Xbox Series X REVIEW
Xbox Series X REVIEW
The latest iteration of the Xbox is like a supercomputer but without the steep price that would command. It’s a cracker, writes PAT PILCHER.
The Xbox Series X games console is excellent value for money that delivers cutting edge gaming in spades. Microsoft has crafted what is for all intents and purposes a high-end gaming PC but in a console form without the super steep sticker price.
So, what’s so special about its gaming chops? The Xbox X boasts super-zippy load times thanks to SSD storage. A grunty CPU means it can handle loads that’d bring previous consoles to their knees. The latest graphical silicon delivers 120Hz 4k gaming. Best of all, it sports backward compatibility features which are good news for those with an extensive catalogue of existing Xbox games and hardware.
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If you’re wondering what the big deal with the Xbox Series X is, consider its innards. It’s powered by a custom 8-core AMD Zen 2 CPU that clocks up to 3.8GHz. Alongside the CPU is a powerful 12-teraflop RDNA 2 GPU that’s capable of real-time raytracing. Then there’s 16GB of fast GDDR6 RAM, and a speedy 1TB NVMe SSD. It’s literally light years faster than the mechanical drives of previous Xbox consoles. Solid-state storage allows the Xbox Series X to shunt large data files much more quickly and with less latency, which is vital for 4K gaming. It’s also expandable – Seagate’s 1TB NVMe SSD expansion drive slides into a rear slot.
If you were looking at a comparable gaming PC, you’d probably not see a lot of spare change from $3000. Yet, all this gaming goodness is packed into a tower of power that retails for just $799. Better still, all those cutting-edge specs run quietly and are easier to manage than most gaming PCs.
Design-wise, the Xbox Series X looks bigger in the photos than it is in real life. It’s a slick black mini-tower that would be right at home in Darth Vader’s crib. Looking a lot like a compact PC, it seems better vertically than it does when laid down horizontally. While the PS5 makes a bold design statement, the Xbox Series X is more of a subtle black box that sits under your TV.
On its rear are two USB sockets and an Ethernet port as well as the storage expansion slot and HDMI 2.1 output. Around the front, there’s a single USB port and a 4K Blu-ray drive. What’s missing, however, is USB-C and the HDMI passthrough that was part and parcel of the Xbox One. Also, there’s no support for Wi-Fi 6.
I suspect that the design of the cooling system in the Xbox Series X has played a big role in its rectangular shape. It sports a large exhaust fan at its top which is covered in a distinctive grid with a green accent on its underside. Air is pulled through the entire assembly from a grill on the bottom. While it can run warm, I’ve never once heard its fan, despite marathon crackdown sessions.
Its controller looks mostly identical to what came with the Xbox One and Sony has a decided advantage with its force-feedback, rechargeable DualSense controller. Aside from a tweaked D-pad and a new share button plus a USB-C port, little else seems to have changed. While there is some haptic feedback, there is no force feedback. Microsoft also doesn’t include rechargeable batteries – the controller uses AA batteries as its default which seems a missed opportunity.
The faster and considerably more powerful CPU combines with the SSD so that games appear to load in the blink of an eye. It might not sound like much, but in practice, it’s literally a (video) game-changer. Faster load times means that time saved waiting for a game or a level to load adds up to more gaming time. It makes a huge difference.
Although you get 1TB of storage, only 802GB of it is usable. This is because Microsoft used some space for the OS and Quick Resume. Quick Resume also deserves special mention. It lets you jump in and out of games in seconds. This makes interrupted gameplay less annoying as you can get straight back into a game instead of waiting for s-l-o-w reloads.
The timing of Quick Resume can vary on a per-game basis, but I was pleased to note that it worked after reboots/updates. I really liked being able to just shut the console down when needed and not have to muck about with saving my position in a game.
The other big feature is the whopping 12 teraflops of GPU performance. Not so long ago that sort of performance would have required an air-conditioned room and lots of big iron. With the Xbox Series X that equates to a jump from 30fps up to 60 or 120fps. What does this mean in real-world terms? Smoother gameplay for a start. Playing the Destiny 2 demo felt almost PC-like.
It also means that many game titles that struggled and sometimes lagged on the Xbox One should be able to perform at 30fps consistently. Low frame rates have simply disappeared. Another biggie is backward compatibility. My original Xbox 360 version of Grand Theft Auto ran fine. If you have a TV that supports it, HDR is also baked in and works with older games too, so almost all Xbox games look great.
Higher frame rates are nice, but real-time raytracing must be seen to be believed. In Watch Dogs: Legion (which ran at a solid 30fps with raytracing enabled), the eye candy was astonishing. It’s often dark and wet (well, it is set in London after all). Because of this, there’s a lot of reflective puddles, heaps of shadows, and tonnes of neon signs. All of this is perfect for showcasing raytracing. As with the PS5, many games offer you the ability to enable a 120Hz mode for the higher frame rates and smoother gameplay or image quality.
The visual enhancements really add to the Xbox Series X. Games simply feel better to play. Zippy load times, high frame rates, raytraced effects and HDR all combine to make the Xbox Series X the console I’d always imagined the Xbox should be.
Microsoft deserves huge kudos for delivering a gaming PC-like experience at a gaming console price point. With the Xbox Series X, it feels like you’re upgrading to a gaming supercomputer when moving from an Xbox One to the Xbox Series X. Best of all, the Xbox stuff you already own works.
That said, the Xbox Series X isn’t a PC. You don’t have to stuff around with drivers, launchers, or Windows updates and a host of other PC issues that get in the way of gaming. With the Xbox Series X, you simply turn it on and play. Because of these reasons, the Xbox Series X gets a well-deserved 10/10.