Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Nintendo

Price and Other Official Information

Since our last Nintendo Switch post, the company had their full reveal event, which confirmed the two most critical values: it will launch on March 3rd for $299.99 USD ($399.99 CDN). This is basically what the rumors have pointed to for a little while, and it makes sense. That was last week, but this week gave rise to a lot more information, mostly from either an interview with Nintendo of America’s President and COO, Reggie Fils-Aimé, or from footage that was recorded and analyzed by third parties, like Digital Foundry.

From the GameSpot interview, above, Reggie was asked about the launch bundle, and why it didn’t include any game, like 1 - 2 - Switch. His response was blunt and honest: they wanted to hit $299 USD and the game found itself below the cut-off point. While I can respect that, I cannot see enough people bothering with the title at full price for it to have been green-lit in the first place. If Nintendo wasn’t interested in just eating the cost of that game’s development to affect public (and developer) perceptions, although they might end up taking the loss if the game doesn’t sell anyway, then at least it wasn’t factored into the system.

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Speaking of price, we are also seeing what the accessories sell at.

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From the controller side of things, the more conventional one, the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, has an MSRP of $69.99 USD. If you look at its competitors, the DualShock 4 for the PlayStation 4 at $49 and the Xbox Wireless Controller for the Xbox One at the same price, this is notably higher. While it has a bunch of interesting features, like “HD rumble”, motion sensing, and some support for amiibos, its competitors are similar, but $20 cheaper.

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The Switch-specific controllers, called “Joy-Con”, are $10 more expensive than the Pro Controller, at $79.99 USD for the pair, or just $49.99 USD for the left or right halves. (Some multiplayer titles only require a half, so Nintendo doesn’t force you to buy the whole pair at the expense of extra SKUs, which is also probably helpful if you lose one.) This seems high, and could be a significant problem going forward.

As for its availability? Nintendo has disclosed that they are pushing 2 million units into the channel, so they are not expecting shortages like the NES Classic had. They do state that demand is up-in-the-air a bit, though.

Read on to find out about their online component and new performance info!

Another Beautiful, Profound Breach of Nintendo Trademarks

Subject: General Tech | January 19, 2017 - 01:13 AM |
Tagged: pc gaming, ue4, Nintendo

Once again, one of CryZENx’s videos found its way into my YouTube recommendations list. This one outlines progress on their recreation of various Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time elements in Unreal Engine 4. While the graphics have been updated significantly, such as using inverse-kinematics for foot positioning, they have also remade the original pause menu, which wraps around the camera like a box (with no top or bottom).

If anyone is wondering, inverse-kinematics is an animation tool that focuses on goals, as opposed to individual rotations. Instead of bending a knee by X degrees and bending the hip by Y degrees, you say that the foot of the skeleton must be at some point, and the skeleton adjusts to make that happen. This is obviously much easier for animators to visualize in many situations, especially when trying to align to objects that you know will be in range of the skeleton, but not exactly where.

I’m not exactly sure how Nintendo hasn’t struck their Patreon and YouTube pages yet, given their reaction to other fan materials. I’m glad it’s up, though. They’re quite impressive homages to the games they love.

Source: CryZENx

Hack your NES Classic ... carefully

Subject: General Tech | January 10, 2017 - 05:34 PM |
Tagged: Nintendo, NES Classic, hack

The newly released Nintendo NES Classic shipped with 30 classic old games baked into its retrotacular ROMs.  It has now been hacked to be able to play any old game ROM you happen to be able to get your hands on, though of course you will have to make space as the storage capacity of this console is quite limited.  There are several caveats to this of course, ROMs are called read only for a reason and rooting around in them can lead to unintended and possibly permanent consequences.  There is also the source of your ROM to be considered, they tend to come from sources which could be considered slightly less than legitimate.  If you are still interested take a peek over at The Inquirer.

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"It was Russian retro gaming community GBX and a modder called Madmonkey that cracked the rebooted console, and it was Reddit users that seized on the opportunity, to give the hack a go."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Inquirer

Ben Heck Show Virtual Boy Mod Complete

Subject: General Tech | December 23, 2016 - 07:12 AM |
Tagged: virtual boy, Nintendo

A few weeks ago, The Ben Heck Show tore down and repaired a Virtual Boy, with plans on making it smaller and head-mounted in a future episode. While I am a couple weeks late on sharing the second video, Ben Heck and Karen Corbeill have completed their mod, and the device is now attached to a face shield mount. They call the new device “Virtual Man”, which of course they did.

One of the best parts about The Ben Heck Show (and other DIY video worklogs) is the tricks that you’ll see. In this case, Ben Heck explains how a typical scanner can be used to get fairly accurate 2D measurements of devices, because the image is formatted in inches. (He still verifies with a caliper, though, especially since they can have slight distortion on one axis.) This could be quite useful, especially if I end up doing more animations like my Cherry MX switches.

Subject: Systems, Mobile

Vulkan 1.0, OpenGL 4.5, and OpenGL ES 3.2 on a console

A few days ago, sharp eyes across the internet noticed that Nintendo’s Switch console has been added to lists of compliant hardware at The Khronos Group. Vulkan 1.0 was the eye-catcher, although the other tabs also claims conformance with OpenGL 4.5 and OpenGL ES 3.2. The device is not listed as compatible with OpenCL, although that does not really surprise me for a single-GPU gaming system. The other three APIs have compute shaders designed around the needs of game developers. So the Nintendo Switch conforms to the latest standards of the three most important graphics APIs that a gaming device should use -- awesome.

But what about performance?

In other news, Eurogamer / Digital Foundary and VentureBeat uncovered information about the hardware. It will apparently use a Tegra X1, which is based around second-generation Maxwell, that is under-clocked from what we see on the Shield TV. When docked, the GPU will be able to reach 768 MHz on its 256 CUDA cores. When undocked, this will drop to 307.2 MHz (although the system can utilize this mode while docked, too). This puts the performance at ~315 GFLOPs when in mobile, pushing up to ~785 GFLOPs when docked.

You might compare this to the Xbox One, which runs at ~1310 GFLOPs, and the PlayStation 4, which runs at ~1840 GFLOPs. This puts the Nintendo Switch somewhat behind it, although the difference is even greater than that. The FLOP calculation of Sony and Microsoft is 2 x Shader Count x Frequency, but the calculation of Nintendo’s Switch is 4 x Shader Count x Frequency. FMA is the factor of two, but the extra factor of two in Nintendo’s case... ...

Yup, the Switch’s performance rating is calculated as FP16, not FP32.

nintendo-2016-switch-gpu.png

Snippet from an alleged leak of what Nintendo is telling developers.
If true, it's very interesting that FP16 values are being discussed as canonical.

Reducing shader precision down to 16-bit is common for mobile devices. It takes less transistors to store and translate half-precision values, and accumulated error will be muted by the fact that you’re viewing it on a mobile screen. The Switch isn’t always a mobile device, though, so it will be interesting to see how this reduction of lighting and shading precision will affect games on your home TV, especially in titles that don’t follow Nintendo’s art styles. That said, shaders could use 32-bit values, but then you are cutting your performance for those instructions in half, when you are already somewhat behind your competitors.

As for the loss of performance when undocked, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue if Nintendo pressures developers to hit 1080p when docked. If that’s the case, the lower resolution, 720p mobile screen will roughly scale with the difference in clock.

Lastly, there is a bunch of questions surrounding Nintendo’s choice of operating system: basically, all the questions. It’s being developed by Nintendo, but we have no idea what they forked it from. NVIDIA supports the Tegra SoC on both Android and Linux, it would be legal for Nintendo to fork either one, and Nintendo could have just asked for drivers even if NVIDIA didn’t already support the platform in question. Basically, anything is possible from the outside, and I haven’t seen any solid leaks from the inside.

The Nintendo Switch launches in March.

Ben Heck Tears Down (and Repairs) a Virtual Boy

Subject: Systems, Mobile | November 27, 2016 - 09:25 PM |
Tagged: virtual boy, RISC, Nintendo, nec

I was one of the lucky kids who got a Virtual Boy, which was actually quite fun for nine-year-old me. It wasn’t beloved by the masses, but when you’re in a hotel, moving across the country, you best believe I’m going to punch that Teleroboxer cat in the head, over and over. It was quite an interesting piece of technology, despite its crippling flaws.

To see for yourself, Ben Heck published a full disassemble, with his best-guess explanations. He then performs a repair by 3D printing a clamp to put pressure on a loose ribbon connector.

From a performance standpoint, the Virtual Boy was launched with a 32-bit NEC RISC processor, clocked at 20 MHz. Keep in mind that, one, this is a semi-mobile, battery-powered device and, two, it launched around the same time as the original Pentium processor reached 120 MHz. The RAM setup is... unclear. I’m guessing PlanetVB accidentally wrote MB and KB to refer to “megabit” (Mb) and “kilobit” (kb) instead of “megabyte” and “kilobyte”, meaning the Wikipedia listing of 128KB VRAM, 128KB DRAM, and 64KB WRAM is accurate. The cartridge could also address up to an additional 16MB of RAM, meaning that specific titles could load as much as they need, albeit at a higher BOM cost. Shipped titles maxed out at 8KB of cartridge-expanded RAM, though.

Ben Heck’s video will be part of a series, where he will try to make it smaller and head-mounted.

NES Classic PCB Pictured Online

Subject: Systems, Mobile | November 6, 2016 - 12:00 PM |
Tagged: Nintendo, nes, Cortex A7, arm, Allwinner

It looks like Peter Brown, Senior Reviews Editor at GameSpot received an NES Classic and promptly disassembled it for a single photo. From there, users on Reddit searched the component model numbers and compiled specifications. According to their research, the system (unless Nintendo made multiple, interchangeable models) is based on an Allwinner R16 SoC, which has four ARM Cortex A7 cores and an ARM Mali 400 MP2 GPU. Attached to this is 256MB of DDR3 RAM and 512 MB of flash.

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Image Credit: Peter Brown

Thankfully, the packaging of each chip has quite large, mostly legible branding, so it's easy to verify.

In terms of modern phone technology, this is about the bottom of the barrel. The Allwinner R16 should be roughly comparable to the Raspberry Pi 2, only that system has about four times the RAM as Nintendo's. This is not a bad thing, of course, because its entire goal is to emulate a device that was first released in 1983 (in Japan) albeit at high resolution. Not all of the games will be free for them to include, either. Mega Man 2, PAC-MAN, Final Fantasy, Castlevania 1 and 2, Ninja Gaiden, Double Dragon II, Bubble Bobble, Tecmo Bowl, Super C, and Galaga are all from third-party publishers, who will probably need some cut of sales.

Users are claiming that it doesn't look like it could be updated. Counting the ports, it doesn't look like there's any way in, but I could be wrong. That said, I never expected it to be upgradeable so I guess that's that?

The NES Classic Edition goes on sale on November 11th for $59.99 USD MSRP.

Podcast #422 - Samsung 960 Pro, Acer Z850 Projector, Surface Studio and more!

Subject: General Tech | October 27, 2016 - 04:19 PM |
Tagged: z850, x50, video, tegra, switch, surface studio, Samsung, qualcomm, podcast, Optane, nvidia, Nintendo, microsoft, Intel, gtx 1050, Fanatec, evga, acer, 960 PRO, 5G

PC Perspective Podcast #422 - 10/27/16

Join us this week as we discuss the Samsung 960 Pro, Fanatec racing gear, an Acer UltraWide projector, Optane leaks, MS Surface Studio and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

Hosts:  Ryan Shrout, Allyn Malventano, Josh Walrath, Jeremy Hellstrom

Program length: 1:47:11

  1. Join our spam list to get notified when we go live!
  2. Patreon
  3. Fragging Frogs VLAN 14
  4. Week in Review:
    1. 0:06:00 Fanatec ClubSport V2 Ecosystem Review: What is Realism Worth?
    2. 0:25:20 Samsung 960 PRO 2TB M.2 NVMe SSD Full Review - Even Faster!
    3. 0:45:35 Acer Predator Z850 UltraWide 24:9 Gaming Projector Review
    4. 0:54:28 EVGA SuperNOVA 750W G2L Power Supply Review
  5. Today’s episode is brought to you by Harry’s! Use code PCPER at checkout!
  6. News items of interest:
    1. 1:00:50 GTX 1050 and 1050Ti
    2. 1:05:30 Intel Optane (XPoint) First Gen Product Specifications Leaked
    3. 1:11:20 Microsoft Introduces Surface Studio AiO Desktop PC
    4. 1:21:45 Microsoft Windows 10 Creators Update Formally Announced
    5. 1:25:25 Qualcomm Announces Snapdragon X50 5G Modem
    6. 1:31:55 NVIDIA Tegra SoC powers new Nintendo Switch gaming system
  7. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week
    1. Ryan: Chewbacca Hoodie
    2. Jeremy: The Aimpad R5 is actually much cooler than I thought
    3. Josh: Solid for the price. Get on special!
    4. Allyn: Factorio
  8. http://pcper.com/podcast
  9. http://twitter.com/pcper
  10. Closing/Outro

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

NVIDIA Tegra SoC powers new Nintendo Switch gaming system

Subject: Processors, Mobile | October 20, 2016 - 03:40 PM |
Tagged: Nintendo, switch, nvidia, tegra

It's been a hell of a 24 hours for NVIDIA and the Tegra processor. A platform that many considered dead in the water after the failure of it to find its way into smartphones or into an appreciable amount of consumer tablets, had two major design wins revealed. First, it was revealed that NVIDIA is powered the new fully autonomous driving system in the Autopilot 2.0 hardware implementation in Tesla's current Model S, X and upcoming Model 3 cars.

Now, we know that Nintendo's long rumored portable and dockable gaming system called Switch is also powered by a custom NVIDIA Tegra SoC.

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We don't know much about the hardware that gives the Switch life, but NVIDIA did post a short blog with some basic information worth looking at. Based on it, we know that the Tegra processor powering this Nintendo system is completely custom and likely uses Pascal architecture GPU CUDA cores; though we don't know how many and how powerful it will be. It will likely exceed the performance of the Nintendo Wii U, which was only 0.35 TFLOPS and consisting of 320 AMD-based stream processors. How much faster we just don't know yet.

On the CPU side we assume that this is built using an ARM-based processor, most likely off-the-shelf core designs to keep things simple. Basing it on custom designs like Denver might not be necessary for this type of platform. 

Nintendo has traditionally used custom operating systems for its consoles and that seems to be what is happening with the Switch as well. NVIDIA mentions a couple of times how much work the technology vendor put into custom APIs, custom physic engines, new libraries, etc. 

The Nintendo Switch’s gaming experience is also supported by fully custom software, including a revamped physics engine, new libraries, advanced game tools and libraries. NVIDIA additionally created new gaming APIs to fully harness this performance. The newest API, NVN, was built specifically to bring lightweight, fast gaming to the masses.

We’ve optimized the full suite of hardware and software for gaming and mobile use cases. This includes custom operating system integration with the GPU to increase both performance and efficiency.

The system itself looks pretty damn interesting, with the ability to switch (get it?) between a docked to your TV configuration to a mobile one with attached or wireless controllers. Check out the video below for a preview.

I've asked both NVIDIA and Nintendo for more information on the hardware side but these guys tend to be tight lipped on the custom silicon going into console hardware. Hopefully one or the other is excited to tell us about the technology so we can some interesting specifications to discuss and debate!

UPDATE: A story on The Verge claims that Nintendo "took the chip from the Shield" and put it in the Switch. This is more than likely completely false; the Shield is a significantly dated product and that kind of statement could undersell the power and capability of the Switch and NVIDIA's custom SoC quite dramatically.

Source: Nintendo

Rumor: Nintendo NX Uses NVIDIA Tegra... Something

Subject: Graphics Cards, Systems, Mobile | July 27, 2016 - 11:58 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, Nintendo, nintendo nx, tegra, Tegra X1, tegra x2, pascal, maxwell

Okay so there's a few rumors going around, mostly from Eurogamer / DigitalFoundry, that claim the Nintendo NX is going to be powered by an NVIDIA Tegra system on a chip (SoC). DigitalFoundry, specifically, cites multiple sources who claim that their Nintendo NX development kits integrate the Tegra X1 design, as seen in the Google Pixel C. That said, the Nintendo NX release date, March 2017, does provide enough time for them to switch to NVIDIA's upcoming Pascal Tegra design, rumored to be called the Tegra X2, which uses NVIDIA's custom-designed Denver CPU cores.

Preamble aside, here's what I think about the whole situation.

First, the Tegra X1 would be quite a small jump in performance over the WiiU. The WiiU's GPU, “Latte”, has 320 shaders clocked at 550 MHz, and it was based on AMD's TeraScale 1 architecture. Because these stream processors have single-cycle multiply-add for floating point values, you can get its FLOP rating by multiplying 320 shaders, 550,000,000 cycles per second, and 2 operations per clock (one multiply and one add). This yields 352 GFLOPs. The Tegra X1 is rated at 512 GFLOPs, which is just 45% more than the previous generation.

This is a very tiny jump, unless they indeed use Pascal-based graphics. If this is the case, you will likely see a launch selection of games ported from WiiU and a few games that use whatever new feature Nintendo has. One rumor is that the console will be kind-of like the WiiU controller, with detachable controllers. If this is true, it's a bit unclear how this will affect games in a revolutionary way, but we might be missing a key bit of info that ties it all together.

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As for the choice of ARM over x86... well. First, this obviously allows Nintendo to choose from a wider selection of manufacturers than AMD, Intel, and VIA, and certainly more than IBM with their previous, Power-based chips. That said, it also jives with Nintendo's interest in the mobile market. They joined The Khronos Group and I'm pretty sure they've said they are interested in Vulkan, which is becoming the high-end graphics API for Android, supported by Google and others. That said, I'm not sure how many engineers exist that specialize in ARM optimization, as most mobile platforms try to abstract this as much as possible, but this could be Nintendo's attempt to settle on a standardized instruction set, and they opted for mobile over PC (versus Sony and especially Microsoft, who want consoles to follow high-end gaming on the desktop).

Why? Well that would just be speculating on speculation about speculation. I'll stop here.