Microsoft’s Xbox One X got an official price tag at E3 last week. At $499, it’s coming in at the same price the original Xbox One debuted at. In this case the additional cost has been directly spent on the platform’s gaming horsepower rather than its ill-fated Kinect 2 peripheral.
There’s a lively debate that goes on between computer and console gamers over which platforms offer the best horsepower for your gaming dollar. Whenever a new console hits, it’s interesting to compare what it packs with what you can buy in equivalent PC components.
The Xbox One X is expected to broadly target 30fps @ 4K, though some games, like Forza Motorsport 7 will have a 60fps frame rate. For our comparison purposes, we’ve targeted the 30fps mark. But whether you can match the Xbox One X with an equivalent PC build isn’t just about horsepower; it’s also about how you define the word ‘match.’
Setting some ground rules
The first thing I want to do is acknowledge there’s never going to be a 100-percent-clean matchup between a console and a PC. Not only are the two machines aimed at different environments and have different use cases, but people perceive these benefits differently. To one buyer, spending more money on a PC still makes good sense, because that system is also the primary way they access the internet, work from home, or use social media. Another buyer may handle their browsing from a tablet or smartphone, and find little additional value in a PC’s flexibility.
These aren’t factors we can put a dollar value on, or cleanly estimate for any PC versus console matchup. Even if we confine ourselves solely to the gaming question, the relative value of each platform’s ecosystem varies depending on how invested you are in it. If you have tons of games on Steam, Xbox Live, or PSN, that’s going to change how you weight each platform.
There’s also the question of peripherals and displays. If you own a nice gaming keyboard, mouse, and 4K monitor, that’s going to push you towards the PC side of the equation. If you’ve already bought a 4K HDR TV, you may not be interested in buying a separate monitor. Conversely, if you’ve already got a really nice monitor, you might not want to buy an expensive 4K TV.
If you have a bunch of friends who already own Xbox Ones or PS4s, then paying a monthly fee for online services may not seem that significant, especially when you can get gift cards that reduce the cost. If you’re looking at this question from the PC side, where non-MMOs tend to be free (and even most MMOs have adopted an F2P model), then you may feel differently.
In short, there’s always going to be specific and particular factors that can tilt a gamer towards consoles or towards PCs. I’m not going to pretend that we can answer those questions just by comparing PC and console pricing.
The next topic I want to address is the question of how we compare PCs with consoles. Thanks to sheer size, Microsoft can get deals on Xbox One X components that you and I simply can’t touch buying from Newegg or Amazon. Part of what complicates this is that Microsoft isn’t making any money on the Xbox One X, which means there’s no markup on the parts. Remember, our goal here is to hit the same overall visual quality and frame rate that the Xbox One X is expected to offer. That means needing higher-end components than what it takes to deliver 1080p.
For my first PC-versus-console comparison, I specced out a PC that would duplicate all the capabilities of the Xbox One, except for UHD Blu-ray playback. While this first build contains a Blu-ray optical drive, UHD Blu-ray drives for PCs are still extremely expensive. All prices are current as of 6/18/2017 and were sourced from Newegg.
Opting for Intel over AMD may be controversial with some fans, but it’s a choice I stand by if the goal is to squeeze into an Xbox One X comparison. AMD’s Ryzen chips are a non-starter; the cheapest Ryzen 5 cores are still $169. There’s no room in our budget for a chip that pricey. Meanwhile, AMD’s FX-class processors are outdated, power hungry, and often lag behind Intel’s CPUs in minimum frame rate times. Average fps rates show less difference, but high minimum frame rates are essential to making a game feel smooth. Furthermore, if you opt for the FX family, you’re also going to be limited to DDR3 and have no upgrade path whatsoever. Ryzen 3 could give AMD a leg up in these kinds of budget builds, but we’ll have to wait for those CPUs to become available before we’ll know.
The Core i3-7350K isn’t a quad core, and a quad-core is what we’d prefer. But it supports two cores, four threads, offers overclocking if paired in a compatible motherboard, and has a high 4.2GHz clock speed. We’ve specced out an Asrock Z270M to pair with it for overclocking.
There’s an alternate solution if you want an Intel PC with a slightly lower price point. Dropping to an Asrock H270M pulls the price down to $85 for the motherboard, while the Intel Pentium G4560 also offers Hyper-Threading, but at a lower 3.5GHz base frequency. Substituting these two parts for the Core i3-7350K + Asrock Z270M will save you $25 on the motherboard and $25 on the CPU, for a final all-in cost of $850.
The case chassis from Thermaltake isn’t the cheapest you can buy. But larger cases are generally easier to work in and the Thermaltake we picked gives you the option to build with a full ATX motherboard instead of being limited to mATX options. We opted for a GeForce 1060 6GB because none of AMD’s RX 500-series cards are selling for their supposed MSRPs.
There’s also some opportunity to save money on the Windows 10 OEM license. I’ve seen other companies selling Windows 10 Home keys for less than $100 (typically in the $20-$30 range) but I’m wary of these kinds of deals without assurances the product keys are guaranteed to work. $100 reflects Newegg’s price for the OS. Obviously people who don’t care about running genuine software can save money there.
But even if we knock $50 off the CPU + motherboard combo, ditch the Blu-ray, and don’t count any OS cost at all, the PC is still coming in at $704.55. The answer is straightforward: You can’t equal the horsepower of the Xbox One X within a $500 budget when building your own PC. That will likely change 2-3 years from now. Today, the Xbox One X is a deal that’s hard to beat.
What about upgrading?
I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t acknowledge most PC gamers have been PC gamers for years, and already have existing hardware that can be repurposed in a new build. Again, I can’t account for every eventuality — it’s possible that your gaming rig from 2012 has enough CPU horsepower and RAM already that the only thing you need is a new GPU (which means, yes, you can easily beat the Xbox One X at the $500 price point). For simplicity’s sake, we’ve considered a scenario where you need a new CPU, GPU, motherboard, and DDR4 RAM, but can source the rest of your components from a previous build.
Here, you’re on much stronger ground. In fact, drop to the Pentium G4560 and the Asrock H270M, and you’ve arrived at a final price of just $518. If you’ve got a Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge, or Haswell CPU, you may be able to forego upgrading your motherboard and RAM at all, which definitely means you can deliver a cost-effective upgrade above the Xbox One X’s performance level. For more information on the GTX 1060 and why we’ve picked this GPU in particular, check Eurogamer’s article on using that card to approximate the 4K capabilities of the PS4 Pro, and how well it works.
Conclusion: The Xbox One X is technologically tough to beat
Keeping in mind that we’re speaking strictly about performance, rather than evaluating TCO with included online service costs, the Xbox One X is impossible to beat if you’re building your own system from scratch. Upgraders, however, may have much better luck, especially if your system was high-end within the past five years. CPUs and motherboards haven’t aged the way they used to, and plenty of top-notch gaming performance is available from components that would’ve been far too old to be useful if this was the early 2000s.
But these comparisons will ultimately remain anchored in questions of personal value that no spec sheets can match. If you want to build a UHD Blu-ray collection, the Xbox One’s support for that standard is worth several hundred dollars on an equivalent PC right now. If you have friends who play Xbox One games, being able to play with them is a value you may not be able to replicate on the PC until and unless cross-play becomes far more common than it is now. If you’ve already got a 4K TV, you may not want to buy a 4K monitor (or vice-versa). In short, the varying ways that people perceive this question will continue to fuel plenty of fanboy arguments for the indefinite future.