Games have ballooned in size over the last generation, making the small capacity and relatively low-speed hard drives that the PlayStation 5 and Xbox One launched with struggle to keep up. New analysis of an alleged Xbox Series X prototype unit suggests Microsoft may include support for expandable storage, but the format in question is currently reserved for high-end, high-price applications.
The supposed leaked photos of an Xbox Series X prototype that surfaced last month showed a fairly standard array of ports on the unit's back side, save for one exception: a single rectangular port between the lone HDMI connection and the optical audio port. Now, Thurott's Brad Sams reports that sources familiar with Microsoft's plans for the console say the port in question is for storage expansion, and an analysis of the port's dimensions suggests which format it's for: CompactFlash Express.
We know both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X are aiming to cut down load times by using solid-state drives, but since capacity of those drives could still prove to be an issue, storage expansion is a pressing matter. With the Xbox Series X's reveal in December, Microsoft announced it would use an NVMe SSD, which Digital Foundry notes could make upgrading the Series X's storage without compromising on performance an easy task.
Most NVMe drives with capacities of 1TB or more will set you back over $100, but at the moment CompactFlash Express cards are far more expensive than that. They're blisteringly fast, with read and write speeds of around 1.5GB/s, but the main place you'll find them in use these days are high-end cameras. If you're in the business of capturing RAW 4K video, then a $599 SanDisk CFexpress card with 512GB is probably a fraction of what your camera costs, but it far exceeds the cost of any console currently on the market.
If the photos in question are actually of a real Xbox Series X prototype, then another possibility presents itself: maybe this particular model has a CompactFlash Express port for the purposes of testing. Even though the photos suggest that prototypes close to the Series X's official design are in the wild, console prototypes and developer kits often have features that the retail versions lack. Swapping out a CFexpress card would almost certainly be faster and easier than replacing or adding another NVMe drive inside the Series X.
Until Microsoft gives more details on how the Series X's storage works, there's no reason to go scooping up NVMe drives or CFexpress cards. If you've already got some, though, you might find a new use for them come holiday 2020. For more on what Microsoft definitely has planned for its next console, read our recap of what it confirmed following the Xbox Series X's reveal.