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Nintendo 3DS GPU Revealed 133

An anonymous reader writes "The GPU for the Nintendo 3DS has just been revealed, and it's not made by Nvidia, ATI, or even Imagination Technologies. Instead, Nintendo has signed up Japanese startup Digital Media Professionals (DMP) in a deal that sees the company's PICA200 chip churning out the 3-D visuals. For the first time in Nintendo's history, the 3DS will feature a GPU with programmable shaders, rather than a fixed-function pipeline, meaning the 3DS is more graphically versatile than the Wii. Among the PICA200's features are 2x anti-aliasing, per-pixel lighting, subdivision primitives, and soft shadows. As well as featuring DMP's own 'Maestro' extensions, the PICA200 also fully supports OpenGL ES 1.1. The architecture supports four programmable vertex units and up to four pixel pipelines."
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Nintendo 3DS GPU Revealed

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  • Doom3 in 3D (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Yuioup ( 452151 )

    So, in theory, this should be able to run DOOM 3 in 3D. I donnow, it sounds cool to me.

    • Doom 3 can run on a Voodoo 2 at a playable frame rate (admittedly it'll look like a higher polygon count version of Quake 2).

      I'd imagine that there'd be much lower res textures and lots of other sacrifices that would have to be made to on a 2gb cart.
      • by Trogre ( 513942 )

        ... so in that case the Wii might just about have a show of keeping up then?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by MrNaz ( 730548 )

          I just love it how technoclowns brow-beat the Wii for being low power hardware. Out of the XBox 360, the PS3 and the Wii, which one has the most lowly hardware. Right. Now tell me, which one was the most profitable for its manufacturer?

          Yea, that's what I thought.

          • by Reapman ( 740286 )

            Wellllllll when on a slashdot article about technical specs, why are you suprised that the Wii get's beat on? It is the weakest of the 3, and now weaker then a handheld (apparently). Yes, in arguably the more important metric, sales, the Wii dominates the 360 and PS3, but we're not talking about Sales here.

            A Honda Civic sells far, FAR, FAR more then a Corvette ever will. But if we're talking about pure car performance, which wins?

            Yea, that's what I thought.

          • by Trogre ( 513942 )

            All that goes to show is that people like the brief novelty of waving a magic wand around.

            Honestly, do you really think the Wii would be anything without the wiimote? Seriously?

      • by Rallion ( 711805 )

        Lower res textures are probably fine, though, given the lower resolution of the actual display,

      • That res is more suited for Doom I & II. I still play those, and large pixels were never this bloody!

      • He meant with all the effects turned on.

        But still: I don’t believe your statement. Got any proof? (Proof. Not just a citation. As that would just be another comment.)

  • by PhrostyMcByte ( 589271 ) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Thursday June 24, 2010 @04:16AM (#32674938) Homepage

    TFA doesn't mention why they went with this over a more established and modern GPU like Imagination's PowerVR or Nvidia's Tegra. OpenGL ES 1.1 isn't really anything to brag about, so I assume it either uses a lot less power, or (more likely) is much cheaper to make.

    I figured they'd take this opportunity to make a single-purpose gaming device that was more powerful than the phones they're now having to compete with, so this seems like a weird choice.

    • Simple nationalism?

    • "...has signed up Japanese startup..."

      The Tegra2 is a really powerful chip and fairly low power, and company like nvidia would have probably sold the thing at or below cost just to get the deal on the assumption they could lower costs in the future to turn a profit at the volumes Nintendo would need. Maybe they screwed up and just couldn't give Nintendo the right deal, but I would be surprised.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bhtooefr ( 649901 )

        Tegra2 would also need significant modifications (including two additional CPUs, an ARM7 and an ARM9) for backwards compatibility with the older systems, and would be significantly more expensive (as in, SIGNIFICANTLY below cost would have to be required,) and use significantly more power. So, if you want a 3DS that has 3 hours of battery life and costs $600, yes, Tegra2 would be great.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          the Cortex can run ARM9 code with a pretty simple trap for the privilege instructions due to the huge similarities between ARM9, ARM11 and Cortex.
          Also the Tegra2 has an ARM7 hidden in it already.

          The lower end Tegra2 is $18 and can play video for about 10 hours on a 1200mAh battery. the 2W of the AP20 (the most power hungry of the Tegra2) is the peak, not the average.

          The modifications would really to kill areas of the silicon that won't be used and put it in a reduced pin count package to help lower cost. Th

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by abigsmurf ( 919188 )
            Video is 10 hours on Tegra 2 because it doesn't stretch the GPU or CPU.

            Look at an iphone. I can watch 8 hours of video no problem. Start up an intensive game like Espgaluda 2 and I'll barely get 2 hours.
          • What do you mean by this?

            "Also the Tegra2 has an ARM7 hidden in it already."

            Is it a full ARM7 chip that can process ARM7 instructions separately from the main Cortex cpu? It is not simply there to run GBA code, both chips are used simultaneously on the DS/DSi. Not meant to attack, honestly curious as this is the first I've heard of this.

            • I believe the Tegra2's ARM7 is dedicated to power management. So, unless you did away with the power management, for maximum compatibility, you'd need two ARM7s in a customized Tegra.

          • It can run ARM9 code, yes. (However, there are differences in unaligned load/store behavior that can break some ARM9 code.)

            But, can it run it in a timing exact manner? Because the DS requires that it be timing exact - note that the DSi underclocks the entire system to run DS games.

            As for my estimates, armchair technologist. $600 might be high, but look at the stuff available with a 1 GHz Snapdragon - and that's a single stretched-pipeline Cortex-A8, not two Cortex-A9s, and a much more primitive GPU. 4 hours

    • From TFA:

      DMP's president Tatsuo Yamamoto said the company, "had a very ambitious goal in the realisation of naked-eye 3D stereo vision, and video game console-style high-quality graphics rendering, whilst maintaining low power consumption."

      My guess from this is that DMP probably already had a buttoned-up solution for integrating 3D stereo vision with their GPU, saving Nintendo the development costs and enabling this super-fast time to market for the 3DS, and that's probably why they went with it. I'd expect for version 2 they'd perfect something with a more conservative architecture.

      • by Cyberax ( 705495 )

        "My guess from this is that DMP probably already had a buttoned-up solution for integrating 3D stereo vision with their GPU"

        There's NOTHING which needs to be done from GPU's side for 3D-stereo.

        Essentially, you just need to render two framebuffers for each frame instead of one. Which often can be achieved just by modifying projection matrix a little.

        • Essentially, you just need to render two framebuffers for each frame instead of one.

          There's something you need to understand about the DS: It can operate without a full-screen frame buffer. Most games use unbuffered mode, which uses a 48-line-tall ring buffer outside of VRAM that gets filled in four passes from top to bottom as the hardware renders polygons. In this mode, all 512 KiB of the texture memory can be used for textures. Games that have higher poly counts or put 3D on both screens use "capture mode", which captures the output of the ring buffer into a frame buffer. The front and

    • The NVidia deal fell through quite early on from what I gather. Rumours suggest that after that, Nintendo wanted to look for a Japanese solution.

      Although PowerVR is widespread and powerful, it also seems to eat a lot of power at full load. Nintendo since the GB days have always targeted 6 hours life as an acceptable minimum. I also imagine Nintendo wouldn't be too happy with their system being too 'off the shelf'. They won't want iphone ports (or 3DS games appearing on iphone).

      The PSP3 is still expect
      • Wait, PSP3? Did they release the PSP2 when I wasn't looking?

        • by PBoyUK ( 1591865 )
          Probably referring to the PSP Go as the second iteration.
          • The PSPGo is still just another revision of the PSP. It has the same specs as the older ones as far as developers are concerned.

      • They won't want iphone ports

        Eh, we already get crappy flash game ports. The more phonegame ports they get, the bigger the [3]DSiWare shop gets.
        I'm fairly disappointed with the 3DS announcement. The GBA/DS platforms have been amazing and the last real bastion of 2D gaming. I hope nintendo doesn't force 3D early on like they forced stylus controls.

    • by cybereal ( 621599 ) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @05:07AM (#32675196) Homepage

      If you read some of the other articles that compare capabilities you'd see that though this chip is a little dated, it blows away both iPhone 4 and PSP in pixel fill rate. It may be that this factor is important for good 3D performance. It really stands out in pixel fill rate, like double the competition.

      Everything else though yeah... it's old. But also, this is Nintendo, they have to sell cheap and they won't sell for a loss like their competition, which isn't profiting, so I can't really knock their strategy.

      • If you read some of the other articles that compare capabilities you'd see that though this chip is a little dated, it blows away both iPhone 4 and PSP in pixel fill rate. It may be that this factor is important for good 3D performance. It really stands out in pixel fill rate, like double the competition.

        Double the fill rate divided by twice as many frames equals the same fill rate. This system is 3D.

      • by shimage ( 954282 )
        Even counting both frames, the 3DS has 1/3 the resolution of the iPhone 4, so I would guess that pushing polys would be more important. I have read that the PICA200 is easy to program for, on account of its multitudinous built-in functions. That probably also improves battery life somewhat.
        • The 3DS has just under half as many pixels as an iPhone 4, and almost twice as many as the highest resolution iPhone currently available. The 3DS has just over twice as many pixels as its main competitor, the Sony PSP.

          Sony PSP: 480 x 272 = 130560
          iPhone 3GS: 480 x 320 = 153600
          iPhone 4: 960 x 480 = 614400
          Nintendo 3DS: 800 x 240 + 320 x 240 = 268800

          Fill rate is a great thing, too. It can make up for limitations in fixed-function chips and allows for some spectacular effects if harnessed correctly.

          • by shimage ( 954282 )
            I used 960x640 for the iPhone 4 resolution, which I got from Wikipedia. Surely they wouldn't change the aspect ratio or use non-square pixels? As for the other numbers, do they really matter? By the time the 3DS comes out (say, March 2011 for NA), the iPhone 4 (or some Android phone we haven't yet heard of) will be the portable to beat.
            • Those are only the ones to beat if you are making a phone. Who buys a phone to play games?

              • by shimage ( 954282 )
                No one. But most people have phones, and many will be playing games on them. It's like with cameras. Who buys a phone to take pictures? Basically no one, but any compact camera that comes out has to be better than a phone camera or it's DOA. I don't really care for the iPhone's design, particularly the lack of buttons, but the fact of the matter is that dedicated portable gaming devices need to justify themselves to a audience that is likely to own a phone capable of competent gaming. Chief among those phon
            • Yeah, you are right about the resolution, that was a typo on my part.

    • OpenGL ES 1.1 isn't really anything to brag about

      This confused me a bit in the summary. OpenGL ES 1.1 uses the fixed-function pipeline, but then the very next line talks about it supporting pixel and vertex shaders, meaning that it should also support OpenGL ES 2.0. I've no idea why Nintendo would choose to use a chip that can support 2.0 but only provide driver support for 1.1.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sznupi ( 719324 )

        Their "shadesr" are perhaps quite non-standard?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bhtooefr ( 649901 )

        It has fixed-function pixel/vertex shader extensions, I believe. That's the "Maestro" extensions that they refer to.

        The idea being that you get most of the benefit of an OpenGL ES 2.0 chip, with almost none of the additional power consumption, as I understand.

      • Just because the chip is 1.1 compatible doesn't mean it can't have it's own shader extensions. it's shader support is likely not 2.0 compliant.
    • It's alot easier to ask engineering questions when both you and the guy on the other end speak the same language. Makes asking questions a lot more straight forward. Yes I've been there before. (Admittedly the engineer I was working with over the phone spoke english but the receptionist didn't so getting in touch with him could have easily become a problem.)
    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      The DS has proven that Nintendo doesn't have to have the prettiest graphics to be successful. As long as this is a significant jump over the existing DS line, it's going to be well received.

      • The DS has proven that Nintendo doesn't have to have the prettiest graphics to be successful.

        I had a chance to play with one at E3. Actually, it is quite pretty.

    • To me, it can also make perfect sense. If it is one thing Nintendo has gotten right lately, it is that not everyone are willing to pay 399$ just go get the hottest graphics possible. It is also about gameplay. Fine, they may fail to sell to some people that are all about performance and graphics etc. but they will make up for it in selling at a much more affordable price and with good games with decent enough graphcis.
  • by Psaakyrn ( 838406 ) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @04:26AM (#32674988)

    Here's a pdf of the specs for PICA200.

    http://www.dmprof.com/release/leaflet_PICA200_en.pdf [dmprof.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hurricane78 ( 562437 )

      What does a advertising leaflet have to do with specs? The “specs” on that thing are beyond vague.

  • by abigsmurf ( 919188 ) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @04:33AM (#32675014)
    Looking at just the gfx chip features would draw the conclusion that the PowerVR chips found in a good number of portables is more powerful. It seems to provide ammunition to Apple for them to say the iphone is more powerful.

    The demo vids shown are inconclusive though. The Metal Gear Solid demo vids is better than anything on the iphone. As is the suspicious Resident Evil demo. However Kid Icarus is on par with the best iphone games graphically and Star Fox and Mario kart in their current form wouldn't exactly max out the iphone.

    Depending on the trickery on display in the MGS and RE demos, the power of the 3DS seems to range from PS2 level to slightly above GC level. Although those two demos are likely not well optimised for the console, they also don't have the gameplay/AI overhead you'd get from a full game.

    It's probably safe to assume that the main CPU will be similar to that in the DSi and XL, probably at a higher clock (maybe with a few new instructions).

    The main advantage of the 3DS will likely be the battery life. Despite Apple's claims about how amazing the battery life for their devices are, they only ever do benchmarks for tasks offloaded from the main CPU or that aren't taxing. The second you start playing an intensive game, you're looking at a 2 hour battery life. This is something that almost every tech site ignores when talking about idevices as gaming machines.
    • Not really very fair comparisons considering the 3DS will have to render each scene twice to get the 3D effect.

      • From what I gather, rendering in 3D doesn't feature that much more overhead than rendering at twice resolution. Certainly seems on PS3 and PC systems that 3D versions of games usually result in a simple 1/2 resolution or half frame rate choice.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Psaakyrn ( 838406 )

          1/2 the framerate or 1/2 resolution is a significant overhead. You're getting 1/2 the performance.

        • Exactly - twice the resolution requires twice the power, or you'll get half the framerate. Directly comparing the visuals on a 3D system vs 2D ones at similar resolutions isn't exactly a fair comparison of power.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by abigsmurf ( 919188 )
            Overhead isn't really the correct term though. With 3D you are pretty much rendering the image at twice the resolution. Each eye sees a different image so you're seeing twice as much detail.

            You're switching an 800x240 image for 2*400x240 images. That to me doesn't imply any overhead because there's no loss of resolution, you're seeing the same number of pixels.

            Where there will be overhead is in calculating two different camera angles (although I imagine there are all sorts of optimisations that can be
            • Overhead isn't really the correct term though

              You're the only one to mention "overhead" so far, so I'm not sure what to say to that!

              Though yes depending on how the scene data gets to the card, there may be some overhead in switching the rendering viewpoint. I'm not sure if you can just keep the same scene geometry in the gfx card's RAM and change the rendering point rather than having to resend the whole scene.

              I just said it will have to render each scene twice, which is true. At the very least it will take as long as rendering an image that is twice t

              • At the very least it will take as long as rendering an image that is twice the resolution of a standard 2D display.

                Guess I shouldn't have said "twice as long", should have said something like "take at least the same resources", because of course it won't take longer if it has twice the graphics power/bandwidth of the iPhone or whatever you want to compare it to!

            • by root_42 ( 103434 )

              Where there will be overhead is in calculating two different camera angles (although I imagine there are all sorts of optimisations that can be done for this).

              Not even that. I would imagine they will use a disparity map created from the depth buffer to create the two images. This is how Philips' 3D displays with lenticular lenses work. The advantage is that you don't need to transform and render all polys twice. Disadvantage is that disparity maps cannot encode occluded information.

              • by tepples ( 727027 )

                Disadvantage is that disparity maps cannot encode occluded information.

                Does Nintendo want occlusion artifacts on vertical edges to be the one biggest thing that players remember about the 3DS, just like the sprite flicker on the NES and the blurry textures on the N64?

        • by JJTJR ( 883367 )

          Just to clarify, when you say 'twice' the resolution, you are talking the difference between 320x240 and 452x340 not the difference between 320x240 and 640x480 because that would actually require four times the computation since there would be four times the pixels. So not that this is the point but seems to me like you get more band for your buck going to 3D than going to the slightly higher 2D resolution for the same pixel fill rate.

          • Nope talking about the difference between 800*240 (2D mode for the top screen) and 400*240 (3D mode). Parallax barrier tech basically ensures each eye only sees every other pixel horizontally.
            • by JJTJR ( 883367 )

              I meant notionally, but that's very interesting. I didn't realize the top screen was doing 800*240 all the time regardless of whether it was in 3D mode or not. So this means the parallax barrier can be turned on/off? That's cool, do you have a link that talks about that?

              • http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/08/12/3d_illusion/ [theregister.co.uk]

                Good article on the tech it uses.

                The 3DS features a 3D slider that allows you to adjust the 'depth' of the 3D image (presumably it's linked the the standard 3D API) or lets you turn it off completely (presumably the console then doubles the pixels and shuts off the barrier).

                Nintendo have said they won't be requiring 3D for the console so potentially there could be some games that aren't 3D that use 800*240
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The main advantage of the 3DS will be that it's a gaming system. Fine, there are some games that can be adapted to a touch/motion interface but there are many many more that just don't work without button input. I tried a lot of games on my iPhone 3g before I replaced it and none of them were comparable to playing on a dedicated console.

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      Looking at just the gfx chip features would draw the conclusion that the PowerVR chips found in a good number of portables is more powerful. It seems to provide ammunition to Apple for them to say the iphone is more powerful.

      It probably is. In stereo mode, the resolution is 400x240 (x2), so when you're generating the scene, there's no point using high-res textures and high-res models because the extra detail will be lost. This is different in 2D mode, where you'll have to push 800x240 pixels and could use t

  • No OpenGL 2.0? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dlafferty ( 1741262 )
    Seems odd to advertise programmable renders (suited to OpenGL ES 2.0), but only support OpenGL ES 1.1. Looking at the leaflet, it looks like they only allow vertex rendering programs and not fragment rendering programs. This might be preventing DMP from claiming OpenGL ES 2.0 support. Have to wonder if the lack of interoperability in this respect make these chips cheaper?
    • Yup, I initially misread programmable in the summary as applying to both the vertex and pixel programs. In theory, you could implement OpenGL 2.0 on this chip, but any pixel shaders that didn't do exactly the same thing as the fixed-function units would be run on the CPU. Given that the ARM core probably has fairly weak floating point performance, this would be painful.

      Having vertex shaders but not pixel shaders is an interesting choice for a GPU chip. There are a lot of 2D things that use pixel shade

  • by Ivan Stepaniuk ( 1569563 ) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @05:17AM (#32675254)
    Demo video [youtube.com]
  • I am not an nVIDIA or ATi fan, I use whatever suits me, however, with that being said. It would've been great to see nVIDIA's chip in the 3DS.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They could have stuck a Fermi inside! Perfect for warming your hands for half a minute when you live in the artic!

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @07:44AM (#32676016) Journal
    The name of this chip is the "PICA200".

    One day, the DMP guys invited the Nintendo suits in for a product demo. As soon as the Nintendo suits saw the promo posters scattered around the room with the demo board on the table, they all sprouted enormous anime-style eyes and shouted "PICA200, I choose you!".

    That's how it went down. True Facts.

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