Microsoft announced the price of the Xbox Series X yesterday, one day after the Xbox Series S price and positioning leaked. Finally. Now that they have, we know the bigger, more powerful platform will be $499. That’s an amazing price, given the quality of the hardware under the hood.
The Xbox Series X features an eight-core Ryzen CPU based on the Zen 3 architecture, clocked at either 3.8GHz or 3.6GHz with SMT enabled. It has a 52 CU version of RDNA2, when the RDNA architecture AMD launched last year with just 40 CUs is more than a match for the RTX 2070. It uses an SSD storage solution that’s reportedly a match for high-end PC SSDs already on the market, and while reports of 8K gaming are greatly exaggerated, this console is absolutely designed to push 4K.
To show how dramatic a difference this is, consider the specs of the Xbox One compared with what was considered top-end hardware at the time. It used a well-regarded but low-power CPU, not a high-end desktop chip. It used a GPU whose closest comparison was the AMD Radeon HD 7790. When AMD launched the RX 280 in the fall of 2013, it featured 2048 cores. The 768 cores inside the Xbox One represented about 1/3 of the horsepower AMD was shipping on the PC. They also ran at much lower clock targets than their PC counterparts, with the Jaguar CPU core clocked at 1.75GHz at a time when PCs were well above 3GHz and the GPU was clocked at 853MHz when chips like the R9 280X were hitting 1GHz.
The CPU, GPU, and SSD inside the Xbox Series X are all much closer to what we consider high-end equipment in the PC space than what Microsoft shipped for $500 in 2013, and the difference isn’t solely in the ~$100 allocated for Kinect. Microsoft could have played it safe with a lower-clocked Ryzen and a smaller GPU core. Instead, it went all-out on hardware relative to the console’s price point. Rather than sticking to lower clocks, Microsoft has emphasized that the platform runs at clock speeds only modestly lower than AMD’s top-end eight-core desktop CPUs.
Last time Microsoft and Sony launched new consoles, there was a lot of back and forth about whether you build a computer for the same price that would outperform a console. The answer, for the Xbox Series X, is going to be “Absolutely not.” There’s no chance. The RTX 3080 looks like a good deal, but it’s not good enough to shove a GPU like the 5700 XT from the current low price of $379 down to the $200 maximum price point it would have to hit to make the build feasible. Similarly, the Ryzen 7 3700X is still a $300 CPU.
There are, of course, plenty of reasons why someone might prefer to game on PC instead of Xbox, starting with: “PCs have more games I like.” Some people like controllers, some people hate them. Some people want to game on their living room TVs, some prefer a monitor. I don’t expect to see tons of people switching from one platform to another just because the Xbox Series X is a good deal on launch day.
But as far as technical capabilities are concerned, unless Microsoft has seriously screwed something up, the Xbox Series X is going to deliver performance that would cost you much more than $500 to build in a brand-new PC. I don’t even need to argue over questions like whether the cost of the OS and peripherals should count. It’ll probably be possible to upgrade a PC to match or beat the Xbox Series X for under $500 if you’ve got most of what you need already, but there’s no way to build a brand-new machine of equal or better performance for the same amount of money.