Xbox Series S games, specs, price, how it compares to Xbox Series X

Now that we're less than a week from launch, here's the essential info you need.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
7 min read

Update, Nov. 5: Read our reviews of the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.

Microsoft's  much anticipated next-gen Xbox Series X console will be hitting store shelves very soon, but it has a challenger from its own house: The less powerful, less expensive Xbox Series S, which targets 1440p, all-digital gameplay rather than 4K. It costs $300 (£250, AU$499), and like the Series X will ship Nov. 10 and entered preorder at the same time. And it's looking very attractive compared to its higher-end but $200 more expensive sibling

Unlike the Series X, there doesn't seem to be a direct competitor for it in the PS5 camp; the closest is the $400 PS5 Digital Edition, but that's a 4K box (can we even call the twisty tower-shaped PS5 a box?).

Watch this: Unboxing the Xbox Series S: See what's inside

The Series S will deliver 1440p at up to 120 frames per second, incorporate a Velocity Architecture 512GB SSD with support for the $220 1TB Seagate expansion SSD -- the expansion costs almost as much as the console -- and be able to upscale games to 4K and stream media at 4K. 

Read more: Unboxing Xbox Series S: Everything in the box

It'll also support the same next-gen features as the Series X, including DirectX ray tracing, variable rate shading, variable refresh rate and "ultra-low latency" (which likely means Microsoft's Dynamic Latency with the controller). It incorporates the same processor as its $500 sibling, though running at a slower clock speed, and a lower-power version of the same graphics processing unit, with slower 10GB memory instead of 16GB. 

The cheaper console bore the code name of Xbox Lockhart, and we first heard about the second next-gen Xbox launching alongside the more powerful Series X when developer notes leaked in June. Announced on Sept. 8, Microsoft dropped the announcement after almost everything had leaked already -- a week earlier than the company had planned.

We're not complaining about that. 

How much will it cost and when can we get it?

A la carte, the console costs $300, is in preorder now and will ship beginning Nov. 10. You can also get it as part of the $25-per-month Xbox All Access subscription, which includes Xbox Game Pass Ultimate as well as the two-year console lease. Or you could, if it was in stock anywhere.

Read more: Xbox Series S preorders are sold out, but here's where to check inventory

Watch this: PS5 vs. Xbox Series X: Full comparison

Will older Xbox models stick around at a lower price?

Microsoft has already discontinued production of the Xbox One S Digital and the Xbox One X . As for the Xbox One S, Microsoft says, "Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S will coexist alongside the Xbox One family of devices, delivering a generational leap in power, performance and compatibility. We have no further details to share on production timelines of Xbox One S at this time."

How does it differ from the Xbox Series X?

The Series S is about a half the size of the Series X. That's in line with the spec differences, which include the same eight-core AMD processor running at a slower 3.6GHz (3.4GHz with simultaneous multithreading, or SMT), a 512GB SSD and a similar AMD RDNA 2.0 GPU with half the compute units (20) and a slower clock speed (1.565GHz). It also has only 10GB of GDDR6 (8GB at 224GBps allocated to GPU, 2GB at 56GBps, compared to 16GB), which results in one-third of the bandwidth, 4TFLOPS instead of 12TFLOPS. 


The Xbox Series S with the Series X and PS5.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Those differences should be fine for the lower target resolution of 1440p instead of 4K. And all of it means the Series S will generate far less heat and require less power than the Series X, which means less active and passive cooling required. Combine that with the lack of an optical drive, and the company was able to cut a lot of volume out of the console.

Read more: The best TVs for gaming in 2020: Low input lag and high picture quality

The biggest challenge for a living-room-bound Series S compared to the Series X is finding a TV that supports the 1440p maximum resolution rather than forcing it to dial back to 1080p. Most TVs do 1080p or 4K (or both). But if the console is cohabiting with your workspace, there are a ton of compatible monitors you can connect to it. 

How is it the same as the Xbox Series X?

It supports the exact same programming interfaces and the capabilities they enable. For games that incorporate it, DXR acceleration gives developers the opportunity to render far more accurate lighting, shadows and reflections without negatively affecting performance and without a lot of the optimization overhead otherwise required. And VRS lets developers choose where they can save processing power while rendering a frame based on how visually important an area is and how noticeable a slightly rougher render might be. 

That means that games integrating it may also be able to sustain higher frame rates with better-looking graphics in select scenes than they might otherwise have had. In addition to supporting variable refresh rates -- letting the console sync game frame rates with compatible TVs or monitors to minimize artifacts like stutter and tearing caused by mismatches -- HDMI 2.1 adds ALLM, or Auto Low Latency Mode, which automatically sets the display to its fastest response mode, and which has been available in TVs from manufacturers like Sony and  LG  for at least a year. 

Watch this: Here's why the Xbox is all-in with cloud gaming

Microsoft brought back Quick Resume, a feature it introduced and then deprecated about five years ago. Previously, it allowed you to suspend (rather than exit) a single game and pick it up exactly where you left off, but now it will be able to do so for multiple games.

While it's designed to hit a lower resolution than the Xbox One S was, overall it should be a lot faster for the same reasons as the Xbox Series X -- the faster and more efficient processing plus use of solid-state storage for vastly better load times.

Xbox Series S vs. Xbox Series X

Xbox Series XXbox Series S
Processor 8-core AMD Ryzen Zen 2-architecture CPU at 3.8GHz (3.6GHz with SMT)8-core AMD Ryzen Zen 2-architecture CPU at 3.6GHz (3.4GHz with SMT)
Graphics AMD Navi/RDNA 2-family GPU with 52 CU at 1.825GHz (12TFLOPS FP32)AMD Navi/RDNA 2-family GPU with 20 CU at 1.565GHz (4TFLOPS)
Video memory 16GB GDDR6 with 14Gbps 320-bit interface (10GB at 560GB/s allocated to GPU, 6GB at 336GB/s allocated to rest of system with 3.5GB for GPU)10GB GDDR6 (8GB at 224GB/s allocated to GPU, 2GB at 56GB/s allocated to rest of system)
Storage 1TB NVMe SSD PCIe 4.0; proprietary 1TB SSD add-on module; USB 3.2 external HDD support512gb NVMe SSD PCIe 4.0; proprietary 1TB SSD add-on module; USB 3.1 external HDD support
Optical drive Yes, 4K Blu-rayNo
Maximum output resolution 8K 60fps; 4K 120fps1440p 120fps
Audio Ray tracedRay traced
New controller features Share button, Dynamic Latency InputShare button, Dynamic Latency Input
Console streaming Yes (Remote Play)Yes (Remote Play)
Backward compatibility Xbox One and supported Xbox 360 and Xbox gamesXbox One and supported Xbox 360 and Xbox games
Subscription tie-in Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Game Pass UltimateXbox Game Pass, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
Streaming apps at launch
Apple TV Plus; same apps as Xbox One
Apple TV Plus; same apps as Xbox One
Dimensions 5.9 x 5.9 x 11.9 in/151 x 151 x 301 mm10.8 x 5.9 x 2.5/275 x 151 x 63.5mm
Release date Nov. 10Nov. 10
Price $500, £450, AU$749$300, £250, AU$499

What about games?

By design, all the new game features highlighted for the Series X are compatible with the Series S, and they have the same support for the new wireless controller and other  peripherals . That means Series S owners will have the same games list and launch dates as the Series X. 

 Day 1 titles and titles slated to launch within a month of the two Xbox  consoles  include:

More notable titles confirmed for the console include:

Xbox Game Pass will continue to be the major vault subscription option for the console. The Series S also offers Xbox Console Streaming, now called Remote Play, a feature that lets you play Xbox games on your phone that are running on your console.

You'll also be able to hand off games from the console to PC or mobile device (via what was formerly called Project xCloud). The service launched as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, and it lets you play selected Game Pass games on your phone or tablet that are running on remote pseudo-Xboxes rather than on your local console.

Forza Motorsport for Xbox Series X will run in 4K at 60 fps, have ray tracing

See all photos

Will older Xbox games work on it?

Yes, it's backward compatible as far as the original Xbox, and many of them will play and look better, thanks to the component upgrades that apply to every game running on the console. Unlike the transition from earlier generations, this one should go more smoothly. The new hardware is mostly just faster versions of the previous components, and the last Xbox One operating system also used DirectX 12 and supported HDMI 2.1, so at least there's nothing that requires emulation or rewriting. But it lacks an optical drive, so that may be a hurdle to face playing older games.

Watch this: The console wars are over now that Xbox Game Pass includes xCloud

Microsoft has called out at least two new features to improve the experience of running multigenerational games: HDR reconstruction, for automatically tonemapping SDR games to HDR, and Smart Delivery. When you pay for a game, it gives you the rights to that game for both Xbox One models, Series S and Series X, and automatically chooses the correct version. But it's also optional for developers and publishers (here's a list of games offering it), and it's not clear whether it applies to older games you've already paid for. We've started to see publishers charge $10 extra for "bundles" that include both versions.

Will it include the new controller?

Yes. Though not as radically redesigned as the consoles, the new wireless controller will be backward-compatible with older models. It's based on the current Xbox Elite Wireless model but has a reworked D-pad and a share button. Microsoft has also done some work on reducing the wireless lag -- and thereby increasing the responsiveness -- between the display and the controller with what it calls dynamic latency input. The D-pad, triggers and bumper also have a tactile matte finish to give the controller a bit more grip when playing.

Much of the controller remains the same, including its use of AA batteries instead of a built-in rechargeable battery. Microsoft says this choice was to keep the flexibility for those gamers who want disposable batteries and those who prefer rechargeables.