on why there's such a difference in price between the Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S.

Strap in - there's a lot to cover.

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S - features

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Rushed for time? Here's the long and short of it:

  • Xbox Series X can run games in 4K resolution, Xbox Series S can't
  • Xbox Series S doesn't have a disc drive
  • Xbox Series S has less internal storage
  • Both consoles play all next-gen games
  • Xbox Series S is 60% smaller in size

First up in our Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S battle royale is a simple question: what do they do differently? Why are there two different versions of a next-gen console? It's all about accessibility. The Series S was envisioned from the start as an entry-level machine that gets you into the next gaming generation for less. Meanwhile, Xbox Series X can be seen as the 'full' experience with nothing held back.

However, that's not to say the Xbox Series S is 'lesser'. You're fundamentally getting the same experience on both consoles no matter which one you choose. That's because the only real difference is resolution. There are others caveats, of course, but that's the crux of it.

4K resolution

In short, the Xbox Series X can display games in 4K resolution (which is much more detailed than standard HD). The Series S can't. Instead, it opts for a 1440p resolution which is a little better than normal HD. Aside from that, all next-gen games will run on either system. They'll perform just as well, too. Although it can't manage 4K, games on Series S can still manage up to 120 frames per second for a smoother experience. More specifically, Xbox Series S matches Series X on performance.

Why tone things down, though? Simply put, not everyone has a 4K TV. As such, investing in a 4K-ready console would be overkill. Why spend the extra cash if you won't be able to appreciate the benefits? Per a Microsoft blog post explaining what makes the Series S special, the team noted that "many of our fans prioritize framerate over resolution, so we wanted to build a console that didn’t require a 4K TV". And if you do have a 4K TV? The Series S will upscale its games.

Still, there's one thing to note before you make a decision: next-gen games will be made primarily with 4K and the Series X in mind. They'll then have their resolution reduced for Series S. Basically, the 'best' version of a game will always be on Xbox Series X.

Disc drives

Another notable difference would be the lack of a disc drive on the Xbox Series S. It's an all-digital machine, meaning that you cannot use discs with it. You'll have to pay for, download, and play all of your games digitally. Because the Series S has less internal storage (it only has a 512GB SSD compared to the X's 1TB alternative), that's something to bear in mind. Yes, you can get extra storage or use one of your old Xbox One external hard drives, but out of the box your Series S won't have as much memory for storing games and saves.

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S - price

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S

(Image credit: Microsoft)

This is another big difference in the Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S argument - cost. You can see the prices below:

  • Xbox Series X | $499 / £449.99
  • Xbox Series S | $299 / £249.99

In a nutshell, the Series S is nearly half the price of the Series X. You'd expect there to be plenty of features missing in the former as a result, but that's not the case. Because of this, the value of each one comes down to what's important to you and personal circumstance. Are you happy ditching physical game discs and going all-digital? Are you lukewarm about 4K? Do you just want to save money? If that's the case, the Xbox Series S is for you. 

Meanwhile, those who want to play games via disc (which is always handy for trading in at a later date) or would like games to look their best should opt for an Xbox Series X. It's also the sensible choice if you'd prefer to future-proof yourself. The Series X will age much better than the Series S because of its push for 4K.

For more info on what the deals for each console might look like, check out our guides to the Xbox Series X price and the Xbox Series S price.

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S - specs

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S

(Image credit: Microsoft)

In terms of raw specs, the two consoles are broadly similar with only a few differences. Here are the main discrepancies:

  • Both have an 8-core AMD Zen 2 processor, but the Series X is ever-so-slightly faster with a CPU at 3.8GHz compared to the Series S CPU at 3.6GHz
  • The Xbox Series S has fewer Compute Units in its graphics processor (20 CUs at 1.565GHz compared to the Series X's 52 CUs at 1.825GHz), so the Xbox Series X has 12 TFLOPS of GPU power of while Series S has 4TFLOPS
  • Xbox Series S has 6GB less RAM
  • The Xbox Series X has a 1TB NVMe SSD, whereas the Series S has a 512GB NVMe SSD

Alright, let's dig into the details. Generally speaking, both consoles are comparable in the battle of Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S specs. However, the Series X is notably faster in many respects. Firstly, its processing unit is quicker thanks to a slightly higher clock-speed of 3.8GHz compared to the Series S clock-speed of 3.6GHz. In very basic terms, this means that the Series X's CPU can handle more per second. The difference will end up being minimal, though.

That isn't true when it comes to the graphics card, on the other hand. In terms of pure numbers, the Series S is flagging way behind. Its GPU power only hits 4 teraFLOPS compared to the Series X's 12 teraflops. Concerned? Don't be. Even though the Xbox Series S has less of the now-infamous teraflops and less than half the number of Compute Units (or 'CUs') to work with, it doesn't need to hit 4K resolution at up to 120 frames per second like the Xbox Series X. That means it can drop some unneeded weight. It remains to be seen what the difference will end up being in raw performance, but we remain hopeful the two systems are going to be comparable despite the resolution gap.

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S

(Image credit: Microsoft)

More concerning is the reduced internal storage and memory. To begin with, there's less RAM in the Series S. Does that mean it won't load quite as fast as the Series X? Possibly. What's more, the NVMe SSD is half the size on the Xbox Series S - just 512GB compared to 1TB. The result will be a lot less space to download games. Considering the fact that many (like Call of Duty, for instance) take up hundreds of GBs by themselves, that's a real drawback - particularly because the Series S doesn't have a disc drive so must rely on digital downloads. There are ways around that, like buying more storage or regularly uninstalling games, but it's a nuisance.

Which console should you buy?

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S

(Image credit: Microsoft)

As we mentioned before, your choice will depend on three main factors: your budget, resolution, and future-proofing. If you don't want to spend all that much money and / or don't have a 4K TV, the Xbox Series S is an obvious choice. 

At the other end of the scale, anyone who wants to use game discs, would prefer their games to look as good as possible, and fancies future-proofing themselves should jump on the Xbox Series X pre-orders as soon as they become available on September 22.

Personally speaking? We'd recommend grabbing the Series X if at all possible. Sure, it's more expensive. But all things considered, it's the better long-term choice and will show off next-gen games at their best if you have a 4K screen. Plus, the larger SSD size and the addition of a disc drive gives you flexibility.

The Series S is great. All the same, it won't come out on top in the Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S race in the long run.

As one of our Hardware Editors, Benjamin looks after many of the tech reviews, board game features, deals, and buying guides you’ll see on GamesRadar+.