Xbox Series X|S: Storage Woes

Posted on November 7, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X with 38 Comments

In my reviews of the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, I pointed out that the ballooning size of modern video games was going to be problematic for the consoles going forward. Well, as much I like being proven right, I’m dismayed to tell you that I’ve already run out of storage on the Xbox Series X. And that’s the console with the most storage.

It should have been a cause for celebration: Yesterday, I received an email from Activision telling me that my Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War preorder could now be pre-loaded on my console so that I could begin playing it immediately on its release day next week, on November 12. So I powered up the Xbox Series X, searched for the title, navigated over to the store link, and pressed “Install All Now.”

I was told that I was out of storage space and would have to delete apps and/or games to make space.

Not good. What exactly was installed, you ask? Just six games: Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (from the multiplayer beta), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Dirt 5, Gears 5, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

I uninstalled that latter title because it was taking up over 100 GB of space, and I’m playing those games on the PC anyway. But I later realized that I could have removed the Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War beta and saved ~77 GB right there, since the full game downloaded next to it and I now have two entries for the same game in my Games list.

Anyway, that’s beside the point. With just 802 GB of free space on its 1 TB of internal storage, my Xbox Series X was full with just six titles installed. Six. Maybe this problem is yet another reason why Microsoft is pushing cloud game streaming these days: Games are getting too big to be stored locally on a console. And this problem is even more acute on the Xbox Series S, which arrives with a paltry 364 GB of available space.

I know what you’re thinking. Maybe that’s not as much of a problem because Microsoft is using a technology called Smart Delivery to ensure that optimized games only download the resources that are needed for a particular console. That is, the on-disk space used by optimized games will be less for Xbox Series S than they are for Series X because the former only needs 1440p assets. Those will take up less space than the 4K assets that Xbox Series X users would get.

Fine. But according to Microsoft, these optimized games take up roughly 30 percent less space on Series S than they do on Series X. And non-optimized games could simply take up the same amount of space on both consoles. Looking over that list of six games, four are not optimized and two (Dirt 5 and Gears 5) are optimized. The optimized games, collectively, use up about 150 GB of storage space, so they would presumably take up about 105 GB on an Xbox Series S. The other titles would take up roughly the same amount of space. So I wouldn’t even be able to install all of these games on the Series S as it is.

Obviously, your mileage will vary. And yes, there are a few small things you can do to save a bit of space.

There’s a “Free up space” option in storage management in Settings that lets you delete leftover add-ons and “shrink” compatible games, but neither is applicable on this particular console.

You could delete local game saves or clear Xbox 360 storage, but neither would amount to much savings in most cases, and they amount to none in this case.

You could attach a USB 3.0 hard drive and tediously move an installed game there, freeing up space on the internal storage. If the game is Backwards Compatible (i.e. a non-optimized OG Xbox, Xbox 360, or Xbox One game), it should be playable from there, and this is something I’ll need to test now. But if the game is optimized for Xbox Series X|S, you can’t play it from the USB drive: You would have to move it back to internal storage later to actually play it.

You could buy the Seagate 1 TB internal expansion card, but that costs $220.

Or you could simply delete a game, as I did, and wonder anew about the magic of cloud-based game streaming.

Maybe that was the point all along.

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