Ben Heck Tears Down (and Repairs) a Virtual Boy

Subject: Systems, Mobile | November 27, 2016 - 04:25 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 - 07:00 AM |
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.

nintendo-2016-nesclassic-inside-peterbrowngamespot.jpg

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 - 12:19 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 - 11:40 AM |
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.

20-nintendo-switch-1200x923.jpg

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 - 07:58 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.

nvidia-2016-shieldx1consoles.png

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.

Honey, I Shrunk The NES

Subject: General Tech | July 17, 2016 - 01:07 AM |
Tagged: Nintendo, nes, gaming, !console

Fans of the 90s (and late 80s) will be happy to know that Nintendo is bring back the Nintendo Entertainment System in the form of a modern and miniaturized package. The NES Classic Edition is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and offers up 30 built in classic NES games! It will be available for the holiday season at $59.99 sans old school RCA jacks and finicky cartridges!

nes-classic-edition.png

Nintendo has not provided details on the internals of the console, unfortunately, but it seems to be using a low power SoC that runs emulated versions of the games. That is to say that it is likely Nintendo is using modern components rather the original hardware. One clue is that Nintendo states that gamers will be able to use multiple suspend points on each game and will not have to worry about using continue passwords each time they load up a game. A poster over at Ars Technica suggests that Nintendo may be using the guts of an existing or new 3DS handheld console to power the NES Classic Edition, but we'll have to wait for someone to get thier hands on it to know for sure what is going on under the hood.

On the outside, the NES Classic Edition looks nearly identical to the NES many gamers (myself included) grew up with except for the controller ports being different and of course the physical size! There is even a cartridge slot cover though it is only there for aesthetics and does not actually open (it would have been awesome if it opened to reveal an SD card slot!). Around the back you will find the AC power input and an HDMI video output which is great to see in this age where hooking up an old school console can be a pain (or a chain of adapters heh). There is no word on what resolution the console will output at or if there will be any upscaling...

Speaking of controllers, Nintendo has brought back the old school rectangular gray controller from the original NES which it is calling the NES Classic Controller. This controller plugs into the NES Classic Edition console using the same proprietary port found on the bottom of Wii Remotes (because going with a USB port would have been too easy heh), and users can plug up to two NES Controllers into the console to play with a friend or plug the controller into a Wii Remote in order to play classic games found on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Consoles.

The NES Classic Edition comes with a single controller. Additional controllers will have a MSRP of $9.99. Alternatively, gamers can plug their Wii Classic Controller or Wii Classic Controller Pro game pads into the mini NES.

The bite-sized NES will come with 30 built in games. This number is sadly not expandable as there is no external memory or internet connection on the console (modders would have loved this thing...).

The list of games is as follows:

  • Balloon Fight
  • Bubble Bobble
  • Castlevania
  • Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
  • Donkey Kong
  • Donkey Kong Jr.
  • Double Dragon II: The Revenge
  • Dr. Mario
  • Excitebike
  • Final Fantasy
  • Galaga
  • Ghosts N' Goblins
  • Gradius
  • Ice Climber
  • Kid Icarus
  • Kirby’s Adventure
  • Mario Bros.
  • Mega Man 2
  • Metroid
  • Ninja Gaiden
  • Pac-Man
  • Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream
  • StarTropics
  • Super C
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Super Mario Bros. 2
  • Super Mario Bros. 3
  • Tecmo Bowl
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

I am excited to see the Castlevania and Zelda games on here along with, of course, the Super Mario Bros. games. I do remember playing Dr. Mario and Ninja Gaiden as well, but there are several games that I have fond memories of playing that did not make the cut! For example, I remember playing a lot of Super Off Road, Duck Hunt (how do they not have this? I guess the old gun wouldn't work with new TVs so they would have to figure something else out though), RC Pro-Am which I loved, and a few others I can't remember the names of anymore).

I have no doubt that this is going to be an extremely popular seller and a great gift idea for the gamer in your life (or yourself! hehe). I wish that it had more games or at least ROM support so that it had a bit more life, but for what it is it is not a bad deal. After all, the original NES launched at $199.99 in 1985 which would make it almost $450 in today's dollars! For those interested, it should be up for pre-order at some point, but for now it is still notify only at Amazon US.

Are you excited for the tiny NES Classic Edition or is your trusty NES and cartridges collection still kicking? What were your favorite NES games growing up (if any)?

Source: Nintendo

Dolphin 5.0 Released

Subject: General Tech | June 30, 2016 - 02:02 AM |
Tagged: pc gaming, Nintendo

Okay, so I'm a week late on this, but what the heck. Dolphin 5.0 was released on their website. The project is a Wii and GameCube emulator that is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. This version focuses on compatibility. They claim that about 85% of titles, including WiiWare and virtual-console games, can be played from start to finish, with about 14% of all titles doing so flawlessly.

That said, it also adds several performance features. They improved the JIT compiler, added texture pooling to prevent reloading the same texture over and over, and even added DirectX 12 support, although they don't elaborate on why that would be useful for this workload. While they have not extended support to Vulkan, they do use the “Approaching Zero Driver Overhead (AZDO)” features of OpenGL and its extensions to raise performance on other platforms.

The emulator is available at their website.

Source: Dolphin

Nintendo Announces NX Launch Window

Subject: Systems | April 27, 2016 - 03:51 AM |
Tagged: Nintendo, amd

Not a whole lot to go off for this announcement. I mean, hints have been dropped, partners have made announcements, and leaks have surfaced for over a year at this point. The only thing that today brings is a release window: March 2017. The final name, exact specifications, and even whatever the thing is that makes this console different, are all currently unknown. Given that E3 2016 will be the last E3 before release, though, I expect that we will find out all about it in June.

nintendo-2016-logo.jpg

Speaking of announcement dates, though, today is an odd one. Midnight (PST) on a seemingly random Wednesday in April doesn't hold any significance to me. Sure, it aligns with their earnings report for investors. Maybe a release date would help raise their stock price (or buffer its potential fall) but it doesn't mean a whole lot for its fans. Does that matter, though? Maybe not.

While this site is PC-oriented, we do touch on console coverage. When the WiiU launched, Ryan disassembled the console over the course of a five-hour livestream, which was archived YouTube. (He dismantled the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 as well.) We are also interested in how AMD benefits from this whole arrangement. That company is one of the few sources for x86 processors, which gaming consoles have been flocking to, as well as high-end graphics. Combine the two, and you can get a relatively cheap system that is quite competent (for not having a discrete, add-in graphics card) at gaming workloads. According to AMD's previous earnings call, they secured multiple design wins, but we'll need to wait and see whether this is one, and whether it includes the CPU this time. As an aside, Nintendo also recently joined the Khronos Group, so that could eventually be interesting for our readers, too... or not.

Legend of Zelda in WebGL Voxels

Subject: General Tech | April 4, 2016 - 01:30 PM |
Tagged: zelda, webgl, Nintendo

Before it invariably gets taken offline, you might want to check out a remake of the original Legend of Zelda. It's not just a straight port of the original, though. Its pixel art assets were remade in voxels, which are rendered in WebGL at an angle that's similar to what the original pixel art implies. Original NES controls are overlaid on the screen, which is useful for multi-touch, but keyboard also works.

nintendo-2016-zeldaunofficialvoxel.png

Most of the game is plugin-free and running in the browser. The only thing that requires plug-in support is audio, and it doesn't play nice with click-to-activate. It would have been nice for them to implement it in WebAudio API, and implement Gamepad API while they're at it, but who am I to criticize a passion project that will likely be challenged by Nintendo in a handful of days?

I'm not sure how complete the game is. They seem to imply that all eight dungeons are available, but I haven't had a chance to check.

Old Video About an Older Gaming System...

Subject: General Tech | November 29, 2015 - 07:33 AM |
Tagged: snes, retro, Nintendo

So I missed this one until yesterday, when Dave Voyles of Microsoft tweeted it out. While the video was published in 2011, it doesn't have too many views and this topic only gets better with age (pretty much).

nintendo-snes.jpg

Image Credit: "Wikipedia SNES PAL" by JCD1981NL - Own work
Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons

The narrator opens up a Super Nintendo, which is a PAL kit for North Americans wondering why the casing looks so different. The console has a dedicated CPU, RAM, two sound processors with RAM, and a four-package video chipset of two graphics chips and two VRAM packages. The two video chips, each paired with a package of RAM, are used in tandem but apparently cannot see into each others memory. This reminds me of the split-memory architecture on the PS3, which provides 256MB to the Cell processor and 256MB to the NVIDIA GPU.

Another interesting note is that, because the sound system has its own 8-bit Sony processor, sound effects and music will continue to play when the main system freezes. I never really thought about it until I watched this video, but I believe I've actually experienced that a few times in the early/mid 90s. I just never thought much about it because computers were still somewhat magical back then.

Source: YouTube