Hype for Xbox Series X has been building for months, but now that Microsoft has confirmed the existence of a $299 Series S — and now that we’ve seen a leak claiming a $499 price tag for the Series X — we have a better idea of what the full Xbox lineup will look like when both allegedly launch in November.
A Budget-Friendly Series S Makes Room for a Pricier Series X
Ever since we got our first look at the Series X hardware, we knew it probably wasn’t going to be a $400 machine. With an 8-core CPU, next-gen 12 teraflop graphics with hardware-accelerated ray tracing, and super-fast storage, the Series X is sporting some pretty powerful hardware for a console. Many, including some of us at IGN, did not think a $600 price tag was outside the realm of possibility.
It’d be a hard sell to console gamers, though, who are not used to PC-level price tags. A $300 Series S gives Microsoft some leeway, allowing budget-minded gamers to buy an affordable console with next-gen capabilities – though just how big a difference there is between the S and the Series X remains to be seen – while the hardcore crowd opts for the more powerful machine. $299 is a great price for what the Series S purports to do — 1440p at up to 120 frames per second is a great balance between resolution and refresh rate, and with modern features like ray tracing and variable refresh rate, it’s a worthy system for anyone looking to game on a budget. You’d easily spend that much on a GPU for similar gameplay on a PC, though I’m sure the Series S will be cutting some corners in ways we haven’t seen yet.
In fact, this is exactly what Microsoft did with the Xbox One X and One S: the higher-end One X retailed for $499 at launch, boasting 4K gaming capabilities while the One S packed less powerful hardware into an accessible $300 system. It’s hard to say whether this was a good strategy, since Microsoft was already trailing Sony in sales before the One X and One S launched, but it made sense since approximately two thirds of US households don’t even have a 4K TV and would not benefit much from a One X. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Xbox Series X launch at that rumored $499 price at all.
How Would a Comparable PC Stack Up?
If you were to build a computer with similar capabilities to the Series X today, though, it’d likely cost quite a bit more than that.
The Xbox Series X, like other consoles, will use an 8-core, 3.8 GHz CPU based on AMD’s latest Zen 2 architecture. Technically, it runs at 3.6 GHz when simultaneous multi-threading (SMT) is turned on for a total of 16 threads, and 3.8 GHz when limited to eight threads. It’ll also contain integrated graphics (what AMD calls an APU), which makes comparisons tough — as of right now, there is no APU in the desktop market that even comes close to what Microsoft is promising for the Series X. AMD’s most powerful model is the Ryzen 5 3400G, which is only four cores with 1400 MHz of graphics horsepower. Newer APUs are on the horizon, though. The Ryzen 7 4700G is expected to cost around $300, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about those next-gen chips.
Of course, if you were to build a gaming PC, you probably wouldn’t go for an APU with integrated graphics anyway — you’d grab a standalone CPU with a dedicated graphics card. The $289 Ryzen 7 3700X is the closest equivalent to the Series X’s CPU, though it’s likely a bit more powerful than what the Series X will have, thanks to its boost clock of 4.4 GHz. But it’s not too far off in terms of core count, clock speed, and architecture.
The GPU is slightly tougher to nail down — we don’t have an equivalent yet, since currently-available cards are still using AMD’s RDNA architecture as opposed to the upcoming RDNA 2. The closest thing AMD currently sells is the Radeon RX 5700 XT for around $400, and that doesn’t support hardware-accelerated ray tracing like the Series X will do. Nvidia’s ray tracing-capable cards start at around $300 for the RTX 2060 and go up from there. (The upcoming 30 series cards are newer, but still much more expensive — and powerful — than anything we’re talking about here.)
The rest is pretty easy, but the cost does add up. Looking at memory, the Series X is using 16GB of DDR6 RAM, some of which is allocated to the GPU and some of which is allocated to the operating system and other components. Since the graphics cards we discussed above contain 6 to 8GB of DDR6 RAM, let’s split the difference and put an 8GB stick in our imaginary machine for just over $30. Plop in a 1TB NVMe SSD for $135 and a UHD-friendly Blu-ray drive for $100, and you’ve got a decent approximation of the parts you’d put in a comparable off-the-shelf PC — albeit without a lot of the fascinating custom work Microsoft has done.
Putting It Together
So our comparable PC looks something like:
…and I haven’t even mentioned the motherboard, power supply, and chassis to hold everything together, but we’re already pushing the $900-1000 mark for our fantasy PC, depending on your hardware. Microsoft’s console isn’t going to be anywhere near that, since they’re getting bulk pricing on these parts, not to mention custom components that can cut the cruft they don’t need.
Still, with the power required to match Microsoft’s promises, I have little doubt they’ll be selling a $499 Xbox Series X at a loss — just as they likely were with the Xbox One and Xbox One X. Microsoft says that’s okay, and that their goal isn’t to rake in money on console sales alone. Microsoft historically made more revenue on games and licensing than the hardware itself, and going forward, they see a lot of other ways to make money than just hardware.
Remember, we’re in the age of subscriptions and services. Game Pass membership is rising, Play Anywhere allows you to play games on your PC, and soon xCloud will let you stream those games to your phone. Getting an Xbox in your living room is just about hooking you into Microsoft’s ecosystem, where your monthly payments will fill their coffers just fine. A few bucks lost per console is a small price to pay for long-term customer loyalty.
For more details on the battle of Xbox Series X vs PS5, check out our comparison charts that puts the specs of each new next-gen console side-by-side.
Whitson Gordon is a writer, gamer, and tech nerd who has been building PCs for ten years. He eats potato chips with chopsticks so he doesn’t get grease on his mechanical keyboard.