It’s unusual to have a new console that’s less powerful than its predecessor, but in some ways, this could be true for the Xbox Series S. While Microsoft’s inexpensive upcoming console sports impressive specs, it’s still not designed to support 4K content, while the now-discontinued Xbox One X was. This has left some very sensible tech journalists to wonder: Could the Xbox Series S run certain games just as the Xbox One X did? The answer is, “probably not.”
Information comes from hardware breakdown channel Digital Foundry, courtesy of Video Games Chronicle. In a reaction video to the Xbox Series S specs, John Linneman of Digital Foundry weighed in about how Xbox One X games might look on the less-powerful of Microsoft’s two new consoles.
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“If you’re playing an Xbox One game [on the Xbox Series S], it’s not going to be the Xbox One X version of the game. You’re not going to get the 360 4K backwards compatibility or things like that,” he said.
The numbers would seem to back up Linneman’s assertion, as Digital Foundry editor Richard Leadbetter pointed out:
“I’m not sure that’s been officially confirmed, but basically, if you thin it through rationally, there’s no other way it can be done,” he said. “The Xbox One X has 9 GB of system memory available to titles. The Series S has 8 … It’s still lower than the Xbox One X, so I think it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the backwards compatibility will be drawing upon Xbox One S as opposed to Xbox One X.”
Essentially, the Xbox One X was designed to run certain games at 4K resolution; the Xbox Series S was not. Even though the Series S is more powerful than the Xbox One X in most ways, it doesn’t have the exact same specs, particularly when it comes to RAM (probably).
While this is potentially disappointing news from a purely technical standpoint, it’s hard to think of a case where this might really devastate an end-user. Gamers who purchased an Xbox One X likely did so because of its powerful specs, and were willing to pay a higher price as a result. The Xbox Series S isn’t really meant for them; they’d probably go for a full-featured Xbox Series X instead.
Furthermore, the Xbox Series S will still be backwards compatible with the exact same game library as the Xbox Series X; it’s simply a matter of running (or not running) certain games in 4K, or with enhanced framerates or textures. Again, while this may be a dealbreaker to gamers who want to push their consoles to the limit, that’s probably not the kind of player who’d buy an Xbox Series S in the first place.
Then again, educated speculation isn’t the same as confirmation from Microsoft, and the Xbox Series S is still pretty powerful, so who knows? The Xbox Series S has already promised 4K upscaling, so Xbox One X functionality, or something like it, doesn’t seem entirely out of the question.
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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.