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nintendo wii u

Nintendo NX leaks: how powerful is the Nvidia Tegra X1?

Eurogamer has published a rather massive story this week, revealing more about the mysterious Nintendo NX console.

We already heard murmurings of a hybrid home/portable console, but the publication has received confirmation from its own sources. The confirmation is that it’s a portable console with detachable controllers and the ability to dock for home usage.

Another very big reveal was Eurogamer’s claim that the device would be powered by an Nvidia Tegra processor, most likely being the Tegra X1 or perhaps the new Tegra X2.

Finally, the publication corroborated earlier rumours that the device will feature memory cards in lieu of discs, making for quite a few benefits. With all this in mind, we’ve got one major question — how powerful is it?

It seems weaker than the PlayStation 4, Xbox One

The Nvidia Tegra range is a top dog by mobile standards, but it lacks the chops of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. After all, Sony and Microsoft’s consoles use relatively powerful (though still energy-efficient) AMD graphics technology that isn’t constrained by the need to be portable.

Throw in 8GB of RAM and you’ve got two consoles that, while using quantity over quality on the CPU front, are still powerful machines in comparison. Of course, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One can’t be played on the go…

The Tegra X1 is the latest currently available chip in Nvidia’s mobile line. So what is it capable of running? The X1-equipped Nvidia Shield devices have received ports of Borderlands 2, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Doom 3: BFG Edition, Source games, Metal Gear Rising, Resident Evil 5, War Thunder, Contrast and more.

Related: Nvidia Shield is a $200 Android TV gaming console for fence-sitters

Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry compared some of these ports to last-gen console versions, finding that it handily outperformed PS3 and Xbox 360 versions in quite a few titles. One example was Doom 3: BFG Edition, which ran at 1080p and a stable 60FPS on the Shield device, while the same game ran at 720p/60, albeit with frequent frame drops.

The Nintendo NX will be beefier than the PlayStation 3, but weaker than the PlayStation 4

However, Digital Foundry also noted that, despite the gulf in GPU power between the X1 and last-gen consoles, some games ran worse, such as Half Life 2: Episode 2, which delivered a 1080p experience and no anti-aliasing. The lack of anti-aliasing is also seen in Resident Evil 5‘s comparison, which also had a more unstable framerate.

In other words, you’re looking at a chipset capable of outperforming last-generation consoles if the developers don’t half-ass it.

However, there’s a chance that we’ll be getting a new-generation Tegra chip (codenamed Parker), most likely featuring two of Nvidia’s Denver cores, four powerful ARM Cortex-A57 cores (the latter cores have since been succeeded by A72 cores though) and a supposedly more power-efficient FinFET manufacturing process. The GPU department will deliver parts based on Nvidia’s Pascal architecture as well.

Other than this, we’ll know more about the latest Nvidia Tegra goods at the Hot Chips conference in August. So more details about its capabilities and horsepower should be available then.

Getting that low-level access

The other factor to keep in mind is that all these ports were accomplished on Android.

The nature of consoles is that there generally tends to be lower level access to hardware, facilitating “coding to the metal” and allowing a bit more juice to be squeezed out of the machine. The fixed nature of the hardware also means that developers can inevitably code exclusively for this machine and not have to worry about multiple hardware targets.

Look at the PlayStation Vita for proof of mobile-derived chipsets in a dedicated gaming console. The machine uses parts equivalent to an iPad 3, but delivers some excellent indie ports and exclusive titles (such as Killzone: Mercenary, Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Wipeout 2048). Of course, this is also aided by the lower 540p resolution on the Vita — a far cry from the iPad 3’s 2048×1536 screen.

Xenoblade Chronicles X proves that you don’t need a ton of power to make a game look great

Throw in Vulkan API support (both on the chipset and by Nintendo in general) and the X1, while not as powerful as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One hardware, could still deliver decent oomph and a level above previous portable consoles. Look at the likes of Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii and Xenoblade Chronicles X on the Wii U for proof that you don’t need a ton of power to make games look great.

So even if Nintendo settles on the X1 chipset, there are still some gains to be made – and we don’t even know how much RAM the console will pack either.

What about backwards-compatibility?

On a technical level, the Nvidia Tegra X1 is certainly capable of playing most of Nintendo’s back catalogue of games, such as NES, SNES and N64 games.

As for GameCube, Wii and Wii U titles? Well, this is where things get a bit more complicated…

We know that the third-party Dolphin emulator delivers near-full or full speeds for quite a few GameCube games on the Tegra X1. And with Nintendo’s knowledge of the GameCube and Wii’s inner workings, it wouldn’t be technically impossible for them to implement emulation of some kind then. Technical feasibility and the actual will to do it are two different things though…

The Wii U is a much tougher technical task for the X1 however, so if anything, we’d expect to see re-releases on the platform rather than true backwards-compatibility.

It’s fair to say then that, based on the latest leaks, that Nintendo is opting for a compromise between power and portability. And if it’s truly making a portable console, then the Nvidia Tegra range is a good starting point, offering excellent performance on a small energy budget.

Feature image: Mike Mozart via Flickr

Author Bio

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings over seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More
  • brandon9271

    This could be GREAT! Could you imagine HD versions of games like Metroid Prime, Mario Galaxy, Zelda, Pikmin, etc all ported to Tegra and running natively at 1080p 60fps?? That would be AWESOME! Who cares about backwards compatibility. Nintendo has been shacked to the PowerPC for far too long. If you want to play your old Wii/Gamecube games GO BUY A WII. You can get one for dirt cheap. Personally I hope this rumor is true. it would be awesome 🙂

  • Austin Hull

    If you have a emulator… you can do this already lol

  • Mattias

    Nvidia has still not released a X1 based Shield tablet. You’re thinking about the K1 tablet they released back in 2014. It could run the games you mentioned and the X1 is even beefier so it should definitely not have a problem.

  • Josh Minke

    i think they were taking about the shield tv

  • Zwijn

    Dolphin emulator allows you to play cube and wii games in 1080p to 2160p with AA at 60fps. Could be portable when you build a nice ITX based system, but a lot more expensive then a NX that’s for sure.

  • brandon9271

    Yeah, I’ve messed with dolphin before and it is really cool but it can be glitchy and doesn’t perform the best on my AMD Potato™ CPU. Official source ports running natively on Tegra would be sweet. Especially if they had upgraded textures. If NX doesn’t end up being a portable I’ll probably just be an Nvidia Shield 2.. IF they make a new portable.

  • brandon9271

    I wonder if the power draw of the x1 is just too much for a tablet? That would explain why they only used it for the TV box. The new Pascal based Tegra should be much better with power usage and probably much more powerful as well

  • Zwijn

    Yeah you need a heavy i5 at the very least to enjoy the games. When the framerate goes below 60, it becomes a stutter lag fest. The games are made to run at a solid 60 i guess.
    I’m really interested in the NX though, i like the mobile idea. Take the thing to some friends to play some mariokart or something like that.
    And even though they are still rumors about what the NX is going to be, it sounds like a logical step for Nintendo.

  • brandon9271

    Yeah, I’m excited about an NX mobile device too. I’d initially hoped for a powerful x86 console from Nintendo but after thinking about it i don’t really care. If i were interested in all those multiplatform games i would’ve bought a Ps4 or Xbone already. I just want Nintendo to make the AAA 1st party games. I don’t think Wii U failed because it lacked 3rd parties. I think it failed because it didn’t have the sequels we expected from Gamecube and Wii. Mario galaxy, Zelda, metroid.. If they can deliver that AND make it portable.. Hell yeah!

  • R Valencia

    “Hit the metal” on NVIDIA GPUs.

    https://developer.nvidia.com/unlocking-gpu-intrinsics-hlsl

    None of the intrinsics are possible in standard DirectX or OpenGL. But they have been supported and well-documented in CUDA for years. A mechanism to support them in DirectX has been available for a while but not widely documented. I happen to have an old NVAPI version 343 on my system from October 2014 and the intrinsics are supported in DirectX by that version and probably earlier versions. This blog explains the mechanism for using them in DirectX.

    Unlike OpenGL or Vulkan, DirectX unfortunately doesn’t have a native mechanism for vendor-specific extensions. But there is still a way to make all this functionality available in DirectX 11 or 12 through custom intrinsics.That mechanism is implemented in our graphics driver and accessible through the NVAPI library.

    Further information on NVIDIA’s shader intrinsics from https://developer.nvidia.com/reading-between-threads-shader-intrinsics

  • R Valencia

    Google’s Pixel C 10 inch tablet has down-clocked Tegra X1 (14 watts).