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Handhelds Nintendo Wii Games Hardware

Nintendo Wii U Teardown Reveals Simple Design 276

Posted by timothy
from the to-thine-own-hand-be-true dept.
Vigile writes "Nintendo has never been known to be very aggressive with its gaming console hardware and with today's release (in the U.S.) of the Wii U we are seeing a continuation of that business model. PC Perspective spent several hours last night taking apart a brand new console to reveal a very simplistic board and platform design topped off with the single multi-chip module that holds the IBM PowerPC CPU and the AMD GPU. The system includes 2GB of GDDR3 memory from Samsung and Foxconn/Hon-Hai built wireless controllers for WiFi and streaming video the gamepad. Even though this system is five years newer, many analysts estimate the processing power of Nintendo's Wii U to be just ahead of what you have in the Xbox 360 today."
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Nintendo Wii U Teardown Reveals Simple Design

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  • by gl4ss (559668) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @05:37PM (#42022349) Homepage Journal

    that's the nintendo way. which device from them had a complicated board or cutting edge performance?

    • by ericloewe (2129490) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @05:42PM (#42022377)

      The N64 was definitely cutting edge, but hard to program and limited by its cartridges.

      • by AlphaWolf_HK (692722) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @08:35PM (#42023353)

        I remember in nintendo power magazine, they had a long article that basically said cartridges were the space shuttle, and cd roms were snails. At the end of the article, they said that if anybody tells you that the future belongs to cd roms, you should tell them that the future doesn't belong to snails.

        Ironically, today their consoles perform at a snails pace compared to their competitors.

        • by Pinhedd (1661735) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:15PM (#42023521)

          They were absolutely right. PC games have required full installation for years, and consoles even require significant portions of many games to be installed to the hard drive first. Meanwhile, Flash/EEPROM based cartridges are functionally very similar to USB sticks and SSDs which are more ubiquitous than ever before.

          • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:50PM (#42023959)

            I also dont remember any substantial load times for any cartridge-based games. If you want a good comparison, compare the performance of Chrono Trigger on the SNES to the Chrono Trigger / Final Fantasy CD for the Playstation; every time you paused or had a battle on the PS version, you incurred a 30 second load time which made the game unplayable.

            There are a lot of benefits to discs, but there are also a lot of drawbacks-- notably, seek performance sucks compared to cartridge.

            • by Waccoon (1186667)

              It's worth noting that N64 cartridges were heavily compressed, so they didn't load "instantly" like the NES/SNES carts did. Some games I tried were surprisingly slow.

          • by Dahamma (304068) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:05PM (#42024025)

            and consoles even require significant portions of many games to be installed to the hard drive first.

            That's just not true. All Xbox 360 DVD-based games are required to run with minimal installation (and minimal patch size - though DLC is different, of course), so they will run even on systems with 4GB flash instead of an HDD. More recently they MS added support for installing the full game to HDD (which does make a big difference in load times) but it it's definitely not *required*.

            As for EEPROM-based cartridges, it's about cost. Materials for 9GB DVD is under $0.30. Manufacturing an 8GB cart would be somewhere between $5-10 to make (given 4GB 3DS carts are estimated at $3-5). That is a HUGE difference in margin when you sell a couple million of them. Even Nintendo gave up on the carts for the GC an Wii since it would be insane to leave that money on the table.

            Do you know (no matter what Nintendo tells people) what the *biggest* advantage to carts was over CDs/DVDs? Lack of piracy. But eventually Nintendo realized the cost of piracy was well under the cost difference from switching to optical media, so they did.

            • >That's just not true. All Xbox 360 DVD-based games are required to run with minimal installation (and minimal patch size - though DLC is different, of course), so they will run even on systems with 4GB flash instead of an HDD. More recently they MS added support for installing the full game to HDD (which does make a big difference in load times) but it it's definitely not *required*.

              This hasn't been true for a long time. I've personally bought (and returned) a final fantasy game that could not install w

          • "They were absolutely right. PC games have required full installation for years, and consoles even require significant portions of many games to be installed to the hard drive first."

            Not quite, hard drives and CD/DVD/BD-R media allows for huge amounts of content no cartridge could ever match at the same price, cartridges died for a damn good reason. Being faster doesn't mean much when your game is 100's of times less detailed and has much less content because chips are more expensive and infinitely smaller

            • by ultranova (717540)

              Being faster doesn't mean much when your game is 100's of times less detailed and has much less content because chips are more expensive and infinitely smaller.

              But all that loaded data has to go somewhere, and consoles have traditionally had little memory. That means that in order to get large, detailed levels you need to stream data from the game media to memory in real time. And at that point the speed of media becomes a limiting factor for your level of detail.

        • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:19PM (#42024075)
          So you're saying a magazine called "Nintendo Power" may have been slightly biased in favor of Nintendo?
        • Ironically, today their consoles perform at a snails pace compared to their competitors.

          That's because the space shuttle has been retired.

      • by CastrTroy (595695) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @08:42PM (#42023385) Homepage
        Actually, I was quite happy that Nintendo held on to cartridges one extra generation. The PlayStation used CDs and had atrocious load times. The GameCube also used proprietary CDs (not sure if it was due to the discs or some other reason) and had vastly superior load times compared to the PS2. That's one thing I've always liked about Nintendo is that they focused on getting load times to be short. Metroid Prime was beautiful in this respect. A vast landscape, and only briefly did it go into loading (when on the elevator) and then it almost wasn't even noticeable as it was almost part of the game. It was easily possibly to play Metroid for more than half an hour without running into an elevator. It only happened when they switch to a completely different landscape.
        • by Waccoon (1186667) on Monday November 19, 2012 @07:56AM (#42025897)

          The bad developers had atrocious load times. Filling 2MB of memory from a CD image doesn't take that long.

          Driver on the PS1 had load times in excess of 30 seconds between scenes. There was more loading than actual driving. With Spyro the Dragon, load times were hardly a problem.

          I remember being amazed at Gran Turismo having such short load times -- literally 2 seconds from menu to race in some cases. Then the PS3 came out, and Gran Turismo 5, with its 10+ GB HD install, has load times so long you can make a sandwich.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It allowed for Waverace to run a circular wave model for the entire course at once. Gauging consoles against the PC model that Xbox introduced is fallacy.

    • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @07:12PM (#42022879)

      which device from them had a complicated board or cutting edge performance?

      Nintendo 64 had cutting edge performance. 3D performance was better than most $2,000 computers at the time.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        The Playstation came out in late 1994 and was arguably better in many respects. The N64's architecture was clever - the GPU was essentially a programmable DSP style device. Unfortunately it was crippled by a relatively low fill rate and a tiny amount of text RAM (4k, effectively halved to just 2k due to the design of SGI's rendering code). That is why texturing in N64 games is always terrible compared to other consoles of the era.

        Overall the N64 suffered from the same problem as the Sega Saturn - it was jus

    • by tgibbs (83782)

      SNES and N64

  • by DreamMaster (175517) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @05:43PM (#42022383) Homepage

    Of course, part of the problem is just how you define 'Just ahead of'. Part of the problem in the last cycle with the PS3 particularly, from what I undestand, was the complexity of developing the software for the multi-core Cell processor architecture. Even if the speed of the Wii U overall isn't much better overall, the fact that the architecture is simpler may make it easier for developers to wring better performance out of their games. The fastest system in the world isn't going to matter if it's so hard to develop for that you end up writing poorly performant code.

    We'll have to wait and see how well newly released titles post-launch are able to do with the new hardware.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Thats not even the kicker. The kicker is that the PS3 was SO far ahead that it ultimately didn't matter. The Cell processor never took off, developers stuck with the simpler (and cheaper) 360 architecture and the PS3 was left with a complicated design that few people wanted to bother mastering.

      Being ahead of the curve is ALWAYS a risk not (necessarily) a reward.

      • That was the same thing that put Sega in a death spiral that they never recovered from. The Saturn was a more powerful system, but because they didn't see the sudden explosion of 3D they had to bolt on a second processor at the last minute and having to program for 2 CPU plus a GPU made it a royal PITA to program so many of the games looked the same or worse as nobody took the time to optimize for the design. if you look at games like Virtua Fighter (where they used one chip for each fighter) they were getting better 3D than the PS1 but they were the only company that would put in the work.

        If the rumors are true and the PS4 is a standard AMD APU with an ARM chip for DRM then I'd have to say Sony learned their lesson about exotic chips, lets just hope that it isn't like Sega and too little too late.

    • The flip side of that is that they are still figuring out how to optimize gameplay on the PS3, seven years later, and ever game a studio does marks an improvement. Sony hasn't even had to announce the PS4 yet, because they are not done with PS3 as a platform. (Heck, they are still technically supporting the PS2!)

      Instead of being the first console of the next generation, the Wii U is Nintendo's second console for the "current" generation.
    • by goruka (1721094) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:10PM (#42023499)
      Disclaimer: IALD (I am a Licensed Developer)

      Because of NDA I can't really say much, but i'd take developing for WiiU than for 360 or PS3 any day. The Hardware, APIs are much simpler and familiar. The hardware in WiiU is DX10 level, while 360 and PS3 are DX9 level with some extra stuff hacked on.

      Basically that means, besides the more friendly and flexible hardware, implementing most common rendering techniques can be done more efficiently. (OpenGL 3.x features, OpenCL).

      So it's not just about "raw performance". In contrast, DX11 level hardware (what will likely power PS4 or xb720), even if likely to be much faster, won't be that different to program for than WiiU.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The WiiU is able to handle many multiplatform games in 1080p that the existing consoles can barely run at 720p. That alone suggests it's at least 2x more powerful or so. Also consider that developers have had far longer to optimize to the other consoles, and it could be even more capable. And what's more, it has 4x the 360's RAM.

    It may not be as different from the PS3 / 360 as they were from the PS2 / Xbox, but saying it's barely an improvement over the current crop is clearly bullshit.

    • by lilfields (961485)
      2 times more powerful? In what universe? Are you saying the hardware barely above the 360 and PS3 are is somehow magically performing twice as well? Hogwash. It's not just a Nintendo thing, the next gen from Microsoft is supposedly going to have what we now would expect from a mid-low range gaming PC, and after PS3 (still) being a loss for Sony (profit wise) I'd expect the same from them. Graphics are becoming less important to people, this next generation will see marginal graphics improvements with big us
  • Sounds like it would make a great media player for a change.

    • I agree. I know it's just being released, but I'm eager to hear if the communications with the controller are encrypted or not, and whether it uses 'off the shelf' parts/protocols that would be easy to duplicate. Just as lots of homebrew coolness has come out of the Wii controller, it'd be interesting to find out if something similar can be done for the Wii U controller. Not just for being a portable media player, but other cool things. Maybe even implement a PC display driver so people could use it as a ch

      • What's the transfer rate on bluetooth? I'd assume that's how it's done like the Wii but I don't know how well it would handle video.
        • It uses Wifi 802.11n for both controls and video to the new pad. Some cool software hacks, but standard 802.11n for the base.
          Bluetooth still for the regular Wiimote.

      • Just as lots of homebrew coolness has come out of the Wii controller, it'd be interesting to find out if something similar can be done for the Wii U controller.

        The Wii Remote was special because it was a relatively cheap accelerometer wand. But I just don't really see the unique selling point of the Wii U GamePad over an Android tablet, especially once this Archos product that combines an Android tablet with traditional gaming buttons [wikipedia.org] comes out.

        Maybe even implement a PC display driver so people could use it as a cheap extra screen for their home computer.

        If you just want to show PC graphics on a tablet, I seem to remember VNC clients [google.com] being available for Android tablets.

    • Couldn't you just use a small-form-factor PC if you want homebrew games and a media player?
    • by GofG (1288820)

      I'm sure it's on bushing's to-do list. (Using the new colloquial definition of root) He got the Wii rooted in like six months. Nowadays you can easily get a "Homebrew Channel" on your homescreen, which acts like an App Store for awesome stuff like emulators, gameshark-esque hacking devices, media players, even a virtualmachine host.

  • since we are talking about WiiU (and I have Wii, and like it), I am wondering: will the Zelda Twilight Princess run in full HDMI resolution on new Wii U? Or it will have the "original" pretty low resolution?

    What about other Wii games?
    • by gman003 (1693318)

      I don't think so. It will probably only run exactly the way it did on the Wii, much like Gamecube games aren't improved by playing on the Wii.

      It's possible they might do some upscaling or antialiasing, though. I don't think it's likely, but it's not implausible.

      • by Dogtanian (588974)

        I am wondering: will the Zelda Twilight Princess run in full HDMI resolution on new Wii U? Or it will have the "original" pretty low resolution?

        I don't think so. It will probably only run exactly the way it did on the Wii [..] It's possible they might do some upscaling or antialiasing, though.

        I believe that's what he was suggesting anyway.

      • I sure hope they allow for "upconverting" (yes, I realize it's just smoothing the edges). With the huge increase in power over the Wii, there's no reason not to have it.
      • by drkstr1 (2072368)
        I bet they could pull it off. If my Android port of FF3 can scale up beautifully to my HD tablet, I don't see why Nintendo would have any trouble. Unless of course they just ran out of time and didn't implement anything to handle it.
    • I'm assuming it's like the Wii which basically had a Gamecube bolted in (more or less) so the games were exactly the same. Though I am hoping for some upscaling.
  • Yes and no... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @05:55PM (#42022455)

    Somewhat misleading. While the CPU power of the Wii U most certainly lies in the realm of what you see in the 360 (rumor is it's basically a 3 core, overclocked Wii processor), the video power is a decent step up. We're talking about a semi modern GPU that supports all sorts of bells and whistles none of the last gen consoles did. The Wii U will most certainly be left in the dust by the PS4/720, but the beautiful thing about it is that it should probably be able to play next gen multi-platform ports in 720p. Which will be fine for most people, as half the HDTVs out there are only 720p to begin with (and look just fine).

    • Re:Yes and no... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gman003 (1693318) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @06:23PM (#42022591)

      Did you see some source I haven't? I've been scouring the net regularly for detailed specs on the Wii U, and as of right now, I can't find any reputable specs for the CPU or GPU.

      We do know that it's a POWER-based CPU, almost definitely POWER7, but it could be single-core for all we know (although the rumors seem to have settled on quad-core, with some level of SMT, with a clock speed in the 3GHz range). And the GPU seems to be a complete mystery, other than it being made by AMD.

      I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm more curious as to where you got that info so I can read it myself.

      I'll also note that, if the rumors are right, it basically confirms my "half-generation" hypothesis, that Nintendo is deliberately designing their consoles to be half a generation behind Microsoft/Sony, so they get lower hardware costs, better thermal bounds, and can just follow the architecture of the "winning" console instead of risking a less established architecture, but are still "close enough" to the current-gen to be competitive for the hardcore gamers, and are enough of an improvement on the last generation to entice their own customers to upgrade.

      • by Xeranar (2029624)

        The GPU is arguably a 4xxx or 5xxx chip (depending on the reference) which puts it light years ahead of the 360 & PS3. It's older and slower than the most modern stuff but it could run TF2 in 1080 and other quality PC games easily. If there is serious cpu/gpu lag it's half-baked instructions in the OS holding it back still. Course I take such comments as heresay simply because they wouldn't screw a launch over like that if they could help it.

        Nintendo opted to go cheaper so they could release at close

      • by Narishma (822073)

        The CPU is triple core evolution of what's in the Wii and it's definitely not POWER7 contrary to some rumours and vague misleading PR from IBM that they have retracted later.

      • http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2012/09/wii-u-developer-reports-struggles-with-slow-cpu/ [arstechnica.com]

        The Wii U makes use of an AMD 7 series GPU with 32MB of embedded eDRAM

        • by gman003 (1693318)

          Good source there, but I have to take that one more skeptically than I normally would take an Ars article - it claims the Wii U has 1GB of memory, which has been demonstrated to be wrong by early teardowns that count 2GB. I'm definitely not going to discount it completely - it's got an actual source who's working with the hardware, after all - but it might not be completely true, based off early prototype hardware or something, maybe.

          • The WII U has 2GB of memory but only 1GB available to games (1GB is reserved for the system).
            • by gman003 (1693318)

              Ah, that might explain things.

              Although that only raises further questions, like "what the hell is the system doing to require a full gig of memory?"

      • by hairyfeet (841228)
        Sorry I didn't think to bookmark it but the last spec I saw had the GPU right around the HD4650 as far as performance, so its better than the other consoles but certainly behind compared to the PC. Makes sense though when you think how long it takes to go from the drawing board to shelves as the HD4650 was pretty respectable 3 years ago when they would have started designing.
      • I'll also note that, if the rumors are right, it basically confirms my "half-generation" hypothesis, that Nintendo is deliberately designing their consoles to be half a generation behind Microsoft/Sony, so they get lower hardware costs, better thermal bounds, and can just follow the architecture of the "winning" console instead of risking a less established architecture, but are still "close enough" to the current-gen

        Nintendo tried to go 'cutting edge' with the N64 and the Gamecube. That didn't work out so well, for whatever reason, so they aimed for 'fun' instead.

  • Well, what do you expect with a system-on-a-chip? A modern high-volume consumer product should have one IC. That's the whole point of SOIC. It's a bit hard for phones, because they have all those radios that need some isolation, but a modern game console ought to have a very low parts count. Makes assembly very cheap, too.

  • I'm not sure they really had a choice. Nintendo can't afford to subsidize the hardware for the next five years before it can turn a profit, so this allows them to be price competitive without going bankrupt.
    • No one can afford it which is why Nintendo is the only old company to have survived. That's why Microsoft forces you to have gold to do anything above taking a shit and Sony would be in trouble if the PS3 had tanked because the rest of their business isn't exactly doing well.

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