It’s a busy week for all things Xbox. On Monday, Microsoft confirmed its acquisition of the Bethesda and ZeniMax game-dev family to fuel the Xbox ecosystem going forward. On Tuesday, the company launched preorders for this November’s Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.
And today, Microsoft topped all of that off by shipping us a “non-final” Series X of our own—and I have immediately begun testing it.
As the above gallery shows, Ars Technica received a package from Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, containing a “non-final” Xbox Series X console, the brand-new Xbox gamepad, and a 1TB “storage expansion” card, as built to the Xbox Velocity Architecture spec and made by Seagate. Nothing else came in this box (besides an HDMI 2.1 cable and a power cord, anyway).
Microsoft sent us this package under severe conditions, and the biggest is that, as of today, we cannot preview or describe any of the above contents beyond showing you photos. You likely have a lot of questions about them. My colleagues sure did, as evidenced by the explosion in Ars staff-chat activity as soon as the package arrived.
In the meantime…
For now, I can point to prior coverage to catch you up, since some of your brand-new questions may already have answers:
The data-transfer standard of Xbox Velocity Architecture is meant to unify “next-gen performance” across Series X and Series S, which means any locally installed games on your next-gen Xbox must be installed on an NVMe 4.0-rated drive. Should you wish to expand either system’s built-in storage capacity (1TB for Series X, 512GB for Series S), you’ll need to purchase a proprietary NVMe 4.0-rated expansion card. The card in the above gallery is the previously revealed 1TB model made by Seagate. We do not yet know pricing for this card or if other manufacturers are on board to produce and sell similar drives.
Microsoft has previously confirmed that external drives connected via USB Type-A 3.1 connections will be compatible with both Xbox Series models. These will only boot previous generations’ software; Series-gen games can be stored on older, external drives, but they won’t boot until moved back to the system’s NVMe drives. Microsoft has not yet publicly confirmed how classic games loaded on older drives will compare to the same games loaded on NVMe 4.0 drives, but at the very least, Microsoft has assured fans that their older Xbox One add-on drives are compatible (and will leave precious space open on the built-in drive).
In addition to the new, proprietary “expansion card” port, Series X’s ports include the following: three USB Type-A 3.1 ports; one HDMI 2.1 port; and one Ethernet port, rated 802.3 10/100/1000. Unlike all Xbox One models, Series X and S skip the “HDMI-in” port that worked with set-top boxes. In terms of wireless features, Xbox Series X supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity and the dual-band Xbox Wireless protocol.
Controllers, display shells in the wild
In August, a white version of the mildly updated Xbox gamepad landed in some consumers’ hands. We’d already seen the controller when Series X emerged in late 2019, particularly its new “share” button, but impressions of the share functionality have yet to leak. The updated d-pad, which now has additional plastic framing around its corners in a style resembling the Xbox Elite, was described by one of the August leakers as “one of [his] favorite parts” of the new controller.
In March 2020, Digital Foundry’s Richard Leadbetter explained how Series X’s array of ventilation dots—and fans directly beneath them—figure into the new console’s cooling system:
Air gets pumped in from the bottom, goes through the system… in a PC, airflow isn’t just defined by having inlets and outputs so to speak. You want physical air space in it. But there’s nothing in this. It’s airtight. Everything goes through the design, and it’s packed in there. Then [air] reaches the top to a 130mm diameter fan and goes straight out of the top. We also had [Series X] on its side, [airflow] seemed to work just fine going out there.
Empty shell “display” versions of both new Xbox Series models went out to select members of the press last week, at which point Microsoft confirmed one detail about the Series X design: the round “base” on one of its sides is not removable by default.
Last of all, the disc drive on the front of Series X supports 4K UHD Blu-Ray, which it has in common with Xbox One X and Xbox One S. It’s also compatible with existing Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One discs, and loading older, compatible games into the Series X disc drive will prompt some form of file download to your system’s local storage. How exactly that works on Series X, on the other hand, has yet to be seen.
If you have additional questions after seeing this hardware, there’s a 5-percent chance we can point you to other existing information or coverage to answer them. Otherwise, if we don’t reply, please do not fret. We’re listening. And as soon as we’re allowed to tell you more (on dates we can’t publicly confirm just yet), we will.
For now, here’s a cheeky peek at me holding all 9.8lbs of the Xbox Series X.
Listing image by Sam Machkovech