PS5 v Xbox Series X: which has the best features, games and price?

Microsoft/Sony/WIRED

After months of brinksmanship, the price points and release dates for both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are finally out in the wild. Microsoft blinked first, revealing its full hardware line-up on September 9 – after the lower-end Xbox Series S was leaked a day earlier – and Sony followed suit with its own reveal this week, announcing price and launch dates, plural, for PS5 on September 16.
Both console families launch in November, and wallet-bustingly close together. Xbox Series X arrives worldwide on November 10, while PS5 follows on either November 12 (in the US, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea) or November 19 (rest of world, including UK).

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With the next volley in the interminable console wars primed for battle though, we know you have one overriding question: which is better? Which faction should you pledge allegiance to? Which should you splash some cold, hard cash on? Fear not, WIRED to the rescue with a breakdown of both consoles across four categories: specs, games, backwards compatibility, and costs.
Which has the best hardware?

Xbox Series X vs PS5 specs comparison
CPU
Xbox Series X: 8x Cores at 3.8GHz, Custom Zen 2 CPU | PS5: 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.5GHz (frequency is variable)
GPU
Xbox Series X: Custom RDNA 2, 12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs at 1.825 GHz | PS5: Custom RDNA 2, 10.28 TFLOPs, 36 CUs (Compute Units) at 2.23GHz (frequency is variable)
Memory
Xbox Series X: 16GB GDDR6 w/ 320mb bus | PS5: 16GB GDDR6/256-bit RAM, 448GB/s
Storage
Xbox Series X: 1TB Custom NVME SSD | PS5: Custom 825GB SSD
Expandable storage
Xbox Series X: 1TB Expansion Card (matches internal storage exactly) and USB 3.2 External HDD Support | PS5: NVMe SSD Slot, USB HDD support
Optical drive
Xbox Series X: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray | PS5: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

At a glance, they’re… near identical. Xbox’s processors are faster, but Sony claims theirs are better optimised. Both have the same amount of RAM, but Sony’s is, on paper, faster. Xbox has more internal storage, and both use solid state rather than mechanical hard drives, but Sony again claims its smaller 825GB is better optimised for faster performance. Given current generation games such as Final Fantasy VII Remake can already eat up nearly 100GB of space on PS4 though, that space is going to look real paltry, real soon – especially as next-gen games will be 4K native with file sizes to match.
Thankfully, both support external storage, though Xbox adds a wrinkle – not only will you be able to plug in a USB drive, but Microsoft will be selling add-on 1TB ‘memory card’ style drives that “match the internal drive exactly”. This should mean players will be able to run their games off these with no hit to performance.

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The next generation of consoles is actually tricky to quantify in absolute technological terms though, because both sides have opted to split their offerings. Microsoft is also launching the Xbox Series S, an all-digital model, while Sony is releasing the PS5 Digital Edition. Both drop the physical disc drive, but while that appears to be the only difference between the PS5 models, the Series S is actually slightly less powerful than its beefier Series X counterpart. On the Series S, the CPU runs slightly slower, 3.6Ghz vs 3.8Ghz on the X; RAM is cut from 16GB to 10GB; GPU power drops from 12TF (52CUs at 1.825GHz) to merely 4 TF (20CUs at 1.565GHz), and its max resolution is capped at 1440p, rather than full 4K. Windows Central also reports the Series S will run Xbox One games at a lower performance than the mighty Series X.
Winner: An awkward tie. We’re going to give the slightest of edges to Microsoft for Xbox Series X vs PS5 on raw specs, but of the “junior consoles”, PS5 Digital Edition far outperforms Series S.
Which has the best launch games?

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We’ll go ahead and give an easy win to PS5 here. The launch line-up has at least two must-have titles straight out of the gates – Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the ridiculously-long-awaited remake of Demon’s Souls. There’s also a new LittleBigPlanet spinoff in the form of Sackboy: A Big Adventure, and Astro’s Playroom, a cute collection of demo games walking players through some of the PS5’s more nuanced features and hardware quirks of the DualSense controller – comes pre-installed. This is on top of third-party games such as Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition and Godfall.

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Xbox Series X, meanwhile… well, we had to Google “Xbox Series X launch titles”. There are, literally, zero first party exclusives on Series X at launch. This is partly deliberate – Matt Booty, head of Xbox Game Studios, told trade publication MCV back in January that Xbox is getting rid of the generation boundary, and first-party titles will launch on both Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S for the foreseeable future, with people who buy on the current gen getting free upgrades when they buy a new gen console. It’s also partly to do with the COVID crisis, with Halo Infinite – which surely would have been a system seller – being delayed into 2021 as developers at 343 Industries shifted to working from home.
That’s not to say there won’t be good games on Xbox Series X at launch – Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla looks phenomenal, and the brilliant Gears Tactics is being ported over from PC – but the former isn’t exclusive and the latter has been out since April.
Winner: PlayStation 5, and it’s not even close.
Are the games going to be backwards compatible?
Sadly, long gone are the days of being able to stick a game disc from previous console generations into the new box and play without issue. Instead, manufacturers typically rely on emulation to allow older games to be played on modern machines, and on this front, Xbox has a clear advantage. Its Xbox Backwards Compatibility program is a well-oiled machine now, having been optimising Xbox 360 and even original Xbox games to run on Xbox One for years now. This will carry over to Xbox Series X, meaning games going back four generations will be play on the new console.
For PS5, despite rumours that the console would be fully backwards compatible to the original PlayStation, such a dream was clearly too good to be true. Instead, PS5 will be backwards compatible with PS4 games, though as this also runs via emulation, it may not extend to every single game.
However, Sony says the “overwhelming majority” of PS4 games will be playable on PS5. Older PlayStation games are perhaps less likely to appear – the physical architecture of the PS3 and its notoriously tricky processor could make it harder to run those games now.
Both platforms have an edge though – their subscription services. Xbox Game Pass remains a fantastic bargain, offering a rotating library of games available to download and play, frequently including past-gen titles. Sony’s competitor, PlayStation Plus, has been lagging – usually only offering two or three games per month – but an upgrade was revealed alongside the PS5 launch date, with the service expanding to offer a host of PS4 titles playable to subscribers on PS5. Xbox still has the lead for now, but PlayStation could gain ground if PlayStation Plus continues to improve.
Winner: Xbox Series X, but PS5 could catch up.
Which one is cheaper?
Ultimately, it all comes down to this, doesn’t it? How much moolah are you laying down to get in on the ground floor. Here, it’s Xbox that has the win – while both the Series X and PS5 will retail at £449.99, Microsoft is expanding its All Access program to 12 countries, including the UK at launch. This will allow users to get the new hardware and a subscription to Game Pass Ultimate – which includes the aforementioned rotating library of games, access to Microsoft’s cloud gaming service, and provides online play – for a monthly fee. It requires signing up to a 24-month contract but it’s provided on zero per cent finance, and the console is yours to keep at the end. That’s undoubtedly going to be far more appealing to some prospective owners than dropping the better part of £1000 on a console and a handful of individual games.
Looking at the Series S and PS5 DE, the price difference is more stark. The former will retail for £249.99, while the latter sets you back £359.99. Remember though that the Series S is much lower powered than either the PS5 DE or its own full-featured sibling.
However, price is not the same as value, and those disc-less versions may present a false economy. Sure, you’re saving ~£100 upfront, but you’re then locked into the service provider’s ecosystem for future purchases. With next-gen games leaping to £70 at launch on average, that’s going to mount up – and you’ll have to factor in either buying expandable storage or simply deleting and re-downloading games regularly to manage space. While both PlayStation and Xbox digital storefronts have regular sales, we’ve never seen prices plunge as low as a Steam sale, for instance, and you’ll be locked out of picking up physical games that go into sales. You also have a less functional device for the price, without the ability to play 4K UHD discs, regular Blu-rays, or DVDs.
Winner: Xbox Series X. The same cost upfront as PS5, but the zero per cent financing makes it more affordable in the long term.
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