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Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: Which Xbox should you buy?

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S
(Image credit: Future)

The Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S are finally here, and generally speaking, they're exactly what Microsoft promised they would be. The Series X is a pricey powerhouse, delivering top-of-the-line performance in a black, boxy chassis. The Series S, on the other hand, is more limited in scope — although its compact size and cheaper price are definite points in its favor.

In any case, if you're in the market for a new Xbox console, you have two choices. (Don't bother with an Xbox One S or Xbox One X at this point; both the Series X and Series S are fully backwards compatible, and the price break isn't worth being saddled with waning tech.) To spare you the suspense, the Xbox Series X is the better console of the two, with better specs, better performance and better prospects for the future. The question, however, isn't "which console is better?"; it's "which console is better for you?"

While the Xbox Series X is the way to go if you've got money to spend and a 4K HDR TV to show off, the Series S is not without its charms. Read on to find out how the two systems stack up, and how you could find a spot for one — or both — in your home. 

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: Price 

The Xbox Series S' price is one of only a few categories in which it definitely beats the Xbox Series X. Simply put: the Xbox Series S costs $300, whereas the Series X costs $500. (Prices vary from country to country, but the differential is similar.)

You can make plenty of arguments about how the Xbox Series X does more to earn its price, or how "price" and "value" aren't the same thing, or how the Xbox Series S might not be as useful in the long-term. But for right now, the Series S is $200 cheaper than the flagship Xbox, and that might make a big difference, depending on your budget and your current entertainment setup.

Of course the Series S is also a lot easier to find, with restock issues still hampering Series X availability. For that reason, anyone looking to buy a next-gen console before the year ends might well agree that the Xbox Series S is the right console for holiday 2021.

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: Performance 

Whereas the Xbox Series S has a clear price advantage, the Xbox Series X has a clear hardware advantage. While the two systems have the same CPU, they have different storage and RAM capacities. There's also a significant difference in the two consoles' GPUs. Consult the chart below for a full breakdown of Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S specs:

Xbox Series XXbox Series S
ProcessorCustom Zen 2, 8-core, 3.8 GHzCustom Zen 2, 8-core, 3.8 GHz
GPUAMD RDNA 2, 12 teraflops, 1.8 GHzAMD RDNA 2, 4 teraflops, 1.6 GHz
Storage1 TB512 GB
Display (Targeted)4K, 60 fps1440p, 60 fps
Display (Max)8K, 120 fps1440p, 120 fps

 In our tests, the Xbox Series X performed better than the Xbox Series S across the board—- not surprising, considering the Series X's hardware. While the Xbox Series S has 4K upscaling and HDR features, it's not quite the same thing as having a native 4K display. The Xbox Series X supports ray-tracing on a huge variety of games, while the Series S has much more limited ray-tracing support. The Series X also has much better draw distance in optimized games. 

Qualitatively speaking, the Xbox Series S looks good and plays well, even on 4K displays. If you have a 1080p TV or 1440p monitor — and plan to keep using it for a few more years — the Series S is an easy sell. But if you have a high-end TV, save your pennies for the Series X. It's worth the upgrade price.

The Xbox Series X also has a 4K Blu-ray player built in; the Xbox Series S is a purely digital console. This means that if you have a lot of physical media — be they movies, TV shows, or backwards-compatible games — the Xbox Series X offers a huge advantage over the Series S. 

xbox series x

(Image credit: Marshall Honorof/Future)

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: Design 

While the Xbox Series X is a pretty console, there's no denying that it's pretty big: 11.9 x 5.9 x 5.9 inches, and 9.8 pounds. It's not at all guaranteed to fit in your entertainment center, particularly if you want it in a horizontal configuration.

This is where the Xbox Series S positively shines. The little white console (with the tasteful black vents on top) is only 10.8 x 5.9 x 2.6 inches, and 4.3 pounds. It's one of the smallest, lightest consoles in years, and it fits perfectly in an entertainment center — or simply next to a TV on a dresser. The Xbox Series S is easy to fit into any setup, and easy to move around.

For this reason, the Xbox Series S makes a fantastic secondary console for a bedroom, child's room, guest room — you get the idea. This is particularly true since most Xbox Series X/S games are also available on PC, and your save data can carry over — especially true if you use Xbox Game Pass Ultimate ($15 per month). On the other hand, we also realize it's a luxury to own a single console for the living room; an extra one might be pushing it.

xbox series x

(Image credit: Marshall Honorof/Future)

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: What's the same? 

 The interesting thing about the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S is that they have many more similarities than differences. Their game library, interface, controller, backwards compatibility, app selection and CPU are all identical. You can still play 30 "optimized for Xbox Series X/S" games at launch, including Gears 5, Yakuza: Like a Dragon and Forza Horizon 4 with slicker graphics and faster load times on both systems. Both the Xbox Series X and Series S also support the Quick Resume feature, which lets you suspend multiple games and jump back into them within seconds.

In other words, think of the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S like two different configurations of the same gaming PC. One is more powerful and has a few extra bells and whistles, but they can run all the same software — at least for the moment. 

xbox series x, xbox series s

(Image credit: Future)

Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: Verdict 

There's no denying that the Xbox Series X is the more powerful of the two systems, and the better investment, if you can afford it. However, there are a few circumstances under which an Xbox Series S might still be a smart buy. The "secondary console" case described above carries some weight. If you have a 1080p TV and no plans to upgrade anytime soon, the Series S is the way to go — and when you do get a 4K TV, it'll still be a good stopgap system thanks to upscaling.

Otherwise, get the Xbox Series X, even if you have to put off your purchase and save up for it. With more powerful hardware and better physical media features, it's more future-proof and versatile than the Series S. Yes, $200 can buy a lot of games, but you may only be delaying a more expensive purchase a few years down the road.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.