Xbox Series X vs. PlayStation 5: Which Console Is More Powerful?

The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X will change everything, but which next-gen console will offer more power?

PS5 vs. Xbox Series X Specs
Photo: Microsoft, Sony

Now that Sony has finally revealed most of the specs for the PlayStation 5, we can finally compare it to the Xbox Series X in order to answer the question: “Which console is more powerful?”

While the success of each console will come down to the games themselves, the specs of a console is often a fascinating window into what kinds of experiences it will be capable of delivering. Comparing consoles is less about deciding which is better and more about celebrating what the differences of these consoles mean and how each will challenge the other to elevate the art of gaming.

That being said, let’s get one thing out of the way: this analysis is based on what we currently know about each console and by no means constitutes a definitive examination of which console will ultimately be more powerful when they’re both released to the public. There are numerous factors–such as how developers will utilize the capabilities of these consoles–which we cannot accurately account for yet.

With that out of the way, let’s dive into the specs of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 in order to determine which next-gen console could be the most powerful.

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Which Has Better Graphics?

The Xbox Series X appears to be noticeably more powerful than the PS5 in the graphics department. Well, at least when you compare the two based on their specs.

For the moment, let’s focus on the differences between each console’s CPU and GPU since those tend to be the most important components when it comes to graphics. Here’s a quick look at what CPU and GPU each console boasts:

PS5

CPU: 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.5HGz
GPU: Custom AMD Radeon RDNA Navi 10.28 Teraflops, 36 CUs at 2.23GHz

Xbox Series X

CPU: 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.8GHz (3.66 GHz with Simultaneous Multithreading)
GPU: Custom AMD Radeon RDNA Navi 12 Teraflops, 52 CUs at 1.825GHz

The Xbox Series X has the PS5 beat when you just look at the raw numbers. The Xbox Series X’s CPU is a bit faster on paper and it also features a more powerful GPU that benefits from more of those sweet teraflops that you’re probably tired of hearing about. For the record, a teraflop is a measure of a processor’s ability to handle X number of calculations per second. The more teraflops a console features, the easier it will be able to handle complex computations and, theoretically, deliver better graphics.

So how much of a difference do the Xbox Series X’s extra teraflops make? That’s up for debate, but based on comparisons between existing gaming PC hardware models, it’s safe to say that the difference isn’t actually that great.

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What’s far more interesting is the difference between each console GPU’s compute units (CU). The exact definition of a CU is slightly different based on the manufacturer, but they’re typically compared to CPU cores. Basically, a CU can help delegate and assign processing tasks to better manage increased technical workloads. The more you have, the easier a GPU can handle bigger requests (generally speaking).

The number of CUs in each GPU also makes it easier to compare each console’s GPU to existing retail models. As Kotaku notes, the PS5 essentially sports a Radeon RX 5700 while the Xbox Series X has a rough variation of a Radeon RX Vega 56. Of the two, the Vega 56 tends to perform generally better in terms of frame per second for a high definition (but not 4K) resolution.

Theoretically, this all means that the Xbox Series X will offer better across-the-board visual performance and that it may be better equipped to handle things like ray tracing and 4K gaming. While both consoles will be able to support ray tracing and 4K gaming (two of the most obvious modern visual benchmarks) out of the box, the Xbox Series X seems to have the raw power advantage. It’s an incredibly powerful console.

The reason we can’t declare it to be the objective winner in this category at this early stage is because of how the PS5 is engineered. Basically, Sony is banking on the PS5’s ability to regulate how much performance power it needs to assign at any given time. In other words, the Xbox is kicking down the door with its power while the PS5 is trying to pick the lock.

The PS5’s approach could be an elegant solution that may also lead to a reduced price (due to what seems like a reduced reliance on purely more powerful components), but its effectiveness is going to depend on whether or not developers are able to easily navigate the console’s unique capabilities.

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As others have already pointed out, the potential problem with the PS5’s approach is that developers may have to put a little more effort into the optimization of PS5 games than they will with the Xbox Series X. That could mean that third-party, cross-platform games look better on Xbox Series X (at least at first). There is certainly the potential for games developed exclusively for PS5 to look better, but that’s a real “wait and see” proposition.

To be honest, it’s a little strange that Sony went this route even if it does seem to ultimately reward its first-party developers. The company has said that it doesn’t intend for the PS5 to suffer from the same development difficulties that plagued the PS3, but the fact that Sony brought up this talking point suggests that the thought is at least on the team’s mind.

Based on what we know right now, we’d give a slight visual advantage to the Xbox Series X.

Which Is Faster?

The word “faster” really deals with a few different factors, but since you’ve probably come here for answers, let’s just focus on the impact of SSD technology on each console.

In case you haven’t been keeping up with our PC building series (shame on you), an SSD is an evolution of standard hard drive technology that features no moving parts and is capable of reducing or eliminating load times. Both the Xbox Series X and PS5 feature an SSD, and you’ll definitely notice the difference in speed when compared to current-gen consoles.

There is a very good reason that Sony spent so much time talking about the PS5’s SSD during the console’s technical specs reveal stream in March. Let’s take a look at the difference between both consoles’ SSDs in order to better illustrate why so many people are excited by the PS5’s SSD capabilities:

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PS5

Custom 825GB SSD Storage Drive with 5.5GB/s (Raw)/ 8-9GB/S (Compressed)

Xbox Series X

1TB Custom NVME SSD with 2.4 GB/s (Raw)/ 4.8GB/s (Compressed)

Despite the difference in storage size, the PS5’s SSD is, theoretically, going to be noticeably faster than the Xbox Series X’s. As you can see from the numbers above, it has the potential to be more than twice as fast as the competition. Again, both consoles will be noticeably faster than their current-gen counterparts, but the PS5 has the potential to simply leave the Xbox Series X in the dust when it comes to load and install times.

That’s really only part of the story, though. The PS5’s SSD is currently the talk of developers and tech analysts everywhere because of the way it could fundamentally change how developers approach game design.

The easiest way to explain why that is is to look at a game like the original Doom. See, Doom wasn’t actually a 3D game in the typical sense. Much like Mode 7 titles on the SNES, the original Doom had to utilize a series of design tricks in order to replicate a (very convincing) illusion of true 3D technology, which was still a few years away from becoming the standard (Quake, for instance, used what was basically considered to be true 3D).

The PS5’s SSD can offer a similar evolution for open-world games. If open-world developers can figure out a way to properly utilize this technology, then they could create games where the entire world is loaded as soon as you boot the title. Yes, that means no more load screens, but it also means that they’ll now be able to design worlds that don’t have to take load screens into account. That translates to more realistic game worlds where walls of shadow don’t obscure the load screen entrances to dungeons and characters walk in and out of buildings organically.

To be fair, the Xbox Series X is also potentially capable of supporting such advancements, but the PS5 really gives developers the raw SSD speed that they’re looking for in order to start seriously pursuing this goal.

As with so many of the things that we’ve looked at (especially as it relates to the PS5), that SSD evolution is almost entirely dependent on the efforts of the developers. That means that there very well could be a period where the PS5’s more powerful SSD is really only noticeable when it comes to (potentially slightly) improved load and install times.

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That’s still nice, but the power potential of the PS5 in this area will be based on how many developers are willing and able to navigate its unique architecture in order to unlock these possibilities. As such, Sony could be relying on its army of first-party developers to really show everyone else the way.

RAM can also greatly affect a console’s speed, but since both consoles seem to sport nearly identical RAM components (16GB GDDR6 RAM) that only feature some minor technical differences, it doesn’t seem that either console has a significant advantage in that department.

Which Has Better Storage?

As we noted in the above section, the Xbox Series X features a larger SSD than the PS5s (1 TB compared to 825GB). As such, that should be the end of this particular part of the breakdown. However, each console’s unique expandable storage features add a “not so fast, my friend” element to this conversation.

For the PS5, Sony offers an NVMe SSD slot and USB HDD support. In other words, you should be able to use any compatible USB HDD to add more raw storage space to your PS5, but that storage space obviously won’t benefit from SSD speeds. For that benefit, you’ll need to use a compatible NVMe SSD expansion.

Compatible is the tricky word in this instance. Because of the PS5’s unique SSD architecture, we’ll need to wait and see which third-party SSDs are, in fact, compatible with the PS5’s expanded storage. While there should eventually be a few options available, the situation may not be so simple as just buying an NVMe SSD and calling it a day.

Microsoft is taking a slightly different approach to expandable storage. While the Xbox Series X also offers USB 3.2 HDD Support, it will not allow you to use just any third-party SSD as expandable storage. Instead, you’ll have to buy an official Seagate External 1TB SSD Expansion Card. Basically, Microsoft is asking you to buy an Xbox Series X memory card.

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That approach offers a bit more of a give and take. On the one hand, you know exactly what you need to buy if you want to expand your Xbox Series X storage with an SSD. On the other hand, you only have one option and are subject to whatever it may cost and whatever its availability may be.

While it’s possible that Sony is taking the better route here, that really depends on which external SSDs are actually compatible with the PS5 and how much they cost. It could turn out that people prefer a simple expandable SSD solution.

Which Offers the Better Technical Features?

It’s not all about stats when you’re comparing the power of next-gen consoles. Here is a look at some of the marquee special features that the PS5 and Xbox Series X boast which may affect their overall performance:

PS5

  • Variable “Boost” frequencies that monitor and adjust CPU/GPU performances.
  • Selective downloading and deleting. Basically, you can choose to download and delete specific parts of a larger file (such as multiplayer and single-player portions). Users may also be able to access certain modes and missions without having to load the entire game first.
  • Native backward compatibility support for select PS4 titles (at launch) with increased performance options for compatible games.
  • Tempest 3D AudioTech for advanced surround sound performance.

Xbox Series X

  • Quick Resume feature that lets you suspend multiple games at once and jump back into them via the main menu.
  • Expanded backward compatibility program that includes enhanced performance for existing Xbox 360 and Xbox backward compatibility games (as well as Xbox One titles).
  • Project xCloud support for possible mobile gaming integration via the cloud.
  • Ray Tracing Audio for enhanced sound performance.

Again, this is not a breakdown of every special feature that separates the PS5 and Xbox Series X. It’s just a look at a few of the currently confirmed features which may impact their performance.

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For the most part, we see a lot of similarities and “give and take” features. The PS5 lets you selectively download and access games, while the Xbox Series X allows for multiple titles to be suspended through downloads and game swaps. Both consoles will support ray tracing, and both will support some kind of advanced audio.

Backward compatibility is the biggest early difference. Simply put, the Xbox Series X supports more titles than the PS5 in that department. You could argue that the quality of the PS4’s exclusives is a factor in this discussion, but again, we’re talking about the raw numbers in relation to performance, and Xbox Series X will offer enhanced performance for more compatible titles.

Cloud gaming is another fascinating feature. Microsoft has revealed the basics of its cloud gaming program, Project xCloud, while Sony hasn’t shared much on that subject beyond its vague intention to offer some kind of cloud gaming service at some point. Of course, the PS5 will also continue to support VR technology whereas the Xbox Series X (at least as far as we currently know) will not.

The aforementioned PS5 “Boost” feature is also something of a question mark as its value is almost entirely based on how it is utilized and refined over time. The same goes for the potential of its SSD technology and the features that its enhanced power offers.

Overall, we’d say that the Xbox Series X appears to offer more features across the board than the PS5. However, in terms of features that will offer a noticeable performance advantage for either console, we’re not ready to declare a winner just yet.

So which console is more powerful?

We’re going to say it one more time for the people in the back. Our conclusions are based on what we currently know and do not take into account important unknowns such as power supplies, cooling systems, developer output, console prices, accessory prices, and other factors.

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Feet to the fire, though, we feel reasonably confident declaring that the Xbox Series X appears to be more powerful overall at this early stage.

It comes down to what we know vs. what we don’t know. The PS5’s most obvious advantage from a technical standpoint is its SSD. While we fully believe that SSDs will be one of the biggest game-changers of the next generation, the potential of the PS5’s SSDs beyond slightly improved loading times is based on how long it takes for developers to take advantage of the component in a way that significantly outshines the Xbox Series X.

The same is true regarding much of the PS5’s architecture. While it’s certainly possible that it’s really not that far removed from the Xbox Series X in terms of overall power (and that it might be more powerful overall), it’s hard to deny that the PS5 will be slightly more complicated to develop for as it will require developers to take into account certain unique factors which they won’t need to cater to when developing for the Xbox Series X. Its power is dependent on too many variables at this stage.

On the other hand, the Xbox Series X is straight-up powerful. Even its SSD (which is definitely slower than the PS5’s) is still incredibly fast and will result in a significant performance boost over what you’re currently used to with current-gen consoles. It feels like it should be easy to develop for, and Microsoft has confirmed a series of promising features that are not only consumer-friendly but could positively impact the console’s overall performance.

At the end of the day, we don’t anticipate a situation where one console is ultimately noticeably more powerful than the other unless developers find ways to really take advantage of the PS5’s SSD capabilities. The situation will likely be similar to the PS4/Xbox One generation where the technical differences between both consoles were relatively minor from a raw output standpoint.