The Nintendo Switch was first officially revealed back in October. Nintendo provided quite a lengthy sneak peek preview video showing its adaptable new games console in use in a variety of ways and places. Again big N wanted to show that it designs its consoles for pure fun father than trying to compete on a hardware spec shopping list. However, Nvidia was pretty proud of its design win so spilled a few hardware details on reveal day, informing us that the Switch used a custom Tegra processor and custom software with specially created optimised gaming APIs.
Less powerful than the three year old PlayStation 4?
Last week sources speaking to VentureBeat revealed more specifics about the processing power of the Nintendo Switch. Two sources told the journal that the custom Nvidia X1 SoC employs the last-generation Maxwell graphics-processing architecture.
According to the unnamed insiders, Nintendo couldn't wait for a Pascal infused Tegra SoC to roll off production lines so plumped for the 20nm Maxwell graphics packing custom chip. On a positive note for Nintendo, it is said to have got the Tegra processors at a "low price" so that could help with the console's penetration.
With the Switch's expected screen resolution of 720p, with Nintendo art style graphics featuring in many key titles the console is still expected to have enough muscle. What happens in titles that are cross platform and comparable to ports across devices such as PS4, Xbox One and PCs could be another matter. VentureBeat ponders whether an upscaled 540p resolution might be employed for smooth gameplay in some fast-action titles.
Clock speeds revealed?
Now EuroGamer and Digital Foundry claim to have dug deep enough to discover the Tegra clock speeds that the Nintendo Switch runs at. Its headline 'discovery' is that while out of the powered dock the device's GPU is massively steeped down (to 40 per cent of its docked speed). But there are a few more interesting details in this custom 20nm Tegra X1 SoC.
EuroGamer sources say that the Switch chip sports four CPU cores clocked at 1020MHz. That's about half a regular Tegra X1 SoC's peak CPU speeds but in this chip Nvidia hasn't gone for an ARM big.LITTLE design, instead it has gone 4 x big… Yes, the chip uses 4x ARM Cortex-A57 CPU cores.
As mentioned above, big changes occur depending on whether the Switch 'tablet' is docked or not. Whatever the mode, the CPU cores don't miss a beat at a steady 1020MHz. However, detach the tablet portion of the Switch and the memory clocks are reportedly tuned down from 1600MHz when docked to 1331MHz. GPU speeds are cut even more drastically in undocked mode. It is said that the SOC's GPU max clocks are down from 768MHz docked, to 307MHz undocked. That's a 60 per cent cut in max GPU clock speeds, to conserve battery one would guess.
EuroGamer speculates that with the portable being designed to be capable of 720p in its lower clocked portable mode, it might be fine at 1080p native as supported by most big TV sets in homes. Remember that the SoC is but one key component of the Switch. Nintendo and Nvidia have worked on optimised APIs and more for the system, so might be able to achieve a surprising amount from the comparatively modest spec sheet.