Microsoft has given some publications free rein to publish reports on the Xbox Series X — or, at least, on certain features of the Xbox Series X. These are not full reviews; they specifically focus on the Xbox Series X’s backward compatibility. The Xbox Series S has not been tested or discussed in these articles.
Ars Technica and VentureBeat both tested various aspects of the Xbox Series X’s performance in older games, and how its SSD impacts these titles. First, Microsoft hasn’t been kidding about how much the new architecture cuts loading times:
Image by Ars Technica
Red Dead Redemption loads in 42 percent the time it took previously. Halo 5 loads 60 percent faster, while Ori is 3x faster. Borderlands 3 is nearly 4x faster. Even better, all of these games also show improvements when played from a USB 3.1 HDD, and the gains are still appreciable in every title. Keep in mind that these comparisons are against an Xbox One X — in every case where the Xbox One X is faster to load than the Xbox One/One S, the improvements would be commensurately larger.
My guess is that the improvements in USB 3.1 performance over the Xbox One X are related to the CPU. The interface itself should be running at the same speed. I’m not going to swear to it, but this test ought to be a very rough proxy for how moving from Jaguar to Zen 2 has improved storage performance.
Ars Technica includes some title-by-title analysis. PUBG is faster, but still struggles to maintain a 60 fps frame rate. GTA IV now runs at a rock-solid 6 fps, up from a wavering <50fps on XB1. Final Fantasy XV can hold a steady frame rate in 1080p “lite” unlocked mode, where the XB1 reportedly stuttered. Ars published a pair of screenshots that demonstrate the visual improvement from the XB1 to the XSX extremely well:
Xbox One crop to 1080p. Image by Ars Technica. Click to enlarge. Images best compared by opening each in a new window.
Xbox Series X crop. Image by Ars Technica. Images best compared by opening each in a separate window.
Meanwhile, over at VentureBeat, the reports are similar. Final Fantasy XV loads in 13 seconds. No Man’s Sky loads in 30 seconds, down from 79. Quick Resume allows you to leap from game to game in seconds, and it can hold multiple games simultaneously. Ars reports that it appears to be capable of juggling 10-12 older games and expects that number to be lower with new titles due to a larger NVMe footprint required to save their states. Currently, the console does not warn you when a title will be pushed out of Quick Resume, which hopefully will be addressed by future updates.
VentureBeat writes that copying games from external archive storage to the primary console is also fairly quick, and gives some benchmark times for the operations:
Data by VentureBeat
They’ve also posted performance graphs for multiple games, comparing direct fps performance from the XB1 to the XSX, one of which is below:
Both articles praise the machine while withholding final judgment for full reviews, but VentureBeat’s final paragraph captures opinions well:
Microsoft designed the Xbox Series X to address the shortcomings that developers and gamers have had to deal with since 2013. The weak CPU that has held back world design and simulation complexity. The old laptop-style hard drives that slowed down the interface and the games. And the I/O architecture that would bottleneck even an internal SSD. All of that is why I veered so hard into PC gaming in 2015, and I’m hoping that the launch of the Xbox Series X will enable us to bury those tired old machines.
Indeed. Sentiments like this are why I don’t buy the doom statements from organizations like DFC Intelligence, which has been sending me emails for months with subjects such as “Will Sony Win the Console War by default?” and “Microsoft Throws Hail Mary with Xbox Series S.” This is not to say that Microsoft will win the console war this generation — Sony comes into this fight with the enormous advantage of incumbency — but the Xbox Series X heads towards the ring in a vastly better position than the Xbox One occupied seven years ago.
Microsoft isn’t trying to sell gamers a weird hybrid box with motion controls, Big Brother concerns, and lower raw performance than the competition. The Xbox Series X has better and more complete backward compatibility than the PlayStation 5 and a larger GPU than the PlayStation 5. The PS5 has incumbency, PS4 backward compatibility, and VR support. Microsoft is also bracketing Sony’s pricing. The Xbox Series X is offering better hardware than the PS5 based on everything we know to date, but offering better hardware is not always key to winning the console war, or else the Xbox Series X would have become a runaway success for Microsoft post-launch.