Xbox Series X Revisited

Posted on June 8, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S with 29 Comments

About seven months ago, I unplugged my Xbox One X and set it aside, replacing it with Microsoft’s powerful new Xbox Series X. As I wrote in my review for that latter console, the Series X is all about promise: Better performance, graphics, sound, and power management. But it’s also about retaining a path from the past, so it runs the same Dashboard and shell, albeit it more efficiently. And it runs the same games and apps, at least for now, until game makers move on to supporting only the latest hardware.

In the months since I wrote my review, not much has changed: I gave up on newer Call of Duty (COD) titles like Modern Warfare (2019) and Black Ops Cold War, which I find to be problematic for various reasons, and have mostly stuck with an older COD title, Black Ops 4, while experimenting with other games, including Don’t Tell Me, Resident Evil Village, DOOM Eternal, and others.

From a day-to-day perspective, it’s all very familiar. Microsoft’s newest consoles, the Series X and S, have two big advantages over their predecessors, at least when it comes to playing the existing catalog of games. They load games much more quickly, especially those that support Quick Resume, and they improve the graphics and gameplay in ways that range from subtle to profound, depending on the title.

But you get used to it. And over the several months since I moved to the Series X, I’ve wondered from time to time about comparing this experience to other consoles. The Xbox Series S, most obviously, since most of the games I play now probably don’t benefit all that much from the extra power provided by the Series X. And the Xbox One X, which is arguably optimized for 1440p graphics at 60 frames-per-second (fps), as opposed to 4K at 60 fps/120 fps.

The Xbox One X. Hm.

One of the best ways in which one can gauge the efficacy of any upgrade is to go back later and reuse the old product. So, in this case, I decided to dust off my Xbox One X, plug it into the gaming display I purchased for the Xbox Series X, and see how the experience holds up on the older console. With months of Xbox Series X experience behind me, I felt that this might be instructive.

And it was. Though it took a while.

For starters, I needed to install a 4 GB system update before I could even use the console. And when I finally booted into the perhaps overly-familiar Dashboard UI, I headed directly into My games & apps to see about updates. There were 11 waiting, mostly for apps, but also a few very large games, like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. So I let that all happen.

I also stuck with an older Xbox One Wireless Controller even though the newer Xbox Wireless Controllers which arrived with the Xbox Series X|S would work just fine with the older console. I wanted this comparison to be as night and day as possible.

Firing up Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, the differences were immediately obvious. The game did shift my display into HDR mode, which is great. But it also took a noticeably long time just to load and sync, and then another interminable amount of time to get past the opening credits. 9 months ago, this was the best videogame console that Microsoft had ever made.

But overall, the game, which dates back to 2018, looked basically identical to the experience on the Series X. There is perhaps less graphical detail in the map loading animations, which preview each level, and they take longer to start up. And then again in the game itself.

The controller differences are even subtler. I like the grippy texture on the newer controller’s two arms (for lack of a better term) and triggers. And the Share button, which triggers screenshots and video recordings, is likewise quite useful. But my previous-generation controller worked just fine, thank you very much.

What this all adds up to, for this one game, is a very subtle advantage on a console that would set you back $500 assuming, of course, that you could even buy one in the first place: The Xbox Series X|S, like Sony’s PlayStation 5, remains very hard to find here in mid-2021. And the console makers have warned that supply shortages will continue for quite some time going forward.

One difference is quite noticeable: Where the Xbox Series X performs its work silently all day long if needed, the Xbox One X fires up a loud fan noise the minute you jump into a game, and then that noise continues unabated until you’re done playing. I guess it doesn’t matter if this welcome improvement is due to the form factor change—the Xbox One X is a standard pizza-box console shape with little room for cooling—or architectural improvements. Or both. But it’s real.

What I’m left with here is what I started with when I reviewed the Xbox Series X last November. The advantages of this console today are real but remain relatively minor while we wait for a coming generation of games that really takes advantage of the newer hardware. The basic overall experience, however, is slower but it’s otherwise nearly identical to that of the Xbox One X. At least with older games, though the differences will grow greater if you’re still using an Xbox One S or OG Xbox One.

In one sense, I suppose the ongoing console shortage has its silver lining. Your inability to get a new Xbox Series X or S might seem problematic. And I realize there are those who need a new console, perhaps because their current Xbox is quite out-of-date or even broken. But you’re probably better off waiting in most cases anyway.

Tagged with

Join the discussion!


Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Comments (29)

29 responses to “Xbox Series X Revisited”

  1. madthinus

    To me the loading times on the old console was a deal breaker. I hated that part of it. It is now "fixed". I like my Series X, I think it is powerful, quiet and fast. It offers a gaming experience similar to what I am used to on the PC. That there alone is worth the $500 asking price.

    • Elan Gabriel

      True. It actually made me stop playing FH4 on the XOX shortly after getting it. I just couldn't handle the loading times for that game. With the XSX, I enjoy the games more. XOX was good for what it was. Was.

    • zekepliskin

      I've said it before and I'll say it again; Quick Resume is a more valuable feature to me than the Dualsense, as impressive as that is. I would gladly surrender a little more internal SSD space on the Series X to have even more Quick Resume titles saved up, more so if they could be saved when switching between Retail Mode and Dev Mode.

    • LT1 Z51

      Totally agree. Games on the Series X for the first time almost load as fast as my old cartridge games on NES, SNES, and N64. I use power saver mode and the fact that Series X basically still instantly turns on and I can load a game (which most of mine instantly load) is amazing. I'm sure newer titles will slow down a bit, but the load time gains to me are priceless, they turn gaming into fun again, load times made it a chore.

  2. remc86007

    "the Xbox One X, which is arguably optimized for 1440p graphics at 60 frames-per-second (fps)"

    I disagree. The Xbox One X is a terribly lopsided design. The critical flaw of the previous gen consoles was the 2012 designed tablet processor of a CPU. The CPU is THE limiting factor of framerates. If a game engine can't run the simulation at 60fps on a given CPU, it doesn't matter what you do to the graphic settings and resolution, it won't help. The Xbox One X is really optimized for 4k30. The GPU is a hopped up Polaris part with tons of memory bandwidth. The CPU just couldn't produce above 30fps in most games.

    • zekepliskin

      I agree; the One X has a massively powerful GPU attached to an uprated but still hamstrung CPU. That damn Jaguar platform really started to hold the generation back after a couple of years and I think if Sony and Microsoft had the generation over again they would have gone for a more scalable option that better supported mid-generation refreshes. Instead, for compatibility they had to stick with it.

      What's interesting to me is that even games that aren't "Series X|S Enhanced" but are/were "Xbox One X Enhanced" can benefit from the performance boost even if they don't support FPS Boost. For example, The Witcher 3 which can run 1080p60 upscaled to 4K in One X Performance Mode used to drop frames to about the 30-45FPS range when in Oxenfurt, Novigrad and other places with lots of assets and NPCs on screen, whereas on the Series X it seems to be a solid 60FPS everywhere.

    • jeanpierre09

      Although some games can go to 4K60, like Far Cry 5, and Doom 2016 amongst others that I can't remember at the moment.

  3. zekepliskin

    I jumped back into the world of Xbox gaming in January, with an Xbox One X. Loved it, was totally impressed with what Microsoft achieved having had a PS4, then PS4 Slim, then PS4 Pro, all of which gathered dust as I hated the sluggish interface and the way I told it to download updates and install overnight which it never did. Really poor design.

    Ended up playing the hell out of it for months, more than I had gamed in years actually. So much so that I ended up selling my Switch and PS4 Pro after I picked up an Xbox Series X (second hand, but only paid retail price for it and it was new in April 2021, so I registered it for warranty support on my Xbox Live account).

    They're both great consoles. The One X has a "modernised PS2" look about it, and a great design which is easyish to disassemble for cleaning, which I did, and the fan/thermal/power ramping is really well done. It draws a lot less power in idle than any PS4 did. My One X had an SSD for a bit which helped loading times and dashboard responsiveness. It puts less "nonsense" between you, the gamer, and the games themselves, Game Pass is a great deal especially when on £3 for 3 months or the current £1 for 3 months, and so on. Just prefer the "ecosystem" if you want to call it that to anything Sony has done, which often felt like the bare minimum to keep people playing and paying.

    Microsoft sometimes gets unfairly criticised for not innovating, well, they did innovate with the OG Xbox actually, with it being the first mainstream console to have a hard-drive and ethernet as standard, pioneered online console gaming and so on. Sony only really got into the market because Nintendo broadsided them when they chose Philips (one of those many major dumb Nintendo mistakes, like that terrible Bob Hoskins led Mario movie in the 90s), let's remember.

    The Series X is more of the same but that little better in every way - like the "finishing touches" to what they started with the One X. Dashboard is even faster, games load in a blink if saved on Quick Resume (including, to my impressed surprise, OG Xbox and Xbox 360 titles), it reboots and comes out of sleep faster. All that extra horsepower can be leveraged for RetroArch too - I've been having fun running Mario Kart: Double Dash!! on it in Dev Mode with some upscaling and widescreen hacks patched in, it's pretty close to flawless whereas the One X couldn't handle it.

    I think the Series X is promising, but like any and every console generation, that promise takes a couple of years to be fulfilled as the changeover from last to current gen happens. The PS2 took a few years to get rolling and that too was a console aided by having excellent backwards compatibility as a tide-over until the then "next gen" games came, and I remember that it was about 2004 onwards (for me personally, the original God of War) that it really went full swing and became the must-have console. It'll probably be even slower this time around due to the pandemic slowing not just development of the games themselves, but the silicon shortage - all things that are just now being felt due to the way production lines are often planned years in advance.

    So yeah, for me a worthy upgrade, and being able to bounce between Red Dead Redemption II, The Witcher 3, Forza Horizon 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops in mere seconds as opposed to enduring long load times is already worth the investment, and unlike some of the more impatient gamers out there I'm happy to wait for the next-gen killer apps to start trickling through. All those huge studios that Microsoft now own are gearing up for what I imagine will be a glut of releases through 2022 and 2023. I don't expect anything major this year, but that's okay - I still have plenty of older games to plough through, emulation to setup (I believe the Series X can emulate a fair few PS2 titles at full speed, for example) so it's gonna be a fun wait.

  4. IanYates82

    I moved from an OG xbox one to the Series X.

    That has been welcome. Load times are now fantastic and I'm loving quick resume, etc.

    Still on a 1080p TV so the 4k thing isn't really a big deal for me *yet*

  5. prifici

    Thanks to some good timing and surveillance of the local electronics shops by my partner, I was able to snag both a Series X and S during the shortage. Both of them get used daily now. I used to be a dyed-in-the-wool Sony fan but the experience on the Series S and X has been fantastic. I'm really glad I made the jump.

  6. campbell

    I was lucky enough to get an X last year, moving on from an OG Xbox One.

    The performance upgrade is amazing, and the quietness is disturbing. There’s just something missing, I’ve seen the PS5 and it feels and looks next gen.

    • bettyblue

      I seen a PS5, played a game on it even at a relatives house. I would say the UI, which is just an updated crossbar or whatever they call it, is more "next gen" than the Xbox UI for sure but the PS5 hardware is ugly IMHO. It is just awkward looking, like some kind of air purifier gadget bought on some QVS show or whatever.

      • MoopMeep

        Yes, I keep my Ps5 sideways. It looks weird and doesn’t look too stable sitting on its stand, which you have to use since the side of the Ps5 is all curvy. I would say the ps2 was probably the best looking Sony console and Xbox 360 best looking Xbox? But that’s just my opinion…

  7. richardbottiglieri

    I had an original Xbox One console (with the external power brick), and I happily upgraded to an Xbox Series S console. It's been a great experience: it's small, fast, plays all games better than my OG Xbox One, and it's silent. Happy customer here.

    Side note: I saw a Sony PS5 up close and in person for the first time this past weekend. I cannot believe how large that console is. I think Microsoft hit it out of the park with this latest generation, on a lot of levels, but form factor is definitely one of them.

  8. wolters

    I've not had a lot of time to play games lately and when I do, I am still enjoying Fallout 76. I love how fast it loads on the XBOX Series X and "fast travel" is truly fast now. App switching is pretty good and it will resume my game with ease. Beyond no more Kinect compatibility, I really love my Series X.

  9. north of 49th

    On my Series X I've actually put the power off settings to Eco because the boot speed/load speed is so fast that I can be in a game faster than my One X in the quick start-up mode with a game booting at glacial speed. Also, the play through speed of a game is really fast when you don't have to factor in all the in-game loading time between levels.

  10. garumphul

    There are three things that are, for me, enormous quality-of-life improvements regardless of the games: disk speed, quick resume and the virtually silent fan. I have no doubt that some good games will come through that show off the GPU to its finest, but just playing "old" games without the huge delays on loading is so much nicer.

    I'm also pretty much in love with the Dolby Vision Auto HDR (which I think is in preview... I forget which insider ring I'm on, but I love it).

    Also... and I know this will make some people mad... but it took me all of 2 days of hitting refresh buttons in January before I found one at Game Stop. I had the All Access deal on a One X, paid up enough to get the upgrade, and a couple of days later it all worked out very nicely. My Game Pass Ultimate goes out til 2024 :D

  11. wunderbar

    It's not quite as hard to find a console at this point. Yes, you can't just walk into any store and find one, but if you pay attention and check for stock online regularly, you should be able to find one. A friend of mine was looking to pick up a PS5 and was able to secure one within a couple weeks of really starting to look. It's very doable now.

    • zekepliskin

      Or you can just hit up Facebook Marketplace and get one at or below RRP, sometimes basically New In Box, too. That's what I did. The guy I bought it from paid £750, sold it to me for RRP as he "couldn't see the difference between One X and Series X" and it was manufactured April 2021. It's basically new.

    • bettyblue

      Agreed and I think the XSX is easier to get than a PS5. You have enough of the "have to have one now" crowd completing that task, so demand is less. Still high but not insane high. We are entering the phase where scalpers will have to lower the price and back out for fear of losing their arsess...which would not make me sad.

      I have a friend that really focused on getting a XSX and had one in 4 days. Just constant pinging of local retailers. He got it at Target, which is where I got mine on launch day.

  12. angusmatheson

    It is interesting that you use an X-box instead of a gaming PC. With the newest parts (if one can get them) you can get a little more performance than out of a console. If you want to use a controller it works great with PC. And hooked up to a TV a PC can do lots of other things like PLEX or CODY. One of my sons always uses is Playstation 4 while the other uses his gaming PC. I cannot quite understand why either uses what they use, and they cannot articulate it.

    • wunderbar

      I used to game a lot more on PC than I did on consoles. but over time what I have found is that because I spend my work day sitting at a desk in front of a computer the last thing i want to do in the evenings is sit at a desk in front of a computer. my relaxation time is not sitting at a desk at the same kind of device I sit at to work.

      As for the "well just attach a PC to a TV and play with a controller" talk, I really, really, really don't want to operate a Windows PC from my couch. Steam big picture is helpful but not every game I would play is on Steam, and i don't want to juggle launchers. I want my gaming to "just work" as much as possible, and that's what a console provides.

    • bettyblue

      I actually moved all of my gaming from my gaming PC to the XSX when I got one on launch day last year.

      PC gaming is a mess IMHO. Massive cheating in MP games. MP games that lose half of their players or more after 6 months where on a console versions of the games are still played years later. Having 4, 5, 6 game store clients that load up, update, have their own login etc.

      While I am long time Windows user (Since 3.11) I moved my non-gaming computing to the Mac a few years ago and I doubt I will ever return to Windows for a primary desktop or laptop computer. This made my gaming PC an expensive, maintenance intensive gaming console. My gaming computer sits at my work bench in my basement. Ryzen 7 3700x, 2070 Super, 32gigs of RAM, 2TB of Samsung SSD. I use it to lookup how to videos when working on something on my bench...or stream music too. My NVIDIA drivers are probably 8 months old? Who knows what version of Windows 10 that thing is on now. I have an old 24inch 1080p monitor on it now.

      I will say that for the games I play the look and feel graphically is just as good on the XSX as they were on my gaming PC. I am using the same 27inch 1440p 144hz G-Sync/FreeSync IPS gaming monitor on my XSX now and its set to 120hz/VRR in the Xbox settings. If I wanted to upgrade the 2070 Super in my gaming PC right now to say a 3070, I would have to pay north of $1000 just for the GPU.....if I could find one.

    • darkgrayknight

      If you have a gaming PC, then you probably don't need a console. If you have a console, then you probably don't need a gaming PC. While I have both, playing games on the Xbox is easier to get going and more comfortable--though I'm sure this may differ for others. While both console and PC will gradually be left behind in capabilities, the console actually gets a longer run (extra long for Xbox Series X with most titles not using all the capabilities there yet). To get an equivalent PC to the Xbox Series X is going to cost at least double the console price (more with the shortages). I agree with Paul that the Series X is faster than the old Xbox One X, but other than that, there is not a big need to upgrade from a workable Xbox One X, though the older the console the more you may want to upgrade.

  13. ikjadoon

    I am a bit sad Microsoft left the controller alone, after seeing PlayStation came up with.

    Would’ve loved to see some of the Elite controller features trickle down: Microsoft knows how to make excellent controllers.

    • yoshi

      Same. I've long loved Xbox controllers, especially when compared to previous PS controllers. But with the new DualSense, that gap is closer than ever. In fact, I may even prefer the DualSense over the newest Xbox controller. It's just so comfortable in my hands, even without the staggered joysticks.

      I prefer the Series X overall, and it's my main console, but every time I pick up the DualSense I love it.

  14. markbyrn

    I think $500 is worth it but not $800, $1000, $1500 or whatever scalpers are asking for.

  15. felfoo500

    it's good but really expensive