Nintendo’s upcoming console will be considerably weaker than its competition.
Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry, which accurately leaked what the Switch itself was before launch, spoke about Switch technical specifications, today.
Let’s take a look at what they said.
Keep in mind that Eurogamer always ensures that its rumors are corroborated by multiple sources, and never publishes them without being essentially certain that they are truthful.
Retail spec sheet
This spec sheet has been circulating on Twitter for quite a while, and Eurogamer can now confirm that it is accurate. Here are the Nintendo Switch’s final retail specs:
- CPU: Four ARM Cortex A57 cores, max 2GHz
- GPU: 256 CUDA cores, maximum 1GHz
- Architecture: Nvidia second generation Maxwell
- Texture: 16 pixels/cycle
- Fill: 14.4 pixels/cycle
- Memory: 4GB
- Memory Bandwidth: 25.6GB/s
- VRAM: shared
- System memory: 32GB, max transfer rate: 400MB/s
- USB: USB 2.0/3.0
- Video output: 1080p60/4K30
- Display: 6.2-inch IPS LCD, 1280×720 pixels, 10-point multi-touch support
According to one of Eurogamer‘s sources, however, the 4K/30 video output option is not included in the retail Switch build. The rest of the list is accurate, though.
Eurogamer also confirms that the Switch runs on Nvidia’s Tegra X1 processor, which lines up with most of the speculation we’ve heard so far.
In spite of the fact that Nvidia said in October that the Switch would be “based on the same architecture as the world’s top-performing GeForce gaming graphics cards”, it seems as though the Switch’s custom Tegra X1 uses Nvidia’s Maxwell microarchitecture rather than newer, better Pascal.
Eurogamer further explains this difference in their report:
Tegra X1’s Maxwell was the final iteration of the architecture and does have technological aspects that are found in Pascal: specifically, double-rate FP16 support. We’re also told that Switch has bespoke customisations that may involve pulling in other Pascal optimisations. And it’s also worth noting that at the nuts and bolts level, Pascal and Maxwell are already very similar.
I’ll spare you all of the technical mumbo jumbo, but basically, the Switch’s customized Tegra X1 will be more powerful than a stock Tegra X1 in some respects, but it doesn’t seem like it will even be used at its full capacity.
There’s nothing in this leak that specifies that the Switch has the same number of cores as a regular Tegra X1, tough, so maybe more cores and lower clock speeds are how Nintendo will get more power out of this machine than we think.
We don’t yet know how exactly the Tegra X1 was customized.
Underclocked in portable mode
We now have confirmation that the Nintendo Switch will be less powerful in portable mode. This is a logical design decision, as the console will have a better battery life and run at lower temperatures than if it ran similarly to when it was docked.
The Switch’s CPU will be running at the same clock speed whether it is portable mode or not, but the console’s GPU will significantly underclock once it’s taken out of its dock.
The specs seen above are the theoretical maximums at which the Switch will run. The system will be slower than this spec sheet suggests, in practice:
- CPU Speed: 1020 MHz
- GPU Speed: 307.2 MHz (undocked), 768 MHz (docked)
- Memory contoller speed: 1331/1600 MHz
Developers will also have the option to keep the Switch’s GPU underclocked when the system is docked, so that the portable and home console variants of the game are the same.
In practice, what this means is that Switch GPU runs 2.5 times faster when the console is docked.
What does this all mean?
This basically means that games will need to have two versions, akin to the already-existing PS4 and PS4 Pro variants of the same software.
Seeing as the console can push 1080p when docked and 720p on the go, it could mean that the portable version will simply be rendered in 720p.
It isn’t every game that runs at 1080p on consoles, however. This could also mean that the portable versions will render the games at 540p and upscale them to 720p in portable mode, or that they will simply have massive visual downgrades in portable mode.
In short, developers will choose how to tailor their games to Switch hardware, and they have many different avenues to explore as far as deciding how games run in portable mode is concerned.
How does Switch compare to PS4 and Xbox One?
It’s weaker when docked, and significantly weaker when in portable mode.
In fact, when in portable mode, the Switch is to the Wii U what the Wii was to the GameCube: an upgrade, but nothing significant.
When connected to the TV, the Switch is pretty far behind the Xbox One. Its CPU is approximately 40% weaker than the Xbox One’s, and its GPU is about 10% weaker.
The Switch’s CPU is approximately 45% weaker than the PS4’s and its GPU is about 10% weaker.
Is the Switch going to be able to run PS4 and Xbox One games?
It seems like this is going to be more difficult than initially expected.
Of course, third-party developers have been praising the Switch, and maybe they will be able to optimize their games enough so that they run on Nintendo’s console, but all signs are pointing to rapid obsolescence.
Just yesterday, Bethesda’s vice-president Pete Hines said that he had “no idea” if the Switch would be able to run the publisher’s upcoming game, Prey, and that Bethesda puts their games out “on any format that supports the games as [they] envisage and make them”.
In other words, Bethesda games will be coming to Switch only if they don’t compromise the publisher’s vision about what the game should be, and it already seems like they’re questioning Nintendo’s next console’s ability to do so.
Considering that the PS4 Pro and Xbox One S recently released, and that Xbox Project Scorpio is coming next year, the Switch will show its age in no time.
Does this mean that it will be a bad console?
Does this ensure that it will fail?
What it does ensure, though, is that Nintendo is once again going to be behind, from a technical standpoint. It also ensures that they will assuredly be making the best, most optimized games for the system, and that the AAA third-party situation may not be as good as some expected.
Many questions still remain, and Nintendo is notorious for not unveiling its consoles’ specs, so the only way to know how significant of a hurdle this will be for developers is to wait and see how (and if) they make games for Nintendo’s next console.