Back during E3 2018, Xbox boss Phil Spencer said that Microsoft was working on several future Xbox consoles, probably to silence speculation that Microsoft might not be keen on continuing with hardware after a sluggish generation, at least compared to the Xbox 360. Just months before E3 last year, when the platform holder was about to officially announce the next-generation Xbox, Sony beat them to it with news of PlayStation 5, and Sony also came to dominate the buzz ahead of the next generation, no doubt helped by the leak of the dev-unit that had been sent out to lots of studios.
However, in December 2019, it was Microsoft's turn to surprise us. During The Game Awards, the company unveiled its upcoming console, revealed the thing's name, presented the new controller, and showed off the first game for it, Senua's Saga: Hellblade II. Since then, Microsoft has had the best coverage in the media with lots of reveals regarding all aspects of the console.
So there is a lot we know about the Xbox Series X, but there are also lots of things we don't know. As in the case of the PlayStation 5, it is not known what it will cost or when it will be released. But to start with what we know: Microsoft continues to work with AMD, which delivers some of the most important components of the console, most notably the CPU (the main processor of the console, which basically controls the hardware) and the GPU (the graphics processor that renders what is being shown on your screen while playing).
At first glance, the console is very similar to the PS5 and also has a modified eight-core Zen 2 processor, but there are a few differences. Microsoft has never been shy about the goal to deliver the most powerful console of the next generation, and quite accurately, the CPU is slightly faster than its main competitor. It runs at a fixed clock frequency of 3.8GHz in games that use only one core, as well as 3.66GHz when several are used.
This continues even when we look at the graphics processor (a Custom RDNA 2, 52 CUs at 1.825GHz) that delivers 12 TFLOPS in computer performance, which is the main factor Microsoft uses in its marketing. The Xbox Series X simply has a computing capacity that is so much higher than that of the PlayStation 5 that it corresponds to more than an entire PS4's worth of power. But of course, that's not the whole truth. Just as I pointed out in the PlayStation 5 article, there are several factors to take into account, including how Sony mainly chose to focus on a really fast SSD hard drive.
The Xbox Series X also has an SSD hard drive as standard as well, and it's also 175 gigabytes larger, but it is only half as fast. Exactly what the hardware differences between the consoles ultimately will lead to remains to be seen, but expect Microsoft to call its console the most powerful a lot, which is something that holds water despite the nuances of each respective design.
Microsoft has promised to show off its console properly and tell us the what we need to know about it in connection with an event in June. No date has yet been confirmed, and the company is likely stalling for now and waiting to see what Sony does next (which also applies in the other direction).
When Microsoft revealed what the Xbox Series X looked like in December, many people reacted to the unconventional design. If the Gamecube was a cube, this is more like a... tower. The console resembles a PC tower and it is also fairly large (15.1 cm × 15.1 cm × 30.1 cm). Only the original PlayStation 3 has ever been larger, and both the size and the shape come from the fact that Microsoft wants a good cooling solution, which they believe they achieve with this design. However, it is worth pointing out that the Xbox Series X can also be used laying down, which makes it a fit on a regular TV unit.
The console comes with a new controller, which at first glance is very similar to the one that comes with the Xbox One. The most obvious difference, however, is that this has a button called Share for quickly taking photos and videos you can, you know, share, even though the details of this feature have not yet been confirmed. The handset also uses dual AA batteries, and according to Microsoft, surveys have shown that users are about 50/50 if they prefer this to a built-in battery. Therefore, there are also battery packs that are basically the equivalent of having a built-in battery. The controller also supports Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE) so you can, for example, sync them to your mobile phone, and the controller also has built-in memory to remember which devices you have paired it to, which will especially handy if you end up using Project xCloud.
Anyone who already has an Xbox One controller will also be able to continue using it, as both games and accessories from Xbox One work for the Xbox Series X. In the case of the games, this also includes selected titles from the original Xbox as well as the Xbox 360. Often with further improvements due to the increased performance. Microsoft compares this to the PC world where you can (nearly) always keep playing your old games.
You will be able to buy games digitally or on Blu-ray, and just like the Xbox One S and X, the new console has an Ultra HD Blu-ray optical drive. One feature for those games that Microsoft is a little extra proud of is Smart Delivery; titles that support this can be bought for your Xbox One, and then get upgraded for free if or when you buy more powerful hardware. That way you won't have to buy multiple versions of the same game, something many of you surely have done this generation.
As you might have expected, Xbox Game Pass will continue to be a big deal for Microsoft, where those who have the service will receive all first-party games for the Xbox Series X the same day they are released. It also includes things like the aforementioned Senua's Saga: Hellblade II and Halo Infinite. Microsoft has also flagged that during a transitional period, they will release their own first-party titles to both Xbox One and Xbox Series X. Thus, we can expect plenty of people to play with online from the start, and it is of course a very user-friendly approach. That said, some have expressed concern that it makes it more difficult to take full advantage of the new generation's performance.
Another concern is the storage space of 1 terabyte. That may sound like a lot, but games are huge today and with more high-resolution assets, they'll get even bigger during the next console generation. However, just like with PlayStation 5, you will be able to split the games upon installation so at least you don't have to keep things you don't want. For example, languages other than your own or the ability to remove single-player when you have finished a game and just want to have the multiplayer.
However, it will still be tough and SSD hard drives are not wallet-friendly products. Microsoft has solved this in a somewhat surprising way, namely with 1 terabyte memory cards. What these will cost is unknown, but the socket is on the back, and it seems reasonable that in the future it will also be launched in larger sizes. This makes it easy to expand the memory, even though we know from experience that proprietary storage formats tend to be expensive as well.
When it comes to games and Xbox One, Microsoft has often received harsh criticism this generation for releasing too few, too small and not enough good games. And there is definitely something that has truth to it, especially as Nintendo and Sony over-delivered with magnificient games during this generation. Fortunately, the criticism has been heard by Microsoft and Xbox Game Studios is more than twice the size now than compared to the beginning of the current generation, thanks to the acquisition of Ninja Theory and Obsidian, among others, but also the founding of a prestigious developer such as The Initiative in Santa Monica.
Master Chief's return to Halo Infinite is of course the big draw, and last month Microsoft revealed several games from smaller developers that are on their way to the new console, not least The Ascent, The Medium and Scorn (where the latter two are PC and Xbox Series X exclusives). In addition, it has been a while since Turn 10 and Playground released a Forza game, indicating that they have been working on something for quite some time. Playground is also working on a role-playing game, which is rumoured to be Fable-related.
We also know that Ninja Theory is making the horror game Project: Mara and that Rare is working on Everwild, a game we don't know very much about at the moment. However, Microsoft has promised to show off its first-party games in connection with a streamed event in July, so stay tuned for more on that soon.
What the Xbox Series X will cost and when the console will release has not been confirmed as yet. However, Microsoft has announced that it will launch later this year, and most analysts believe in November with a price tag of between $449- $599, where around $500 seems the most likely. Hopefully, it won't be long before we can come back with a date for when the Xbox Series X will get its final presentation in the coming weeks, but now you at least know what's up.