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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Comments (38)

38 responses to “Xbox Series X|S: Storage Woes”

  1. beckoningeagle

    Can you transfer a game to an external USB, even if it is not playable? Then you could reshuffle things around and not have to wait for downloads

  2. sammyg

    Currently I have a Samsung 860 EVO 2TB SSD attached to my Xbox One X via a USB to SATA cable. It has all of my games on it and there is nothing on the internal spinning drive, except the OS. They go for around $245 and the cable was $12?

    Digital Foundry has a great storage review video on the YouTube. They ran games from an external SSD via USB, backwards compatible games and they ran just as fast as the Internal SSD. It's worth watching. I plan on saving the internal SSD for new games that will use the new storage API.

    Also moving games from one drive to another is super easy on the Xbox. Even on Windows 10 if you bought the game from the Microsoft store, say Forza 4, there is option to easily move them to another drive. You just have to wait. If you are all SSD that wait is not long.

  3. geekwithkids

    I have the same problems with storage on by OG XBox One.

    I can usually only have 4 or 5 games on there.

  4. mikegalos

    Yes. There is no magic.

    • Games with resources that are many times larger take many times more space.
    • Replacing spinning rust drives with high-speed RAM is more expensive per GB of storage.
    • Game consoles have a market price that must be low to be competitive.

    Large, fast, cheap.

    You can pick any two but whichever two you pick, the other gets worse to compensate for your optimization.

  5. ken10

    I ordered the 1TB expansion the day pre-orders for the Console went live. I received a notification yesterday from Amazon throwing out the expected delivery date to December 30, 2020. I also ordered one on Best Buy. I’ll see if that also happens. This is not a good sign.

    Update: they just changed the date to Nov 11. Wonder what’s going on.

  6. proftheory

    Between the three storage areas it would be a real shame if you delete an internal game before transferring it.

    Shame you couldn't hack the internal storage from 1TB to 4TB. I believe you said they are soldered in.

  7. openmisere

    You answered your own criticism/observation Paul => "You could attach a USB 3.0 hard drive and tediously move an installed game there, freeing up space on the internal storage." While it's factual, it's also a bit of a first world problem to whinge about taking a small amount of time to copy a game to/from slower but MUCH cheaper external storage. Once you've done that you can then play the game from internal storage for the next ... oh I don't know ... 100 hours or so. Both of the new Xbox's are AMAZING devices for their given price points and having more internal storage - while nice/desirable - would obviously come with a material price increase. Possibly the mid-generation tech refresh will add a heap of additional internal storage, but for now, I think the Xbox team made a reasonable choice.

    • jwpear

      In reply to openmisere:

      I'm not buying this. It's not like Microsoft had to invent a new storage I/O system. The problem is they give you one external storage port for Series X/S optimized games. They could have built the ability to incrementally add more storage so you can start with what you can afford and add more over time. We had that with One and USB. And we had affordable storage expansion options.

      I'd trade load time for more storage flexibility. Having to manage this so much just ruins the premium experience, especially for the Series X.

      • mattbg

        In reply to jwpear:

        This is the one comment I agree with. The issue is the lack of expansion options when it’s fully known that people will struggle with storage given the size of games. There should be multiple expansion slots or at the very least options for 2TB, 4TB, etc cards even though people will complain about the cost. Admittedly, the idea of an $800 storage option for a $500 console is wonky. To be fair, I believe Microsoft has said that more size options are forthcoming.

        I don’t agree with other comments about people being screwed, etc. It’s an expensive storage technology required to provide a decent 4K experience. It’s been obvious for years that 4K offers diminishing returns that are increasingly difficult to achieve.

  8. brettscoast

    Interesting Paul this is a problem no doubt that should be solvable by simply making the onboard internal SSD removable and upgradeable. Storage expansion is possible through a 1TB Seagate expansion card at a cost. You storage requirements should not be limited due to a 1TB SSD, storage is cheap enough these days that it shouldn't be an issue. To have to delete games already installed on the system is a major pain in the butt.

    • mattbg

      In reply to brettscoast:

      If you believe them, Microsoft has said that the SSD technology they are using is customized, so an off-the-shelf SSD would not work if true. However, I don’t know if they simply mean that there are minimum specs or whether there is truly a unique implementation beyond what a regular high-performance NVMe SSD can do.

      • faustxd9

        In reply to mattbg:

        Based on several reviewers the "gen 4" or whatever tech these fast drives are that are equivalent to the internal drives are exactly as expensive as the external drive is ~$220 for 1 TB. For that price I got an external 2TB USB 3.1 SSD.

  9. the escalation

    Back in the days of the Wii, Nintendo called this "cleaning out the fridge." xCloud is looking better and better.

  10. dftf

    It would be fascinating to get some insight from someone in game-development to explain if games genuinely do need to be the size they are now.

    No-one is expecting N64 (8MB-64MB), PS1/Sega Saturn (<650MB), Dreamcast (<1GB), GameCube (<1.46GB) or PS2/Xbox (<4.3GB) game sizes now, as clearly we're no-longer targeting 240p-576i resolutions, 2.0 stereo sound (often synthesised), <64MB of console RAM, limited CPU power (imagine majority of those consoles were all single-core, single-thread) and limited online capabilities. Clearly when you start targeting up-to 8K resolutions; 7.1 surround sound, often lossless; 4-16GB of RAM; multi-core CPUs and GPUs and online being expected as a standard thing that means assets and engines will become bigger.

    But to have some games needing 100GB or more to install does seem rather a lot. So I do wonder if it might be because of (1) asset-duplication, used to speed-up loading from optical media by reducing seek-times, but is still carried-over into HDD installed versions; (2) multiple language audio files being unnecessarily installed; (3) code that hasn't been cleaned-up enough, or optimised enough; (4) asset-files present for all resolutions (e.g. textures, background images) even if not required, based on the TV or monitor you're connected to.

  11. jwpear

    This has felt like the achilles heal of the Series X/S to me. We have a 2 TB USB drive connected to our One X. My son is constantly managing storage because the internal and external are out of space. I just couldn't see how this was going end well with the Series X/S when external storage is so expensive and you only have one external storage port. It kind of feels like we're getting screwed on storage with an otherwise great console.

  12. Plumbobby

    I find that even when I play a game from disc, it always still forces me to download the entire title before playing. Is there a reason for that?

    Wouldn't the obvious solution be to just go back to playing games by disc instead of downloading from an online point of sale, if they don't need to be downloaded and can in fact, be played from the disc?

    Sorry if this is a dumb question. I've never really understood why that is the case. I thought I was being smart with RDR2 being owned on disc, but I had to delete it to make space for modern warfare, and DOOM.

    • Vladimir Carli

      In reply to Plumbobby:

      the disc is just too slow. It's really meaningless today because you always have to copy the entire content of the disk on the internal storage plus you more often than not have to download it again because there is a patch that is as big as the entire game. The only reason left to buy games on disc today is to buy special deals (older titles are often cheaper on disc than on the online store) and second hand

    • christianwilson

      In reply to Plumbobby:

      Graphical assets, code, etc have become too large to efficiently stream from an optical disc, which is why when you buy a game on disc, it must be installed to the console's internal storage.

      The only way I could think of to produce a physical copy of a game you can play from would be a cartridge-based system like the Switch, but because of the large size of current generation games, my guess is it would be expensive to produce and purchase in volume.

  13. Vladimir Carli

    What is the transfer speed between an external USB 3 drive and the internal storage. I can live with 3-4 games active at any given time but it's annoying to redownload from scratch when you want to change them. The external USB could be a viable solution but it all depends from how long it takes to transfer a large game. Any info on that?

  14. RonV42

    How come nobody is bringing up the free space of the PS5? Only 660 GB is available there.

  15. LT1 Z51

    I like my things stored locally (I walk around with 100 GB of music on my iPhone). I hate streaming. Just GIVE US MORE SPACE. Why can't I get a 2 TB HD? Why isn't the expansion card 2 TB? I have 3 TB on my Xbox One X (1 TB internal and 2 TB External).

    I ordered the 1TB Expansion for my Series X, and likely if I need more space my Xbox 360 and Xbox One "Ports" (Like Final Fantasy 7) will go on a USB 3.0 HD (maybe the 1 TB from my OG Xbox One).

    My One X migrates to my basement TV, and my OG Xbox One to a box, so I'll have an extra HD (but it would be nice to have a "mobile setup" for trips...) Oh well. Storage sucks. I have 1 TB on my PC and since I never game there it's tons of space...

  16. richardbottiglieri

    I currently have a 6T USB HDD attached to my OG XB1, but I keep my current games on a USB SSD 2T drive. I’ll need to do this on a series S/X as well. I’m leaning toward the S model, but as I see it, I’ll most likely need that storage expansion card either way since I regularly move between several games.

  17. Elan Gabriel

    You're right, and it sucks. We need to deal with storage management for now, and think about where and how to store our games. Some will be OK with it, some will see it as an annoyance. This or that, it's just 1-2 years that we need to "pull through". These SSDs are expensive today, but prices will go down and capacity will go up. It was, I think, the right choice for the future. Hopefully by the end of 2021 we'll see more options to chose from for expansion cards.

    • sammyg

      In reply to egab:

      I bet in a few years at most you will be able to get a 2TB expansion from multiple vendors for $150 and not just from Seagate. That would give you 3TB to handle pretty much anything.

  18. scovious

    If someone had games on an SSD and games on an HDD and also on the Seagate Expansion Drive, and all those drives were connected to the new Xbox, how elegant is the software at helping the user put the right game where it needs to go for its best performance? Is that all our responsibility or are there some badges on there to help us out?

    • Paul Thurrott

      It's your responsibility, I believe. It would be neat if there was an option like "Always store Backwards Compatible titles to ... [choose storage device]".
  19. ecumenical

    Not saying Paul is unique, but uh... Four Call of Duty games installed side by side, which are always among the biggest games in terms of storage footprint, is something I doubt the average consumer will run into frequently ;) I have something like 30 games installed on my 1TB One S because I play a variety of games, most of which are much smaller.

    That said I take the larger point and already shelled out for SSD expansion card just for convenience. oof.

  20. chrishilton1

    Halo: The Master Chief Collection, thats about 3 or 4 games right?

  21. madthinus

    The quick resume feature might be fantastic in theory, but I suspect it works like hibernate. They dump the memory to hard disk. 16gb x8 is about the 200gb you loose. I would rather start the games cold and gain that space back.

  22. skinnyjm

    "Maybe that was the point all along."


  23. olavgm

    I have a 2TB SSD drive inside my One X that I'm going to take out and use as external storage for my Series X, but for people without that possibility, the best options is to have a 4TB external USB drive (3.5" if possible, they are faster), put all games there and just copy to the internal drive the ones you're using. Keep a copy on the external drive so you don't have to copy them back when you need more space.

    • thretosix

      In reply to olavgm:

      You can play games from the external drive as well, just not the new Series X|S games. There are SSD based external drives that can improve load times as well on the new consoles.

  24. sevenacids

    I'm not into Xbox, but I'm literally shocked that the system alone takes up 150-200 GB of storage. I mean, for what? A clean Windows 10 installation takes up about 20 GB, which is a lot, but compared to that, is only 1/10. And I don't expect the Xbox operating system to be ten times more complex. Even if you take virtualization into account.

    I think this is a good example of how bloated software has become. And there is no excuse because I don't expect the operating system to come with assets that justify its humongous size. On the other hand, developers talk about optimizing performance all the time, but I don't hear much about memory efficiency or how to reduce stack size by eliminating excessive usage of oversized, monolithic frameworks.

  25. solomonrex

    I think they could very easily sell out a more expensive sku with more storage. It's not just inflation that makes 600, 650 more acceptable, the audience is older and richer than it used to be. MS after all sells a $150 pro controller, a pro sku should be a slam dunk.

  26. will

    Sounds like the storage card, for many people, will be a needed accessory. The bummer is it is only 1TB and nothing higher at this time.

  27. davidtieman

    You should keep backward comp games on a USB3 External SSD, they still load fast and don't eat up the NVME Storage. If the game is not taking advantage of the NVME Storage just but them on the external USB3. I have two 1tb externals SSDs on my XBOX ONE X and rarely use the internal spinning drive. Once i have my Series X i will just move the externals over to it and only use the Internal NVME drive for the games that are taking full advantage of it.