Rumors concerning Nintendo’s NX have been pretty consistent recently, with a plethora of new reports popping up over the past several hours. These new rumors hint the Nintendo NX will not only have a Polaris based GPU, but will also natively support the upcoming Vulkan low level API, and also launch with Luigi’s Mansion 3.
To remind everyone of who the rumors are from, and their authenticity I’ll copy and paste the opening paragraph from the previous set of leaks:
These rumors originate from NeoGaf, where a verified poster, 10K, reported he was talking to numerous developers, insiders and people inside the industry who’ve confirmed provided him with insight into Nintendo’s new system. For sake of reference, 10K has also separated the rumors into ‘tiers’, based upon the number of people who’ve confirmed a specific rumor.
In his own words “To make this easier, I think I’ll do a tiered rumor ranking, where a T1 (Tier 1) means one source told me this, T2 means two, T3 means three, and T4 means at least four sources or more told me or others the same thing. So T4 rumors have multiple sources and are likely more credible than a T1,” 10K does remind us that “that doesn’t necessarily mean a T1 is false.”
Let’s start out things by firstly discussing the Nintendo NX GPU performance. According to the rumor-mill, the NX’s GPU will be a customized (but the exact details aren’t known at the time) Polaris based chip. The NX will offer developers the rough performance of the also rumored Playstation 4K, which itself is about twice the performance of the vanilla PS4. This puts both the NX and the PS4K at around the 3.6 to 4TFLOPS of computing performance, this compares to the PS4’s 1.84 TFLOPS or the Xbox One’s 1.31TFLOPS (GPU performance of machines only).
Despite much of the publicity and excitement of Polaris (and its Nvidia counterpart, Pascal) revolving around the shrunk manufacturing size (in the case of Polaris, 28nm down to just 14nm) which allows more transistors to be squeezed into the same space, and obvious performance benefits such as higher clock speeds and reduced power consumption, Polaris also is incredibly more efficient.
One of the best examples of this is a slide AMD themselves released, which shows off features such as better compression, Primitive Discard Accelerator and Hardware Scheduler.
Compression is fairly self explanatory (think how WinZip ‘compresses’ data in a lossless way… in other words, data isn’t lost, it’s simply squeezed down into a smaller size to be more efficient). But Primitive Discard Accelerator will be extremely important, as it essentially reduces the workload of the GPU before intensive calculations are performed (such as the geometry being drawn or lighting calculated).
In simple terms, a scene is made up of millions of triangles, which are transformed into certain shapes. Obviously the more complex the scene, the greater the burden on the GPU to throw out additional triangles. What Polaris can do with Primitive Discard Accelerator is ‘test’ to see if a triangle will be visible on screen or not, and if it isn’t visible, it won’t then send that through the rest of the graphics pipeline (geometry processor, or lighting…).
As you could imagine, this alone could result in a massive speed up compared to the ‘older’ GCN architecture (Graphic Core Next) which is present in the PS4, Xbox One and current PCs/.
With improved Instruction Pre-Fetch and Hardware Scheduler, the GPU also becomes better at ‘using’ resources and reducing the delay in the graphics pipeline. For example, Prefetching means that the processor is requesting instructions ahead of when it needs them, and will store those instructions in cache ahead of time.
Hardware Scheduler will allow the NX (or Polaris as a whole) to better utilize the available resources by simply ‘placing’ workloads on those resources as and when. It relies less on software, and instead is handled by the hardware, and efficient scheduling is imperative for GPU’s because of the thousands of processors and instructions they’re managing simultaneously. This is incredibly important when data needs to be ‘synced’ and tasks rely on one another.
Example – let’s say you’ve a GPU with only TWO shaders, A and B. Shader A needs to calculate 1+1, while shader B needs to calculate 2+2. The result of this data is the ‘final result’ which can be processed. Well, if Shader ‘A’ is finished, and shader ‘B’ is still waiting, then shader ‘B’ is essentially idle in the worst case scenario. It’s better to ‘schedule’ a task on that shader (processor) while it’s waiting, therefore fully utilizing the available hardware and minimizing underused hardware resources.
It does bring into question if Nintendo will indeed opt to use an AMD based APU then, as the previous rumors hinted certain sources were convinced Nintendo were using ARM processors for the NX’s CPU.
If the NX console does contain a Polaris GPU, it’s much more likely we’ll see a full AMD based SoC; perhaps an evolution of the very same SoC found inside the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. The PS4 SoC contained 8 AMD Jaguar Cores as processors, an audio chip and 18 Compute Units (1152 Shaders) enabled for the GPU.
It’s possible therefore we’ll see a similar difference between the NX as there’ll be between the PS4K and the Vanilla machine. This will afford developers the ability to push up level of detail in games (for example, higher resolution textures, more detailed character / environmental models, or improved draw distance) while maintaining a higher or more stable frame rate.
As is the case with the PS4K, the system likely won’t have the grunt necessary to push a 4K resolution, as it requires 4x the GPU performance of rendering at 1080P, and this would drastically bump up the pricing of the system, well outside what would be profitable for either Sony or Nintendo, 14nm FinFet Polaris or not.
With that said, in the earlier rumors, 10K had revealed his sources emphasized the NX is ‘optimized for gaming’ which possibly means the console will be capable of fewer extras’ compared to that of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. Both Microsoft’s and Sony’s systems reserve a lot of RAM to such tasks as streaming, achivement systems, sharing and so on. To this end, despite both systems containing 8GB of RAM, only around 5GB of that is allocated to games developers.
Nintendo could decide to use either GDDR5 or GDDR5X memory – as feeding the NX enough data isn’t too tricky. 4TFLOPS GPU’s (especially with further compression efficiency improvements) is quite easy. The PS4 has 176 GB/s bandwidth, but older GCN hardware, and since then both Tonga (GCN 3) and Polaris (4th generation) each step up improvements. Supposedly Tonga reduced bandwidth requirements by about 40 percent, as we discussed in our Radeon R9 285 review.
In theory, this will allow the NX to make do with the low to mid 200GB/s of memory bandwidth, and this is pretty easy to achieve with higher clocked GDDR5 DIMMS. In fact, certain Polaris 10 boards are already configured to use a very similar setup on a 256-bit memory bus. AMD could potentially be using a Polaris 11 or Polaris 10 variant – the Polaris 11 (supposedly) has a max configuration of 1280 Shaders, while the Polaris 10 features up to 2560 (double the number thanks to a much larger number of Compute Units (64 Shaders make up one Compute Unit).
Regarding the possibility of GDDR5 or GDDR5X – I’ll steal a quote from the PS4k analysis once again “If Sony (Nintendo) did opt to use GDDR5X, they would enjoy the benefits of the chips offering twice the performance per win over traditional GDDR5 (14gbps vs 7) which means in turn the same bandwidth can be achieved with fewer chips. Sony can’t add a massive number of chips or an ultra wide bus (say 384 or 512-bit), and with GDDR5X consuming less power, it’s a win-win scenario for the company. Rumor has it both AMD and Nvidia will be using GDDR5X for their Polaris and Pascal (respectively) range of cards because of the release date of HBM2 will miss the debut of their GPUs.”
It’s therefore logical (if the GPU rumors are true) Nintendo would wish to allocate a heftier portion of RAM to games themselves, after-all, higher quality graphics eat up more resources. Shadow quality, textures, geometry – even higher resolutions use up a larger frame buffer.
It makes logical sense that the systems CPU (if AMD are supplying it) will be considerably faster than that of the PS4 or Xbox One too. Both of those systems are using 8 AMD Jaguar Cores, and there are rumors Sony are considering a faster processor for the PS4 (potentially bumping up the price by $100 US Dollars). Nintendo are likely facing a very similar choice too, as there’s little point having a killer GPU, if the CPU cannot send data to it fast enough.
As we said during our PS4K analysis “A CPU boost could happen – either higher clock speeds or a different architecture entirely. Considering the Xbox One’s Jaguar cores run at 1.75 GHz (compared to the PS4’s 1.6GHz) there is certainly room in the tank for additional clock speed. The maximum clock the Jaguar can support is 2GHz, but this the yields of the CPUs capable of this clock would be much lower. Exploring a different architecture, AMD’s Zen lineup of APU’s is on progress for next year and will appear in the form of Raven Ridge. This year we will only see Excavator core based APU’s, and it remains unlikely we’ll see these chips sufficiently cheap enough while maintaining a low enough TDP to offer significant gains – after all, AMD’s Jaguar processor is designed for low power devices (such as tablets and notebooks).”
The Nintendo NX is using Vulkan
Nintendo have recently decided to join Kronos (they’re the group of companies responsible for jointly maintaining and improve the Vulkan API) and unsurprisingly, this means the NX will indeed be using Vulkan for its graphics API. According to 10K, the current SDK (dated December, 2015) wasn’t ready, but will have an update in May, 2016. So right now, developers are using GNMX for create and develop games.
If GNMX sounds familiar, then it’s probably because you recall developers talking about it in regards to the Playstation 4 as its Sony’s own API. Nintendo are supposedly providing ‘nice tools’ and this will allow the NX to receive ports of PC, Xbox One and PS4 games to the system without much hardship.
With Nintendo’s decision to adopt Vulkan, it should allow developers to hit the ground running with NX development and work in a familiar environment. Because Vulkan is an API which can run across a multitude of Operating Systems (for example, Android, iOS, Windows, Linux) and is supported across a wide range of hardware (a plethora of GPUs, including Intel, AMD, Nvidia, and a variety of ARM and other such devices) industry adoption is important.
Vulkan is an evolution of OpenGL, and it’s worth noting that the Mantle API (which was AMD’s own low level API, designed specifically for the Radeon’s GCN architecture) was used as a backbone for Vulkan. If the NX is indeed going to use Vulkan, not only will it be great for developers in terms of support and tools, but because so many game engines natively support the API (including Unreal Engine and Unity) work for developers will be minimized. Like Microsoft’s DirectX 12, Vulkan is a low level API, meaning maximum performance and lower CPU overhead. This would certainly explain the reports Nintendo’s third party developers have leaked regarding the new console being easy to develop for. If you’d like more information on Vulkan check out our early analysis here.
The NX Gimmick
Nintendo and Gimmicks have gone hand in hand the past few generations of system. While the GameCube was strictly a gaming machine (in fact, Nintendo had famously refused to push online gaming believing it would be just a fad) since then the Big N have used a variety of ‘gimmicks’ to innovate.
According to 10K, the NX is going to have a screen controller, but it’s unclear whether that will be an optional extra or the only method of controlling the system. The controller was compared to a ‘dummy Vita':
“It’ll likely have basic OS functions to access the NX console from anywhere, like a tiny cpu. Nintendo will use enhanced Wii U gamepad streaming tech, and allow the controller to be taken anywhere, connect to the NX console at home (likely through Wi-fi or personal hotspots and the NX console will likely have to be in stand-by mode),” said 10K.
“Basically, it’s remote play built into the box and won’t require a $200 add-on to experience it. This is likely what Kimishima meant in his interview with Sankei (http://www.sankei.com/west/news/1601…030012-n1.html) “different way to play with a dedicated machine” and the whole “new way to experience games” mantra that’s been going around Nintendo PR.”
Nintendo NX Games – Luigi’s Mansion 3, FF15 & More
Luigi’s Mansion was one of the GameCube’s best games, and supposedly number 3 was originally intended by Nintendo to be released on the Wii U. According to 10K though “Two different sources told me that it is in development on the NX…. one source said it started as a Wii U game, but after the disappointing performance of the Wii U, Nintendo decided to switch development over to the NX.”
Final Fantasy 15 may also see a release for the Nintendo NX, but Final Fantasy 7 Remake is less clear. It’s also pretty obvious Nintendo will churn out the usual Mario and Zelda titles. 10K said on the situation:
“I asked this because I noticed some complaints about how there were no leaks about new IP and NX was looking like another Mario/Zelda factory with a bunch of remasters and ports. The source said “I’m not allowed to give specifics, but that’s a sure bet.”
Remember, we’ve already had leaks that the NX will have certain titles ported from the Wii U including Zelda, Smash and Splatoon. It makes a lot of sense, as Nintendo will doubtlessly try and push the games to as many users as possible.
Lastly, the disappointing news is that the NX will potentially have different launch dates across the world, and this is due to slower manufacturing speeds of 14nm chips. Essentially, 14nm production will get faster in the coming months and next year, but for now Nintendo are rumored to not want to risk world wide shortages, and therefore may opt to do ‘staggered releases’ of the NX.
10K believes that it’s possible that North America and Europe will see the NX released first, and Japan to follow at a later date. That is due to the slower console sales in Japan compared to the West, and from Nintendo’s point of view, it makes sense to get the system out to as many people as possible.
It’ll be an extremely interesting E3 if Nintendo choose to announce the NX, particularly if Sony or Microsoft also decide to announce their own upgraded hardware. While the Xbox Next is far from confirmed, FCC filings indicate Microsoft are tweaking something with the Xbox one’s hardware – even if it’s just a slimline model from the original machine, or perhaps a cost reduced variant without a Blu-Ray drive.