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The Xbox Series S has often been described as the “best deal in gaming” and, well, rightfully so. The fact that Microsoft’s willing to sell such an incredibly capable console — one which comes imbued with all the latest bells and whistles — for such a measly sum of money is, quite frankly, beyond belief.
It’s nowhere near as capable as, say, the PlayStation 5 or its bigger (and tonally opposite) brother, but whatever it might lack in sheer horsepower it more than makes up for in sleek looks, incredibly pleasant acoustics, an impressive feature set, and overall value.
It’s so good, in fact, that no matter what you do, you’re not going to be able to build a similarly spec’d gaming rig for the same amount of money. It’s not a matter of architectures or teraflops or computational performance or what have you, but rather the way in which its biggest strengths and virtues tie into each other to create a gaming experience we could only dream of just a couple of years ago — one that costs a mere $299 brand new.
You can also buy one used for around $230 (sometimes with an additional controller) which only further strengthens its value proposition.
To build a comparably powerful PC, you’ll either have to invest more money to match its performance (and overall feature set) or, conversely, accept numerous different bottlenecks and limitations, all of which could heavily hinder your gaming experience.
Still, if money isn’t that big of an issue — and you’re set on building a gaming PC as opposed to buying a gaming console — then you can, by all means, build a similarly powerful system for a very palatable sum of money.
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, though, we first need to analyze the Xbox Series S and, by proxy, its biggest strengths and virtues. That way, we’ll be able to better understand what is it exactly that we need to focus on the most; by using its strengths as a benchmark, we’ll be able to better traverse the market and, subsequently, build a gaming PC that has comparable performance.
Xbox Series S — Incredible Value
The latest generation of consoles really are special. They’re not only built on a similar architecture as today’s most popular PCs but they also feature numerous hardware- and software-based additions that make them a truly worthwhile investment.
The Xbox Series S might not be the most powerful console on the market, but it’s nonetheless exceptionally well-optimized and, frankly, is capable enough for all but the most demanding gamers. It also harnesses all of Microsoft’s unique bells and whistles, like DirectStorage and Quick Resume.
You’re basically getting the entire Xbox Series X experience albeit without the high frame rates, jaw-dropping visual fidelity, and 4K. Still, that’s a worthwhile trade-off given the price for which the Series S retails for.
Xbox Series S — Hardware Breakdown
The CPU found inside the Series S is based on AMD’s Zen 2 architecture. We’re talking about a custom processor with 8 cores running at 3.6 Ghz (3.4 Ghz with SMT enabled). Zen 2 is neither spectacular nor novel at this point, but it sure does get the job done.
The GPU, on the other hand, is much more interesting as it is based on AMD’s RDNA 2 architecture, much like last year’s Radeon RX 6000 series graphics cards from “team red.” It contains 20 computing units (or CUs, for short) running at 1.56Ghz. All of this amounts to 4 TFLOPS of computational performance.
This, in addition to 8GBs of VRAM, makes it a surprisingly capable performer.
The Series S, as already mentioned, houses an 8-core CPU based on AMD’s Zen 2 architecture. Still, the console itself isn’t as speedy as it is because of its processor, but rather its graphics card in addition to numerous software- and hardware-related features with which it is imbued.
For the purpose of this article, we’re not looking to build a comparable gaming PC spec-for-spec as that wouldn’t make any sense. You don’t need a processor with as many cores to match the performance of an Xbox Series S — a regular four-core, eight-thread CPU will more than suffice.
Our pick is the Intel Core i3-12100F. It’s incredibly cheap for what it is and has incredible single-core performance (especially considering its price tag). It’s actually faster gaming-wise than AMD’s Ryzen 3700X which is an eight-core processor, as evidenced in this video.
This processor will give us the right level of performance without breaking the bank. It also won’t present that big of a bottleneck either. If you happen to want an even more powerful processor, the Core i5-12400F will also deliver the goods.
The Series S isn’t a true 1440p machine. Most games run at 1080p. If you don’t want to search out each individual title, we suggest you look at the following spreadsheet. And when its games do target 1440p, they mostly run at 30 FPS which, in today’s day and age, is neither impressive nor optimal. There are a few outliers, granted, but the point stands nonetheless.
Estimated CPU Cost: $90-100 [brand new]
16GB of DDR4 RAM running in dual-channel will suffice. You don’t need any more RAM for gaming purposes (at least not right now). DDR4 RAM is fairly cheap nowadays, which means that buying a top-tier kit isn’t going to set you back all that much.
Estimated RAM Cost: $40-50 [brand new]
Graphics Card [GPU]
This is where things get a bit more complicated.
There’s been a lot of debate regarding just how powerful the GPU inside the Series S really is. The final conclusion is that it competes with the following graphics cards: GTX 1650, GTX 1650 Super, RX 580, and RX 5500 XT [8GB]. It does, however, have ray tracing support (a useless addition given its semi-underpowered nature), and is, amongst other things, based on AMD’s incredibly efficient RDNA 2 architecture.
In other words: it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison because of the fact that games are specifically optimized to run on the Series S hardware.
The RX 5500 XT would be a good match performance-wise (8GB model) but seeing how newer RDNA 2 GPUs don’t cost all that much (brand new, even), we don’t really see a reason why you would go for such an outdated model with so many alternatives being priced as attractively as they are.
The AMD Radeon RX 6600, therefore, is an incredibly good choice. It has 8GB of VRAM and can handle most of today’s popular AAA titles at 1440p without any issue. Some of them will run maxed out, whereas others will require you to turn down the settings to High. Still, the games you’ll play will all look amazing. It is, by all means, much more powerful than the GPU found within the Series S.
And, perhaps best of all, it can be bought brand-new for around $200. You can even find one for less on the second-hand market.
The RX 6600 really is the sweet spot performance-wise. If you want to save as much money as possible, going for an RX 580 would definitely be the way to go. It’s a legendary graphics card and, despite the fact that it’s eons old at this point, it’s still a phenomenal performer when it comes to 1080p gaming. It, too, is more powerful than the GPU found inside the Xbox Series S, but you’ll have to buy one used — a decision that may or may not be a dealbreaker.
Either way, if you have the funds, go with an RX 6600 — you won’t regret it. If you really want to match the performance of an Xbox Series S, the RX 580, RX 5500 XT [8GB], or GTX 1650 Super would be the way to go.
Estimated GPU Price: Between $100-200, depending on the model
The Series S comes equipped with a 512GB NVMe SSD, although only ±360GB are actually available to the user for downloading games, apps, and whatnot.
Games on Windows still can’t fully utilize and harness the full potential of NVMe drives because they lack DirectStorage support (although that, too, will change in the foreseeable future). That’s why going with a regular SATA SSD would be your best and most cost-effective option. A 1TB SSD will do the trick just fine when it comes to gaming performance and general productivity work.
You could also go with a 512GB model if you want to save a bit of money, but with today’s AAA titles being so darn heavy (60-120GB on average), we would definitely go with an SSD that’s as large as possible.
Estimated Storage Price: Between $40-60, depending on the capacity and manufacturer
Add to that around $80 for a motherboard (LGA1700), $50/60 for a power supply (450W will suffice), and anywhere between $30-60 (or more) for a case, and you get a total of around $550 dollars, more or less. You still need a mouse and keyboard alongside an operating system (Windows 10 or 11, most likely) and a monitor.
You could save a fair bit of money by buying used parts, (anywhere between $100-150 if not even more), but we’ll assume that you’re after a brand-new build. This build of ours will outperform the Xbox Series S (an understatement), but it won’t be as small nor will it be as affordable.
Xbox Series S PC Equivalent: Size + Performance
If you build a comparably powerful gaming PC (for a relatively similar sum of money), you’ll end up with, at best, an mATX system that’s between 20 and 35 liters in volume. It’ll perform a fair bit better, sure, but it won’t be nearly as small as the Xbox Series S.
To some, that’s perfectly acceptable. Others, however, might prefer a gaming rig that’s actually comparable in size to Microsoft’s miniscule console. If you happen to have such a “request,” you’ll have to go with a gaming mini PC like an Intel NUC or, alternatively, one of Minisforum’s incredibly compact offerings (the Neptune line-up, in particular).
On the NUC side of things, the NUC 11 Phantom Canyon stands out at just 1.3 liters in volume. The smallest form factor ITX cases on the market are around 4L, and they come with numerous different limitations in regards to thermals and hardware compatibility. In some cases, you might even have to source the case itself from AliExpress which, frankly, is not ideal.
You can actually find it brand-new for around $650 in certain markets (Geizhals) and, by the looks of it, its price will only get lower and lower as time goes on. That’s more than twice the price of the Series S (and you still have to supply your own RAM and storage), but if size is your main concern, the NUC 11 Phantom Canyon is impossible to beat.
Neptune mini PCs from Minisforum are ever so slightly larger, but also a fair bit more powerful, too. If you happen to find one on sale, it’ll set you back around two to three hundred dollars/euros as the aforementioned NUC.
Xbox Series S Equivalent PC — Conclusion
Ultimately, with everything added up and analyzed, it’s fair to say that the Series S offers a level of gaming performance that should cost twice as much as the console currently retails for. It also offers an incredibly smooth user experience and, perhaps most importantly, peace of mind that all current and future titles will be optimized to run respectably well (if not even great in some instances) on its (admittedly quite middling) hardware.
To get all that inside a package as small as the Series S, one which emits basically no noise whatsoever and has many highly sought-after features like ray-tracing, VRS, DirectStorage, Quick Resume, mesh shading, VRR, and so on, makes it a deal unlike any other.
It’s a spectacular 1080p gaming machine and can even run select titles at 1440p without an issue. Frame rates are a different beast altogether. Most games run at 30. Others can reach 120 FPS but at lowered graphical settings (often called “Performance Mode”). Either way, you won’t be disappointed with the way it performs and the way its games look so long as you don’t have unrealistic expectations.
The Xbox Series S offers a level of value that is simply unmatched. It’s not the most powerful console around, but the things it does, it does them beautifully. It really is the best deal in gaming. It might not be what the vast majority of gamers are looking for, but the fact remains the same.
The components we listed above are, for the most part, a fair bit more powerful than the ones found within the Series S. Still, that little white box is a lot more capable than the sum of its parts. Its spec sheet really doesn’t do it justice precisely because of the way in which it is optimized and the way in which Microsoft leveraged — and, in some cases, flat-out created — certain technologies.
It all came together beautifully, which makes it the absolute best “bang for the buck” gaming system on the planet.
Building a comparably powerful gaming PC is a rather straightforward endeavor, but it’s never going to be as seamless, as user friendly, and — perhaps most importantly — as cheap as the Series S. Its biggest flaws are tied to its lack of power and computational prowess, but it’s hard to complain about it all that much given its MSRP.
Who Should Buy an Xbox Series S Instead of a Gaming PC?
You should buy an Xbox Series S if:
- You don’t want to tinker with any in-game settings. You just want to start your console and be up-and-running in a matter of seconds
- You want a superb gaming experience that’s as seamless as it gets
- You don’t need to play on the highest of settings or resolutions
- You want to experience the vast library of titles that the Xbox Game Pass brings to the table
- You want a small console that can literally fit in your backpack and is inaudible no matter which game you throw its way
- You don’t want to invest an arm and a leg so as to game comfortably
- You already have a spec’d out gaming PC (or PlayStation 5)
Who Should Buy a Gaming PC Instead of an Xbox Series S?
You should build a gaming PC instead of buying an Xbox Series S if:
- You want to have total control over your gaming experience
- You want to game at 1440p (or even 4K for that matter)
- You don’t mind spending more money
- You want to crank every possible in-game setting to the max
- You don’t mind installing, tweaking, setting things up, updating drivers, swapping out components, and so on and so forth
- You want a full-fledged computer, rather than just a “one-dimensional” gaming console
Both options are totally viable and, frankly, there’s a use-case for both. People who game on the Series S aren’t the most demanding users around — they just want a solid, “out-of-the-box” experience and a system that’ll run without a hitch for the years to come.
A gaming PC, on the other hand, is a lot more powerful and, well, versatile. It doesn’t offer as seamless of an experience (and it’s not as cheap), but it’s always the best possible option for any kind of gaming endeavor.