Nintendo Switch News and Rumor Round-up

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.

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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.

Video News

December 21, 2016 | 05:24 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Nintendo’s choice of operating system could be BSD based, Knowing Nintendo! There are FreeBSD OSs running on Nvidia development boards.

December 21, 2016 | 06:16 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

So not only did they get a poor quality Nvidia SoC, but they got a last generation, poor performance Nvidia SoC? Wow.
Nvidia was probably just clearing stock from all those unsold Nvidia Shield devices and Nintendo is likely going to sell this turd to the tune of $399 a pop.

December 21, 2016 | 09:26 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If this thing is penny over $299.99, it's doa. I personally think nintendo gets its head out of its ass and prices it at $199.99. Hopefully they figured out that people want to play thier games, not pay $300 for bullshit gimmicks.

December 21, 2016 | 07:33 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It doesn't support 1080p when docked. It only supports 720p and upscales.

December 21, 2016 | 07:39 PM - Posted by remc86007

That's concerning. It will look awful when you put it on a 60+inch 4k tv.

December 21, 2016 | 08:46 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

more concerning is a lot of games won't even be able to run in 720p. They're going to have to use lower resolutions.

December 28, 2016 | 02:04 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

What is this statement based on? Granted, we are only going on Rumors, and nothing official, but, that doesn't even agree with the article that you are commenting on. How does it "not support" 1080p? The chip supports it, It's using USBc to output to HDMI which supports that resolution. THere is no hardware based reason it can't support 1080p.

December 21, 2016 | 08:08 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Almost no game will hit 60 fps in docked mode. Get ready to enjoy upscaled 30 Fps. As usual Nintendo is 5 years behind, it is barely a PS3.2

December 21, 2016 | 08:21 PM - Posted by remc86007

In single threaded performance, is this faster than a Xbox 360 or PS3? I'm guessing not.

December 21, 2016 | 10:37 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

LoooooL... funny..

December 21, 2016 | 08:38 PM - Posted by Keven Harvey (not verified)

Using FP16? I'll believe it when I see it, especially for third parties.

December 21, 2016 | 11:32 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Yeah, the chip can do either, so I'm guessing we'll see someone use FP32. I seriously doubt that they'll tell people not to use single-precision. It's just interesting if half-precision is indeed the data type being pitched to devs, especially TV-connected.

December 22, 2016 | 04:44 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I don't know if FP16 will actually be a problem, especially with rendering at 720p. You aren't going to be running long, complex shaders on such low-end hardware; the amount of processing per pixel will be limited. This should limit the amount of rounding error that can build up to cause banding. You still have 11 bits of precision. It will certainly be working with 8 bpp output color. It isn't going to be doing HDR.

December 22, 2016 | 04:17 AM - Posted by JohnGR

First I thought that Nvidia was using it's Pascal SOCs from the Drive PX 2. They could also put an extra GPU in the docking station and do a nice SLI.

News came out about Maxwell, so I thought that Nvidia created a special version of X1 with more cores and/or higher speeds. It wouldn't be that much of a problem or R&D cost. Drill a freaking hole in the design where a f_cking heat pipe enters when docked, to deal with the higher temps.

Now I see that Nintendo just asked Nvidia for a cheap ready design. Amazing. This company just tries so hard to fail. Yes, gameplay is important, in 1990. Today, as it is the case also with cinema movies, people go to see visual fx and fast pace action. They don't really care that much about the scenario and and the same is the case with games. They want graphics, not so much gameplay.

As for the FP16 value, it's simply bigger than the FP32.

December 22, 2016 | 11:11 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

One of the most retarded things I've ever seen.

People don't want GAMEplay in a videoGAME?
Video games =/= movies.

December 22, 2016 | 11:37 AM - Posted by JohnGR

The other, is your mirror reflection?

It's not the same as it was in the past. Modern games need good graphics to succeed. They are not Pac Man, or Tetris. Yes there are plenty of addictive games out there, with mediocre graphics, but we are talking about a next gen console here, not a smartphone. And in that area, Switch looks to fail. Switch needs a huge user base to take advantage of it's multiplayer capabilities, and Nintendo is shooting itself in the foot, because they don't want to take a financial risk. Even Nintendo is unsure about Switch's future. So they choose the cheapest SOC they could find, with good enough graphics for a Mario game.

December 22, 2016 | 04:08 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

There are plenty of games that people like to play that do not require high end graphics hardware. A game like Darkest Dungeon, which is essentially a 2D side scroller, is still popular. In the modern market, there is room for devices with varying compute power. If this device is relatively cheap, then it could be popular for kids. Most people don't buy a 2000$ gaming PC for a 10 year old. This is part of the reason for the popularity of consoles. There is room for low spec and high spec consoles also. A lot of console gamers are adults now, and they might be willing to pay more for a higher end console. In a few years, a version of Xbox One could still be around as a low-end gaming device and as a streaming media platform. It might look like a slightly oversized Apple TV by then.

December 22, 2016 | 06:14 PM - Posted by JohnGR

The problem is that we are at 2016. The consoles comes out at 2017.

There are plenty of mobile devices out there for that 2D platform game and there are plenty of consoles that will be offering higher quality graphics compared to the Switch. PS4 Pro came out, Scorpio will come out, the original PS4 and the original Xbox One are not stopping, they will keep selling at $150-$200 probably.

Nintendo will probably try to sell the Switch as two consoles in one, the name that was chosen clearly points at that, and I am afraid that it will not try to pass the savings, of using an old SOC on an old manufacturing process, to the final price, but it will try to maximize it's profit margins.

So, you will have an expensive gaming system that will be inferior to the $200 consoles while docked, and will be offering nothing special compared to a mid range smartphone when undocked. Probably the only thing it will be offering will be the joysticks/joypads, but that could be a short time advantage(people could just start buying accessories to turn their smartphones in gaming consoles instead of buying the Switch).

IF the price is high( $299? or more ) and the specs are bad enough for the majority of the reviews to write negatives conclusions about those, it will not sell enough to create a large user base. Without a large enough user base it will be difficult to find someone else with a Switch close to you, to enjoy a multi player game. There will be some success in schools with kids buying a switch because their classmate has one, but this will only guaranty limited success for the console.

December 28, 2016 | 02:09 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I Often hate the Graphics v Gameplay argument cause it's stupid. Games need both. And "graphics" doesn't always mean, Super detailed Real Time visuals. It can simply mean having a solid art style. I mean.. look at Minecraft. That game will not stand up to the visuals of the Witcher 3, or Gears Of War 4. But, its still one of the most popular games out there. But then look at The Order 1886. Very good looking game. ANd it flopped because it was boring.

Graphics v Gameplay is not a thing. They are not mutually exclusive.

December 27, 2016 | 12:33 PM - Posted by Mad_Dane

Speak for yourself, I'll take good gameplay over GFX anyday! I don't go to the movie theatre anymore, it's nothing but reboots, superheroes and chick flicks!

December 28, 2016 | 02:02 PM - Posted by JohnGR

Then get the NES Classic Edition.

December 22, 2016 | 09:27 AM - Posted by collie

Ok, so I disagree with most of the comments here. If nintendo had tried to play the power game they would have lost. I mean in our circle 90% of the pc's make the 2 major consoles look like primitive low tech toys, and we are already talking like this will be the last console gen ever, ect. Nintendo is taking a chance, they are looking for the people who game primarily on their phones, as they do after all make up the largest gaming community in the history of the microprocessor, and they are trying to sell them a different kind of product to work with their millenials socially connected lifestyle.

Will it work? Who the fuck knows, only time will tell, but they HAD to do something different from the others or simply fade into the atari/sega spectrum.

Vulcan tho, that makes things intrestin

December 22, 2016 | 10:21 AM - Posted by Tucker Smith (not verified)

What's disconcerting isn't that the Switch isn't going to trade technojabs with other consoles or PCs, but that it's already, months before launch, outpaced by other mobile platforms and will forever struggle to play catch up.

My 62 year old mother whose gaming chops begin and end with Hot Vegas Penny Slot Simulation - Push Button Watch Lights! has a smartphone with more juice than a switch. Nintendo is backing themselves into a corner and will respond by reskinning Two Worlds II and call it Zelda, then make Mario walk down the stairs in a bunny suit like Ralphie and hope there's enough nostalgia to last until the next iteration in 2020.

I can grab a $20 Bluetooth controller to clip my phone into off Amazon and game in 720p. Those middle aged Nintendo IPs are wearing thin and you can only throw so much shit at a wall to see what sticks before everything is just covered in shit.

I get it, Nintendo plays by their own rules and lives in their own world and hangs their hat on their supposed great game play and stories and such, but if Super Mario Run is any indication, they'll find themselves on the outside of the Relevance Hotel, pressing their forehead against the glass hoping to sprint part the doorman for one last splash in the pool.

December 22, 2016 | 11:29 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

And that smartphone may have cost $700. Nintendo needs to keep this under $299.

December 22, 2016 | 01:27 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Really! AND what smartphone SOC supports the full desktop versions of the graphics(OpenGL, etc.) APIs out of the box! The Nvidia graphics on the Tegra K1 and X1 support the full desktop versions of the graphics APIs! Sure Nintendo is more about its games than graphics but that always has been the case. If you want the best graphics go with a PC build! This SKUs is more for mobile usage anyways with that dock as just an added feature for some to make use of when they are not gaming on the go.

Nintendo must have reached a good pricing deal with Nvidia to get the the Tegra X1 and maybe there can be some improved version using Nvidia's "Praker" CPU cores but that would cost more. If Nvidia can get more car business with its SOCs then maybe it can offer better pricing. Nvidia better watch out if AMD has not canned their K12 custom ARM project because there could be some competition for Nintendo's business in the future under the ARMv8A ISA based ecosystem and mobile gaming systems.

December 23, 2016 | 01:33 PM - Posted by renz (not verified)

AMD effort on ARM is more for server not for mobile device. also right now AMD does not have a gpu that they can fit in mobile soc thermal constraint. certainly not with their current GCN design.

December 23, 2016 | 02:02 PM - Posted by JohnGR

With Qualcomm ARM SOCs becoming capable to run Windows x86 apps, thanks to Microsoft's emulator, that could mean that in the future AMD could revive the idea of a common socket for ARM and x86 SOCs.

December 23, 2016 | 04:19 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

That's not going to work out too well with the software abstraction layers that M$ is using to translate the CISC into RISC ISA to run on any ARM server chips. Let's not go there again with M$'s bloat infested ecosystem!

As far as the common socket IP AMD still has that IP and could revive it if that market expresses an interest. And the trustzone Processor IP on x86 Bristol ridge and Zen/Raven Ridge processors is of an ARM ISA running design!

The biggest problem with the custom ARM Server SKUs from the various makers is the lack of proper information the makers provide on their various custom ARM designs, AMD and Nvidia excluded. The custom ARM core makers do not provide the same levels of core execution resources information that the x86 CPU makers provide.

Look at the information available from AMD on Zen, and before that excavator! Ditto for Intel and its x86 designs. The majority of the custom ARM server core designs have very little information released and that's not going to go over well with the server market that demands all of the relevant info about a CPU core's inner workings.

December 23, 2016 | 04:02 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Really what makes you think that any AMD K12 Custom ARM core could not be used for tablets/laptops or even phones! The server SKUs are using mostly lots more of any ARM cores that are not much different from the mobile variants.

I'll bet that the Keller's/K12 team's custom K12 core has SMT capabilities and runs very low power to begin with so an 8 core custom ARMv8A ISA running core with 16 total threads will use a lot less power than any x86 based 8/16 design. Just because a core design is used for servers does not mean it can not be used to make any PC/Laptop/Tablet variants! Just look at Intel’s basic x86 core designs they are used in servers/PCs/laptops/Tablets!

Any ARM Phone SKU that does not have SMT capabilities is wasting 15-30% of that cores execution resources on average for not having the little extra SMT circuitry to make use of those single core execution resources.

The major difference between server CPUs/APUs SKUs and down to tablet/phone SOCs/APUs has more to do with the on die connection fabrics and platform controller logic than it has to do with the basic CPU core’s micro-architecture. Server CPUs get more PCIe links or other high end interconnects and on die/on chip-set functional IP blocks that have little to do with the actual core’s micro-architecture while the tablet SKUs get less of these resources. So the core’s micro-architecture remains relatively the same top to bottom with the bottom getting the least cores/threads and interconnect resources!

Apple’s A series cores are just as powerful as some of the ARM server cores introduced! Hell the Apple’s A series cores are twice as wide order of a superscalar design as the bog standard Arm Holdings reference cores. Apple’s A series cores could make for a fine server core if Apple’s P.A. semi engineers would just add some SMT capability to take advantage of all the execution resources in the A series cores since the introduction of the A7 Cyclone/newer micro-architectures.

December 28, 2016 | 01:22 PM - Posted by renz (not verified)

the effort is more for server and not so much to use them on smartphone/tablet. that's the point. if AMD really want to go after that market they would already done so.

December 22, 2016 | 04:51 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This seems mostly aimed at kids to me, especially if the price is reasonable. For adults, I don't know what it will offer above and beyond a cell phone other than having a dedicated device and any exclusive content.

December 27, 2016 | 12:39 PM - Posted by Mad_Dane

The reason mobile gaming is so huge is convenience, they already have their phone in their pocket, and use it to kill small pockets of time. Going after casual gamers with a niche console seems like a really bad plan.

If Nintendo was clever they would have made a gaming phone and/or tablet, many of their old IP's would work well on a mobile device.

December 22, 2016 | 09:57 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Why is everyone so riled up for rumors. I know January 12 seems far but just chill out. I know its just "Nintendo doing the same old thing", but give it a chance. There is a reason why all the third parties are on-board. Think about it.

December 22, 2016 | 10:46 AM - Posted by Anonymously Anonymous (not verified)

That reason is called $$$. Don't try to make it seem like there is some other motivation, there isn't.

December 22, 2016 | 05:30 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

People like to think that money is the end of all reasons, but it really isn't. For instance, how would the partners expect to even get money if it's too terrible to sell in all possible ways (unless they're just going to soak up Nintendo cheques until the creek runs dry)?

December 22, 2016 | 07:11 PM - Posted by quest4glory

It's the mobile aspect, something new, something "better" for traditional "gamers on the go" compared to a smart phone or traditional non-gaming oriented tablet.

There's money to be made there, overall 3DS sales are proof of that. Vita is pretty much dead now, 3DS is aging. Makes a lot of sense to replace that with something much more powerful.

But yes, it's easy to get them on board for the first round. Whether or not they stay is always decided by the consumers who choose to buy or wait. If they wait, the 3rd parties who aren't under contract for X number of games will abandon ship, as they always do.

It's going to come down to two things: base price and launch releases.

December 22, 2016 | 11:56 AM - Posted by CNote

I'll stick to my crap phone if I want terrible graphics

December 22, 2016 | 01:11 PM - Posted by Anonymousd (not verified)

This had to be the result of Nintendo panicking over what happened with the wii U. With no product close to being ready for consumers Nintendo had to settle for what they could readily find quickly, and it looks like an old Arm chip was it

Don't see this lasting very long...

December 22, 2016 | 05:16 PM - Posted by quest4glory

The 3DS uses an "old ARM Chip." They have familiarity with it. This was a deal they made with Nvidia. Could be all the dev kits are using X1 and they ship X2, who knows? Either way, battery life is king on a mobile device. It's definitely mobile first, with console docking the value add feature.

December 22, 2016 | 07:08 PM - Posted by Anonymous Nvidia User (not verified)

Yes so obviously "energy efficiency" is going to be a selling point for the Switch. You won't find those words uttered often when discussing AMD chips in current consoles.

Wii u specs

X1 512 GFLOPS fp32 1024 fp16 25.6 the memory bandwidth. 10-15 watts max.

So it's going to be at least twice as powerful as Wii u but only consume 1/3 of the electricity at minimum.

Wii u sold 13.6 million units. This will likely sell more.

December 25, 2016 | 02:02 AM - Posted by remc86007

The Xbox one S actually only consumes 70 watts under load, which is pretty impressive considering its performance.

I think the memory bandwidth is the most disappointing to me. GPU core usage in multiplatform games can be adjusted easier than memory bandwidth usage. Once you remove texture filtering and multisampling, you sort of get to a baseline of memory bandwidth required. I know this all to well from trying to play games on bandwidth starved laptop gpus.

December 27, 2016 | 02:32 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

You are SO wrong.
These numbers are calculated using a 1 ghz clock speed.

The Switch will use a 307mhz clock speed for its GPU, which means its performance numbers are actually less than a third of what you wrote.
And its behind Wii U, in raw numbers alone.

December 28, 2016 | 01:25 PM - Posted by renz (not verified)

honestly where they do get that numbers down to specific 307.2mhz? in any case that is still down to speculation because we still did not know how the final device will going to be.

December 24, 2016 | 12:37 PM - Posted by Macintux (not verified)

This thing is slower than my iPad pro...
Nothing else to really say there.

December 28, 2016 | 02:50 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

As we all know everyone is a hard-core gamer. This console that doesn't even have a release date is awful and not fun.

December 29, 2016 | 02:44 PM - Posted by NightKat (not verified)

Honestly, I'm gonna hold off Judgement until I see reality. Specs are a nice way to make estimations, but there are a few unknowns.

We've seen some pretty good stuff on the Shield TV when done right. But This is using Open GL on Android. With the Switch games, they will be using a much lighter API (Vulkan) and a lighter OS. Also, higher budgets, this means games won't be built for a Phone/Tablet TDP, or

Also be aware that Unlike Wii, the generation of the PS3/X360 was pretty amazing, visually. (See Last of Us, Uncharted, Gears of War, Mass Effect, GTA V). While Current Gen DOES LOOK BETTER, Previous Gen looked fantastic, and the Switch Will be above the WiiU that was above the PS3.

All in all. It's still too early for Doom and gloom.

December 29, 2016 | 03:25 PM - Posted by Cristian Kleuser (not verified)

Some new leaks from new dev kit points to Pascal based SoC. Yeahhhhhhh!!!!

January 6, 2017 | 10:11 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I hope it's a Pascal SoC because that helps ensure optimizations for Pascal on desktop are there (in the game engine development, not porting games).

Dynamic Load balancing for example helps to reduce stutter and optimize GPU usage but it needs to be in the code.

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