Review Xbox Series S: How much is it cost-effective?

Without a doubt, new generations always arrive to surprise us. After revealing the upcoming Xbox Series X, previously called Project Scarlett, to the world, Microsoft showed that it was very well prepared for the 9th generation of consoles with one of the most powerful and ambitious video games we’ve ever seen.

However, long before the project materialized as the Series X, there was another rumor. A timid rumor, which many suspected to be a weak source, and just that, in fact an unreasonable rumor, which surreptitiously gained strength again. Is Project Lockhart a weaker new generation Xbox? After the timid appearance in a Twitter ad, after months of buzz, the Xbox Series S was finally revealed.

Also check out the Xbox Series X review

And after all, what is this 4 teraflops console? Does it run new generation games? How does he perform compared to his most powerful brother? Is your business model sustainable? To answer these and many other questions, come with us to check out the full Xbox Series S review.

Technical specifications: the little monster is among us

First of all, let’s “dive in” in the technical aspects of the new and curious console of the new generation from Microsoft. The first characteristic you need to know is that the most modest video game shares the same architecture as version X: Zen 2 CPU and GPU RDNA 2, but with different clocks and computational units.

The Xbox Series S is an input console that has more modest components, ranging from 3.6 GHz to up to 3.4 GHz with simultaneous threads on the processor side; features 4 Teraflops with 20 computational units, operating at frequencies 1,565 MHz on the GPU – something close to 66% less powerful than the Xbox Series X, a significant number.

Xbox Series S (2020)

Xbox One (2013)

CPU

Custom Zen 2 8 cores @ 3.6 GHz (3.4 GHz with multi-thread)

Jaguar 8-core @ 1.75 GHz

GPU

Custom RDNA 2 4 TFLOPS, 20 computational units @ 1,565 GHz

1.31 TFLOPS custom GCN, 12 computational units @ 853 MHz

RAM

10 GB GDDR6

8 GB DDR3

RAM memory transfer

8GB @ 224 GB / s, 2GB @ 56 GB / s

8 GB @ 68.3 GB / s

Internal storage

512 GB SSD NVMe

500 GB HDD

Data transfer rate

2.4 GB / s and 4.8 GB / s for unzipped files

Optical drive

Without disc player

Full HD Blu-Ray Drive

Weight

1.93 kg

3.5 kg

Dimensions

275 x 151 x 65 mm (width, depth and height)

333 x 274 x 79 mm (width, depth and height)

Main entries:

  • 1 HDMI 2.1 port;

  • 3x USB 3.1;

  • SSD expansion slot;

  • Ethernet output;

  • power output.

In the RAM section, we see a similar trend of reduced resources. Here, there are 10 GB of GDDR6 RAM, but with a reduced width to 128 bits and data transfer speed lower than the Series X, which brings 16 GB GDDR6 with more than twice the speed. In practice, we still see great fluidity in the interface, games and executions of system activities, something that still represents a huge jump from the now jurassic DDR3 memory of the original Xbox One and the GDDR5 memory of Xbox One X.

But why do specs so far below the Xbox Series X still translate into a similar new generation experience? Basically, this device from Microsoft aims to deal with lower resolutions and, consequently, less heavy resources to work, such as 4K textures or effects.

In terms of storage, the Series S comes with the same solution as version X, but again, with reduced resources. The video game uses NVMe SSD with 2.4 GB / s transfer and up to 4.8 GB / s in compressed data, something that will bring significant changes in generation and help transform backwards compatibility. However, instead of bringing 1 TB, it comes equipped with only 512 GB (half the space).

We mentioned in the analysis of the Xbox Series X that even 1 TB of storage will be an eventual problem in the generation and, with 512 GB, which in practice is only 362 GB, certainly aggravates yet another structural problem of that generation. Considering that the only expansion available is the official Microsoft slot, which currently costs R $ 2,299, almost the value of the console, certainly the space will bring “headaches” in a scenario where games keep getting more and more complex and heavy.

Games: where things start to get weird

Let’s hit the brakes a little and start talking about what really matters in a new generation console: games. As we mentioned, the Xbox Series S has the same architecture and will run the same games as the Xbox Series X, but what changes is how these titles are rendered, as they seek lower resolutions or more modest frame rates.

As I mentioned in the analysis of the most powerful console, there is no first party game that uses all the features of the console, as was the case with Forza Motorsport 5, Ryse and Dead Rising 3 at the launch of Xbox One. All games available are now cross-gen and should receive versions for the current generation as well and, for now, none of them actually use ray tracing for testing.

In our benchmark battery, we use the 4 main games that already have updates for the new generation. Are they: Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4 and Yakuza Like a Dragon. How do they compare to the current generation and the Xbox Series X?

Gears 5

Gears 5 is a good example to start with. The Series S version seems to bring the most powerful console improvements, such as global lighting, better textures and improved shadow quality, but, as expected, the resolution is lower. We don’t have tools to measure the actual resolution, but it is considerably lower than on the Xbox Series X and it is visible that both particles and some aspects of the scenario have reduced elements.

I was able to test the functionality using a Predator X27 monitor and, in fact, it is very noticeable to play at 120 fps. It is not something that brings absurd advantages, but having extra fluidity, less response time and a control that has faster commands is a powerful combination to bring precision and faster reflexes to multiplayer.

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Forza Horizon 4

Forza Horizon 4 is one of the curious cases that show the power of Microsoft’s small console. Following what we saw on Xbox One X, the racing game runs in 1080p and 60 fps, but without the option to run the experience in 4K and 30 fps.

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Yakuza: Like a Dragon

In Yakuza: Like a Dragon, something starts to get a little more complicated, because the comparisons become very different from those of the other consoles. As with the Xbox Series X, there are 2 graphics modes: one that prioritizes resolution, which seems to stay at 1440p and 30 fps, and the other that focuses on performance, bringing in 60 fps, but resolutions at 900p or below.

Below, you can see image comparisons of Xbox One, Xbox One X, Xbox Series S Performance Mode (900p), Xbox Series X Resolution Mode (1440p), Xbox Series X Performance Mode (1440p) and Xbox Series X 4K Resolution Mode

On Xbox One X, the console most rivaling the Series S right now, there are no graphics modes; furthermore, the game appears to run at 30 fps and at a resolution higher than 1080p, but possibly below 1440p, as it appears to have less image definition than in the resolution mode of the Series S, which runs at 1440p.

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It’s undeniable: yes, the Xbox Series S arrives in places that the Xbox One X doesn’t, taking advantage of its new architecture, with higher frame rates, incredible loading speed and, in the future, game scopes that will no longer run in the current generation. However, it is also strange to see a 2017 console excelling in some aspects, such as higher resolution, or to see a newly released video game already showing results below 1080p in some cases.

A quick addendum: unfortunately, minutes after we recorded all the content and started editing the review, Microsoft reported that Codemasters did not allow us to talk about the experience of Dirt 5 new consoles until the date of publication of this review. Therefore, we will be missing out on a comparative. In addition, the company also reported that some titles are experiencing problems with Quick Resume and a patch is in progress through the developers, which may explain the problems we had with Yakuza: Like a Dragon.

Backwards compatibility with Xbox One and Xbox 360: an aspect that changes little

If the Xbox Series X puts on a show on this big pillar called backwards compatibility, the Xbox Series S starts showing its “Achilles’ heel”. Let’s get to the bottom line: Xbox Series X is backwards compatible with Xbox One X, while Series S is backwards compatible with One S, but what difference does that make?

It may seem the same, but it is not. The original Xbox One, or the One S, does not support dynamic resolutions, performance mode and framerate unlocked in most cases. This results in cases like Final Fantasy XV, which, while in Series X there is a chance to enjoy the game in 1080p and 60 fps, in Series S we will have only 900p and 30 fps, an experience almost identical to the weaker console of the previous generation.

Below, you can see Final Fantasy XV on Xbox One, Xbox One X, Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X, in that order. Notice the resolution and filter of the floor textures:

Other games, like Kingdom Hearts 3 and Monster Hunter World, are rare cases that the frame rate fluctuates, delivering a game originally choked, with falls and increases in performance. In that regard, the Series S helps with its firepower: both titles now run in 60 frames. But there is a jump of the cat: the resolution remains the same as the original Xbox One, which featured 720p and 800p, respectively.

See Kingdom Hearts 3 compared on Xbox One, Xbox One X, Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X. Again, notice the texture filters on the floor and the resolution:

What happens in practice is that many games will have a quality far below what they could be, presenting blurry images and, many times, will hardly have any benefit. You can quickly think of titles that benefit from Xbox Series X, but not Series S, as The Evil Within 2, Rise and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Rage 2 and The Witcher 3.

In short, some titles have a worse quality than what we saw on Xbox One X, a console of the past generation. However, this does not mean that this is an unavoidable problem, since Microsoft can work on a case-by-case basis and bring improvements through updates. But, for now, you will have a 9th generation console running games almost the same as the ones we saw in 2013. Below, you can see a screenshot of Monster Hunter World in the Series S, with low resolution (but reaching 60 fps).

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However, this does not mean that there are no improvements. Just like its most powerful brother, the Xbox Series S natively brings extra features of Heutchy technology to all Original Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One games, such as 16x anisotropic filter, Auto HDR and better loading times when games are up. on the SSD.

Titles that received special treatment on Xbox One X still benefit here. Ninja Gaiden 2, Final Fantasy XIII, Red Dead Redemption and many others that use the Heuchy method have higher resolutions too, but instead of 4K they are rendered at 1440p, something that in practice is a barely noticeable drop and still brings incredible results.

Below, games without HDR and with Auto HDR:

Certain select games will receive even more incredible features, such as Fallout 4, which will go from 30 fps to 60 fps. Now, not only does the resolution increase, but the performance as well. However, at the time of this review, the feature was not yet enabled.

Extra features that can help the S Series

By using the same Zen 2 and RDNA 2 architecture as the Xbox Series X, the S Series comes with some promising features from the factory. Among them, there is the Variable Rate Shading (VRR), that takes advantage of the best TV refresh rate possible, with 120 Hz, to offer the best response time in games. DirectML is another promising technology that makes use of DirectX’s Machine Learning and can improve the intelligence of NPCs and graphics.

There are 2 elements that can prove to be an essential combination to the Series S: the SFS and VRS. Sampler Feedback Streaming efficiently manages textures and loads only textures needed for what is displayed, leaving the GPU VRAM free for other things, avoiding wasted RAM and SSD resources as well.

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Variable Rate Shading has already proven itself as a resource capable of increasing the performance of games on the PC. Basically, the technology analyzes graphic items from the scene that the player does not pay much attention to, such as plants in peripheral vision or objects hidden in the shadows, and renders them at much lower resolutions. Although not the same as a DLSS, Nvidia’s technology that takes advantage of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to bring incredible results, the functionality can prove essential for the survival of the Series S, which has much less firepower and may require alternatives to deliver next generation experiences.

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In the image above, from the Digital Foundry channel, which is red in Gears 5 is in full resolution; what is in green, is rendered at half the resolution; and in yellow, it is half the horizontal or vertical resolution.

Finally, ray tracing is one of the main features coming from the PC and will certainly play an important role in this generation. However, until the time of the analysis, no game has used hardware accelerated functionality and there is no way of knowing how it compares to current Nvidia video cards.

The only game confirmed at launch is Watch Dogs Legion and, according to official information, it will have ray tracing in a graphics model of 4K and 30 fps in the Series X and dynamic 1080p in the Series S, but with slightly lower quality than the PC. Other games, like Devil May Cry 5 – Special Edition, have already confirmed that the weaker console will not have the technology in use, something of concern at the beginning of the generation.

Usability almost identical to Xbox Series X and old generation

Do you know the saying “don’t move on a winning team”? Microsoft had already delivered the new generation interface to the current Xbox One and Xbox One X, and the Series S will have the same usability that players have seen in the current generation (as well as the Series X). However, this is not a negative point.

The only difference is that, with hardware improved by much faster RAM and SSD, the little monster from Microsoft enjoys the same fluidity as its most powerful version, proving to be optimized to take advantage of the excellent system.

One of the exclusive features of the new generation is Quick Resume, which allows games to be transported from the device’s RAM to the SSD cache quickly, in about 6 to 8 seconds, allowing you to resume your progress from where you left off. Undoubtedly, one of the most incredible features of the system, which lasts even when turning off the console.

However, there is still a little lack of clarity in the operation of the resource. In theory, Quick Resume works with 4 to 12 games, but the amount depends on which ones are using the functionality. New generation games demand more resources and make the amount more limited, while backwards compatible games need less resources.

Ideally, the Xbox Series X should have a tab dedicated to Quick Resume to let us know precisely which titles are using the feature. When reviewing, it is always a matter of luck whether Quick Resume will be activated.

Games like Yakuza: Like a Dragon, for example, often leave Quick Resume for no reason. In practice, it is a great resource, but not having an organization of it, passing on a false security: it is easy to lose progress with games that stop being in Quick Resume and it is very bad not to be able to manage what uses or not the functionality. This can certainly be improved through software updates, but for now it is a criticism of the current model.

Extremely compact and efficient design

If the Xbox Series X bets on a more robust design, the S Series goes in the opposite direction and delivers an extremely small machine, but bringing the same qualities: a very quiet device that is too cold for what it delivers. It would be a lie to say that the Xbox Series S is ugly, because it is far from the case. For comparison, the video game is less than half of an Xbox One Fat.

Fortunately, there is not much to report about noise and temperature. In addition to being practically inaudible like the other Xbox of the generation, the thermal sensation of the console is very pleasant, since it has always remained very cold (a little warmer than the Series X, but not more than a warm temperature).

The product follows the design line of the Microsoft family, but adopts some parts that exhibit a cheaper appearance, with a fan plug fitted under the housing instead of mounted around the part, as we see in the X version. come in white, in a short time of use it was possible to see dirt marks – nothing worrying, but important to note.

The biggest difference in the chassis is in the absence of the optical disc, something that excludes the console from functions like Blu-ray player and running physical games of all generations. So, if you have backward compatible games on disk, you won’t be able to use them here. Other embezzlement involves the loss of the digital audio output at the rear, the input for Kinect and the HDMI input for other devices.

Respect control that maintains quality and improves fundamentals

Famous for its ergonomics, the Xbox Series S controller maintains its qualities, but enhances elements that make it even better, such as a redesigned D-Pad that follows the foundation of the Elite Controller, which brings more responsive and pleasant to use “arrows”, with non-slip textures on the rear and triggers, and the addition of the Share button, which makes capturing more easily. They may seem few, but they are excellent changes.

As much as it looks identical to its predecessor, with the same button layout, P2 connection for headphones and input for accessories, it is slightly smaller, now has USB-C input and brings advanced technological features. An example is Dynamic Input Latency (DLI), which basically causes the console to update command signal reception more often and ensure a much better response time. For PC gamers, the controller has become friendlier to connect to Windows 10.

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However, there is a single observation capable of generating discussions on the internet: the accessory still uses batteries and does not bring the Play and Charge kit from the factory. Of course, there are advantages to offering a quick change of power source, but ideally it would be great if the battery came from the factory with the product, bringing the best of both worlds.

Finally, know that the old Play and Charge battery still works with the new controller (there’s just no USB-C cable in the box) and that both generations of the peripheral, the Series S and One, can be used on all current Microsoft consoles.

Services will be an essential part of the Xbox ecosystem

Continuing the extremely consolidated foundation that Microsoft has built for years, the Xbox Series X is very prepared to have the best ecosystem of services and functions of the consoles. If you value the high quality of the Game Pass, know that you will be well attended.

Microsoft is increasingly expanding the service, which is now even unified with EA Access, the equivalent of EA Games. In addition, the company is very focused on its Smart Delivery seal or “Smart Delivery” (official translation in Portuguese), which means that games of the past generation do not need to be bought again in the new generation, have saves and even crossplay between the generations.

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Worth it?

The Xbox Series S arrives with an unprecedented proposal in the console market in a generational leap, offering game quality identical to the more powerful brother, the Xbox Series X, but with lower resolutions and a very low price, something that may be attractive for certain target audiences and people who are not willing to invest a lot of money – but still want to have a 9th generation machine.

However, it is good to think a lot about what you really expect here. At first, we see games running below 1080p, backwards compatibility that doesn’t use the video game’s spare firepower and even titles confirmed to lack certain features, like ray tracing. Certainly, these are cross-gen games and not first party games that extract each feature or third-party titles that are focused on the new generation, something that should improve the perspective of the device in the near future. At launch, we see that in competent hands, as in Gears 5, this machine can be a powerful tool.

For now, seeing the Xbox Series S raises some red flags that are worth your attention. Storage, which is expected to remain a serious problem in this generation, is even more pronounced. After all, for the price of the SSD expansion card plus the value of the console, it is possible to buy an Xbox Series X and still have money left over, but with the advantage of enjoying much higher image quality and features.

Yes, the Xbox Series S is a compact machine with spectacular hardware engineering. Quiet, tiny and extremely well-cooled. For some audiences who do not value the best possible quality, having a product so compact and still running titles of the 9th generation is something very interesting (and having options is never bad). In addition, it is impressive to see hardware like this running games at 120 fps.

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But if the Xbox One and its competitor proved to be machines that aged quickly, needing premium models to fill some needs, it is curious to think how the Series S will be in 3 or 4 years. Will we still have great support for him? Will we see an early performance bottleneck? Could the video game depend on Microsoft’s cloud technology in the future? Or will it surprise everyone and prove itself a machine that should not be underestimated? It is difficult to judge with the scarce resources we have at the premiere.

The Xbox Series S is a puppy close to the full potential of the monstrous Xbox Series X and raises more doubts: is the cost-benefit, the main attraction of this small machine, worth something? After all, we are talking about a 66% less powerful console, with half the storage and without the option to buy physical disks. We will have to wait and see, because the cheap can be expensive.

The Xbox Series S was kindly provided by Microsoft to conduct this review.

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