As PC gamers, we often hear about what’s happening in the console world with mixed feelings. For years, the friendly rivalry between PC and console players has burned, but with the power of consoles on the rise and the cost of building a PC moving out of reach, we had to ask: Are consoles finally competitive with gaming PCs? We decided to take look at Microsoft’s latest and greatest to find the answer. This is our review of the Xbox One X.
Even as I write these words (“are consoles finally competitive with gaming PCs?”), I can sense the pitchforks being raised, but wait just a minute. Where we find ourselves as PC gamers isn’t a good place. For new PC builders, even a modest GPU like an RX 460 4GB, you can expect to pay upwards of $250. 8GB of the slowest speed DDR4 will approach another $100. By the time you’re done, you could easily be approaching seven of eight hundred dollars with a system that’s going to hit 60FPS at 1080p on high settings.
With the Xbox One X, we have a different kind of solution and one that is uniquely suited to PC gamers. Rather than invest in all of those parts, the Xbox One X is essentially a gaming PC in a nice and quiet $500 box. Inside of its comparatively small body, a 2.3GHz eight-core AMD Jaguar CPU, a custom AMD Radeon GPU with 40 compute units and a clock speed of 1.172GHz, capable of pushing up to six teraflops, and 12GB of shared GDDR5 system memory. It ships with a 1TB hard drive that’s easily expandable, 4K Blu-ray and DVD playback, optical audio, and 802.11a/b/g/n/AC WiFi on top of standard ethernet connectivity and bluetooth. If you have the display for it, the system will also output in 4K and beautiful HDR.
That’s a lot of horsepower for $500. Following a recent GameSpace Gameshow, Poorna Shankar and I had a discussion about whether you could build a computer this capable for under $500. While with second-hand parts it might be possible, building a comparable new PC would be extremely difficult, if not impossible in the current PC building climate. When taken as a whole, the One X is a feat of engineering, and it performs phenomenally well.
This review isn’t going to purport to tell you everything there is to know about the Xbox One platform. By now, you already know the basics of how the system functions. The One X is, after all, a more powerful version of the same Xbox One that’s been out since 2013. Instead, I’m going to share some of my impressions as a PC gamer coming back to consoles in a serious way for the first time in more than a year and coming back to Xbox specifically in a decade.
This is What Consoles Should Look Like
First things first: the graphics. I purchased a PS4 when it released on 2013 but have always been a PC gamer first and foremost. Coming from the PS4, which ostensibly had slightly better graphics (at least in resolution) than many Xbox One games, the One X looks remarkably better. Before receiving my reviewer’s kit, I watched many of the same side-by-side graphics comparisons you probably did but it’s safe to say that they don’t do the system justice. Seeing it for yourself and not in a compressed YouTube video makes an incredible difference.
The bump to 4K resolution, or even 1440p in cases like Kingdom Come: Deliverance, makes a profound difference. Adding the wide color gamut of HDR takes things to an entirely new level, sometimes making more of a difference than the resolution bump. Playing a game like Assassin’s Creed: Origins and making your way from a darkened tomb into the blistering, bright sun of an Egyptian desert is breathtaking the first time you see it. What really surprised me, though, is just how much better the Xbox One X is on a 1080p display.
Our main television, in fact, is standard HD and it was the first set I hooked it up to, wanting that direct comparison to my PlayStation 4. Having spent the last year on PC, when I would move to the PlayStation, you could almost hear it groan trying to pushing out decent visual effects on new games. Even then, compared to my usual gaming PC, settings were scaled back, anti-aliasing was non-existent, and most games would struggle to hold anything close to 60FPS. Coming from a 1440p, 144Hz refreshing rate monitor, games just seemed to chug.
Using the One X on this same display in more than 20 Xbox Enhanced games, that experience was vastly improved in every single case. Even new games like Monster Hunter: World managed to better hold their frame rates while turning on even more graphical effects. In fact, I didn’t encounter many cases at all where games seemed to drop frames. Lighting and shadows are improved. And then there’s supersampling.
Microsoft has spent some time talking about this, and if you’ve dug into the settings on your PC games, you might have seen the option. Supersampling occurs when a game renders at a higher resolution and compresses that image down into a smaller one. On the One X, this takes place when games render at 4K and are output to a 1080p screen and it makes a big difference. Textures and fine details are crisper and easier to make out. It naturally acts as a kind of anti-aliasing, so jagged edges start to disappear.
The first time I played Call of Duty: World War II on my Xbox One X, it took me back to the very first time I’d played CoD on Xbox, back in 2007. The first thought that came to my mind was, “this is what consoles should look like.” Buttery smooth, impressive visuals, responsive… all the things gamers fall in love with before software grows too complex for the hardware. Frankly, it made my PS4 feel old.
1080p pales in comparison to a full 4K HDR experience, but the point is this: just because you have a 1080p screen doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider the Xbox One X. If you’re in the market for a new console, you owe it to yourself to give this a closer look.
But How Does It Compare to PC?
As a gamer used to 1440p, 144Hz display running on two GTX 1080 Tis (previously using a 4K 60Hz display), I was remarkably impressed by how well the One X compared. As PC gamers, we know any console coming in at $500 or less isn’t going to have the same horsepower as a truly high-end gaming PC, but that doesn’t mean isn’t ready to compete. Through some subtle tricks, it’s not as far behind as you might think.
Many Xbox One X games use what’s called checkerboarding to render in 4K resolution. This rendering technique trims details from areas of the screen that the eye isn’t focused on, allowing less powerful hardware to render at UHD resolution. When applied on the X, the results are impressive. I gamed almost exclusively at 4K for most of last year and swapping to the Xbox on that same display made for near imperceptible differences.
Now, the One X will be limited in some ways. It won’t have the gusto to crank some games as far a fully kitted out PC, but you can count on games that look very, very good. Some games, like Kingdom Come, will render at 1440p instead to preserve the advanced lighting and shadow effects being applied. Other games, like Monster Hunter, will allow you to choose whether you want the horsepower applied to graphics, resolution, or frame rate.
A high-end PC may give you the best of these worlds, but you’ll pay much more for the best of it. Since PC games often lack checkerboard rendering, a comparably priced gaming PC won’t be doing 1440p or Ultra HD at all.
A Good Buy for PC Gamers?
For current PC gamers, buying into the Xbox One X over the competition is a no brainer for one simple reason: Play Anywhere. Over the last year, Microsoft has really emphasized the Windows platform, releasing many of its biggest games simultaneously on Windows 10. With Play Anywhere, if you buy an Xbox game that’s enabled, you’ll also get a copy on PC at no extra cost. If you’ve already bought a Play Anywhere on PC, all you have to do is log into your account on the Xbox and download it. When it comes to killer features for gamers who own both platforms, Play Anywhere is it by giving you two games for the price of one.
Since Sony has had the upper hand so far this console generation, we also have a Microsoft that’s “punching up” with some great features like Backward Compatibility. While Sony is content to let you stream last generation’s games at an additional cost, Microsoft has made this a key feature of the Xbox platform, opening the doors to hundreds of Xbox 360 games. Their Games With Gold service has also been far more compelling than Sony’s PS Plus offerings. Every month, they present Xbox Live Gold subscribers a selection of Xbox One and Xbox 360 games that, in my opinion, have been consistently better than most of Sony’s PS Plus line-up.
Recently, Microsoft also unveiled the Xbox Game Pass program, which is shaping up to be their own Netflix like subscription service. The selection is a bit limited right now, but for $9.99 a month you get access to all future Microsoft Exclusive games on day one, as well as an expanding list of downloadable games. This isn’t game streaming, which has been plagued with latency issues since its inception, but instead actual full-game downloads that you’re free to keep as long as you remain a subscriber. If you want to unsubscribe, you can usually purchase those games at discounted prices.
Then there’s the simplicity of actually navigating the Xbox’s OS. If you’re brand new to the platform, the learning curve is flat enough that my wife was able to start using it right away with little help - and she’s about as far from a gamer as you can get. There are tricks to make navigation faster, but the the interface is intuitive enough that getting up and running is quick and easy.
Technically, there have been no issues whatsoever.
As a PC gamer, my prior console felt long in the tooth and was became a Netflix machine. The Xbox One X has won me over and has me picking up the controller again. Between its beautiful 4K HDR output, excellent 1080p improvements, intuitive features, Play Anywhere, and value-add programs like Games with Gold, it truly feels like the best value console for PC gamers looking to make the jump. For $500, it provides an excellent value and offers enough horsepower the PC builders will be hard pressed to compete in today’s climate. If you’ve been on the fence, it’s time to get down and join the green team.
- The best console experience on the market
- Beautiful at 4K, even better with HDR
- Play Anywhere and GamePass provide great additional value
- Exceptionally quiet
- Provides excellent visual improvements, even at 1080P
- A better value than ever with current GPU pricing
- Most expensive console on the market
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.