The Xbox Series X – Hardware Impressions
Whenever a new console generation starts there is always a range of questions that are never answered by the PR spin. As consumers we spend the lead up to launch being fed line after line from the hype and marketing machines employed by these giant companies, so much so it is often hard to make sense as to what it all actually means. The only way to actually see how things have improved it to go hands-on. Luckily Xbox Australia was kind enough to send me a Series X and for the past couple of weeks, I have been putting it through its paces.
Setting up the Series X was a snap. Using the Xbox App on my phone, it automatically set up the console according to the settings on my One X. It took less than two minutes to have the console configured and downloading the latest update. An absolute dream when compared to how things used to be. Having to use a controller to enter logins, emails and passwords has never been my idea of a good time and this almost eliminated that. I am sure if this is your first Xbox console there will be more to it than that, but if you already are in the eco-system, the setup process couldn’t be easier.
Upon booting up, not much seems to have changed. For the first-ever time, the next-gen system is using exactly the same UI as the previous-gen. This is in line with Microsoft’s philosophy of creating a family of systems that all tap into the same infrastructure and means that if you have ever used an Xbox One, you will feel at home. The new store and UI update that came through a few weeks ago is a marked improvement over previous versions of the operating system and even for brand new users, it shouldn’t take long to get your head around it.
From here though, the improvements in the hardware start to become obvious. I have spent a significant amount of time going through the promises made by Microsoft’s PR machine and seeing the results for myself and I must say if anything, the PR team has understated some of the features. The first thing I want to talk about is backwards compatibility. True to their word, every single one of my Xbox One games works on the system, no problems at all. What is even more impressive is the fact that there is a mountain of both 360 and original Xbox titles that also work. The cherry on top though is the in-built hardware improvements that these backwards compatible titles benefit from. All of the games gain a massive advantage from simply being installed on an SSD drive, so load times are naturally quicker, but what I wasn’t expecting was the improvements in other areas. The Xbox Series X improves resolutions, adds in HDR where possible and bumps framerates on these old titles automatically. I spent some time digging into old games like Knights of the Old Republic 2, Jade Empire, Psychonauts, Brutal Legend and Fable 2 and all of these games look significantly better, all benefiting from improved FPS and the higher resolutions. It really needs to be seen to be believed, these games all look better than their (unmodded) PC counterparts.
The significance of the SSD cannot be understated either. For current-gen games, load times have been slashed. It took less than 30 seconds to get through the initial load of Red Dead Redemption 2 and in Doom Eternal, it is almost instant. This is an SSD that is noticeably quicker than the NVME drive I have in my PC when it comes to loading games and when compared to the old consoles it is on another planet. This was immediately noticeable when playing Destiny 2 with a group still on the Xbox One, I spent quite a bit of time waiting for my teammates to load in, and as those teammates were in my house, they can’t blame the internet connection. The downside here is that the SSD is quite small when compared to game installs these days, 1TB is hardly a lot when some games hit the 120gig mark. That being said, while Series X games can’t run off an external HDD, One, 360 and Original Xbox games can. So to combat this I got my hands on two 1tb External SSD drives. One I am using for Xbox One titles that don’t have series X enhancements and the other I am using for 360 and OG games. Granted the external SSDs aren’t as fast as the internal one, but they still offer a marked improvement over old mechanical drives and the automatic enhancements still work.
Quick resume is another feature that the Hype train has been heavily promoting and I must say, that I was a little sceptical about the difference it would make to my day-to-day gaming habits. I have to eat a little bit of humble pie, because while it isn’t a full-on revolution, it is a massively intuitive feature that makes a huge difference in the time it takes from sitting down with a controller to actually playing the game. Being able to instantly switch between games without any loading at all is as cool as it sounds. One minute I was beating up thugs in Yakuza: Like a Dragon and the next I was racing over snowy tundra in Dirt 5. It is very cool to see in action and like many great new features, will become something that people take for granted as time goes on.
As for the physical unit, it is a chunky thing, but not obscenely so. It fits quite nicely into my pretty stock standard TV unit and doesn’t look out of place at all. In fact, you could almost say it is a little too plain. But that is really nitpicking. The overall aesthetic is one that suits my lounge room without being obnoxious and that is pretty much all you can ask for in an age where most gaming products feel that obnoxious equals trendy. The unit comes with an HDMI 2.1 cable so as long as you have a TV that supports it, you are ready for 4K and HDR right out of the box.
In all, my time with the actual hardware has been quite positive. The new features make going back to even my Xbox One X almost impossible. The speed of the hard drive, quick resume and the almost magical backwards compatibility feature means that this is one rock-solid bit of gear. If Microsoft is to fail this generation, it won’t be because of the hardware that is for sure. Everything about it feels engineered and polished and is easily the most impressive out-of-the-box experience I have had with a new console.
*All screenshots were taken from the Series X using the built-in screenshot tool. For information on Series X enhanced games head here:
The Xbox Series X was kindly supplied to Player 2 by Xbox Australia.
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