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

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S
(Image credit: Future)

Microsoft's two next gen consoles both serve different needs, but on the Xbox Series X vs Series S debate, where exactly do you fall? We're rounding up all the key differences you need to know about to choose your console, so that you can start chasing those Xbox Series X restocks or add your Series S to cart. 

This Xbox Series X (opens in new tab) vs Xbox Series S (opens in new tab) throwdown will focus on not just on the spec sheets between the two systems, but how each one is designed to be used. Boiled down to its very core, the Xbox Series X vs S debate comes down to how invested you are in experience the cutting edge of Microsoft's technology, or whether you just want to play all the latest games for less.

The $299 Series S is, as you might have guessed, less powerful than its $499 shelf-mate. The former won't be outputting at 4K resolution, has a reduced storage capacity and drops the disk drive. On the flip side, the Xbox Series X is able to hit 4K at 60fps, offers double the storage space, and allows you to run your old game disks. 

So, considering that Xbox Series X price is so much higher, what exactly are you missing out on by picking up the cheaper model? As you'll see in our analysis below, it's not as much as you might think. 

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S - price

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Perhaps the largest difference between the Xbox Series X and Series S is the price. The smaller white model is vastly cheaper than its fully fledged sibling, which makes it a go-to for everyday use if you're not concerned about that 4K resolution.

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

In a nutshell, the Xbox Series S price is nearly half that 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 add the extra $200 onto their purchase for a 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

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S - features

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 a very similar 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 new games run on either system, and will run the same overall as well. 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab), 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 - specs

Xbox Series X specs

(Image credit: Microsoft)

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

Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S

Xbox Series X

  • 8-core AMD Zen 2 processor at 3.8GHz
  • 12 teraflops processing power
  • 1TB SSD
  • 16GB RAM
  • 4K resolution
  • Up to 120fps
  • 4K UHD disc drive
  • Variable refresh rate
  • DirectX raytracing
  • Dolby TrueHD with Atmos
  • HDMI 2.1
  • 15.1 x 15.1 x 30.1cm

Xbox Series S

  • 8-core AMD Zen 2 processor at 3.6GHz
  • 4 teraflops processing power
  • 512GB SSD
  • 10GB RAM
  • 1440p resolution
  • Up to 120fps
  • No disc drive
  • Variable refresh rate
  • DirectX raytracing
  • Dolby TrueHD with Atmos
  • HDMI 2.1
  • 6.5 x 15.1 x 27.5cm 

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 a little faster. 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 information 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 looks like it's flagging way behind on paper. 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's also worth noting that 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. An everyday player who just wants to pick up some cheap games with Game Pass and play through upcoming first party releases really doesn't need more than the Series S. 

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 be on the hunt for the Xbox Series X console. 

On paper, the cheaper model won't win the Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S battle. However, in everyday use, it's far more flexible than you might think. 

We're rounding up all the best Xbox Series X accessories available right now as well as all the latest Xbox Live Gold 12 month deals and Xbox Game Pass sales.

Tabitha Baker
Tabitha Baker

Managing Editor of Hardware at GamesRadar+, I originally landed in hardware at our sister site TechRadar before moving over to GamesRadar. In between, I've written for Tom’s Guide, Wireframe, The Indie Game Website and That Video Game Blog, covering everything from the PS5 launch to the Apple Pencil. Now, i'm focused on Nintendo Switch, gaming laptops (and the keyboards and mice that come with them), and tracking everything that suggests VR is about to take over our lives.