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PSA: Do not buy an Xbox Series S

Xbox Series S
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Last year I almost bought an Xbox Series S. I reserved the console during the first wave of pre-orders, thinking it would be an excellent supplemental machine to sit alongside my PS5 but a few weeks from launch I canceled my order.

I ultimately decided not to part with my money because I was, and still am,  unconvinced the entry-level console has a long-term future. The relatively affordable price tag makes it a tempting purchase, but its significantly weaker GPU compared to its big brother, the Xbox Series X, is concerning. 

After saving up some extra cash and chasing several restocks, I managed to grab an Xbox Series X instead earlier this year. As more next-gen games have launched throughout 2021 my decision to not purchase the Xbox Series S and instead wait until I could afford its more powerful brother has been increasingly validated.  

Right now the Xbox Series S makes for a nifty gaming machine, but it’s already starting to show its weaknesses. Plus, as we get further into this console generation these problems are only going to get worse. 

The lesser of the two

To its credit, Microsoft has always been extremely upfront when it comes to the Xbox Series S. The tech giant has never claimed the console is capable of the same performance levels as the more expensive Xbox Series X. 

The table below lays out the full technical breakdown, but the biggest discrepancy between the two machines is easily the GPU. The Xbox Series S sports an AMD RDNA 2, 4 teraflops, 1.6 GHz, which is much less powerful than the beefy AMD RDNA 2, 12 teraflops, 1.8 GHz found with the Xbox Series X. 

Xbox Series XXbox Series S
Price$500$300
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
RAM16 GB10 GB
Storage1 TB512 GB
Display (Targeted)4K, 60 fps1440p, 60 fps
Display (Max)8K, 120 fps1440p, 120 fps

The two consoles also differ when it comes to RAM and storage capacity. Of course, the hard drive size doesn’t impact performance, but it does mean the Xbox Series S can only hold a small handful of the best Xbox games before you’ll need to look at alternative storage options. 

We’ve tested both consoles extensively found that the Xbox Series X trumps the Xbox Series S in terms of performance in basically all areas. Of course, this is hardly surprising, but the worrying thing is the performance gulf between the two consoles seems to be growing. 

Not quite next-gen enough

Last November when the next-gen Xboxes launched, the initial impressions of the Xbox Series S were fairly positive. Even our own Xbox Series S review called it a “surprisingly powerful little console” although we did wisely warn that “it’s not the most future proof gadget you can buy.” These words of warning are starting to ring very true. 

While the console seemed to have no problem running early launch games like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla with a stable 60 fps and in a respectable resolution, more recent titles have started to perform pretty poorly on the system. 

FIFA 22

(Image credit: EA)

Most recently, FIFA 22 players have been complaining that on Xbox Series S the game is a blurry mess. In fact, the resolution is so low that some people can’t even make out the name and numbers on the back of player’s jerseys. The game is in such a bad state some owners have opted to play the Xbox One version instead. 

This is far from the first title we’ve seen suffer from performance issues on the Xbox Series S. In April, Resident Evil: Village was noted to offer a very poorly implemented ray-tracing mode on the console. The mode is such a CPU drain that the framerate frequently drops to below 30 fps on Xbox Series S.  

F1 2021 is another game that had to make compromises on the Xbox Series S. The game targets 1080p on Xbox Series S, instead of the 4K target like on PS5 and Xbox Series X. It also doesn’t offer a 120Hz mode on the less powerful console.  

Performance issues have also been noted in games like No Man’s Sky, Control and eFootball 2022 — although, the latter is experiencing a rafter of issues on every platform. 

No Man's Sky

(Image credit: Hello Games)

Developers haven’t been shy to comment on the issues that arise when optimizing a game for the Xbox Series S. Last year an employee id Software (a team now actually owned by Microsoft) said, “The much lower amount of memory and the split memory banks with drastically slower speeds will be a major issue.” They also noted that just lowering the resolution won’t make up for “the deficiencies.” 

Similar comments have been made by a developer at Remedy, who noted that optimizing a game for the Series S isn’t as simple as lowering the resolution and texture quality. 4A Games, creators of Metro Exodus, expressed similar concerns about the console’s weaker GPU. 

If developers are having these concerns now, imagine the problems that could arise in three or four years' time as games get even more complex and graphically demanding?  

It’s only going to get worse 

Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The fact of the matter is that these issues are only going to get worse. Right now we’re still in that crossover period between generations with most flagship games still being released for the Xbox One as well as the new Xbox consoles. In the future, that won’t be the case. 

Titles like the upcoming Dead Space remake have already been confirmed to be next-gen exclusives, which means they’ll push the boundaries of these consoles even further. If the Xbox Series S is already beginning to show cracks with games also playable on eight-year-old hardware, will it cope with being pushed even further? 

My concerns are that these performance issues will only become more and more common on the Xbox Series S. Right now the majority of games seem to perform admirably on the console, with only a handful suffering issues, but that pendulum may swing the other way over the next few years. 

My advice would be to pony up the additional $200 (if you can afford to) and opt for an Xbox Series X. You might have to pay extra right now, but in the long term, you’ll be getting a better deal.

Rory is a staff writer at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics including tech news, deals, gaming, streaming and more. When he’s not writing hot takes on the latest gaming hardware and streaming shows, he can be found watching a borderline unhealthy amount of movies and being thoroughly disappointed by his terrible football team. 

  • guraldunix
    I disagree with this take, for a certain very specific scenario.

    For 1080p gaming, the Series S is pretty awesome.

    First off, it benefits from the quicker load times of a solid state drive, the same as Series X.

    Second, the CPU is more powerful than the powerful last-gen Xbox One X, which is important for 1080p gaming where framerate in games would occasionally be bound by the CPU as a bottleneck in the One X. Even though the One X has a more powerful GPU, gameplay is almost always smoother at 1080p on the Series S, for this reason.

    I use a Series S plugged into a 1080p projector and the smaller size and quiet operation are also a bonus in that scenario.

    Third, and possibly most importantly, it's impossible to find a Series X without paying a nefarious scalper (or, ok, almost impossible, but, really, it's impossible to find them). Sure, the shortage might ease in a year or two, but in the mean time, the Series S is much more available, and it's cheaper.

    For all of the above reasons, I think Series S absolutely has a place in certain home setups.
    Reply
  • Elterrible
    The S is a cool console and I think for kids that largely just want to do among-us or fortnite, it will do extremely well. If they need it to run even better, then turn off the ray tracing and run it at higher frame rates.
    Reply
  • doenduit
    Author is clearly reaching and chose a topic he knows nothing about. The S runs fine
    Reply
  • MrAndyPuppy
    I am incredibly privileged enough to own both a Series X and a Series S. While the S may not perform as fast as the X it does perform better than my old Xbox One. It also supports all the X/S games unlike that older console. I play on both and am happy with my experience on both. If a family with a limited budget asks what console they should get I am more than happy to recommend the S.

    A hardcore gamer? I'd recommend the X but even then I'm mindful of their financial situation because even someone who games, say, a minimum 20 hours a week like me would still be satisfied with their experience on the S.
    Reply
  • Johnny Fig
    Obviously the author has chosen a topic he knows nothing about. How do you go from almost buying one, not getting it, and just going off a few tests, comparing specs to the X and reading comments from other people lol.

    The xbox S is next Gen. Xbox X is next Gen. Every console coming out or already out right now is a significant improvement over last Gen. I have a ps5 and an Xbox one s. I have ZERO issues with any of them, or game play. That Xbox S is a little monster. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn't played it, hasn't played it enough, doesn't have a good enough TV to play. I was gunna wait to get the X, but the S holds up! It's so smooth! That quick play feature is insane. Here's where I stand: if you can't wait till the X gets stocked, get the S, you won't be sorry. Just give it a shot. Happy Gaming.
    Reply
  • Mister-Ray
    doenduit said:
    Author is clearly reaching and chose a topic he knows nothing about. The S runs fine
    The Xbox Series S runs more than just fine. This auther clearly just tried to act big guy and think he knows what he is talking about.
    Reply
  • SlySnootles
    Yeah, this is a bad take. I own a Switch, an Xbox Series X, an Xbox Series S, a PS5, and a gaming PC. I use the Series S with a 1080P TV and the X and PS5 are hooked up to my 4K TV. The S has far exceeded my expectations!

    If you're arguing the S offers and inferior Ray Tracing experience then sure. But as an entry level device into this next generation of consoles it's incredible. Having a SSD is game changing and almost every game plays at a smooth 60FPS. Unless their is a mid gen refresh all of these consoles are going to struggle to deliver a smooth RT experience. Just look at how low res the RT is in Resident Evil Village for the PS5 and X. This article should really be about how EA is poorly optimizing games for the S.
    Reply
  • Rory Mellon
    MrAndyPuppy said:
    I am incredibly privileged enough to own both a Series X and a Series S. While the S may not perform as fast as the X it does perform better than my old Xbox One. It also supports all the X/S games unlike that older console. I play on both and am happy with my experience on both. If a family with a limited budget asks what console they should get I am more than happy to recommend the S.

    A hardcore gamer? I'd recommend the X but even then I'm mindful of their financial situation because even someone who games, say, a minimum 20 hours a week like me would still be satisfied with their experience on the S.

    I certainly agree that it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone can afford to spend an extra $200 on an Xbox Series X. Any gaming console is a luxury purchase after all. For individuals and/or families on a more limited budget, the Xbox Series S does offer the chance to get a next-gen console at a more affordable price. That’s definitely an aspect of the machine that I appreciate.
    Reply
  • Rory Mellon
    guraldunix said:
    I disagree with this take, for a certain very specific scenario.

    For 1080p gaming, the Series S is pretty awesome.

    First off, it benefits from the quicker load times of a solid state drive, the same as Series X.

    Second, the CPU is more powerful than the powerful last-gen Xbox One X, which is important for 1080p gaming where framerate in games would occasionally be bound by the CPU as a bottleneck in the One X. Even though the One X has a more powerful GPU, gameplay is almost always smoother at 1080p on the Series S, for this reason.

    I use a Series S plugged into a 1080p projector and the smaller size and quiet operation are also a bonus in that scenario.

    Third, and possibly most importantly, it's impossible to find a Series X without paying a nefarious scalper (or, ok, almost impossible, but, really, it's impossible to find them). Sure, the shortage might ease in a year or two, but in the mean time, the Series S is much more available, and it's cheaper.

    For all of the above reasons, I think Series S absolutely has a place in certain home setups.

    I would agree that in certain specific scenarios the Xbox Series S definitely merits a purchase. For starters, if you’re coming from the Xbox One (or even the Xbox One X) it’s a massive step up in performance. As you’ve mentioned the benefits of the SSD shouldn’t be overlooked either.

    My concern, as outlined in my article, is that the window of relevance for the Xbox Series S is rapidly shrinking. Currently, it’s an excellent way to get next-gen performance at a (relatively) cheap price, but as the generation continues the machine’s ability to hit its current level of performance could decline. We’re already seeing a handful of titles experience issues and limitations on the Xbox Series S, and my worry is that these problems will start to become more common in the years to come.

    I think in the here and now there are reasons to consider the Xbox Series S, but as a long-term purchase, it’s an unwise choice. Anyone looking for a gaming console that will last them 5+ years should opt for the Xbox Series X instead.

    As for the stock issues plaguing the Xbox Series X, well those are a real pain. However, in time supply will improve, and thankfully there is already a range of dedicated stock tracking services and social media accounts that can make securing one a little bit easier. We even have a few articles to help with that on the site, if you’re needing some tips ;)
    Reply
  • dvslawrence
    Yeah, as someone who owns both consoles I don't love this take. The Series S punches above its weight for sure. In games that properly optimize for the machine, it looks great and runs great. If anything as the old consoles fall off the Series S may shine more, as they can take full advantage of RDNA2 and all of its next gen benefits. If anything, the games where it doesn't run well should be called out for not properly supporting the console. It's been proven to deliver a great gaming experience in many titles.
    Reply