The Nintendo Switch has been generating a fair bit of heat in the media this last little while. The prospect of a new entrant into the console game has many gamers excited. And the flubbing of the WiiU has many Nintendo hopefuls holding their breath for a hit this time. While it’s still too early to say how the new console will fair on the market, we now know some new details that shed some light on how powerful this new platform is.
As many of you no doubt know, the Switch’s main selling point is the possibility for multiple modes of play. The console has detachable controllers which can be used in a variety of different ways, and will likely be used for creative gameplay mechanics too. The big difference from the likes of the PS4 is that the Nintendo offering can convert between a handheld, tabletop, or TV mode. Using the included dock, you can connect your Switch to your TV and play all the game in glorious HD. The Nintendo Switch uses a few different tricks to make this conversion work.
The platform will be powered by Nvidia’s older Tegra X1 SoC and not its upcoming Tegra X2 “Parker” SoC, this will be combined with Nvidia’s older second-generation Maxwell architecture to handle graphics rendering. The graphical side of things is where this starts to get interesting though. The Tegra X1 SoC can run up to 2GHz with its clock speed, but Nintendo will tune that clock speed based on whether the console is running docked or in handheld mode.
When docked, the Switch’s GPU runs at a 768MHz, a significantly slower speed than the likes of the NVIDIA Shield tablet. When used as a portable, the Switch downclocks the GPU to 307.2MHz. Nintendo has also said that the option will be in the SDK to disable this limit and run at the lower clock speed.
This does call into question exactly what limits this console can be pushed to. While no one really expected this handheld to compete with the likes of the Xbox One or PS4, there’s one potential problem with using this older hardware. Namely, developers could likely choose to go for the lower clockspeed by default, limiting the potential of their games. The lowest common denominator is something that every game developer has had to tackle at some point, so it makes sense why this might pose a problem for the Switch.
Nintendo will probably seek to make up for things though by targeting a more mainstream audience. The publisher has an impressive library of titles and plenty of retro credibility to fall back on. And if the Switch pushed hard enough for indie titles, the platform could become a great portable option for smaller indie games that are too complex for phones.
Some details remain vague though, like what other minor tweaks Nintendo has made to the platform to improve battery life or rendering potential. We won’t know for sure until the console is released next year.
NINTENDO SWITCH SPECS (AS CONFIRMED BY DIGITAL FOUNDRY)
CPU: Four ARM Cortex A57 cores (theoretical max 2GHz)
GPU: 256 CUDA cores (theoretical max 1GHz)
Architecture: Nvidia second-generation Maxwell
Texture: 16 pixels/cycle
Fill: 14.4 pixels/cycle
Memory Bandwidth: 25.6GB/s
Storage: 32GB, max transfer rate 400MB/s
USB: USB 2.0/3.0
Video Output: 1080p60 maximum
Display: 6.2-inch IPS LCD, 1280×720 pixels, 10-point multi-touch support
If you want more details, check out Digital Foundry’s video on the topic below.