Microsoft has sent a few Xbox Series X consoles to select journalists and YouTubers earlier this month, and the first previews have been published today. While these lucky testers are only allowed to discuss certain aspects of the next-gen console including storage speeds and performance when playing backwards compatible games, there’s a lot of interesting new details in the different hands-on we’ve read this morning.
Sam Machkovech from Ars Technica has the most detailed overview by far, but we also recommend you to check out the posts from The Verge’s Tom Warren, IGN’s Ryan McCaffrey, VentureBeat’s Jeff Grubb, and GameSpot’s Michael Higham. We tried to articulate their most interesting comments below, and we’ll start with the console’s overall design
A premium looking-console that you’ll need to take care of
We’ve already seen plenty of pictures of the Xbox Series X now, but holding the consoles in your hands is certainly a different thing. "It is hefty, but in a good way. When you hold it, it feels like a premium, $500 thing, for whatever that’s worth,” wrote IGN’s Ryan McCaffrey.
If most early testers seem to agree that the overall design and build quality is nice, Sam Machkovech from Ars Technica noted that the matte black finish can be easily scratched. "I found this out when posing Series X for an Ars photo gallery last week, with some of my photos including an iconic controller-on-top pose. While taking those photos, I slid the packed-in Xbox controller across one of the console's longer sides. I only did this once. And yet, this Series X is now permanently scratched with three thin but clearly visible scratch marks."
The same journalist added that the console is pretty much a fingerprint magnet. "If you can imagine yourself regularly picking up and moving a Series X around your home, even your cleanest fingerprints will still leave a trace of mild finger-oil residue—arguably because you'll want to carefully grip the 9.8lb console when schlepping it from one room to the next.”
We were really interested to learn if the Xbox Series would be quieter or louder than the Xbox One X, and the giant fan at the top of the console is apparently very silent. "Series X, so far, is the quietest Xbox I've ever tested. Back-compat software runs the Series X to a high enough level to activate the fans and unleash noticeable heat dissipation, but I can barely hear it, even while spending hours in current-gen, open-world romps like Destiny 2 and Red Dead Redemption 2," wrote Machkovech.
Ryan McCaffrey from IGN had similar positive comments about the console’s noise, highlighting that it was quieter than the Xbox One X. "It’s almost inaudible when it's idle, and in Red Dead Redemption 2, for instance, it’s still pretty quiet – much more so than the Xbox One X, which gets noticeably louder under full GPU load.”
The next-gen Xbox controller is Microsoft’s best effort
Microsoft didn’t try to reinvent the wheel with its next-gen Xbox Wireless controller, which looks very similar to the Xbox One controller despite being slightly smaller. Overall, VentureBeat’s Jeff Grub thinks that this Microsoft’s best Xbox controllers thanks to subtle refinements and better weight distribution:
“This is Microsoft’s best-feeling gamepad ever, outside the Elite controllers. This is for multiple reasons, such as high-quality materials that have a really nice grip. The button action feels more bubbly and responsive than ever. The sticks are smooth, and the shoulder bumpers require only the slightest effort to activate.
But the biggest improvement is to the heft. I don’t think this controller is that much heavier than the most recent Xbox controller revision. The difference is in the weight distribution. Microsoft put all of the mass into the grips of the controller, and it feels wonderful.”
Faster load times and Quick Resume are true game changers
The different hands-on we’ve read have all emphasized how the Xbox Series X’s custom-designed NVMe SSD drive was a true game changer. But first of all, we finally learned the amount of usable storage that will be available on that 1TB SSD.
“It’s 802 gigabytes of usable space, after OS and system files. When you plug in the very pricey Seagate 1 terabyte storage expansion slot that gives you all of the benefits of the internal drive, it adds 920 gigabytes of usable capacity,” explained IGN’s Ryan McCaffrey.
Thanks to the much faster internal storage, the Xbox Series X is also able to boot “almost instantly” from an always-on state, or in about 10-12 seconds for a cold boot according to McCaffrey. In comparison, the Xbox One X takes almost a minute to boot.
The Quick Resume feature, which can suspend multiple games in the background in their own separate virtual machines also really impressed the different journalists. "In my test, I went from an Xbox waiting in standby mode. I powered it on and then jumped into Grand Theft Auto 4, Sekiro, No Man’s Sky, and Final Fantasy XV in under 90 seconds, wrote VentureBeat’s Jeff Grub.
Tom Warren highlighted that Quick Resume worked “ flawlessly” for most of the games he tested, though the feature won’t be supported for live multiplayer games like Sea of Thieves. "It makes sense, though, since these games can’t quickly resume a live and evolving environment that changes every second,” Warren wrote.
Sam Machkovech from Ars Technica shared more details about Quick Resume and explained that the feature would also be supported for last-gen games stored on external USB 3.1 drives. “In my tests, jumping from one game to the next via Xbox Quick Resume usually clocks in around eight seconds and doesn't exceed 13 seconds, even when grabbing beefy XB1 fare like Red Dead Redemption 2 or Borderlands 3 off a USB 3.1 drive,” Machkovech explained.
The journalist also had noted that as of today, the OS isn’t capable of showing Xbox Series X owners which games are using Quick Resume in the background, or how many games the console can add to the Quick Resume pool. "From the sound of things, Xbox Series-specific games will hold a larger footprint within Quick Resume, so you'll want to exercise mild caution (read: reach a save point) before freezing certain adventure games,” Machkovech wrote.
Last but not least, the Ars Technica journalist confirmed that Quick Resume would also work with physical discs. “Xbox Velocity Architecture treats Quick Resume the same with discs, since they simply act as license checks before loading from a hard drive. Eject one game, insert the next one, wait for disc recognition (about 9 seconds), then watch the Quick Resume process whisk them into gameplay,” he explained.
Gamespot’s Michael Higham probably had the best explanation of Quick Resume, which is probably a unique feature that only a console maker like Microsoft can create. "With Quick Resume, Xbox Series X showcases some genuinely innovative next-gen tech we don't even see on gaming PCs. It's kind of a game changer, literally."
Better performance and much faster load times for last-gen games
Even without specific optimisations from game developers, the NVMe SSD in the Xbox Series X is able to significantly reduce load times in existing Xbox One games. Tom Warren noted that load times can be reduced by more than a minute in games like Sea of Thieves and Destiny 2, and you check out his different comparisons below.
Regarding performance, all journalists also noted that Xbox One games running on Xbox Series X do so with a more stable frame rate. Slow hard drives and weak CPUs often prevented games to reach their performance targets on the Xbox One X, but the Xbox Series X has no such bottlenecks.
Speaking about Destiny 2, Tom Warren from The Verge wrote that "I would regularly notice frame rate drops in Destiny 2 on the Xbox One X when things got a little hectic on screen during a public event or in a raid with mobs of enemies coming at you. I haven’t seen a single stutter running Destiny 2 on the Xbox Series X."
We’re looking forward to watching the usual side by side comparisons made by the experts at Digital Foundry, but the team tweeted this image below showing Dead or Alive 6 running in the 4K graphics mode on both the Xbox Series X and the Xbox One X. The Xbox Series X is able run the game at a locked 60FPS, while the Xbox One X struggles between 30 and 40 FPS
Yes, the embargo has lifted on Xbox Series X backwards compatibility. Our content is just being polished now, but if you want a teaser of the kind of horsepower Series X delivers, here's Dead or Alive 6's 4K graphics mode compared against Xbox One X. pic.twitter.com/K5BhOi5sMQ
— Digital Foundry (@digitalfoundry) September 28, 2020
Going back to the Xbox One X is painful
After reading this first series of hands-on stories, the general sentiment is that when you try playing games on the Xbox Series X, you can’t go back to gaming on an Xbox One X. "The experience of switching back to an Xbox One was genuinely dispiriting. For running my existing Xbox games, the Series X feels like I’ve just upgraded my iPhone— everything feels smoother and faster,” wrote Tom Warren from The Verge.
“It’s clear that your back catalog will get a boost from the new console regardless of whether or not your favorite game has received any specific Series X optimizations. In fact, the SSD spoils you pretty quickly. I already never want to see my Xbox One X ever again,” added IGN’s Ryan McCaffrey.
Lastly, Jeff Grubb from VentureBeat emphasized the fact that the Xbox Series X’s $500 launch price is well justified considering all the aforementioned game changing improvements that gamers should love. "This is simply a better console to use than anything we’ve had since 2013. And anyone who plays on a console every day probably won’t regret that $500 preorder."