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Xbox Series X vs. Nintendo Switch

The Xbox Series X launched on November 10, bringing next-generation graphics and loading speeds but a limited library of games (for now) and an overly massive build. Its polar opposite is the Nintendo Switch, the portable hybrid console you can take anywhere to play a massive library of Nintendo classics and indie titles, but has weak graphics even compared to the Xbox One X and PS4.

Considering both consoles bring such fundamentally different experiences to the fray, well-off gamers could buy both consoles and enjoy both of them for different games and experiences — assuming you can find the Series X in stock and have $800 plus tax to spare.

However, we’re assuming you’re looking to choose one of these consoles for your day-to-day gaming need. Below, we compare specs, features, game libraries, and more to see which console is the best fit for your living room. If you prefer to stick with Microsoft’s last-gen console, be sure to peruse the best Xbox one deals available now.

Further reading

Specs and performance

Xbox Series X

Nintendo Switch

Dimensions 5.94 x 5.94 x 11.85 inches 10 x  4.2 x 0.5 inches
Weight 9.81 pounds 0.65 pounds
Color Black Dark gray
CPU 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.8GHz Nvidia Tegra X1 with 4 ARM Cortex-A53 cores at 1.02GHz
GPU Custom RDNA 2; 52 CUs at 1.825 GHz with 12.15 TFLOPS Nvidia GM20B; 2CUs at 768 MHz with 393 GFLOPS
Memory 16 GB GDDR6 4GB
Memory bandwidth 10 GB at 560 GB/s; 6 GB at 336 GB/s 25.6GB/s
Storage 1TB NVMe SSD with up to 1TB expandable storage; reportedly 802 GB of usable storage 32GB HDD, support for external microSD cards up to 256GB
Optical drive Yes, 4K Ultra HD Blu-Ray No
Max resolution 8K 720p handheld, 1080p docked
FPS 60 FPS at 4K; up to 120 FPS at 1440p Up to 60FPS for some games
HDR Yes No
Ports HDMI out, three USB-A, SSD card expansion slot, Ethernet, Power On Switch: USB-C charging, microSD card slot, audio jack
On dock: HDMI out, AC adapter, three USB-A
Online subscription Yes, $10/month for Game Pass; $15/month for Game Pass Ultimate Yes, $20 per year; $35 per year for family plan
Price $500 $300
Availability
Digital Trends review 3.5 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars

If we translated the graphical gap between these two consoles, the Nintendo Switch would be a go-kart and the Xbox Series X would be a Bugatti Chiron Super Sport hitting 300 mph. You may still end up preferring the Switch for other reasons, but be prepared for a console that doesn’t have the power to play some of the upcoming next-gen games.

The biggest differences come down to the relative sizes of the consoles. The Series X is a massive brick that will take up a lot of room on your entertainment center and may not fit in your A/V cabinet, one of our criticisms during our review. With that extra space, it can fit 52 graphical computing units versus a mere two in the Switch, and hits 12 teraflops versus the Switch’s 0.4. Yet the Switch and its dock are just over an inch deep, making it much easier to fit anywhere.

What the Switch can do, and the Xbox Series X can’t, is let you play games on the go. Developers have ported beloved favorites like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the Bioshock trilogy, Wolfenstein II, Doom, and Dark Souls so you can play them in planes, trains, and automobiles.

Yet whether in handheld mode or docked into your TV, the Switch can have some performance issues. Docked, the Switch has a maximum resolution of 1080p; in handheld mode, the console caps games at 720p. You’d likely expect this to mean Switch games always perform better on the TV, but docked mode actually can sacrifice frame rates for the higher resolution, which we saw with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The Switch can maintain a consistent 60 frames per second on some titles, but this can translate into lower resolution and lost textures in handheld mode for games like Mortal Kombat 11 and Xenoblade Chronicles 2.

We maintain lists of the best Switch games to play in handheld mode or to play in docked mode, to help you see which games you’ll be able to fully enjoy in your preferred format.

Returning to the Xbox Series X, you’ll have different performance options: 720p, 1080p, 1440p, 4K, and (for select titles) 8K. The different resolution options will help certain games to hit higher frame rates, but in general, you’re looking at consistently high resolution for your 4K TVs. It’s as powerful as a high-end gaming PC, and brings the same sort of customizable graphics that you get with PC gaming.

Storage

Microsoft

Because of the small size and lack of traditional solid-state drive or hard drive on the Nintendo Switch, it isn’t capable of the large storage space found on other systems. The system only comes in one configuration, which offers 32GB of built-in storage space, which you can expand through an optional microSDXC card.

One reason this isn’t a major drawback is that the low graphics of Switch titles translate into much smaller file sizes, so a surprising number of games can fit inside its tiny hard drive. For another, Nintendo built its game cartridges to store the majority of the game files on them, so they take up less hard drive space. The Xbox Series X, on the other hand, makes you download the full size of each game to its internal storage even if you buy a physical disc.

With game cartridges, titles like Super Mario Odyssey (386 MB), Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (947 MB), Animal Crossing: New Horizons (863 MB), and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2.7 GB) can all easily fit into your built-in storage without needing a microSD card. Or, if you do end up buying them digitally, you can invest in a 128GB microSD card, which will be sufficient for most players.

There’s much more built-in storage with the Xbox Series X, which has a 1TB NVMe solid-state drive (SSD). Reportedly about 20% of that space goes toward mandatory system files, but 800GB is nothing to sneeze at. Plus, the fact that your Series X games are stored on an SSD means that loading times for games is significantly lower than on the Switch or older Xboxes.

That said, next-gen games are uncapped and can be massive, so you could see your built-in storage quickly dwindle. Thankfully, you have two easy options for expanding that storage.

First, if you’re an Xbox One X or S owner, you can take your current external hard drive and connect it to one of the Xbox Series X’s USB ports, letting you add multiple terabytes at once. But hard drive storage won’t give you the same performance and fast loading as solid-state storage. So for optimized storage, you can buy a 1TB Seagate SSD expansion card for $220 — expensive, but ensuring you’ll never have to worry about some games performing worse than others.

Game libraries

The Nintendo Switch has a game selection that we haven’t seen from the company since the early booming days of the Wii, and the quality of the games being released is even more impressive. Some of the best exclusive games of all time are available on Switch:

  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses
  • Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  • Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
  • Pokémon Sword and Shield
  • Ring Fit Adventure
  • Splatoon 2
  • Super Mario Odyssey
  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

If these somehow don’t sell you, there are some excellent Switch ports from third-party developers, highlighted by the following gems:

  • Celeste
  • Cuphead
  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Hades
  • Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
  • Overcooked 2
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
  • The Witcher 3

These great titles will soon be joined by hotly anticipated upcoming Switch games like Metroid Prime 4Breath of the Wild 2, and a new Pokémon Snap.

Halo Infinite

Unfortunately, as we noted in our Series X review, its launch lineup is a serious weak point. Because of delays to major titles like Halo Infinite, there just aren’t enough games to play right now outside of current-gen ports. However, there are some new and intriguing games that should arrive on the Series X by the end of 2020:

  • Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  • Cyberpunk 2077
  • Immortals Fenyx Rising
  • Just Dance 2021
  • Tetris Effect: Connected
  • Watch Dogs: Legion

Many of these games are also available on the PS5, but not on the Nintendo Switch. Plus, the Series X does have some upcoming exclusives and cross-platform titles that will put the Series X through its paces, and may be too graphically demanding to work on the Switch:

  • Avowed
  • Dragon Age 4
  • Everwild
  • Fable
  • Far Cry 6
  • Halo Infinite
  • The Lord of the Rings: Gollum
  • The Medium
  • Psychonauts 2
  • Resident Evil VIII
  • Senua’s Sage: Hellblade 2
  • Stalker 2
  • State of Decay 3
  • Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League

Now you can hopefully understand why we’d recommend buying both of these consoles if you can. Each will bring you incredible, award-winning games that the other console can’t offer. Yet even with just one, you’re getting an impressive library of titles, though with a wider range of developers on the Series X.

Cloud-based game streaming

Hitman 3

Game Pass Ultimate, Microsoft’s online subscription for Xbox and PC that gives you a large free gaming library of free titles, recently incorporated Project xCloud, a mobile game streaming service, and renamed it Xbox Game Streaming. Owners of Android phones or tablets can now stream more than 100 AAA games, using cloud servers to run the games so your underpowered devices can handle the graphics. Apple is currently blocking Game Pass and other game streaming apps on its iPhones and iPads, but Microsoft is working on an alternative way to get its games on Apple products.

Assuming you’re willing to pay $15/month for Ultimate, Microsoft gives you a mobile gaming option that theoretically rivals the Switch, letting you stream Halo: Master Chief Collection or Gears 5 anywhere. However, you’ll need a high-speed internet connection to stream these games, while the Switch lets you play its games offline and doesn’t charge you for handheld mode, so it’s still objectively the better option on the go.

Conversely, Nintendo may use cloud streaming to close the power gap between the Switch and the Series X and PS5. In an October Nintendo Direct Mini, Nintendo announced that you could purchase a “cloud version” of Control: Ultimate Edition that day, and that it would sell a cloud edition of the upcoming game Hitman 3 in January 2021. The Switch can’t handle these games natively, but using cloud servers, they can sell these next-gen games so loyal Nintendo fans don’t miss out.

We don’t know whether Nintendo will expand its cloud solution to a larger library of games, or if more developers will be on board with it. But based on our test of Control, it ran well with no noticeable latency or input lag. You’ll need a reliable internet connection and plenty of bandwidth, and won’t be able to play them offline in transit, but this could be an exciting direction for Nintendo, offering next-gen gaming without having to pay next-gen prices for a fancy console.

Backward compatibility

A screenshot comparison showing how the Xbox Series X will update backwards compatible games
Microsoft

Unlike the Wii or Wii U, you can no longer purchase its old titles. But with a Nintendo Switch Online account, you get access to virtually all of the best NES and SNES games for free. Super Mario WorldSuper Mario Bros. 1–3Super MetroidA Link to the PastStar FoxYoshi’s IslandSuper Punch Out!!, Donkey Kong Country 2, and many, many other classics are all free.

That said, there’s no access to N64, Gamecube, or Wii games outside of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, and the best Wii U games were mostly ported at full price to the Switch. Some of Nintendo’s best games from the ’90s, ’00s, and ’10s currently can’t be played.

With the Xbox Series X, Microsoft is continuing its recent excellent track record with backward compatibility. Almost all Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One titles will be playable on the Xbox Series X. Your purchases of old content will transfer over to the Xbox Series X if you use the same account, and Game Pass subscribers will get access to a wide range of Xbox One games while they wait for new Series X games.

Even better, Microsoft explained how the burly processing power of its new console would make old games run better than ever before. The Xbox Series X will incorporate an “Auto HDR” feature that “automatically adds HDR enhancements to games which only shipped with SDR.” Certain 360p Xbox titles and 720p Xbox 360 titles will be optimized to run in 4K, and some Xbox One titles that were capped at 30 FPS will run at 60 FPS.

With literally thousands of games all playable on the Xbox Series X, it’s undoubtedly the best console today for enjoying a long history of games. The Switch, on the other hand, gives you faithful rereleases of a curated list of games that any Nintendo fan will enjoy.

Online services

The Xbox Series X clearly outperforms the Nintendo Switch when it comes to online services, but you’ll have to pay a lot more for it.

Nintendo Switch Online costs $20/year for a single account, or $35/year if you want it to cover all of the accounts on your Switch. With your Series X, you can pay $60/year for Xbox Live Gold, $120/year for Game Pass, or $180/year for Game Pass Ultimate.

With a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, you get access to online multiplayer in games, as well as discounts on certain digital items, and access to the digital game vault of NES and SNES games mentioned earlier. That’s basically it. You won’t see some of the basic features that other online services offer, such as built-in voice chat, new free games every month, discounts on new games, free cloud save storage, and so on.

Xbox Live Gold is Microsoft’s standard online service and offers all of those features mentioned above (minus the NES games). You get four free games a month — two for Xbox One and two for Xbox 360 — and it uses a voice chat system that is compatible across Xbox One and PC. We assume that you won’t see any native Xbox Series X games for free anytime soon, but it’s still a great deal.

With Game Pass, you get access to more than 200 titles across all the generations of Xboxes that you can download to your console, including all first-party Microsoft series like Halo, Gears of War, Forza, and Minecraft; plus, Microsoft recently purchased Bethesda, so series like Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, and Dishonored will also be included. All of Microsoft’s games are available on day one of release, so you don’t need to wait.

Game Pass Ultimate gives you both console and PC game libraries for free, plus the cloud streaming service we mentioned previously.

Wait for the Switch Pro, settle for the upgraded Switch

The Xbox Series X is more powerful by leaps and bounds than the Nintendo Switch, but the rumored Switch Pro could close the gap somewhat, and reportedly has an early 2021 release date. If the leaks and guesses are true, this new console could offer 4K gaming, an improved display for handheld gaming, and other spec improvements. If your greatest concern with the Switch is its weak computing and graphical power, you may want to wait a few months for the newer version.

If you do plan on buying a Switch today, make sure it’s the “new” Switch. Nintendo released a new version that improved the handheld battery life, added a new Tegra X1 processor, made the display slightly brighter, and made minor performance improvements. So make sure the Switch you buy has the model number HAC-001(-01), rather than the original Switch’s model number HAC-001.

Conclusion

The Xbox Series X versus the Nintendo Switch really emphasizes some of the areas that Nintendo needs to improve its services: Online features, graphical hardware, and backward compatibility. That being said, the Switch is still an excellent console simply by virtue of hosting some of the best games available today, and is a handheld marvel that gives you gaming without relying on the cloud and expensive subscriptions.

In its early days, the Xbox Series X is lacking the dynamite new titles that will take full advantage of its ridiculously powerful specs. But thanks to its backward compatibility and promising new titles like Halo Infinite on the horizon, the Series X has a bright future. Although we recommend buying both, the Series X should be your first choice, as it will give you a future-proofed console built for the most graphically demanding games.

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