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Microsoft's Xbox Series S (code name Lockhart): What we know, what we expect

Microsoft came clean about its next-generation game console, the Xbox Series X, last March. Or they least revealed details about its internal components. Now, attention is being focused on “Lockhart,” the code name for what most assume is a cheaper and less powerful version of the Xbox Series X.

That Microsoft should have a second version of the Xbox Series X is no surprise; today, Microsoft sells a $299 Xbox One S as a cheaper alternative to the $399 Xbox One X. It’s possible, then, that Microsoft could simply call this next-gen console the Xbox Series S, a name that’s already stuck among enthusiasts.

News of the cheaper console has been slowly leaking out, so let’s talk about what we know, what we don’t, and what’s likely.

Microsoft’s Xbox One S: A transition between the original Xbox One and the Xbox One X.

When will we see the Xbox Series S (Lockhart)?

Microsoft is expected to roll out both the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S (Lockhart) in time for the 2020 holiday shopping season. Until then, we must wait—most likely until August, when Eurogamer reports Microsoft is expected to announce the Xbox Series S in a webcast similar to its online announcement of the Xbox Series X.

Everyone tends to gloss over the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has impacted Microsoft just as much as its customers. Microsoft’s launch of its Surface Book 3 was delayed because of supply issues, and it’s likely that the Xbox Series S has been affected to some extent as well. Heck, Lockhart’s existence was even in doubt: a year ago, Thurrott.com’s Brad Sams was reporting that Lockhart’s existence was ”scrubbed clean,” but now Lockhart references are showing up in Microsoft’s developer documentation. 

And just to be clear—though we know what the Xbox Series X looks like, we have no idea what to expect with the Series S (Lockhart).

Microsoft’s Xbox Series X. Will the Xbox Series S (Lockhart) look the same?

How fast is the Xbox Series S?

For now, we must put all comparisons of the Xbox Series S (Lockhart) in the context of what we know about Microsoft’s other consoles, including the current Xbox One S as well as the forthcoming Series X. According to Microsoft, the Xbox Series X will include an 8-core, 16-thread version of AMD’s Ryzen CPU, running at a locked clock speed. It will run at at 3.8GHz if a game uses just the CPU’s eight physical cores, or 3.66GHz if developers tap its 16 threads. According to Microsoft’s Phil Spencer, the head of its Xbox division, that translates to 12 teraflops of computing power.

Since the original Xbox One S used the same 1.75GHz 8-core Jaguar CPU as the original Xbox One, the difference between the two lay within the GPU, which was slightly upclocked to 914MHz. All this means is that there was a vast gap between the performance of the Xbox One S (1.4 teraflops) and the Xbox One X (6 teraflops).

Microsoft tapped AMD’s Ryzen architecture to power the Xbox Series X, and presumably Lockhart as well.

The Verge predicts that the Xbox Series S (Lockhart) will have the same CPU as the Series X, though with presumably a slower GPU. That will translate into 4 teraflops of performance for the Series S (Lockhart), and 12 teraflops for the Series X.

Essentially, the Xbox Series X will have a 3.8GHz 8-core CPU, 16GB of GDDR6 memory, and a 1TB internal hard drive. The Series S will presumably have… less?

What will that mean in the real world?

Microsoft’s Xbox One X was designed as a console for 4K TVs, while the One S was optimized for more conventional 1080p displays. It seems likely that those tiers will continue—except that Microsoft has already told Eurogamer that the Series X will support 8K displays. Presumably, that means that 4K displays will be reserved for the Series S, or Lockhart.

We don’t know if specialized Xbox One X features, such as its support for 120Hz displays, will carry over to the Xbox One S console. (That seems reasonable, though at 4K or lower resolutions.) Likewise, we can’t be sure if variable rate shading (VRS) or even ray tracing will be supported. VRS lets a developer “cheat” by putting less graphical detail in areas where players aren’t expected to look. Ray tracing, on the other hand, models the transmission of individual photons, and has been showcased on an version of Microsoft’s Minecraft for the PC. Excluding ray tracing from Microsoft’s cheaper upcoming console would be a stunning disappointment. 

Microsoft has announced an ”Optimized for Xbox Series X” program, a badge that indicates that a game is designed to hit Microsoft’s target of 60 frames per second at 4K resolution. But we don’t know how the Xbox One S (Lockhart) will play into all this.

What about Xbox One S storage?

Microsoft’s next-gen Xbox One X will come stock with a blazing-fast 1TB NVMe solid-state drive, with the ability to double that via a proprietary expansion slot that will bump up the total system price. The Seagate Storage Expansion Card for Xbox Series X will essentially serve as a sort of a virtual memory, Microsoft has said, cutting load times dramatically. There will also be USB 3.2 interface for more conventional external hard drives, according to Eurogamer.

We absolutely don’t know, however, if the Xbox One S (Lockhart) will include any of these improvements. Will it include an SSD? Probably, but again, we don’t absolutely know.

Microsoft’s Xbox Series X will include a slot for a removeable hard drive, the first of which will be manufactured by Seagate. We don’t know if this slot will be on the Series S.

Both the Xbox One S and the Xbox One X also included a 4K UHD Blu-ray drive for disc playback and game loading. The One X included a 1TB hard drive, while the One S included just 500GB (it was later upgraded to 1TB).

Microsoft also launched a $250 Xbox One S Digital Edition without a disc drive, in an attempt to shave off $50 from the Xbox One S price and push Microsoft’s digital storefront at the same time. The Xbox One S has since been discontinued, leading one to wonder if it’s a product concept Microsoft will extend into the Series S era. If the Xbox Series X is exorbitantly pricey, a Digital Edition might be a way to save a few dollars for all concerned.

It’s all speculation, though. We haven’t seen any leaks where Lockhart’s storage is concerned. 

Is the Xbox One S good for streaming?

Absolutely. Both the Xbox One, One S, and One X can run apps like Netflix, HBO Max, or Amazon Prime without issue, and at full resolution. We’d certainly expect that to carry over to the Xbox One S as well.

One opportunity that Microsoft has irretrievably lost is the opportunity for the Xbox to serve as a smart home gateway, controlling smart lighting and appliances in the home. (To be fair, Nintendo and Sony have made no efforts in this regard, either.) 

How much will the Xbox One S (Lockhart) cost?

Right now, that is the million-dollar question. The Xbox One and the Xbox One X launched at $499, so it’s possible that the forthcoming Xbox Series X could do the same. If that’s the case, then a $399 price point for the Xbox Series S (Lockhart) probably becomes the favorite. Remember that today, Microsoft sells a $299 Xbox One S to compete with the $399 Xbox One X after both consoles were later discounted. But this is all speculation: we absolutely do not know the price of either console.

The bottom line: there’s definitely more to come. Stay tuned!

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