The Takeaway: The Series X is powerhouse, and that strength gets you to your games faster and more seamlessly.
“Velocity Architecture” significantly reduces load times, and Quick Resume makes it fast and easy to switch between games
Support for up to 120 frames per second
Backwards compatibility with (and upgraded graphics for) games from previous Xbox generations
The first thing I thought about the 10-pound Xbox Series X when I pulled it out of the box was, This thing is solid. Yes, the console is a unit, befitting the power Microsoft stuffed into its matte black rectangle. But it’s not flashy. Save for its size, it won't stand out on an entertainment center. And that design reflects its priorities. While the Series X has plenty of tricks, this generation puts the focus back on play.
First, the specs. The Series X comes with an eight-core Zen 2 CPU, and a 12-teraflop RDNA 2 GPU. It will run 4K resolution at 60 frames per second, with support up to 120 fps at lower resolutions. Storage is a 1 terabyte SSD, with an external slot for another one terabyte expansion card. For ports, it has one HDMI, two USB Type-A, Ethernet. It also has a Blu-ray drive.
In my time with the Series X so far, those components have led to predictably outstanding graphics and near seamless refreshing. As I played Gears 5, my character slogging through snow and sand, I was impressed with the tracks they left and by the light passing through branches overhead. But that level of visual performance is to be expected. The Series X's unique strengths are compatibility with games from previous generations of Xbox, reduced load times, and the Quick Resume feature. That is where Microsoft shines.
In the past, I would reach for my phone at the first sign of a load screen, anticipating a little time to kill. With the Series X, it would finish before I could even consider it. I never waited more than 15 seconds for something to load. (Though there was one instance of game-stopping lag, and another when the sound mysteriously cut out in Gears 5).
Quick Resume also speeds things up. This function gives you the ability to switch between games, and begin playing right from where you left off. I’m the type of person to save, save again, then quit to the game’s home screen before I turn the console off. On the Series X, I only witnessed a game’s opening graphics twice. Everything loads right away. And that means more time playing.
As for the backward compatibility, the console gives you access to an expansive library of old titles, which the Series X boosts a bit via HDR reconstruction so you don’t feel like you’re playing an out-of-date game. The 1TB of storage handled close to a dozen games with space to spare. If you spend $220 for another 1TB, it will be a while before you have to worry about data management.
The Series X’s main screen has a row with the most recently accessed games and apps across the top, which meant I spent even less time switching games. Going down from there, there are different rows to access the store, Game Pass, and entertainment apps. You can also customize what appears where, and pin individual games to certain rows for streams, achievements, and groups. Tapping the X button brings up the guide screen on the left side, though I didn’t find myself using this much. It, too, is customizable though for those who like that added bit of control.
The controller is largely unchanged from the Xbox One, except for a share button that lets you quickly capture screenshots and record video for posting. It runs off of two AAs out of the box. (You can buy a rechargeable pack for $25).
Running at such a high level means lots of heat. The Series X’s fan sits on top of the console, pushing air downward to keep it cool. In my weeks of testing, I didn’t hear it once, even when playing with the volume low. It’s a minor detail, especially if you play with headphones. But if you use the Series X for applications like Netflix, where noise can be distracting, the silence is welcome.
Who Should Buy It
The Series X is for people who want the newest tech and best graphics. That’s the easy answer. But as someone who regularly loses patience with and doesn’t have the attention span for slow tech, I found that Quick Resume and fast load times were where the Series X showed its value. Both have been boons for my playing time. If you fall into that crowd, you will have the same results.
But there’s also the Xbox Series S, which has the same Velocity Architecture for faster load times and Quick Resume. But it has about half the storage, no disc drive, and a lesser CPU and GPU (it can still support up to 120 fps, however). It’s also $300, which is $200 less than the Series X. If that savings is attractive, and you only plan on downloading games and streaming shows and movies, that makes it a more accessible option.
Both go on sale Nov. 10.
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