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.

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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.

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July 27, 2016 | 08:19 PM - Posted by bria5544 (not verified)

If true, this is a better idea than going with semi custom hardware as they have with every console previous. Sticking with a standard means more ports, even if not optimized fully, and allows Nintendo to win back some of that lost marketshare. I'm not sure I agree with the mobile tablet idea but maybe they'll pull it off somehow.

July 27, 2016 | 08:46 PM - Posted by srsbsns (not verified)

Nindendo is hurting so I dont blame them swooping up some bargin bin green team chips.

July 27, 2016 | 08:49 PM - Posted by Mike P (not verified)

If looked at as a traditional console, it's a fail. If looked at as the next Nintendo portable, it's a strong contender against mobile devices with a good array of features that make it 'next generation. If looked at as something entirely new, i'm not sure it will fit that bill.

If it was a traditional console where it was tremendously simple and inexpensive to port existing AAA development to it,i'm pretty sure we could expect more AAA games.. right now if it truly is tegra, I think we'll get re purposed android shovel-ware similar to the garbage that constituted the majoirty of WII releases.

July 27, 2016 | 08:59 PM - Posted by remc86007

What no one seems to be talking about is how bad the memory bandwidth is on Tegra stuff. Developers can more easily make stuff less compute intensive by turning down effects, but if a games environment is sufficiently complex, there is a minimum memory bandwidth the game will run with at at a given resolution.

July 27, 2016 | 09:04 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Yeah. Memory bandwidth is very useful, especially when you start getting into (as you said) high resolution or heavy compute. One of the main reasons I had high expectations for Fury X before it launched.

July 28, 2016 | 12:32 AM - Posted by remc86007

I think in many scenarios, memory bandwidth past the needs of the engine doesn't scale to more performance. On the other hand, too little can be absolutely crippling.

Too bad the Fury parts were held back by their ROP count. (or so I've heard) Can't wait for Vega!

July 28, 2016 | 05:57 AM - Posted by gamerk2 (not verified)

Pretty much this. Extra memory bandwidth provides no performance benefit, and most games are NOT memory bandwidth limited.

July 28, 2016 | 09:27 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Some more good Vulkan News!

"Priorities for Vulkan Next are better multi-GPU support, VR support, cross-API and cross-process sharing, sub-group instructions, generalized render-pass/sub-pass dependencies, and a rigorous memory model."(1)

" "Vulkan Next" Is In Active Development "

July 28, 2016 | 09:48 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

And this:

"NVIDIA Is Building Its Next-Gen Falcon Controller Using RISC-V"

July 28, 2016 | 06:52 AM - Posted by Matt1685 (not verified)

According to Wikipedia the Wii U has 2 GB of DDR 3 RAM with 12.5 GB/s bandwidth. There is also 32 MB of eDRAM. The Nintendo NX could easily have more memory bandwidth than that by using a Tegra. The Tegra X1, for instance, has 25.6 GB/s of memory bandwidth.

July 28, 2016 | 12:12 PM - Posted by remc86007

...which is only 15% better than the Xbox 360 not counting its edram. I think it is really ill-advised for Nintendo to release a system that isn't at least within spitting distance of the now three year old Xbox one.

Even the upcoming Polaris RX-460, which has to be super cheap to build and when downclocked could easily run under 50 watts, has nearly double the memory bandwidth of the Xbox one (not counting edram)

I get that they want to make it mobile, but if the memory bandwidth is below 50GB/s they can say goodbye to running any multiplatform games.

July 27, 2016 | 09:26 PM - Posted by JC AF (not verified)

Tegra ??? I really hope this isn't true. But whatever twist N puts into it will probably make it entertaining like the Wii U... I love playing Mario kart with my daughter .... And I guess any other original / exclusive N game. But I can't ever think about playing anything else on it. For instance, (this might be a bad example) Disney universe, I got that for my daughter for Christmas and it has horrendous graphics and if you play split screen you might as well just stare at the screen because it's a slide show...
If the next generation is in fact powered by a mobile SOC POC than I'm keeping the Wii U for a while.

July 27, 2016 | 10:01 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Nvidia and portable don't mix. Nvidia portable usually means 3hrs or less uptime or portable as long as your power cord takes you.

August 27, 2016 | 05:17 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Nah. I have a K1 tablet and charge/battery life are decent, especially if you're not running full bore.

July 27, 2016 | 10:24 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I am a dum...but what if the dock station has a chip like an X2 and the mobile part has an X1. Then what if there were some magic SLI type action that powers up the complete unit super crazy he-man style when the mobile is connected to the dock.

July 29, 2016 | 05:04 PM - Posted by aparsh335i (not verified)

Best comment here. I like this idea. I dont know if it makes sense, but i like it.

Or what if it's just the main unit is using the X2 and the dock has something like a GTX 1060?

July 27, 2016 | 10:24 PM - Posted by willmore

Ugg, any interest I had in this thing just evaporated. I can't think of a tegra containing product that wasn't painful to use and quickly left unsupported. Let me see, I still have four such devices in the house. Two are unuseable and the other two are tablets with some community support.

I'm not buying their stuff ever again.

July 28, 2016 | 06:56 AM - Posted by Matt1685 (not verified)

NVIDIA is still pushing updates to the Shield Portable handheld even though it came out 3 years ago and didn't sell that well. Which four devices do you have?

July 28, 2016 | 01:04 PM - Posted by willmore

Hisense Sero 7 Pro tablets x2
Ouya console
Nexus 7 (2012)

The latter two were abandoned quite early. The Hisense tablets have a small degree of community support and are still useful.

August 15, 2016 | 12:24 PM - Posted by willmore

Hope you didn't buy a Shield Tablet ther, Matty.

July 27, 2016 | 10:50 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Not such a super Nintendo decision from the house of Mario, but at least the Denver Cores have the IPCs for a custom ARMv8A ISA running micro-architecture. However AMD's HSA and async-compute will go over well in the tablet gaming marketplace when AMD's Custom ARMv8A ISA running K12 cores are introduced to that market place. AMD is currently focused on Zen, and there are more players in the Tablet market so maybe once Zen is producing the revenues AMD can shift its attention to K12, first on the server end but later on the lower power Tablet market.

Maybe at 16nm those Denver cores will have more potential, provided AMD's K12 does not get the SMT treatment from AMD, and a custom ARM core with SMT is going to make better use of its core's execution resources like Intel's Version of SMT, HyperThreading(TM), does for Intel's x86 cores. Nvidia's Denver cores do have a very unique custom micro-architectural design that put them at 28nm right up there with Apple’s A series Cyclone design in IPCs, but the Denver cores where a little bit too power hungry for the Phone market. So it will be very interesting to see if Nvidia has tweaked the Denver designs a little more under the hood, while also doing it at 16nm. Maybe Nvidia will have a little time to tweak the Pascal portion on the SOC for a little better async-compute ability.

Both AMD and Nvidia need to watch out for ARM Holdings’ new Bifrost GPU micro-architecture as that design is very interesting also, and maybe SoftBank will fund enough new development for its Arm Holdings acquisition to engineer a wider order superscalar Arm Holdings reference design to take on Apple, and AMD’s custom ARMv8A ISA running designs.
The first one that bakes SMT capabilities into a custom ARMv8A ISA running micro-architecture wins.

July 29, 2016 | 05:03 PM - Posted by aparsh335i (not verified)

While i defintely agree about the pont you made in regards to the SMT capabilities, i have to say that it could be so much better if they capitalized on Kaby Lake's integrated graphics along with higher L3 cache. The cores could be rebuilt with vulkan optimization and the throughput would be perfect for the application.

July 27, 2016 | 11:11 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Oh yay, another tablet.

WTF Nintendo...?

July 27, 2016 | 11:18 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

its going to have to play bf1 at 1080p

July 28, 2016 | 03:26 AM - Posted by JohnGR

Nvidia 2013: We don't care about consoles, because of the very low margins

Nvidia 2016: Please Nintendo. Please. Pleaseeeee. We beg you. Take our Tegra chips. We'll pay you if needed. Please. We can't have more GCN in consoles. We could have taken over the whole GPU market by now, if we had infested console games with GameWorks and PhysX. Instead we have to tolerate DX12 and Vulkan.
It's funny that Vulkan is probably the main reason that Nintendo can go ARM and not regret it.

Also Nvidia already have a product that combines Tegra and Pascal discrete GPUs. The Drive PX2. I wonder if we could see latter a second, much stronger in hardware, Nintendo console with a Tegra chip and a Pascal GPU next to it.

July 28, 2016 | 03:36 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Yes Nvidia will have to give these chips away.

If Nintendo actually buys them they are not that clever.

July 29, 2016 | 12:39 PM - Posted by Stefem (not verified)

Thanks for your serious and competent analysis...

July 28, 2016 | 05:55 AM - Posted by gamerk2 (not verified)

Guys, you got it ALL WRONG. The NX isn't replacing the WiiU, it's replacing the 3DS. It's mobile hardware, and that's what it's competing against.

Nintendo has basically given up the console market. They are now Sega.

July 28, 2016 | 07:18 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The Nvidia Shield Console seems to perform pretty well, and has ports of games built on Unreal, Unity, ID Tech 4, Source, and various custom engines. If the NX uses a pascal based Tegra, then it could probably match the Shield Console's performance in a smaller power envelope (currently 20W system total) and/or boost performance further when in 'console mode' connected to mains power. With most engines already having support for Tegra, that also eases porting and third-party development, something Nintendo has been rather weak on of late.

July 28, 2016 | 09:17 AM - Posted by DaveSimonH

If Nintendo makes a console to compete with PS4 & XB1 hardware-wise, it would tick some boxes for the "core" gamers. It would allow for (though not guarantee) more third party support too.
But it would also likely be another $300-$400 console, joining late in a cycle with little to anything to differentiate it from the already now well established competitors.

Or they go for a different approach, where they combine their handheld (arguably their much more successful business) with the home console. Could end up being "Jack of all trades", but it would be something substantially different from the competition. It's certainly risky, but "generic gaming box C" could also be a flop.

July 29, 2016 | 05:12 PM - Posted by aparsh335i (not verified)

I like the idea of getting the great nintendo games but with amazing graphics. SO either they come out with a console on the XB1/PS4 level or they start releasing their games on XB1/PS4/PC like Sega did after dreamcast.

July 28, 2016 | 10:32 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"and especially Microsoft, who want consoles to follow high-end gaming on the desktop"
So, what dimension are you from? Because the X1 and PS4 are anything BUT high-end. That is why both need a resping HW mid-generation to boost sales and capabilities. Had they been launched with high-end components we would not be seeing new offerings from both companies so soon.

... and even these new systems will not be high-end. Mid-range at most considering what is on the market already.

July 29, 2016 | 10:10 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

His reference to Microsoft following high-end gaming is a reference to the mid-generation hardware refresh you mention. Sure, the new hardware is still going to only be on par with last generation graphics cards, but this refresh is unprecedented and definitely a sign that Microsoft is trying to keep up with the fast changing PC hardware scene.

July 28, 2016 | 11:06 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

OR, this might be the ARM/x86 chips that AMD talked about awhile back.

Just saying. :)

July 28, 2016 | 12:31 PM - Posted by sheady (not verified)

I'm thinking something similar. If it's true that Nintendo likes Vulkan why would they go with Nvidia instead of AMD? Using X1 in prototype hardware makes sense since AMD has yet to release an ARM based APU, so Nintendo needed something similar for testing.

Back to the Vulkan point, Nvidia doesn't seem to be supporting all of the API's features on Maxwell, so why use an X1 in production hardware?

July 28, 2016 | 08:40 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

There never was an ARM/x86 chip designed to use both ISAs for general compute, and project skybridge was for motherboard socket and pin compatible x86, or ARM chips that could both plugged into the same socket, one or the other chip but not both at the same time. So with one motherboard users had the option of using an x86 based chip, or an ARMV8A ISA based chip.

AMD's K12 custom ARMv8A ISA running micro-architecture based chip is scheduled for introduction in 2017 and may have SMT capabilities.

P.S. AMD does use an ARM trustzone processor in its x86 APUs but the integrated ARM cortex A5 core is for code security verification and runs in its own locked down memory space and can not be used run general purpose applications. The ARM cortex A5 is nothing more than another on die controller chip that runs on the AMD x86 based APUs/other x86 products.

Nvidia's Denver cores are very different from other custom ARMv8A ISA running designs. Denver 7-way superscalar design with an 8 wide decoder for a peak IPC of 7+ instructions!

"NVIDIA’s Denver Processor
Darrell Boggs, Gary Brown, Bill Rozas, Nathan Tuck and K S Venkatraman Nvidia"

July 28, 2016 | 08:54 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Also:Nvidia will be giving a presentation at Hot Chips on the "Tegra-Next System-on-Chip".

Hot Chips Symposium this year! AT Flint Center, Cupertino, CA, Sunday-Tuesday, August 21-23, 2016.

From NVIDIA "Tegra-Next System-on-Chip" will be discussed, and Nvidia's "Ultra-Performance Pascal GPU and NVLink Interconnect" on 8/22 confrence day 1. From AMD "A New, High Performance x86 Core Design" on confrence day 2, 8/23. IBM's Power9 will be discussed, 8/23, confrence day 2. Plenty of other big names will be there including ARM Holdings talking about "ARMv8-A Next Generation Vector Architecture for HPC" and their ARM "Bifrost, the new GPU architecture and its initial implementation, Mali-G71"!

"Hot Chips: A Symposium on High Performance Chips"

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