Xbox Series X Review: Is it Time to Upgrade from the One X/Pro?

Xbox Series X

The Xbox Series X (along with the PS5) launched on November 2020. The launch was marred by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent effects of  semi-conductor shortages.

In short, everything conspired to keep these new machines out of store shelves. Instead, orders for the consoles had to be placed online, a practice that opened the door for scalpers to grab hold of large quantities of these machines.

I was one of the costumers that had to wait since November in order to grab one of these consoles. I was not willing to reward scalpers (and their ill conceived practices) by paying an exorbitant amount of money for either of these systems.

Why Xbox Series X Instead of a PlayStation 5?

Quite simply, it was a matter of luck (or fate). I decided that the first console that I found on Walmart shelves would be the first one to get, regardless of whether it was a Series X or a PS5.

Thus, given that the PlayStation brand is stronger in Puerto Rico, the Xbox Series X stock managed to last a few hours longer than the PS5 on shelves at my nearest Walmart. This is how I was able to finally acquire one.

The Xbox Series X

  • CPU: 8x Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.6 GHz w/ SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU
  • GPU: 12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @ 1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU
  • Die Size: 360.45 mm2
  • Process: 7nm Enhanced
  • Memory: 16 GB GDDR6 w/ 320b bus
  • Memory Bandwidth: 10GB @ 560 GB/s, 6GB @ 336 GB/s
  • Internal Storage: 1TB Custom NVME SSD I/O Throughput: 2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s
  • Expandable Storage: 1TB Expansion Card (matches internal storage exactly)
  • External Storage: USB 3.2 External HDD Support
  • Optical Drive: 4K UHD Blu-ray Drive
  • Performance Target: 4K @ 60fps, Up to 120fps

The Xbox Series X holds the distinction of being the most powerful “Next-Gen” machine (yes, it is on paper more powerful than the PS5). The power differential between the two has yet to come into play, as most of the games we have now are either older back compatibility enhanced games, or cross-generational ones.

Still, for the most part the system holds a resolution advantage in the same versions of PS5 games, though (oddly enough) it has also shown lower frame-rate counts in many of these.

Given the shortages of new systems, and how well the previous generation of consoles sold (Xbox One: 50 Million, and the PS4: 115 million units), it is no wonder why neither Sony nor Microsoft want to abandon the older consoles. So, even our testing for this review was limited to a few games: Assassins Creed: Valhalla (cross-gen), Metro Exodus (previous gen, but received a proper next gen update), and Gears of War 4 (previous generation back compatibility title).

The Console, and Controller

xbox series x console

The Xbox Series X comes in at a hefty 9.8 pounds. This is just slightly less than the PS5’s 9.92 pounds. It is more compact, and easier to fit on a shelve than the larger PS5 is. In contrast to its predecessor, the Xbox One X, the Series X is about one pound and half heavier.

The system is extremely well engineered for cooling its internal guts during extreme sessions of play. The huge fan on top of the machine expels large amounts of heat making the lower part of the machine surprising cool (I found it cooler than the Xbox One X even).

The Series X’s is built for practicality, and it does feel like a sturdy and durable piece of hardware.  It has kept the same hard black matte finish on its plastic casing as the Xbox One X. It is not as stylish as the PS5 or as elegant as the One X, but again, Microsoft is shooting for practicality here.

Apart from practicality, Microsoft is shooting for cohesiveness within its Xbox Series X, and One X family. Both Machines look closely related, they do not only share the same plastics, but also the exact same buttons for the their power, disc tray, and controller syncing buttons. By contrast, the less powerful the Series S looks like it belongs in the same family of the One S (with the white matte finish).

The new controller which is compatible with the Xbox One consoles, is a refinement of the previous controller. As shown in my unboxing video, the D-Pad, the addition of a share button, and coarser (textured) plastic for the grips, and triggers are the only notable differences.

The controller also feels just slightly smaller in my hands, but there is not enough of a size differential for me to prefer one over the other. The triggers feel slightly more force resistant than the Xbox One controller, but again, the difference is almost negligible.

The new D-Pad with dedicated diagonal inputs is a big improvement over the previous cross-styled one, and it is a design feature directly taken off the elite controller, which gives the new pad as slighter more “premium” feel when compared to the previous one.

The share button is a welcomed (and long over due) addition as I no longer have to pause games in order to capture screen shots.

To be fair, as a long time PlayStation 4 owner (since launch), I always felt that the Xbox controller felt heavier, and more durable than Sony’s lighter (and cheaper feeling) controller. Microsoft pretty much had the perfect controller in terms of practicality and comfortability, so it is not surprising that the company decided to refine the previous controller rather than going for a full overhaul in its design.

Sony has gone for a more much revolutionary approach for its PS5 with its adaptive triggers, and haptic feedback. It is hard to say if said technological advances will cut into the longevity of the PS5’s controllers, but in truth, I feel that Microsoft needs to up the tech in its own Xbox’s controllers. Adaptive triggers would be nice for a future refresh.

All in all I feel that the console is 10/10 in terms of build, and power, but I will rank the controller as 9/10. The new controller retains the quality build “premium” feel of the previous one, and it remains the most comfortable mainstream gaming controller around. However, Microsoft played it safe, and thus, I deducted a point as Sony is truly bringing “Next Gen” technology and feedback to its own controller.

The Software, and is it Worth the Upgrade Over an Xbox One X/PS4 Pro?

The Last of Us 2 Pro
Coming from games like The Last of Us 2 on PS4 Pro will likely diminish the wow factor of Xbox Series X enhanced Cross-Gen games. The lack of software that truly takes advantage of the Series X (and PS5) has made this generational shift a less impressive one than previous next gen launches.

Notice my omission of the base PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. If you own either of the former two consoles (or both) then yes, the Xbox Series X is a huge leap in technology.

It is an eye opening experience to go from the PS4’s (mostly) 1080p and the Xbox One S’ 900p standards to a full blown 2160p resolution on many games. The fact that many of these games now run at 60fps thanks to backward compatibility (and next-gen patching), makes a huge difference on large 4K displays.

Games like Valhalla, and Watch Dogs Legion ran poorly, and looked muddy on Xbox One S. The XSX provides a noticeable, and clear leap in graphical fidelity, and some of these games (Watch Dogs) even enable Ray-traced shadows, and reflexions dramatically improving their visual quality.

But what about Xbox One X, and PS4 Pro owners? The Pro was less powerful than the One X. Sony’s system was mostly confined to 1440p experiences, and games that claimed a “4K resolution” mostly utilized checker-boarding techniques to reconstruct the image from a lower resolution up to “4K”.

For these players, a Series X (or PS5) will represent a significant jump in quality. Truly both the XSX and the PS5 are far more powerful than the PS4 Pro, but at the same time, most games on both systems are hindered by the fact that most are either last generation games that benefit from the raw horsepower of the new machines, or cross-gen games designed with the lowest common denominator in mind.

Which brings us to the Xbox One X Owners…

A Next Generation Console That Doesn’t Quite Feel ‘Next Gen’…Yet.

Jumping from a One X (my case) to a XSX (or PS5) for that matter, doesn’t feel that much different than the previous mid-gen jump from my base PS4 to Xbox One X. The XSX impress just like the One X did in 2017, but it doesn’t offer the ground breaking experience that one would expect from a new console generation.

Sony and Microsoft offering “Mid-Gen” hardware upgrades in the last generation changed the entire feel of this new generation of consoles. The Xbox One X with 12GDDR5 of RAM is 6 Teraflop machine. Its GPU is in some ways superior to what you will find on the Series S. The latter isn’t really capable of outputting 4K resolutions and in some games we are already getting sub 1080p results on the budget Series machine.

Microsoft delivered a true 4K machine (for the most part) with the One X, and that has made it difficult for me to be impressed, currently, with the software enhancements made by the Series X on current games.

So, far this (the XSX/PS5) has been the generation of the Cross-Gen titles, and neither the PS5 nor the XSX have shown anything that feels like a true ‘Next Gen’ experience.

So if you have a One X (and to a lesser degree; a Pro), it might be prudent to wait until either of these machines receives a true a ‘Killer App’. You are not missing much save for higher resolutions, and better performance in the same games.

But things will change, eventually. This month, Microsoft’s Flight Simulator (a game that older machines can’t run) is making its way into GamePass and the Xbox Series consoles, thus finally adding a visually stunning “Next-Gen” experience that is unique to the system (and PC).

Should You Get an Xbox Series X?

In terms of owning a stunning piece of tech with future proof value, you can’t go wrong with Microsoft’s powerhouse. Apart from its (still) 1080p fonts on Xbox’s dashboard (which is more of a Microsoft issue rather than the console itself), I have found little to complain about the machine.

As soon as Microsoft’s Flight Simulator arrives on Game Pass, the game will more than justify the $499 investment on the machine, and that’s just the beginning.

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

Valhalla England
Valhalla looks as gorgeous on the Xbox Series X as it did on the Xbox One X, it features a noticeable 60fps boost (over the One X’s 30fps).

Coming from a 4k (more like 1620p) resolution at 30fps. I didn’t find Valhalla’s similar XSX resolution at 60fps particularly striking. But the improvement in performance is noticeable. Everything is just smoother, and more fluid at 60fps.

So yes, it is hard to go back to the Xbox One X version, but there are issues. For the most part the Xbox One X version is free of big bugs, however, when in “performance mode” on the XSX I ran into a few bugs in just 2 hours of play time.

In one occasion, Eivor’s horse became uncontrollable from a directional stand point. I could spur the horse forwards, but only in a straight line. I could not steer the horse left or right. I was forced to walk to my destination on foot, and the issue resolved itself after an in-game cutscene.

Shortly after that incident, I was attacked by a wolf during a quest (on the Druid’s expansion). After the wolf stopped attacking me, my character (Eivor) kept struggling on the ground against an ‘invisible’ wolf for about a minute before a bandit ‘hit me’ out of the weird buggy state. If the bandit hadn’t hit me, I would have had to reset the game, as the controls were ‘dead’ while Eivor remained in his struggle with the invisible (non-existent) foe.

I had never run into these bugs (or rarely any other) during my previous 70 hours on the One X. I have to assume that this title has issues on the XSX’s performance mode.

Despite these issues, I prefer to play in performance mode here. I like the combat and how the world moves at that frame rate.

Metro Exodus

Metro Exodus XSX
Metro Exodus’ Ray-Tracing implementation, and what seems to be the use of higher quality settings (over the Xbox One/X and PS4/Pro consoles) make it an early showcase for the Xbox Series X.

Now, just like Valhalla, Metro Exodus was a true showcase for the Xbox One X. Thus, right off the bat the game didn’t exactly wowed me (I had already played the game at 4k on the One X). However, upon closer inspection the improved  texture work, and 60fps update pushes the game closer to the original High/Ultra version of the game on PC.

But the shinning star here, and the next-gen experience comes in the form of the game’s ray-traced visuals. This effect (ray traced visuals), was impossible to accomplish on last generation hardware, and it is on display (in stellar form) on the XSX.

Metro Exodus is as big an improvement on XSX over previous gen consoles, as Metro Redux was on the PS4/Xbox One in contrast to its Xbox 360 versions. Ray-Traced shadows are something to behold, but the realistic lighting did make my XSX playthrough a bit rougher than it had been on One X.

Quite simply put, dark places are now really dark (as they would be in real-life), it made tracking enemies, and making my way around environments a tougher ordeal. This issue can be mitigated by tweaking the game’s gamma settings (this ‘dark’ problem was actually an issue on the non-Ray traced version too), but pushing the gamma slider too high makes the colors washout which is not the ideal look for the game.

Either way, Metro is meant to be a dark experience, and ray-tracing definitely helps with that. Metro Exodus is probably one of the best games that I would recommend at the moment that makes use of the XSX hardware in ways that few other current or last generation titles do.

Gears of War 4

Gears 4 Xbox Series X
Gears of War 4 runs under the same settings that the Xbox One X version did. No real improvement (other than quicker load times) is currently seen on this game.

Like Metro Exodus, Gears of War 5’s next generation upgrade provides a good early visual showcase for the system, however, the same cannot be said for Gears of War 4.

At one point Gears of War 4 was one the Xbox One’s best looking games. Once the game got its “Xbox One X Enhanced” update it quickly turned into an Xbox One X showcase in glorious 4K running at 30fps, and at 60fps while in performance mode (1080p).

Unfortunately, for Xbox Series X owners, Gears of War 4 is the poster boy for games that receive little to no benefit from the massive hardware jump. Instead, Series X plays the game by the Xbox One X book. Same 4K/30fps quality mode, and 1080p/60fps performance modes apply even though the Series X is perfectly capable of running the title at 4K/60fps.

For the most part, this isn’t a problem if you are upgrading from an Xbox One S, as the game will look and perform worlds better on the Series X, but as an Xbox One X owner, Gears of War 4’s lack of enhancements was a tad disappointing.

The Verdict

While Game Pass is the star of what Xbox offers in terms of its game subscription service, the XSX coupled Microsoft’s robust backwards (Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One) compatibility system is an unrivaled deal.

Microsoft has done something brilliant with the Xbox One/Series family of consoles. The Xbox Series X is a monumental leap over the Xbox One S, and massive one over the One X.

Continuity is the company’s goal, and certainly within hours (depending on your internet connection’s speed) you can pick up on Xbox Series X from where you left off on Xbox One (Games, Saves, Same Dashboard) and continue to play as if no change ever took place apart from the obvious bump in speed (dashboard), and resolution/performance in cross generation games.

The transition from the One X to the Series X has been seamless. Xbox Series X feels like a faster, more responsive version of the Xbox One. I keep both consoles hooked to different TVs in my house (I mostly use the One X now for Netflix, Amazon Prime Etc.).

The One X’s more compact form makes a perfect traveling companion for those hotel, and airbnb stays. Switching between the two, however, is a seamless experience

While the current cross-gen games available are hindered by last generation hardware, eventually (over the next two years), I expect more complex games to turn into full fledged Xbox Series X experiences.

I am of the philosophy that it is never too early to upgrade to a new console, but certainly, if you haven’t been able to find an Xbox Series X or a PS5 because of their supply issues, you haven’t missed much, yet.

The future is bright for the XSX with Bethesda titles coming to the system. Microsoft’s recent acquisitions of other studios will ensure that unlike the Xbox One, the Series X will have plenty of exclusive content to go around.

Perhaps more importantly, it used to be said that software sales made money for these hardware giants, and that remains the case, but subscription services are going to drive the industry forwards over the next 10-20 years, and Microsoft’s Game Pass is far and away the best game service in the industry in terms of value, and its absurdly high number of quality games available.

The Xbox Series X is the best vehicle (currently) to experience games under the Microsoft ecosystem (unless you are willing to invest hundreds of dollars more on a PC for better performance).

I haven’t been blown away by the XSX yet (neither by the PS5 for the same matter), as all we have are Cross Gen games to go by (The Medium is an average game), but that is likely to change later this month when I play Microsoft’s Flight Simulator.

Ratings:

Hardware: 10/10

The most powerful next generation machine. Its considerable advantage in GPU power and RAM bandwidth should give the system an advantage in future third party software over its competition. Three years from now, when games are fully “next-gen”, we should start to see Microsoft’s decision of going with a fully featured RDNA2 architecture pay off.

The System’s CPU allows for faster Dashboard response, and the ability to leave a game in suspended mode, in order to later jump-back right into the nick of things is amazingly convenient.

Controller: 9/10

The good news is that the Xbox One’s controller was already the sturdiest, most comfortable controller around, and the new XSX controller is practically a slight refinement of it. The controller is backwards compatible with the Xbox One family of consoles, and it just feels right in the hands.

The bad news is that Sony’s controller is a 10/10 because of its push towards innovation with haptic feedback and force resistant adaptive triggers. Sony’s controller might eventually have a shorter life span than Xbox’s “Tonka” like controller, but I expected more from Microsoft in terms of pushing feedback technology forwards.

Games: 8/10

This isn’t the system’s fault, even though Microsoft’s big hitters are likely to start arriving this holiday season, right now there is no “killer app” for the machine.

In truth, Sony’s machine would also score 8/10 in this category on the Strength of Demon Souls. Even though XSX doesn’t have a “Next Gen” exclusive that matches that game’s quality (for now), the Xbox Series X has a far larger back compatibility backlog. Many of these games even feature enhancements in resolution, performance, and HDR implementation.

You won’t find yourself without games to play on Xbox Series X, but the system (just like the PS5) suffers from the “Cross-Generation” trend that currently plagues the industry. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel: On July 27, Microsoft’s Flight Simulator arrives on the Series X. The arrival of this title should finally give the Series X its first ‘Next-Gen’ exclusive showcase (though it is a PC game from last year).

To answer the question: Is it time to upgrade from an Xbox One X/PS4 Pro into an Xbox Series X? Yes, but it isn’t essential, as of yet. There are no killer apps for either system, and 99.9 of all new big releases will also be available on the former platforms.

However, better performance, new features (ray tracing), resolutions, and the promise of future next generation games make the Xbox Series X a recommended purchase on my end.

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By Samuel Rivera

An avid video game player and book reader, Samuel has been playing video games for the last 31 years. He has played nearly every PS1 JRPG known to man, and loves Ocarina of Time more than any other game.