The Microsoft makes a very smart move with the Xbox Series S. It is a beautiful and nice little console that can handle many modern techniques. Gaming on 4k is not possible, that is the main concession you have to make. But if you don’t have a 4k TV, the Series S is a great alternative to the more expensive Series X. The Series S is an ideal entry-level machine that will win many people for the Microsoft camp, especially because of the attractive Game Pass.

Xbox Series S Pros:

  • Nice and cheap
  • The ideal Game Pass machine
  • Technology similar to that of XSX on many fronts

Xbox Series S Cons:

  • Less computing power
  • Limited capacity SSD
  • Expensive external SSD

 

Xbox Series S Review

A new generation of consoles, who doesn’t get excited about that? Of course we jumped on top of the new Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 as soon as possible to share our experiences with you. And we want more. Now that we’ve tested both powerhouses separately, we want to test them in more detail soon by placing them opposite each other. But with the two machines’ very impressive performances so far, you’d almost forget that both manufacturers have released not one but two new consoles. In addition to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, there are also the Xbox Series Sand PlayStation 5 Digital Edition in stores. At least, they are actually not in the store, because everything is completely sold out. That is bound to change soon. Either way, it doesn’t make the consoles any less interesting.

We have not yet been able to get hold of the Digital Edition of the PlayStation 5 and from a technical point of view it is also a bit less interesting because it is almost the same as the regular PS5. Sony has only left out the blu-ray player. That is different with the Xbox Series S. That is a less powerful and therefore significantly cheaper version of the Series X. So the question is what you can expect from a Series S. How does the S compare to the X, and if we’re comparing anyway, is the Series S an improvement over the Xbox One X? These are questions that we try to answer below.

Let’s start with that ‘less powerful’. Microsoft presents the Series S as a cheaper alternative to the Series X. Where the X is sold for 500 euros, Microsoft only charges 300 euros for the Series S. That is not only much cheaper than the Series X and PlayStation 5, it is also significantly cheaper than the Digital Edition of the PS5, for which Sony charges 400 euros. The fact that Microsoft can count less for the Series S is because it has cut back on the hardware. Where the Series X and PS5 are made to run games in 4k at 60fps and even 120fps, Microsoft presents the Series S as a device that runs games ‘only’ at 1440p.

Xbox Series S CPU & GPU

This is mainly because the console builder has cut back on the CPU and GPU. With regard to the CPU, you only sacrifice speed. The X and S have a processor based on the same Zen 2 architecture, only the version in the Series S is clocked slightly lower. Where the eight cores of the Series X run at 3.8GHz, those of the Series S do their work at 3.6GHz. You also hand in at the GPU. The Series S contains the same RDNA 2 compute units from AMD, but simply has fewer. The X has 52 and the S only 20, while the clock speed has also been reduced, from 1825MHz in the X to 1565MHz in the S. This obviously has consequences for the number of floating point operations.that both consoles can run per second. The Series X gets to well over 12Tflops, where the S gets stuck on 4Tflops. Quite a difference. However, the latter also means that the Series S’s soc can be smaller than that of the X, which in turn means that the S needs significantly less power than its big brother. More on that later.

You also hand in to the memory. The Series X has 16GB of GDDR6 memory, part of which reaches a speed of 560GB per second. The Series S has 10GB of GDDR6 memory, most of which reaches 224GB per second. That also makes a big difference. Not all of that memory is available for games. According to Microsoft, 13.5GB is available for games with the Series X, against 8GB with the Series 2. Again something that can make a difference when playing games. Something similar occurs with the SSD. Both consoles use the same custom NVMe-PCIe 4.0 SSD, except that the Series X variant has a capacity of 1TB and that of the S can only store 512GB. On the S, 364GB remains available for games, on the X it is 802GB. Both SSDs do have the same reading speed of 2.4 GB per second.

Console Xbox Series X Xbox Series S. Xbox One X PlayStation 5
Code name Project Scarlett Project Lockhart Project Scorpio Oberon
Die-size soc 360.4mm² 197.1mm² 367mm² 308mm²
Processor 8 custom Zen 2-cores with smt 8 custom Zen 2-cores with smt 8 custom Jaguar cores 8 custom Zen 2-cores with smt
CPU speed 3.8GHz (3.66GHz with smt) 3.6GHz (3.4GHz with smt) 2.3GHz 3.5GHz (variable)
Storage 1TB custom NVMe PCIe 4.0 SSD 512GB custom NVMe-PCIe 4.0 SSD 500GB / 1TB / 2TB 2.5-inch SATA HDD 825GB custom PCIe 4.0 SSD
GPU 52 compute units 1825MHz 20 compute units
1565MHz
40 compute units 1172MHz 36 compute units
2.23GHz (variable)
GPU architecture Custom RDNA 2 Custom RDNA 2 Custom GCN 4 (Polaris) Custom RDNA 2
GPU computing power 12.15 Flops 4Tflops 6Tflops 10.29 Flops
Memory 16GB GDDR6 10GB GDDR6 12GB GDDR5 16GB GDDR6
Memory speed 10GB @ 560GB / s
6GB @ 336GB / s
8GB @ 224GB / s
2GB @ 56GB / s
326GB / s 448GB / s
Connection HDMI 2.1 HDMI 2.1 HDMI 2.0 HDMI 2.1
MSRP € 500, – € 300, – € 499, – € 499, –
Release date November 10 November 10 November 7, 2017 November 19th

The fact that the Series S has less impressive specifications means that Microsoft has been able to put the electronics in an almost cute little housing. The Series S is about half the size of the Series X and almost disappears from view next to the PlayStation 5. The design is also minimal. It is a simple white housing in which only the black grille for the air outlet stands out. Microsoft actually uses the same distribution as with the One X and One S: black for the top model, white for the cheaper version. And just like the One S, the Series S has also received a white controller. It is of course a matter of taste, but we are very fond of the white box with that striking black air vent. With its matte finish, we actually think it’s quite a stylish thing,

If you look at the connections on the back of the Series S, you will see that they are exactly the same as the bigger brother, only they are set up differently. This also makes it clear that the Series S not only has a different soc, but also a different motherboard than the Series X. Microsoft has placed all electronics on one pcb, where everything in the Series X is divided over two printed circuit boards. On the back of the console you will find a connection for power and internet, an HDMI 2.1 connection, the special port for the external SSD and two USB ports. They reach a speed of 5Gbps. That’s great, but Sony has provided the PlayStation 5 with USB ports that reach 10Gbps.

If you’ve managed to get hold of a PS5, that difference in speed is very nice for the time being, but in the long run it may not make much difference. Both the Series X and S and the PS5 can be expanded with SSDs. Microsoft uses an external SSD with its own form factor. With the PS5, space has been left open to place a standard M.2 SSD in the housing. However, that option is still disabled for the time being. It is also not yet known which requirements the SSDs must meet. Until Sony releases the update that makes it possible to handle an SSD placed in the housing, you are therefore dependent on external storage that you connect to one of the USB ports. That extra speed is of course nice. The fact that the USB ports on Series X and S are slower is less important. The external SSD!

A bigger disadvantage is that only 364GB remains for storing games on the Series S. With games taking up more and more space, storage space will quickly become a concern. Games that take up 100GB are no longer an exception, although 50GB is luckily more common. It can be attractive to expand the storage space and at Microsoft this is only possible with an external SSD with its own form factor. For now, only a Seagate model is available, which is not exactly cheap at € 240 for 1TB. You pay almost as much for it as for a Series S.

Measuring is knowing

With fewer compute units on a smaller dieand especially lower clock speeds of the cpu and gpu, the power consumption of the Series S should be a lot lower than that of the Series X. In practice, this appears to be the case. Even in the menu, the Series S with 42W consumes less than the Series X, which in turn is just a bit more economical than the One X. Larger differences are visible when we start games. Then we see the biggest differences with the Series X. With many games made for the One X, the new console has it easy, which means that it uses an average of around 128W. The One X has significantly more difficulty with it and achieves an average of 165W. More interesting is the peak consumption. We measured that on the basis of Gears 5, currently the game that the Xbox has the most difficulty with.

Power Xbox Series S. Xbox Series X Xbox One X
Menu 42W 50W 52W
Game (average) 80W 128W 165W
Game (peak) 87W 207W 180W

If we compare the Series S with that, we see very different figures. It consumes an average of 80W in most games, but does not peak higher than 87W. With the caveat that your Gears 5 plays at 1440p and not at 4k. But still: with the Series S you get a console that is a lot more economical than the two black equivalents from Microsoft. That is not only good for your wallet, but also for the environment. And to immediately address the noise production: the Series S is not only more economical, it is also quiet. The Series X is already pretty quiet, but the Series S is the quietest of the three. Especially at rest, when the menu is visible, the Series S makes slightly less noise than the Series X. Of course, the Series S has to do without a blu-ray player, so measurements for playing video from disc are missing.

Sound Xbox Series S. Xbox Series X Xbox One X
Menu 21dB 24dB 27dB
Game 25dB 25dB 38dB
BD drive 1080p image n / a. 32dB 31dB
BD drive 4k image n / a. 40dB 36dB

We noted earlier that the Series X can load games significantly faster than the One X, thanks to the custom NVMe-PCIe 4.0 SSD that Microsoft has built in. It is one of the biggest advantages of the new generation of consoles. The question is whether the Series S is inferior to its big brother. That could be, especially because the speed of the RAM is significantly lower with the Series S. Yet the answer is very simple: there is no difference. In fact, every now and then the Series S is even a bit faster.

However, if we repeat the measurements a number of times, the loading times are on average almost the same. The same goes for Quick Resume, the option to keep two or more games in the console’s memory ‘active’ so that you can switch quickly. Here too, the Series X and S perform almost equally. You can continue in the other game after an average of 8 to 16 seconds, which is quite a difference with the Xbox One X where you have to close one game and start the next, after which you also have to load the necessary savegame. Only the latter can easily take a minute or more on the One X. Incidentally, the new PlayStation 5 does not have a Quick Resume or similar function.

Loading times Xbox Series S. Xbox Series X Xbox One X
Doom Eternal 8.0sec 6.5sec 20.4 sec
Hitman 18.3 sec 18.2 sec 70.0sec
Rise of the Tomb Raider 16.0 sec 18.2 sec 79.0 sec

Finally, we measured the heat produced by the Series S and compared it to the One X and Series X. Then it turns out that the Series S gets quite warm. We’ve again taken on Gears 5, the game where the new consoles consume the most power. Despite the power that the Series X consumes, we measure no more than 50° C with the new flagship. That is different with the Series S, which easily touches 60° C if you have been gaming for a long time. Fortunately, that is still less than the peak we measured with the Xbox One X.

Xbox One Series S Performance

Quiet and economical is of course nice, but the bigger question is what you notice from the lesser specifications of the Series S when you are playing. Of course we tried that out on the basis of a number of games. If we look at the results in Hitman, we see that the Xbox Series S manages to keep the frame rate tight at 60 frames per second and thus keeps pace with the Series X. The One X, on the other hand, has difficulty with the frame rate. In large, open areas of the game world or in rooms with many people walking around, the frame rate can drop to 35fps. In itself that is not such a problem in a game like Hitman, but there are plenty of games where a constant, high frame rate is highly desirable.

We see the same image in Gears 5. There too the Series S manages to keep up with the Series X and we see a very constant 60fps, where the Xbox One X in the heaviest scenes.

Yet that is not the whole story. In the videos above it may not be very visible, but in all three situations the Series S runs at a lower resolution than the Series X and also the One X. The One X does not reach a tight 60fps in the examples above because it renders images at a 4k resolution, while the Series S runs at a much lower resolution. The Series S can render games at a maximum resolution of 1440p, but the images we saw above are 1080p. The Series S therefore manages to maintain a tight frame rate, but only at a lower resolution.

Playing at 1080p at 60fps – as in the examples above – thus seems like the future of the Series S. Developers have a choice. They can try to optimize for 1440p with the disadvantage of compromising the frame rate, or focus on a tight frame rate and settle for 1080p. The latter seems the most obvious choice, since there are hardly any TVs with a resolution of 1440p. TVs usually have 1080p or 4k. There are of course (many) gaming monitors that support 1440p, but as pleasant as it can be to game on a monitor with a good refresh rate, it is undoubtedly a less common practical situation. It therefore seems unlikely that developers take this into account.

In addition, many games on the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 have an option to run the game at 120fps. An example of this is Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. In that game you can choose between 4k with 60fps and ray tracing, and 120fps without ray tracing. There is no choice with the Series S. There you can only choose a dynamic 1440p resolution with a frame rate of up to 60fp and ray tracing. It’s not like the Series S can’t handle that 120fps. Ori and the Will of the Wisps also runs on the Series S at 120fps, although that is at a resolution of 1080p. However, that’s a relatively small game. For larger games, 120fps does not seem feasible.

The difference with the Series X is therefore clear. Where the Series X also achieves a tight frame rate at 4k, the Series S can only do that at a significantly lower resolution. A perhaps more interesting question is what you gain with the Series S compared to the Xbox One X. The Series S has all the advantages of the Zen 2 CPU and RDNA 2 GPU. This means, for example, that hardware accelerated ray tracing is theoretically possible. And not only in theory, because in the recently released Watch Dogs: Legion you can also enjoy ray tracing on the Series S. The Series S is also comparable to the Series X in all other areas. So you can enjoy things like quick resume, auto-hdr, 3d-audio, variable refresh rate, auto low latency mode and – sometime in 2021 – Dolby Vision.

Still, it is a bit questionable whether something like hardware accelerated ray tracing on the Series S will be feasible in all future games. It is precisely here that the Series S can only handle 4Tflops, whereas the Series X manages to stow 12Tflops. The limited and slower working memory can also throw a spanner in the works here. The first signs in this direction are already there. In Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition, optimized for the new generation of consoles, the game does hardware accelerated raytracing on the PlayStation 5 and Series X, but not on the Series S . It will be an image that we will see more often in the future: games are slightly less beautiful on the Series than on the PS5 and Series X.

Finally, attention for another side of the Series S. It cannot render games at 4k, but can play media at that resolution. So if you want to watch movies on Netflix via the Series S, for example, you can do that in 4k and you also have the advantages of Dolby Atmos and – from next year – Dolby Vision. The Series S is not inferior to the Series X in that area, although it is of course limited to streaming. The Series S simply lacks a blu-ray player.

Xbox Series S Conclusion

The Xbox Series S is an attractive device. Not only because of the simple, but stylish white design. It is a beautiful little cabinet that will look good in many living rooms. It is also an attractively priced device, which is significantly cheaper than the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 and is therefore easier to reach for a much larger target group.

Of course, that price has consequences. You hand in if you leave the Series X and go for the Series S. The CPU is limited, but it is mainly the lower number of compute units in the GPU and the cuts in RAM that you will notice. It means that you can play the same games on the Series S as on the Series X, but usually in a lower resolution. If the initial findings are indicative for the future, the Series S does manage to achieve a nice framerate and in many genres that is a big plus. Add to that that with the Series S – just like its big brother – you have the advantages of Quick Resume, Variable Refresh Rate, Auto Low Latency Mode, hardware accelerated ray tracing and – in the long run – Dolby Vision and you have that attractive device. that we mentioned above.

The question is, who is the Xbox Series S interesting for? Why would you go for the S and not the X? Money obviously plays an important role in this. It is a device that is easier to save together than a Series X or PS5, so it is a great alternative for anyone who depends on a side job. Or for parents who want to lend a hand to Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus. Especially because the children’s or student room usually will not have a 4k TV yet and the added value of the Series X or PS5 is therefore limited.

There is also another argument that makes the Series S attractive: the Game Pass, the subscription with which Microsoft makes such a good impression. With a Series S and the Game Pass you get a lot of game for relatively little money. It is precisely this combination that makes the Series S such an attractive device. This makes the Series S interesting not only for gamers who are already in the Microsoft camp, but also for PlayStation owners who want to peek into the camp of the neighbors for relatively little money. The Series S can become the ideal Game Pass machine on which you can try out all those wonderfully recent games to your heart’s content. This makes the Series S an important weapon in the console war. Microsoft’s strategy is fully aligned with the success of the Game Pass and the Series S fits seamlessly into that strategy.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of the Series S is not so much the limited computing power, but the capacity of the internal SSD. It’s just as fast as the Series X, but only 364GB is available for game storage. You can’t put much more than a handful of games on it. And a function like Quick Resume makes you only want to have more games installed. The capacity can be expanded, but the price of an external SSD and a Series S together is higher than that of a Series X. However, it does not change the conclusion: Microsoft has made a very good move by adding an Xbox Series S to the market: a device that – together with the Game Pass – is interesting and accessible to many people.

 

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