Xbox Series S or PC: What to choose in 2021?

2021 is the year of compromises, building a dialogue between your desires, capabilities and common sense. Gamers in the US and Europe understand this perfectly well. There is the Xbox Series S, there is the Xbox Series X at twice the price, and there is the RTX 3060 Ti graphics card, which is even more expensive than Series X. Times are difficult for players, and it is not known when it will feel better. Today we have the most accessible console nextgen on our review.

Microsoft did not postpone and simultaneously with the most powerful console of this generation released a cheaper and more compact version – the Xbox Series S. The manufacturer’s recommended price for the Series S is $300, for the older Series X model – $500. All this is excluding taxes.

First, let’s talk about the console, and then compare it with the Xbox Series X and try to put together a PC assembly at the price of a budget nextgen (on paper). Looking ahead, I will note that initially Series S disappointed me. And then the opinion changed. After all, without context, this white bar really looks weak compared to the older model. But once you add context, the console’s value for money will sparkle with new colors.


Contents:

Is the Xbox Series S still a compromise?

Xbox Series S

Even before the start of sales of consoles, I personally was more inclined to buy an Xbox Series S. I had a Full HD monitor, and updating a home computer in the face of a severe shortage of video cards and the corresponding absurd prices is a stupid idea.

The Xbox Series S seemed to me the kind of compromise that will allow you to stay on the crest of the next generation at a very reasonable price. And her appearance is much more interesting than that of the older model. So the purchase of the Xbox Series X (and 4K TV) was more spontaneous. After all, the inner child overcame the pragmatic bearded man.

Now that the Xbox Series S came to my review, I realized that the child was still right. The Xbox Series S is an extremely compromise console even for a Full HD monitor, as the difference between X and S is not just the resolution the console can handle and the corresponding smaller textures.


Xbox Series S is really beautiful


I believe that this is the most beautiful set-top box of the new generation (and, perhaps, many of the previous ones). The uninitiated would rather mistake it for a wireless speaker, but this white bar with a round black ventilation mesh looks just gorgeous, fits into almost any interior. And thanks to its size, the console is also very inconspicuous. The opinion is subjective, I have heard the opposite, too.

An optical disc drive was sacrificed for cheapness. Accordingly, the games will have to be taken only in “digital”, the secondary market for the owner of Xbox Series S will be closed.

On the front panel of the console there is a glowing logo on the power button, a USB connector and a gamepad sync button. On the back, there are two more USB ports, an HDMI output, a LAN port, and a power jack. There is a port for Kensington Castle nearby, but it is needed more so that you can clip exhibits to the stand.

Another connector is a port for connecting a proprietary memory card that expands SSD storage. So far, only Seagate has released such a 1TB card, and it costs $215 in the States without local taxes. And Xbox Series S is in dire need of storage expansion.

There seems to be nothing to tell about the controller. It is exactly the same as the older model. There is a textured grip and triggers, a button for taking screenshots and recording videos. Only the Xbox Series S gamepad matches the color of its body – white. Not the most practical solution, it can get dirty faster.


Disk space

Xbox Series S Seagate Storage Expansion Card
Xbox Series S Seagate Storage Expansion Card

The Xbox Series S has a 512 GB SSD, but only 364 GB are available for downloading games. And this is very little. Eight games installed – and that’s 20 GB for all the indies. Yes, Xbox Series S games tend to weigh less with smaller textures.

The storage size of the younger model is more than half that of the older model, where 802 GB of 1 TB of memory is available. But games do not weigh the same two times less. FIFA 20, for example, takes up under 50 GB on both the junior console and the older one. The latest Call of Duty with all modes and single player is a monstrous 136GB (on both consoles).

The problem is also that the banal connection of an external SSD-drive or hard drive does not equal the expansion of active storage. You can store games on an external drive, and you can even run games that are backward compatible with Xbox One, Xbox 360, or the original Xbox. But you won’t be able to play games optimized for the new generation from an external storage device.

So far, the only solution is the same expansion card from Seagate, which will increase the total cost of a budget set-top box to the level of the Xbox Series X.


Performance

Xbox Series S Performance

At the same time, the difference in power, in the picture, between the junior and senior models is significant. It is clearly visible on Full HD monitors, less noticeable on Full HD TVs. Because in the second case, you are corny sitting further from the screen.

On paper, we are talking about conditional 4 teraflops on the graphics processor for the Xbox Series S versus 12 teraflops for the X. The GPU clock speed has also been lowered, the graphics chip has fewer computational units (20 versus 52). The clock speed of the eight-core processor has been reduced (3.6 GHz versus 3.8 GHz), the amount of RAM is reduced (10 GB versus 16 GB GDDR6). And the composition of this RAM is heterogeneous: only 8 GB of memory at a speed of 224 GB/s, the remaining 2GB – at a speed of 56 GB/s.

In the mass consciousness, Series S is positioned as a console for playing in Full HD or 1440p resolution, while the older model is capable of native 4K.

Series S soapiness pictures comes in different grades. I tested both consoles on six different games, released at different times and optimized differently for the next generation. And the impressions were extremely mixed. Let’s quickly go over them – and start with perhaps the coolest optimized Forza Horizon 4. You can watch the video sequence at this timecode link.

On Xbox Series S the game is played in 1080p at 60 frames per second. Only the shadows from the headlights are clipped, otherwise it is difficult to notice any significant downgrade. And even the draw range looks very good overall.

In Destiny 2, the differences between the two consoles are minimal. Yes, the drawing range is slightly less, the vegetation on the trees does not look so pleasant, but in terms of shadows, in general, there is parity between the consoles.

In Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice, the differences between the two consoles are much more significant. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice on Series X has three modes: high frame rate, high resolution, and cool grafony. But even in the seemingly “poorer” mode under FPS, the game looks better than in the only mode on the Xbox Series S. There is no complete certainty that the game is being played on the junior console in Full HD resolution.

Hellblade Senua's Sacrifice
Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice comparison X and S

A similar story with Monster Hunter World – there is also a greater choice of graphic settings on the older model. On the Xbox Series S, the game runs at a steady 60 frames per second. However, there are many questions about resolution, textures, and shadows. Some wretchedness of the picture for the new set-top box is clearly visible on the Full HD monitor.

With “The Witcher 3” the situation is the same as with other games for backward compatibility. It is connected with the fact that distributions of games for Xbox One X and One S are launched on new consoles – with all frame rate locks and restrictions on resolution and textures.

But the story with cyberpunk is more interesting. The game seems to be running at 30 frames per second on the Series S, but in the city there is a significant drawdown, the controls become less responsive and sour. There are fewer traffic and fewer passers – by on the streets. I hope that the stability of the frame rate will improve with new patches, and everything will be absolutely perfect when the versions of the game optimized for the new generation are released sometime at the end of the year.


Can you build a gaming computer for $330?

In 2021, such a question looks like a mockery. It is enough to look at the video card market to understand: one modern video card can easily cost more than $400. Some hopes were still pinned on the release of the RTX 3060 at a suggested price of $330, but in Pakistan it is already being sold at twice the price. I doubt that in other parts of the world the situation will be radically different.

Gigabyte GeForce RTX 3060 Eagle
Gigabyte GeForce RTX 3060 Eagle

Even the GTX 1050 Ti, worthless by modern standards, with 4 GB of video memory, released in 2016, can cost more than the Xbox Series S. Although not always.

So a build that can fit in a budget of around $330 will be incredibly controversial. You can start with a pair of AMD Ryzen 5 3500X (boxed version) or Ryzen 5 2600 processor and RX 550 graphics card. YouTube videos showing the RX 550 4GB testing. At low graphics settings at 720p in The Witcher 3, you can achieve almost 60 frames per second in Novigrad, and in Rainbow Six Siege you can even play at 1080p with a decent frame rate.

AMD Ryzen 5 3500X
AMD Ryzen 5 3500X

Or use the same GTX 1050 Ti. But! This is where our entire budget ends. And there is still the purchase of RAM, a motherboard, a power supply unit, a case, a hard drive … And our budget computer is no longer a budget one, and the hardware in it turns out to be of the “entry” level. At the same time, and without any reserve for future upgrades: we will take the cheapest motherboard, in which a more efficient processor will be scary to install.

And this assembly will be without a definite game future. How long will it take until such a combination of a processor and a video card will still give an acceptable frame rate in new games? And I would like to play new items, albeit with a year’s delay, but still. So the assembly of a computer in today’s scarce conditions with a sober mind and a limited budget should be paused. Until better times. Maybe they will come, as promised by the iron manufacturers, in the second half of the year.


Conclusions

Xbox Series S and GeForce RTX 3080 size comparision

The picture of the Xbox Series S in unoptimized projects turns out to be noticeably worse than in the case of the older model. Much depends on whether the developers want to optimize their older games for a minor console. But we can definitely say that Microsoft projects, and therefore Bethesda on the console, will be workable and playable.

It seems to me that the console has a reserve for the future. AMD seems to want to show its technology for upscaling images via neural networks in the spring. The price of the set-top box compared to everything else on the market is simply excellent. For a Full HD TV, it is enough for the eyes. For those who play, and do not consider textures and are not picky about graphics, the cake itself is for its price.

This is a great option for budget gaming and for those who are thinking about upgrading their PC. In the computer hardware market in general and in the video card market in particular, a real madness is going on. And until the cryptocurrency rush is over, you can forget about the normalization of prices. Even if the manufacturers promise to overcome the deficit in the second half of the year, here and now video cards cost two, three, four times their nominal value. The RTX 3060, which is set to become popular for its $330, will sell for several times more.

Much easier to find an Xbox Series S at a reasonable price and not to sweat it. With GamePass and the ability to buy them cheaply in India or Turkey for two or three years, this is a great deal. Unless, of course, you play games and grafon is not critically important to you. Otherwise, you will not go anywhere, you will have to invest more than twice and buy Series X.