Hardware Review: Xbox Series X – A New Generation or something else?

When Phil Spencer made Microsoft’s plan for their console future clear back in E3 2018 he shocked many with the idea of a generation-less ecosystem. We’re seeing the first seeds of that idea with the new Series X and S.

It’s may not be so much of a shock as it was two years ago and PC gamers have lived with no sense of generational leaps bar regular graphics card releases by Nvidia and AMD but it opens up a few interesting pros and cons over older console releases.

The Series X is, rightly, being touted as the most powerful Xbox ever and while they won’t boast it on the box, it’s currently the most powerful console full stop. In previous generations that would mean new exclusive games that took full advantage of the hardware wowing audiences and a need to buy the new wonder-box to experience them. Here, though, there are no first party exclusives or big AAA titles to sell the console to those who already own the last generation of Xbox hardware and yet it still manages to provide enough reasons to want one.

On the outside the black monolithic console is almost threatening in design, the deep black, sharp angled rectangle has a definite weight and heft that is hard to ignore, even if you do manage to find a suitable place in your entertainment setup for it to rest on. The top (or right hand side if you lay it down sideways) expels the heat that all the new hardware produces and it feels like a well thought out system that moves the heat away from the important components yet it never gets hot enough to cause any concern. The back contains 2 USB 3.0 slots, a single HDMI (no HMDI in this time, sadly), an expansion port and power supply port. The traditional Xbox logo and disc slot break up the mostly featureless front. It’s simple and easy to understand without even picking up the quick-start guide.

Inside the feature-set is much more impressive. A 3.8 Ghz AMD Zen 2 CPU provides a huge upgrade over even the One X in terms of computational power and the graphics chip pushes 12 teraflops of power. 16 GB of GDDR6 RAM and a very fast SSD also help to ensure that this console is plenty fast enough for developers to produce some great results in the future.

What does this mean in real terms, though? Well, it’s hard to say at this moment because the new thought processes I mentioned earlier mean that the only measurement for the new console is the games that have been ‘upgraded’ to take advantage of the graphics grunt rather than using any of the new hardware to produce something new in terms of the world or physics. That said, early signs from these titles show a pretty impressive use of Ray Tracing to really improve the game worlds and a much faster loading time that is a game changer for a few titles that previously took way too long to load between missions. No Man’s Sky is a good example of both of these, it already provided amazing vistas as plenty of twitter and Instagram pictures will attest to but with a much shorter load time and the addition of new graphical elements it’s even prettier than ever and far easier to get into the game thanks to the new Quick Resume that sees games start back up from where you left them, even after swapping to another game. Not that Quick Resume works on every game right now or all the time, but it bodes well for the future.

If you want to squeeze the essence of what the Xbox Series X means into a single soundbyte-friendly term it would be ‘prettier and faster’. Technically, everything you can currently do on an Xbox Series X you can also do on an Xbox One, just with less resolution, less detail and no Ray Tracing and with the knowledge that it will take a lot longer in some cases to get into the action. That may change over time, Microsoft is preparing games like the new Halo, which will be an Xbox Series X and S exclusive, giving it far more of a chance to stretch the console beyond the current cross-generation restrictions. Until then, though, it provides a new lease of life for older titles and the promise of a much better experience for current cross-generation ones as developers utilise the extra power to create the definitive version of their game.

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