Not even a pandemic could stop Sony and Microsoft launching next-gen consoles in 2020, so it should come as little surprise that the relentless hype surrounding the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X hasn’t subsided in the slightest since. Which one is most worthy of your hard-earned cash – not to mention the effort of actually finding one to buy? Our PS5 vs Xbox Series X guide can help you decide.
As promised, Sony and Microsoft’s new systems boast significantly more power and speed than their predecessors, along with other perks and upgrades that are sure to feel like must-haves to fans still clutching their rapidly ageing old-gen boxes. This time around, however, it’s not as simple a decision as ‘PlayStation or Xbox’. That’s just step one.
On the Sony side, the PS5 is the core console but there’s also a cheaper Digital Edition that kicks the disc drive into touch for a download-only future. And while the Xbox Series X represents Microsoft’s supercharged vision of native 4K gaming, the Series S hits the 2K middle ground between power and price.
Moreover, the new Xbox has finally found its feet, after struggling a bit at launch due to the late-breaking delay of Halo Infinite into 2021, though both launch line-ups were thinner on the big system-sellers that we usually expect. On top of that, manufacturing delays are making getting these consoles nigh-on impossible well over a year on.
But that won’t stop us from trying, will it? Here’s our hot take on the latest PS and Xbox console battle – and the games that’ll make you scramble for ’em. The debate around PlayStation 5 vs Xbox Series X isn’t going away any time soon, so we might as well get stuck in.
Xbox Series X specs, design and games
Take a look at this hulking block of a games console. Microsoft has abandoned the flatter footprint of past Xbox machines in favour of something more akin to a minimal PC tower, standing about 30cm tall and 15cm wide, and weighing in at 4.5kg. The PS5 is taller, but also curvier; the Xbox Series X looks like a dense brick.
But there’s no doubt Microsoft has packed every inch of that brick with top-tier components to deliver gaming experiences you’ve never seen outside of a scary-expensive PC rig. The Series X uses a custom 8-core AMD Zen 2 CPU and RDNA 2 GPU with up to 12 teraflops of raw graphics-processing power available. That’s double the total graphical output of the Xbox One X and about 1.7 teraflops more than the PS5.
What does that really mean, though? Microsoft is promising gaming at a native (not upscaled) 4K resolution and up to 120 frames per second, with the potential for 8K gameplay as well, so games will look crisper and more detailed than ever before, and with smoother motion to boot. Support for a 120Hz refresh rate also lends itself well to faster reaction times, ideal for twitchy online shooters.
While enhanced resolution and detail are expected upgrades with any new console, both Microsoft and Sony are also putting a major focus on improving speed this time around. Between the Xbox Velocity Architecture and custom 1TB SSD inside, the Series X will dramatically cut down on loading times, delays and framerate hitches.
Quick Resume is the big new feature that benefits from that hardware focus. You’ll be able to swap between active games in a matter of seconds, rather than quitting one and waiting for the other to load up from scratch. In the middle of a lengthy Assassin’s Creed Valhalla session and want to pop into FIFA 22 for a breather? You’ll be on the pitch within moments and can then swap back at any time. Even older games will benefit from drastically reduced loading times and stabilised frame rates.
The Xbox Series X is fully realising its potential now the games (specifically the main Xbox exclusive, Halo Infinite) are back on track – and Game Pass continues to go from strength to strength. This really could be the Xbox’s time to shine.
- Read more: the best Xbox Series X and S games to play first
Xbox Game Pass
This gaming subscription service has quickly become an essential pickup for Xbox owners, delivering over 300 games to download and play including all of Microsoft’s own first-party exclusives on day one. EA Play has also been folded into Game Pass, bringing even more titles and user benefits. Microsoft is betting more than ever on value and given the investment needed for its new hardware, that could be a very smart move.
Xbox Series S specs, design and games
The Xbox Series S is much slimmer than the Series X, and it’s inevitably much less powerful as a result. While the cheaper console has some of the same key perks within, including the speedy SSD, Quick Resume and upgrades to older Xbox games, the GPU maxes out at 4 teraflops – a third what the Series X can manage.
Given that, the Xbox Series S is positioned as a ‘2K’ or 1440p console instead – still capable of playing the same games but with less crispness and flash. It also lacks a disc drive and has half the storage space, but the £200 discount makes this the better option for a budget-savvy gamer who isn’t fussed about 4K. Paired with a Game Pass subscription, it could be the best deal in next-gen gaming if you can live with the less powerful hardware.
PlayStation 5 specs, design and games
The PS5 looks to continue Sony’s momentum from the PS4, whose gaming-only focus, better pricing and constant flow of excellent exclusives gave it a lead that the Xbox One never came close to making up.
But with Microsoft clearly learning lessons from its last-gen mis-steps, will Sony see the same kind of surging success with the PS5? There’s reason to be optimistic, but also plenty of evidence the Xbox is a more capable opponent this time.
The newest PlayStation has similar chips to its rival, but as mentioned, it doesn’t hit quite the same maximum output at around 10.3 teraflops. We doubt there’ll be a noticeable difference in early software, but as developers learn the ins and outs of each system, that extra 15% or so could be beneficial for Microsoft.
Sony has another ace up its sleeve, though: much faster SSD read speeds, meaning the system can pull data at a rapid rate. Both consoles use speedy NVME SSD drives, but while the PS5’s storage is lower at 825GB rather than 1TB, its read speed of 5.5GB/s is more than double that of the Series X. That is a potentially enormous advantage that could kill loading times as we know them and produce smoother overall game experiences.
The PS5 will also right one major wrong of the PS4 Pro by allowing 4K Blu-ray playback, and will still support the existing PlayStation VR headset. Sony is planning to launch a higher-end PSVR replacement at some point, but that’ll do for now.
Sony has also made big moves with the PS5’s controller, with a DualShock evolution so significant that they’re changing its name to the DualSense. Along with a fuller-looking build, the new controller provides haptic feedback all around the surface, delivering a much more immersive sensation than the usual gamepad vibration. It also has adaptive triggers providing tension to better simulate certain actions.
On the games front, Sony took an early edge over Microsoft in the form of exclusives like Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the Demon’s Souls remake, while Sackboy: A Big Adventure is plenty charming and Astro’s Playroom comes free on the console. The recent launch of Gran Turismo 7 could also tempt a few petrolheads to take the plunge. The PS5 also supports the “vast majority” of PS4 games (over 4000 titles) though the Xbox Series X offers full-fat backwards compatibility.
Games are about even between the two now, in other words, so which system you prefer will likely hinge on which titles you want to play the most.
- Related: the best PS5 games to play today
Sony doesn’t have an equivalent to Xbox Game Pass, but PS5 owners who subscribe to PlayStation Plus will be able to access a free selection of top PS4 games including such gems as God of War, Uncharted 4, Final Fantasy XV, The Last of Us Remastered, Persona 5, Bloodborne, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and more. You won’t get brand new stuff in the mix as you do with Game Pass, but at least it’s a brilliant backlog that you can dig back into in the months and years ahead.
PS5 Digital Edition specs, design and games
Unlike with the new Xboxes, there’s no difference in power between the standard PS5 and the cheaper Digital Edition – it really is just a matter of whether you want a disc drive or not, and that’s a £100 decision you’ll have to make and then live with.
Do you prefer discs, for the joy of physical ownership or collecting? Do you care at all about 4K UHD Blu-ray movies? Do you have a cache of physical PS4 games that you’ll still want to play on your new console?
If you shrugged at all three of those questions, then maybe you’ll do just fine with the Digital Edition and you can put that extra cash towards new games. On the other hand, if you’re not quite ready to take the download-only leap, then this slimmer alternative isn’t the PS5 for you.
PS5 vs Xbox Series X verdict
As we’ve said, there’s not much to choose between the two, so which system you choose may still be a case of personal loyalty and preference.
More objectively speaking, our PlayStation 5 review awarded the Sony system a perfect five-star score, while our Xbox Series X review only saw it merit four stars although Game Pass has improved the picture for the system markedly since then. Make of that what you will.