Now that E3 is over, we’ve finally been able to change our collective pants following the Wii U announcement.
There’s been much ado regarding the Wii U and its prospective hardware prowess. As of now, the vast majority of it is purely rumor, with Nintendo reps playing hard to get and only revealing really ambiguous details.
So let’s touch on what we do know regarding the console’s abilities:
- Wii U will Support HD resolutions
- Wii U is powered by an IBM CPU
- Wii U’s GPU will be developed by AMD (Formerly ATI)
- Wii U will NOT play GameCube games.
There’s been a lot of sensationalism about the Wii U supposedly “using Watson’s brains.” That’s, at best, a half truth. Wii U will indeed be running a chip based on the POWER Architecture, however, all current generation consoles are running POWER architecture processors. Even the GameCube’s Gekko processor ran on a POWER CPU. So yes, all these consoles will share something in common with the Watson supercomputer. But a gaming console and a high-speed, multiprocessor, interconnected cluster are two different things. This is marketing speak and sensationalism at its finest, and many people are gobbling it up. So short answer, no, your Wii U will not be able to best Ken Jennings in any way, shape or form.
What we do know is that Wii U’s CPU will be built on the 45nm process, which is the same process that Watson’s POWER7 processor uses. The CPU will also be manufactured at IBM’s East Fishkill, NY Fab., one of IBM’s premier semiconductor manufacturing facilities. It will also be utilizing Silicon on Insulator (SOI) technology—a technology which was pioneered back in 2000 and developed along side Sony in the development of Cell.
It may be that Wii U will be sporting a very customized POWER7 based processor, but that is still a very tall order. The POWER7 is a heavy-duty, sever-class processor, designed to work in concert with other POWER7 processors, not as a stand alone. It’s more likely that what we may be seeing is a multicore evolution of the Wii’s Broadway processor, or as rumored, a custom POWER6 based processor. IBM has had over 6 years since developing Cell and Xenon, and there have been many advances in the photolithography process. So, I have little doubt that Wii U has the computational muscle to easily best Sony and Microsoft’s console processors. Nintendo wants to build a powerhouse system, but not at a price that consumers will gawk at. It’s expensive to go after the fastest processors available on the market, and a POWER7 based CPU would add significant cost to the Wii U.
The Wii U’s GPU is a bit more murky. What we do know is that AMD will be supplying the graphics unit, as it has in the past with the Wii and GameCube.
However, we can stack the Wii U against what it currently faces on the market. Keep in mind that both the PS3 and Xbox 360 have remained unchanged these past six years, while graphics technology has steadily marched on. In an oft-cited, leaked screenshot of a Nintendo Project Cafe devkit, it references a custom AMD RV770 Chip running on a 32nm process, clocked at 766MHz. The quoted 1300GFLOP performance would put it just ahead of the Radeon HD4870 because of its higher speed. All things considered though, this would place the Wii U well ahead of something like the PS3′s RSX GPU which is designed along the vein of a GeForce 7800. On paper, the Wii U’s GPU would trounce whatever the PS3 and 360 would be capable of producing. The deciding factor here falls to game developers and what they’ll be capable of delivering.
The trouble that Nintendo may have, is that they’ll still be working with developers that will want to work cross-platform. So ultimately, they’ll still be developing for hardware closer to the 360 and PS3, since they currently hold so much market share. First party games will be a different story, as they won’t be beholden to developing games for other systems. I hope the designers in Kyoto are feverishly working on Zelda.
Seriously Nintendo. Hurry the hell up.