Yes, the Xbox One X is expensive, but is it good value? How much would a powerful (and small form factor) 4K gaming PC cost in its place?
First, a recap on the pertinent bits of the Xbox One X specs:
- CPU: Custom AMD CPU, 8 cores @ 2.3GHz
- GPU: Custom AMD GPU, including:
- 40 Compute Units @ 1.172 GHz
- AMD Polaris features
- 6 TFLOPS of performance
- RAM: 12GB GDDR5
- Storage: 1TB storage (with 8GB flash)
- Optical: 4K UHD BluRay player
- Power supply: Internal 245W
- Dimensions: 30 x 24 x 6 cm
- Price: £449 ($499 US / 499 euro)
And if you’re looking at that list wondering what all the jargon means, here’s a primer on the technology and what all the silly acronyms mean.
So, before we get started, some caveats:
The first thing you’ll notice about the Xbox One X’s spec sheet is that it’s very red – it’s all AMD where it counts. That does colour our choices somewhat, so we’ll cover two builds in this article: the first will be as authentic as we can possibly make it, using all AMD components; the second will be the best spec we could possibly cram into a console-sized case for high-end, 4K gaming.
The second thing is that processor stock unit. We don’t know exactly what it is – both Microsoft and AMD have been cagey about exactly what powers the current generations of consoles – but that configuration of lots of cores with a relatively low clock speed is hard to match exactly. There are Intel Xeon server processors that come close, but they’re very expensive. Instead we’ll go over on the clock speed, both for the sake of ease, and to allow for extra operating system overhead on a PC.
The third thing is the RAM. Because the Xbox One X is using an APU-type device – a CPU and GPU integrated into a single board, versus two discrete devices, as we’ll be using in our build – the memory is shared. That will mean, as with the CPU, we’ll need to make an approximation or two to present a realistic and usable build.
The fourth thing is the size – it’s tiny. Seriously freaking small. We’re going to struggle to get our spec quite as small as the Xbox One X, without absolutely paying through the nose and possibly having things custom-made. That’s the benefit of Microsoft’s economies of scale in action, folks. We’ll be sticking with retail cases for this design so you can actually build this if you want to, but there are cases that exist that are closer to the size of the Xbox One X – Dr Zaber Sentry, NFC S4 Mini, Dan Cases A4-SFX – but you can’t get one for love nor money at the moment.
And the fifth thing? We’re going to drop the optical drive. From Netflix for 4K movies and Steam for games, you really don’t need one. It takes up less space in the case, and it’ll knock a few quid off the price – we’re probably going to need it.
Xbox One X PC build – the ‘authentic’ specs
CPU – AMD Ryzen 5 1500X
This isn’t the biggest and best of the new AMD Ryzen processors, but it’s got eight threads – which matches our Xbox One X reference – and it’s not stupendously expensive. You should expect to pick one up for around £175. That ‘X’ signifier on the end of the stock unit also means it’s (power) unlocked, so you can push this CPU (further) with overclocking if you fancy (and can keep it cool).
Motherboard – BM350 Socket AM4 Gaming MicroATX
Because we’ve gone for a Ryzen processor, and smaller Mini-ITX AM4 motherboards aren’t yet on sale (though they have been announced) we’re going to have to go for a larger Micro-ATX motherboard. At least they’re pretty cheap: one of these shouldn’t set you back more than around £85.
Case – Erm…
Because we’ve gone for a Ryzen processor, and have therefore had to select a Micro-ATX motherboard – can you see where this is going yet? – we’re going to struggle to fit this into anything like a console build. Bollocks. There are smaller form factor Micro-ATX cases like the Antec VSK2000-U3, but its low-profile expansion slots won’t fit in a beefy enough graphics card.
Right. OK. The best we can do is a Silverstone Grandia GD05B, which looks more like an enormous hi-fi separate than a modern console at a whopping 440 x 151 x 325 (WxHxD mm), but it’ll still just about fit under your telly and only costs about £85.
GPU – AMD Radeon RX 580
This is more like it. The card currently at the top of AMD’s desktop tree, the RX 580, is very close in specification to the GPU inside the Xbox One X. Specifically, it’s got 36 Compute Units/2304 Streams at a base clock of 1.37GHz, versus the 40 Compute Units/2560 Streams at 1.2GHz in the Xbox One X.
It comes in two flavours, with a choice of either 4 or 8GB of RAM, but we’ll go for an 8GB option to ensure it has headroom for that 4K target. One with a modest factory overclock should set you back around £300, but make sure it’s shorter than around 25cm/10″ to fit in the Grandia GD05B.
Power Supply – 500W Modular ATX
One small benefit of the enormous Grandia GD05B case is that you can fit in a standard ATX power supply, and have plenty of room for cabling. Still, cables are the enemy of airflow and cooling in the case, so we’d recommend you spend an extra few quid and get a modular cabled version. You’ll need at least 500W to meet the minimum on that RX 580 GPU, so expend to spent at least £60 on your PSU.
Hard Drive – 1TB SSHD
This one’s easy. You could spend a lot of money on a massive solid state drive, or feasibly fit a small SSD for the operating system and a bigger mechanical drive for storing all those games, but the Xbox One X’s mention of an 8GB cache suggests it’s running an SSHD – a Solid State Hybrid Drive that mixes both forms of hard disk for a good balance of performance and capacity. Expect to spend around £75.
RAM – 8GB
This is also relatively easy, but needs a little explaining. The Xbox One X has 12GB of shared GDDR5 memory, which we expect to be roughly 4GB for the console and 8GB for the graphical stuff, but 4GB in a PC wouldn’t be nearly enough. That’s barely enough to run Windows. To try and compensate for that operating system overhead 8GB would be a more realistic option, and should set you back somewhere around £80 for 2 x 4GB sticks of fast DDR4 RAM.
16GB would be better, though.
You’re also going to need a Windows 10 license – at a cost of around £90 – and some cooling. Expect to spend £20 on a couple of good quality case fans, and another £40 on a really good quality low profile CPU cooler (like a Noctua NH-L9x65 SE-AM4). Oh, and an Xbox One controller for about £60.
Total cost: £1070
Fuck. That came out a lot more expensive than an Xbox One X, didn’t it?
And the sad fact is, that’s a relatively modest configuration. While the RX 580 is as close as we can get to the Xbox One X’s GPU – within the already released models in the Polaris line, at least; they’re probably sitting on something better that’s yet to be announced – it’s going to struggle for 4K gaming, at least on Very High and Ultra settings. That would be a perfect card for 1080p at 60 frames per second gaming with all the settings maxed out, but to push it past those resolutions you’re going to be tweaking the settings down to keep frame rates stable.
It wouldn’t hurt to upgrade that Ryzen 5 processor to a Ryzen 7 – double the price to £350 for the unlocked Ryzen 7 1700X – and stick an extra 8GB of RAM in there, too.
But AMD isn’t the only way. We focused on it because we were trying to get our Xbox One X PC build as authentic as possible to the components within the console; what happens if we let Intel and Nvidia to the party?
Xbox One X PC build – ‘proper’ 4K specs
CPU – Intel Core i7 7700K
Like the ‘X’ signifier on the Ryzen builds, the ‘K’ on the end of an Intel stock unit means it’s unlocked and you can go a bit nuts with it, if you’re into overclocking. But even in its default configuration, the 7700K is a cracking processor: again it comes with eight threads, clocked at 4.2GHz, and costs around £330, similar in price to our recommended Ryzen 7 upgrade on the previous build.
Motherboard – Intel Z270 Mini-ITX Gaming
This is more like it. The addition of an Intel processor means we’ve got immediate access to smaller-form factor Mini-ITX motherboards. Expect a good quality, Z270 gaming board to set you back somewhere around £150, but you could get a ‘standard’ desktop board for closer to £100 and wouldn’t notice much difference.
Case – Fractal Design Node 202
Where the Micro-ATX board limited us to larger chassis, the smaller Mini-ITX motherboard option means we can pick a smaller case. And a smaller case incentivises the manufacturer to do smart things – like mounting the graphics card sideways with a PCI-slot riser – to get closer to that goal of the console form factor. And you can’t do much better than a Fractal Design Node 202, coming in at around £75 for a svelte 377 x 82 x 330 (WxHxD mm).
You can also get it with an included 450W power supply for £125, which is rather nice.
GPU – GTX 1080
You could plump for a GTX 1060 with 6GB of RAM for a cheaper (£250), smaller, lower-power consumption alternative to the AMD RX 580. You’ll get similar (if not slightly better) performance, with amazing 1080p gaming on the highest settings, and decent-enough performance at higher resolutions if you bump the quality down.
Fuck it, we’re going big here. If you want reliable, 60 frames per second gaming at 4K, you’re going to want a GTX 1080. AMD really don’t have anything that competes at this level right now, but that could change when the Vega cards start materialising. As it stands, you’ll want to go for a smaller-form factor GTX 1080 like the Zotac GeForce GTX 1080 AMP Edition – with 8GB of even-faster GDDR5X memory and 2560 Cores at 1683MHz – for around £530.
Proper 4K gaming isn’t cheap, folks.
Power Supply – Not required
This is included with the Fractal Design Node 202. If you went for an alternative case like a Silverstone Raven Mini-ITX gaming case, you’d need to include a power supply.
Hard drive – 1TB SSHD
The same as the previous build… though you could argue if you’re spending all that money on a GTX 1080, you could spring for a proper SSD and not a hybrid.
RAM – 16GB
8GB is fine. 8GB is good enough. 8GB will see you right for most games… but if we’re going all out for 4K gaming, let’s make sure we give ourselves a little headroom. Expect to spend upwards of £140.
Again, like in the first build, you’re also going to need a Windows 10 license – at a cost of around £90 – and some cooling. Expect to spend £20 on a couple of good quality case fans, and a really good quality low profile CPU cooler (like a Noctua NH-L12) for about £45. Don’t forget that Xbox One controller for £60, too.
Total – £1565
Holy shit that’s a lot of money, isn’t it?
You could knock £3-400 off that total bill by swapping in a GTX 1060 graphics card, a non-gaming motherboard, and dropping down to 8GB of RAM. You could even install Ubuntu or SteamOS instead of Windows, to save yourself the cost of the license but you would have to actually learn some Linux (and you’ll get access to a much smaller choice of games via Steam for your trouble).
And if you build all this in a regular tower case, without the requirement of a diddy Mini-ITX motherboard or an ingenious case with a horizontal GPU-mounting riser, you’ll probably save yourself a bit more cash. But if you can’t put it under your TV, it’s not really a console killing PC build, is it?
The Xbox One X PC build – any conclusions?
Yes, people are a bit upset by the price of the Xbox One X. And yes, it is a lot of money, especially compared to what we’re used to paying for consoles.
Though to be fair to Microsoft, if you’re pulling anguished faces at that price tag, then you may have to accept that you just might not be the target market for the Xbox One X. They’re more likely targeting older generations of gamers, with well-paying jobs, cars, houses, and not insignificant disposable incomes. Whether that gamble pays off remains to be seen, but consumers having a choice – even an outlandish, expensive one – is rarely a bad thing.
And if Microsoft can leverage their clout and economies of scale to deliver actual 4K gaming, for £450, in that gloriously small form factor? That’s actually nothing short of a fucking miracle.