Xbox Series S specs leak hints at major disappointment

Xbox Lockhart concept design
(Image credit: Reddit - u/jiveduder)

The Xbox Series S, aka Xbox Lockhart, might be less powerful than an Xbox One X and could struggle with next-generation games. 

That’s what we can extrapolate from a somewhat vague tweet by The Verge journalist Tom Warren, who posted “just dropped in to say 20 CUs” on Twitter. This could be a reference to the 20 compute units the Xbox Series S’ graphics accelerator might have, given he’s been tweeting about rumors console over the past few days. 

As a major follower of Microsoft and its machinations, Warren appears to have insider information about the rough spec of the Xbox Series S, which is set to be an all-digital, lower-end version of the Xbox Series X. This console would be an entry-level next-generation machine that will cost less than the Series X and appeal to people who don’t want to fork out $400 or more on a new system. 

Taking a deeper look at the 20 CUs spec, we can extrapolate that the Xbox Series S could use AMD’s RDNA graphics architecture at that’s underpinning the GPU of the Xbox Series X. Those 20 CUs could translate to 1,280 shader cores for the Xbox Series S GPU. 

Such a graphics specification sits around the level of an AMD Radeon RX 5500XT, which has 22 CUs. The Radeon RX 5500XT makes for a very capable graphics card, able to run games at solid frame rates at Full HD resolutions. But it’s hardly a next-generation graphics card. 

As such, it’s hard to imagine that a GPU with the slightly fewer cores than the RX 5500XT is going to deliver better performance than current-gen consoles. And it could mean that the Xbox Series S may actually struggle to run upcoming games at fast frame rates at 1080p. 

Given the Xbox One X comes with 40 CUs, there’s a chance that the Xbox Series S could be slower than Microsoft's current highest-end system. But it’s worth noting that the Xbox One X uses older AMD graphics architecture, so the CUs in the Lockhart machine could be more efficient and deliver better performance.

This has us scratching our heads, as it would seem very odd for Microsoft to release a next-generation games console that could be less powerful than the Xbox One X and potentially struggle to run high-fidelity future games. For context, the Xbox One X could only run Red Dead Redemption 2 at 4K 30fps and that’s a current-generation title.  

However, the RDNA graphics architecture is a lot more efficient than the Graphics Core Next architecture that underpins the GPUs of both the Xbox One consoles and the PS4. So there’s potential for the Xbox Series S to have what might seem like a lowish specification on paper but deliver solid 1080p real-world performance. 

Of course, all this is speculation and extrapolation based on the leaks we’ve seen so far. We’ll likely have to wait until at least August when the Xbox Series S is tipped for a reveal before we get a firmer idea of what a second next-gen Xbox might be capable of. 

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.