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Xbox Series X storage: everything you need to know

Xbox Series X storage
(Image credit: Future)

If you’ve been scratching your head over how Xbox Series X storage works, don’t worry, you’re not the only one. 

Even though the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S are far more user-friendly than gaming PCs, the storage situation isn’t as clear as it should be. There are a few caveats to note, and with space at a premium, you’ll want to ensure you know exactly what you’re buying and why.

We’ll cover everything from internal to external drives, the differences between HDD and SSD and shed some light on what an NVMe SSD actually is. More importantly, you’ll know exactly how Xbox Series X storage works by the end of this guide. 

Remember that everything outlined here relates to the Xbox Series S, too.

Xbox Series X storage: how much do you get?

Xbox Series X storage drive

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The Xbox Series X comes with a 1TB NVMe SSD, while the Xbox Series S is equipped with a 512GB NVMe SSD. The Xbox Series X has 802GB storage, which means 198GB is reserved for system files and the Xbox operating system. 

The Xbox Series S, meanwhile, only has 364GB of usable storage. Games should take up 30% less room than their Xbox Series X counterparts as file sizes are reduced due to developers not targeting a 4K resolution, but you'll likely need to expand the system's memory sooner rather than later.

What is an NVMe SSD? 

Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S

(Image credit: Xbox)

NVMe SSDs (Non-Volatile Memory Express) is a superior storage solution compared to standard hard drives and SSDs. Due to the fact NVMe SSDs use PCIe sockets for data transfer, they can send up to 25x more data than the slower SATA equivalent (which is the hard drive the Xbox One uses). 

NVMe drives also cut out the middle man by communicating directly with a system’s CPU, and the end result is blazing fast performance. Both the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S rely on this new storage format to create a next-generational leap in performance, so it’s crucial to understand the difference between the three types of drives.

Is an NVMe SSD the same as an SSD? 

Samsung 970 EVO Plus

(Image credit: Samsung)

No, and that can often be confusing for many – particularly as Microsoft regularly refer to their storage as just “SSD”. Regular SSDs (solid-state drive) rely on SATA, which is a far slower way of transferring data within a system. An SSD is still much faster than a regular mechanical hard drive (and less prone to failure due to the lack of moving parts), but its speeds pale in comparison to an NVMe drive.

How to expand Xbox Series X/S storage 

Xbox Storage Expansion Card

(Image credit: Seagate)

Microsoft’s solution to expanding the Xbox Series X/S’s internal memory with more super-fast NVMe storage is rather elegant, albeit expensive. Microsoft has released a 1TB Storage Expansion Card that slots into the back of both consoles, much like a memory card. Anything you store on the NVMe drives will benefit from the full suite of power that the Xbox Series X/S provide.

Microsoft has also revealed that more storage solutions will be on the way, so consumers won’t just be at the mercy of buying the proprietary drive. This is good news, as proprietary drives can often be more expensive than components from third-party manufacturers. 

You can plug in an external HDD or SSD to play Xbox One, Xbox 360 and original Xbox games on. You won’t benefit from the lightning-quick speeds that the NVMe drives can provide, however, SSD drives are still considerably quicker than HDD, so if you do go for an external option, opt for an SSD. Any games that are optimized for Xbox Series X (like Gears 5 for example) will subsequently need to be moved to the internal NVMe drives to be played.

Xbox Series X/S optimized games can be stored on external drives, but they won’t be playable unless they’re transferred back to the main NVMe drives. Quick Resume, which is a feature that lets you suspend and resume multiple games at a time, will work no matter where games are installed.

Xbox Series X (XSX) and Xbox Series S (XSS) storage guide
Can you play XSX/XSS optimized games from it?Can you play XSX/XSS optimized and back-compat games from it?Can you play Xbox One/back compat games from it?Can you store XSX/XSS/Xbox One/back compat on it?
Xbox Series X/S NVMe SSDYesYes (they will benefit from faster load times)Yes (they will benefit from faster load times)Yes
External HDD (USB 3.1)NoNo, only Xbox One/back-compat gamesYesYes, but XSX/XSS optimized games can only be played from the NVMe SSD
External SSD (USB 3.1)NoNo, only Xbox One/back-compat gamesYes (they will benefit from faster load times)Yes, but XSX/XSS optimized games can only be played from the NVMe SSD
Adam Vjestica

Adam is a Senior Gaming Writer at TechRadar. A law graduate with an exceptional track record in content creation and online engagement, Adam has penned scintillating copy for various technology sites, and also established his very own award-nominated video games website. He’s previously worked at Nintendo of Europe as a Content Marketing Editor and once played Halo 5: Guardians for over 51 hours for charity. (He’s still recovering to this day.)