As the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 head towards formal launch, most of the attention has been focused on the top-end products in each stack, which is to say, the $500 PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X, not the PlayStation 5 Digital Edition at $400 or the Xbox Series S, at $300. The console has gotten generally favorable reviews for its performance level, but there’s a big caveat to be aware of — one that could wind up costing you a pretty penny in the long run.
The Xbox Series S only offers the player 364GB of useable storage out of a 512GB base capacity. We’re not concerned about the fact that the system reserves some storage for the OS and features like Quick Resume; that’s normal. The problem is, 364GB isn’t very much space for the games that have already come out on current generation consoles, where titles can already run well over 100GB. Even if we assume that next-generation games grow more slowly, thanks to better compression algorithms and more efficient use of storage, we’ve already got multiple titles pushing past 100GB.
How to Tell If You Have Enough Storage
This applies to PCs and consoles both, but I’m going to talk about consoles here. The most important question is this: How many games do you typically play at the same time? Do you focus on 1-3 titles at a time, or do you want a library of games to choose from? The second question is, “How large are the typical games you play?” and “How cramped is your current drive?” If you’re already feeling squashed at 512GB – 1TB of usable capacity, trying to shrink down into 364GB of usable space is a bad idea. The truth is, 364GB is probably a bad idea no matter what.
You should assume that game sizes will rise between 2x – 3x over the next seven years. When the Xbox One launched, Titanfall’s ~48GB installation size made headlines. Now, a game uses 40-50GB of storage doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. As Kotaku notes, there’s some hope that next-gen games might take up less space on Xbox Series S because they won’t be distributed with 4K textures. The improvements seem title-specific and depend on someone doing the work to package the game differently for each platform.
When you look at these numbers, the 364GB in the Xbox Series S really does seem a bit cramped. It’s entirely possible that by the end of the cycle, the baseline Xbox Series S might be limited to 1-2 games at a time.
What makes the situation a little more complicated, in this case, is the fact that you can buy a 1TB storage expansion card for $220 — but if you do, you’re spending more on the Xbox Series S ($520) than you’d spend on the hypothetical Xbox Series X ($500). The cost breakdown looks like this:
Xbox Series S: 364GB usable, $300Xbox Series X: 802GB usable, $500Xbox Series S + 1TB Drive (1.364TB total): $520Xbox Series X + 1TB Drive (1.802TB total): $720
The Xbox Series X + 1TB Seagate expansion drive (when available) offers 1.32x more storage than the Xbox Series S + 1TB drive for 1.38x more money. This isn’t a terrible deal in terms of storage capacity, and it gets better when you consider the performance benefits of the higher-end console. The vast majority of S owners are going to want the 1TB expansion drive, and those gamers would arguably be better off getting the Xbox Series X instead.
Gamers who want to save money by going with the S, or who have no plans to invest in 4K panels, should consider picking up a USB drive to use for archiving Xbox games they aren’t currently playing. While you can’t play next-generation titles off a USB drive, you can back them up to it, avoiding the need to repeatedly download favorite titles. It won’t solve your problem, but it’ll mitigate the worst aspects of it until you’ve got enough cash pulled together for an expansion drive.
The PS5 ecosystem is a bit simpler in this regard because both versions of the platform come with the same SSD (approximately 667GB of storage reported usable on the drive, out of 825GB base). Evaluated strictly in terms of storage, you get 364GB for $300 (Xbox Series S), 667GB for $400 (PS5 Digital), and either 667GB or 802GB (usable storage in both cases) if you buy a PS5 or Xbox Series X. What does this demonstrate? Absolutely nothing, unless you buy your console according to really weird optimization parameters.