Xbox One X PC Build: Can you do it for $500?

Creating the PC equivalent of the $500 Xbox One X is trickier than you might guess.

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Is it worth it to try building your own Xbox One X?

For the time being, Microsoft’s created a machine that the DIY PC crowd can’t match—at least, not when you try to copy both its feature set and cost. The 4K UHD Blu-Ray disc drive really throws a wrench into this build challenge, and even without it, the Xbox One X holds its own. This situation might be a first, given how often PC gamers tout the benefits that console fans miss out on.

xbox one x @ microsoft e3 showcase Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Still, it’s not a complete victory for the Xbox One X. PC gaming doesn’t require an optical drive, after all. You can enjoy 4K gaming, 4K video content, and HDR through digital downloads—the RX 580 will handle all that just fine. That drops the cost of the cheaper build we priced out.

The holiday shopping season should also yield some sweet deals on at least some of these build components, making the Xbox One X easier to reproduce as a punchy $500 PC.

But just how punchy, you ask? Well...

We built an Xbox One X PC!

PC enthusiasts—and curious console gamers—all want to know just how much performance you’ll get by going the Xbox One X PC route. We decided to find out.

For our November live build, we assembled a Ryzen 3 build in real time on YouTube. It’s very similar to the parts list above, though due to cost, a few components are different.

While the CPU, motherboard, and storage drive are the same, we substituted in faster RAM, the lone RX 580 that we have, a spare Blu-ray drive and power supply, and a case we purchased on sale. This particular Ryzen 3 build features these components:

Well, it did until we discovered that the Thermaltake case couldn’t accommodate Asus’s behemoth graphics card. A spare ATX case was called into service.

We also threw together an FX-8300 build to see whether the Ryzen 3 build would outperform it. We made a few part substitutions—a different motherboard, power supply, and case—that didn’t affect performance. We did, however, use the same Strix RX 580 graphics card (literally the same card) listed among the Ryzen 3 PC’s components just above.

Xbox One X PC benchmarks

Gaming performance

For our tests, we first ran the benchmarks in three games—Gears of War 4, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Middle-earth: Shadow of War—on multiple settings: 4K resolution with High graphics, 4K resolution with Medium graphics, and 1080p resolution with the highest default graphics setting (typically Ultra).

I chose these three configurations to see how much parity exists between our builds and the Xbox One X. Microsoft has marketed the latter as both a 4K/30-fps console for those who own a 4K TV, and a 1080p/60-fps console for those who don’t.

xbox one x pc build gears of war 4 PCWorld
xbox one x pc build rise of the tomb raider PCWorld

Note: Rise of the Tomb Raider's maximum default graphics setting is Very High, while Gears of War 4 and Middle-earth: Shadow of War top out at Ultra.

xbox one x pc build shadow of war PCWorld

Both PCs made good on my promise of 4K/30-fps on Medium. However, since the June E3 announcement of the Xbox One X, it’s been clear that Microsoft has targeting an experience that’s closer to 4K on High or 4K on Ultra.

Our PC clones can manage High and Ultra in some games at 30fps, but you’ll likely need to fiddle with the settings to make it work smoothly. (That is, ticking down or turning off some details to reduce the load on the hardware.) Built-in benchmarks don’t always reflect how well the entire game is optimized.

That’s not a ding on our builds, however. The Xbox One X also doesn’t run at the equivalent of default High or Ultra PC settings. If you dig into deep dives on the Xbox One X’s graphics output—like those done by Digital Foundry—it seems that game developers are using a mix of settings to achieve a crisper and more detailed look without completely tanking system performance.

Still, our builds won’t forever keep parity with the XB1X on this hardware. I’ll be the first to admit that. Because game devs can get closer to the metal on console, they can continue to make new titles work on ever-aging hardware. That’s never been the case on the PC side of things. But more on that in just a moment.

Ryzen 3 1200 vs. FX-8300

First, let’s take a quick detour to discuss the difference in CPU performance in our two PCs. I chose the Ryzen 3 build because the chip is newer and it also provides better opportunities for upgrades. As I mention above, Ryzen motherboards—even the lowliest A320 models—support NVMe SSDs.

However, if you plan to do anything else on the machine besides gaming, the FX-8300 still has a small edge. Though it’s not thought of as a true 8-core CPU, it does handle multithreaded tasks a little better than the four-core, four-thread Ryzen 3 1200.

xbox one x pc build cinebench v2 PCWorld
xbox one x pc build handbrake v2 PCWorld

For Handbrake, results are the amount of time the encode lasted (listed in seconds).

I ran two benchmarks to measure CPU performance. Cinebench R15 is a test based on Maxon’s 3D rendering engine, and usually takes only a few minutes to complete. For a longer test, we use Handbrake (a popular encoding program) to convert a 30GB MKV file into a smaller MP4 using the Android Tablet preset. The encode can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours on desktop systems, depending on how powerful the CPU is. Both benchmarks max out CPU utilization at 100 percent.

The increase in performance over the Ryzen 3 1200 was about 10 percent in these multithreaded tasks. While that sounds like a sizable amount, it's about a six-minute difference for the Handbrake encode in real-world terms.

xbox one x pc build cinebench st v2 PCWorld

In single-threaded tasks, Ryzen 3’s newer architecture keeps the 1200 ahead of the nearly five-year-old FX processor. Choosing the Ryzen 3 part gives a roughly 35-percent increase in performance over the FX-8300. That said, you won’t really see a much of a difference when gaming at 4K or at 1080p/Ultra. Most of the computational load is on the GPU instead of the CPU.

xbox one x pc build rise of the tomb raider cpu v2 PCWorld

A gap opens up when the the load shifts back to the CPU, however. You can see that when running gaming benchmarks at 1080p on Medium. It’s particularly notable in the Rise of the Tomb Raider results.

So which system should you build, if you’re deciding between the Ryzen 3 and the FX-8300? Personally, I’d go for the newer chip and the option for faster storage, but if you find the FX-8300 for dirt cheap, it’s still worthwhile.

Final thoughts on our Xbox One X build

Now that we’ve completed our builds and put it to the test, my reaction to them is a little different than when they were just part lists.

First, these PC clones really emphasized the Xbox One X’s appeal as a no-hassle alternative to a gaming PC. Don’t get me wrong: I had fun building these systems. But I spent hours poring over component prices. I also literally bled for the cause. (Inexpensive cases extract a different kind of high cost.) Most people don’t get paid to do this like I do—so for non-diehard PC fans, the XB1X will do a very good job of balancing value and performance.

Second, with component prices being inflated as they are, I wouldn't try hard to match the Xbox One X spec-for-spec right now. Instead, I’d treat these builds as having a targeted level of performance and then pick components with the mindset of a PC gamer. So no Blu-Ray drive, and at least an upgrade of the Ryzen 3 motherboard to a B350 model to give myself the option to overclock. I’d install a 120GB SATA SSD as a boot drive, too, because using a hard-disk drive is painful.

If I were able to expand my budget, I’d also upgrade the CPU to a Ryzen 5 1400 and opt for a nicer case. I’d splurge on a larger SATA SSD or even a faster PCI-E NVMe SSD as well.

That, of course, would inflate the cost of the build. But if you can’t keep the price of the build down because of outside influences, you may as well embrace the benefits of the PC: Being able to put in faster and/or more powerful hardware whenever you please. Sure, in a few years, that RX 580 will struggle with 4K in the latest triple-A games. But its successor won’t.

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