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.

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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

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October 20, 2016 | 11:44 AM - Posted by Kibrakul (not verified)

3rd party game developers will determine its success
I don't see this looking good on any good 4K HDR V because that new and improved Tegra SoC won't be able to handle that resolution at exceptable frames.

October 22, 2016 | 04:13 AM - Posted by renz (not verified)

and nintendo never talk about 4k gaming either. and they already tell people that they don't intend to enter spec war with MS and Sony.

November 3, 2016 | 07:39 AM - Posted by commonsense (not verified)

ps4 pro ISNT 4K

November 3, 2016 | 07:38 AM - Posted by commonsense (not verified)

it doesnt need native 4k to support HDR it can be native 1080p and 4k upscale and still use hdr and tegra is already HDR colour capable as is any new gpu..

it will be 720p native in handheld and upto 1080p native in dock by haviong developers use HDR a clean upscale like ps4 pro is all thats needed to take advantage of 4k tvs

give me 60fps and a 900p 1080p native res with HDR colouring and il be happy

its the graphics fps and the gameplay that matter not blind pixel counting

with a high clocked pascal tegra gpu and a clean high clocked arm cpu the polygon counts and 3d and draw calls will be very very high with good shaders nothing more3 is needed

likely 3 x plus the wiiu in horsepower and with hdmi and video scaling a switch game on a 4k tv will look great

October 20, 2016 | 12:00 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

DOA. Except to Nintendo loyalist.

October 20, 2016 | 02:40 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I know, right? I can definitely applaud their attempt at making something new and fresh, but I think I'll pass, again.

November 3, 2016 | 07:43 AM - Posted by commonsense (not verified)



no gyro no mouse pointer no do it all do it anywere gaming in 2017 ARE YOU KIDDING
dualshock is 20 yrs old and utterly out of date and restrictive to creative gameplay and a console under the tv only is a obsolete concept

i put my money were my mouth is my second nintendo investment in stock i did before the wii too and brought a jouse with the profit

lol twin anlalogstick only controls are a embaresment AND SWITCH IS TURNING THE TABLE ON A OUTDATED INDUSTRY CONCEPT


November 3, 2016 | 01:20 PM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

Are you OK?

October 20, 2016 | 12:06 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Remember that the First custom Denver core can process 7 IPC while the Apple custom A7(Cyclone) core can process 6 IPC. Denver is a very wide order superscalar design(1). Tegra "Parker"(2) with a newer(?) Denver variant was introduced at Hot Chip 2016.

"Darrell Boggs, CPU Architecture
Co-authors: Gary Brown, Bill Rozas,
Nathan Tuck, K S Venkatraman



"Hot Chips 2016: NVIDIA Discloses Tegra Parker Details"


October 20, 2016 | 12:12 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Tablets get updated yearly with more powerful ones and this one looks to be in the 7-8' the stationary controller is as big as the screen it self.

Mobile Controller
Stationary controller

The battery in there doesn't look to be all that big so at best 2-3hr game time depending on how complex the game is. The shield was only to play 3hrs movies before it ran out of juice so i'm being generous and that didnt have to communicate with external controllers for added battery drain.

October 20, 2016 | 12:17 PM - Posted by Wang (not verified)

It's yet another low performance machine with gimmicks, meh.

October 20, 2016 | 12:56 PM - Posted by BleedingEdgeYes...

I'm a little surprised no one has mentioned the lack of a true D-pad. Is this the first time in Nintendo's console history? I do like that they are keeping the same control scheme as the rest of the console manufacturers.

Appears to be (thicker) SD-styled carts, I wonder how much local storage will be built in for downloadable games and the OS. I can imagine 64GB memory packages are now cheap enough to use as cartridges, but speed may play a role. This size should hold the game, any updates, saves and DLC though.

The videos were already stated as just filler and not representative of anything that will actually release on the console, so the Mario appearances are hardly a confirmation of the actual game to come, funny to see other sites already confirming as such.

October 20, 2016 | 02:41 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I would be surprised if it doesn't have an SD card slot in addition to the GameCard slot. Every Nintendo device since the original Wii has an SD card slot, and SD expansion is probably the easiest solution to storage for a mobile device.

October 20, 2016 | 08:54 PM - Posted by AGEdude (not verified)

To be fair the Pro controller has a proper D pad. I think a lot of players will use that controller primarily.

October 20, 2016 | 01:03 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Fucking GAY as fuck.

October 21, 2016 | 02:11 AM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Not appropriate.

October 21, 2016 | 11:27 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Scott, I'm tired of hearing about Zen as most of the Zen core features have already been revealed. Zen just needs to be released so it can be benchmarked! So when will there be more info about AMD's K12 custom designed ARMv8A ISA running core design! To date there has not been much information about K12 except that K12's release date has been pushed back to 2017. So when are we going to hear more about what execution resources are going to be inside of AMD's K12 custom ARM core? Below is a dresdenboy blog post speculation about AMD's K12. what is your take on AMD's K12 and can you ask any AMD people that you may have contact with about K12 for any other information than just K12's release date.

"AMD K12 looks to be at least a 4-wide design with SMT"


October 20, 2016 | 01:04 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

But, at least it's a win for Nvidia.

October 20, 2016 | 02:30 PM - Posted by Oskars (not verified)

A win at a deer cost, some hissing snakes are saying that Nvidia is providing its chips to Nintendo at a loss.
And what did Nintendo do? Did it put the savings to added computational grunt? No, they put 3 seperate batteries, one for the screen and 2 for the 2 detachable controlers. I hope the batteries are removable and interchangable to ease the return policy, but save the ability to put the working battery in the screen console. If not, then this is a big lame duck.

October 20, 2016 | 05:49 PM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

Well done, that is a beautiful post.

October 20, 2016 | 01:34 PM - Posted by remc86007

I've seen people talking about this running at 60fps in most games. I just don't understand how a ARM cpu could run even old games like Skyrim at 60fps. Even 30fps seems like it would be a challenge in Skyrim. The following link shows a sandybridge I3 barely keeping the minimums above 30.


October 20, 2016 | 03:52 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

A Sandybridge core i3 only has 2 cores and 4 threads and no turbo-boost, and if it's running windows maybe all that windows bloat is bogging things down. You need at least a quad core i5(4 cores no hyperthreading) and turbo-boost to play demanding games and it's mostly having enough cores to service the windows bloat while the others are free to run that game's code. Really most of the games performance is due to the GPU and the CPU only needs enough cores to feed the GPU kernels to the GPU, so 2 maybe 3 CPU cores can be used to run the game and the other core can service the windows OS bloat and services.

Now if the Nvidia Tegra CPU cores in the Nintendo are only there for gaming with very little CPU resources needed to service the OS(Custom gaming OS, maybe Linux OS based) then Nvidia's Denver cores are up to the task of supplying any Pascal cores with kernels(Shader code). Tegra is an SOC so there is probably plenty of bandwidth between the Denver/other CPU cores and the Pascal graphics, if Nvidia used their Tegra "Parker" cores with Denver 2 CPU cores. Denver's core is just as powerful and AMD's x86 low power console Jaguar core, and Denver 2 may have a little more tweaking and be on a 16nm process node. Nvidia’s Denver cores are more beefy that Apple’s A7 series cores and the first generation Denver cores can do more IPCs than Apple's A7, and Apple's A7(Cyclone) has about the same execution resources as a low end core i3, so Nvidia’s Tegra “Parker” can do the job.

The most confusing thing about the custom ARM cores is that their makers mostly never provide the same detailed information about their custom ARM cores as the x86 makers do about their x86 cores. So most people do not realize that a custom ARM core can be made just as beefy as and x86 core if the custom ARM core makers choose. IBM’s Power8/Power9 cores are RISC based ISA running designs like the ARMv8A ISA running designs are RISC ISA based! So someone could very well design a custom ARM core with as much execution resources as a power8/Power9 core, and that’s a lot of power. Also through OpenPower Nvidia itself could begin licensing Power8 or Power9 designs and making their own high power SOC based on the Power RISC ISA! Nvidia’s Denver cores have potential it all depends what Nintendo chose to have Nvidia do with that design.

October 20, 2016 | 08:30 PM - Posted by remc86007

I think you are right that such a processor could be developed on ARM, but I just don't think it would fit in this device's power envelope. Skyrim is probably a special port (and is an old game). Imagine trying to run a more modern game like The Witcher 3 at even 30fps on this thing. I seriously doubt they can make an ARM quad core that is more than 4x faster than the PS vita's A9s fit into the Switch, which it would need to be to run modern games at 30fps.

I also think you are overstating the resources used by Windows. I just ran a quick, unscientific test with a DX 11 game on Windows 10 on my dual core laptop. Task manager showed 80% usage by the game, and around 4% usage by every other process (including the kernel). Sure that doesn't take into account driver overhead and maybe even the API, but I believe console games (and DX12 and Vulkan games in the future) are running pretty "close to the metal" so there shouldn't be all that much overhead.

There are many games where the single thread performance of the 1.75 Ghz jaguar cores are the limiting factor on the Xbox (many of which are struggling to hit 30FPS). I just don't think that the Switch will be operating with significantly less OS overhead than the other consoles have (at least on the six cores they use for games).

Having said all of this, I really hope this thing turns out well. I haven't owned a Nintendo device since the Gameboy Color and this could be the device that changes that for me.

October 20, 2016 | 10:24 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Sure but windows bloat on a dual core i3 is going to eat up more of a percentage of processing power relative to a more powerful quad core Intel i series SKU. One Intel i series core for the windows bloat and 3 cores for the game is what is needed. Also that windows bloat if it's not resident in RAM is eating up I/O bandwidth and increasing disk access latency if to much page swaps are going on. It's best to have one core reserved to run the OS and the other cores(3 at least) fully available to run the game. ISAs do not make one processor faster than another processor of a different ISA. It's the underlying CPU core execution resources in place to run any ISA that makes a CPU/Other processor core more powerful relative to another processor core.

Nvidia’s Denver cores have the power to run games if there are more than 2 Denver cores or even 2 Denver cores and maybe 4 Arm Holdings reference design cores. That would be enough CPU power for many of the games that the consoles run.

I wish there was more information from Nvidia’s Hot Chip presentation for Tegra/”Parker” and the newer Denver revised cores but there does not appear to be any links to the PDF white-papers/presentation from this years Hot Chips. A little more information is available for Apple’s A9 Twister cores at least from the “Apple A9” Wikipedia entry and there is some improvement over the Cyclone(A7) micro-architecture. AMD’s K12 may be a very interesting custom ARMv8A ISA running core designed under the Jim Keller lead K12 project and designed using some Zen style design tenets(cache systems, SMT(?), other features). If you watch the Jim Keller YouTube interviews, Keller talks about much design sharing among the Zen and K12 design teams.

October 20, 2016 | 03:03 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Split 7-9" screen for multiplayer? Come on ...

October 20, 2016 | 05:50 PM - Posted by Shambles (not verified)

We used to play split screen on a lot lower resolution CRT sets regularly. Each 1/4 on this screen would likely still have >SD resolution.

October 20, 2016 | 09:44 PM - Posted by Pc master Jester (not verified)

It's true we used to but generation-snowflake never did.

October 21, 2016 | 06:20 AM - Posted by Michael Rand (not verified)

4 player Goldeneye on a CRT TV says hi btw

October 20, 2016 | 04:16 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Is there any extra CPU/GPU processing power in that charging station/dock? Maybe there is somthing like what M$ does with the surface pro with extra GPU compute in the KeyBoard. Look on the video when the modular game pads are attatched to the portable LCD, the TV Shuts off. So maybe there is more CPU/GPU compute in that charging dock/port dock that's connected to power and the TV. Maybe there is more than one Tegra SOC for more gaming power when plugged into the Dock.

October 20, 2016 | 04:50 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

That means more variable to take into account when programming a game.

How did that work out for the Wii U ?

October 20, 2016 | 06:13 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Not really, the API is the API, and any devices plugged in should appear as extra resources to the OS/API and if they are using Vulkan then multi-adaptor should not be much of a problem. Vulkan allows for extensions to be made and registered with the API and those extensions made visible via the Vulkan API. Nvidia has been registering a lot of hardware specific extensions into Vulkan for its hardware, same for any others above and beyond the basic Vulkan functionality. The hardware is ARM ISA based custom Tegra Denver cores and Reference ARM Holdings core designs so programming cannot be much harder than on x86 based systems. Nvidia has had Tegra based systems for some time so their ARM ISA based software stack is pretty mature.

Most of the work is abstracted away from the programmer to the API/driver level so it depends on how much standards based hardware/API/Software the new Nintendo is using relative to Nintendo's previous gaming systems. The Gaming engine/s that this device supports and the gaming engine SDK is what will hold the bog standard programmers’ hands and help them get their job done.

The gaming programming ease of use is mostly the job of the gaming engine SDK and the real systems programmers that create the games engine/s! Script Kiddies need not apply!

October 21, 2016 | 09:18 PM - Posted by Photonboy (not verified)

All the processing hardware is in the tablet. The dock is mainly for HDTV connectivity and charging. We don't know everything yet, but it would be nice if it supported a USB HDD connection for games, as I think that's really essential.

I doubt the device itself has any more than 32GB storage. Probably less, so it's going to be interesting to see how they download and store games for people who don't buy an HDD.

Probably same as the cheaper Wi-U. It has 8GB I think which ran out quickly requiring a USB HDD.

Probably you can store on the HDD and copy to an SD card for mobile use.

October 22, 2016 | 06:28 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I've been thinking this exact thing because Nintendo even had patents recently approved to do just such a thing! If it doesn't ship with a GPU in the docking station and future accessory/upgrade will offer this. I'm willing to bet money on it!

October 20, 2016 | 06:43 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"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 smart phones or into an appreciable amount of consumer tablets, had two major design wins revealed."

That's JHH's fault and that vendor lock-in does not go over well in the ARM phone/tablet market. But Tegra "Parker" was introduced at Hot Chips so Denver is not dead nor is Tegra. An ARM based device is not dead just because it does not appear in the popular consumer products! ARM ISA based SOCs are used in many more markets than PC/Laptops and Phones/Tablets.

This Nintendo device is a custom design win for Nvidia so maybe JHH's terms where not a deal killer for Nintendo and it's Nintendo's money that paid for the development and R&D. I do not see AMD with any phone chip designs wins also and Intel could not even buy their way into the phone and mainstream tablet market. JHH's need for control cost Nvidia a wider tablet market presence. The first Denver variant was a little power hungry, probably due to the GPU more than the Denver cores, but maybe the Tegra “Parker” design can be made into a better tablet SKUs, if that is what is in fact inside this new Nintendo device. It’s all up to the market, and the ARM Tablet/Phone market dislikes JHH’s licensing/costs terms more likes the new Tegra hardware.

October 21, 2016 | 04:30 AM - Posted by Oskars (not verified)

Nvidia can't get in to phones due to higher power usage and a need for a cooling fan. Performance-wise, unlike their GPUs, they are always late with their Tegra designs, usually the already slow Arm core variant was to blame.

October 21, 2016 | 12:03 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The first custom Denver core variant at 28nm did use more power, but that first custom Denver core was more powerful than even Apple's A7 Cyclone core and was plenty powerful for console usage relative to AMD's Jaguar cores. The Denver 2 "Parker" design is on 16nm and maybe has more tweaks and the Tegra/Parker graphics is Pascal based.

A phone SKU is really not what is needed for this Nintendo device, and maybe Nvidia's Denver cores at 16nm with Pascal graphics will have much better thermal/power metrics, if that is what is used for this device. Nvidia could not really get into phones that late in the game anyways. Apple's custom A7 and newer A series cores are the best custom phone CPU cores on the market for their power usage metrics and their twice as wide order superscalar design relative to any of Arm Holdings' reference design ARM cores. Apple really did themselves good when they acquired P.A. semiconductor as those engineers really did a good job with the A7 Cyclone/newer custom ARM cores.

Nvidia’s older Tegra designs had their problems relative to a very competitive phone SOC market, but it was more of Nvidia’s Terms when dealing with Tablet customers that lost Nvidia more Tegra business! That and some of Nvidia’s IP lawsuits against some very big industry players in the phone/tablet markets.

October 22, 2016 | 09:41 AM - Posted by Oskars (not verified)

Haa, haa, IP lawsuits, I rememeber those.
Are they the same ones that bit Nvidias ass when it thought it could bully Samsung in compliance by suing first? And then discover that the respondant can sue back for a different more legitimate IP?
So it seems there are 2 things that hindered Tegra, performance and ill will.

October 21, 2016 | 06:54 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Onece N drops the screen, battery and the dock it will be ok (basically Shield TV with Nintendo games).

October 21, 2016 | 07:01 AM - Posted by JohnGR

It needs a big user base to take advantage of all those multiplayer capabilities. If Nintendo puts a hi price, it will fail.

October 21, 2016 | 12:05 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Oh sweet, I hope there is a founders edition!

October 22, 2016 | 01:17 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Nintendo doesn't need horsepower and cutting edge graphics to sell it's games. They have a strong (enough) fanbase that is solely interested in their IP.

They could honestly ditch producing hardware all together and release games purely for tablets/phones and they would still make money.

October 22, 2016 | 01:23 AM - Posted by Branthog

Meh. I'm guessing it has a crap battery life and there is no way something without a fan that is meant to fit in your pocket is going to have the power of a console. I expect this thing to have the power of a Wii-U and nothing more.

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