About the power of the Nintendo Switch

So I’ve read a couple of articles from Techradar and The Verge, both claiming the Switch is about on the same power level as the Wii U. But I think this is a rather simplistic view, and I’d like to discuss a bit more about how much power the Switch has, and how it compares to similar products.

First, I’m going to start with the tech specs of the Switch vs the Wii U:

Wii U Switch  Notes
 CPU  1.2 GHz 3-core, PowerPC architecture  1.020 GHz 8-core (only 4 available at a time), ARM architecture A lower GHz is slightly surprising, but increased core count more than makes up the difference.
 GPU Radeon (2007 era architecture)

550 MHz

 Tegra (2014 era architecture)

384 MHz docked / 758 MHz undocked

Raw numbers (like GHz) are practically meaningless – I’ll explain in the article. It’s certainly far more powerful when docked.
Memory  2 GB of DDR3 (shared with GPU)  4 GB LPDDR4 The Switch has double the memory – not an insignificant difference.
Storage  8 / 32 GB  32 GB  Storage is good to know for downloading games, but not applicable to overall graphical power.
Storage expansion  SD card (unknown max)  MicroSD card (theoretically 2 TB max)

There’s absolutely no doubt that when docked the Switch blows the Wii U out of the water. Double the RAM, and vastly more CPU and GPU power. Raw specs aren’t the full story, but at least we can dispel the myth that the Switch is “close” to the Wii U when docked.

Undocked, it appears that the raw GHz of the GPU drops down, but keep in mind that the Tegra is still a much newer architecture, and GPUs process tasks in a massively parallel fashion. Also, when undocked the Switch is only driving its own 720p screen, which is less demanding than trying to push 1080p to a TV screen. Keep in mind the Switch still keeps its CPU and memory advantage even when undocked.

There are two YouTube  videos I’d like to bring to attention as well – one from FSAPO, the other from DigitalFoundry. A game called Fast RMX was able to be optimized and a lot of additional effects were added to the Switch version of the game. They were able to push it to a full 1080p, rather than some weird below-720 resolution. So it really appears the Switch has a very distinct advantage over the Wii U in raw processing power.

The idea that they are “close” probably comes from Nintendo’s own games like Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which were essentially developed for the Wii U first and ported over to the Switch. Apparently Nintendo didn’t actually change much and just ported the games over without many changes to the graphical quality. Not seeing a major difference in Nintendo’s first party titles probably drove the media to assume its actual horsepower is close.

So how does it compare to the overall market?

Well, the Switch is in a very odd position – it can be used as both a standard console and as a mobile device. I would say that it’s actually very well positioned for what it is.

On the console side of things: Nintendo hasn’t positioned themselves as a graphical powerhouse for a long time. They don’t really want to compete in the same space as Microsoft and Sony, and that was to be expected. What’s really important for Nintendo in the console space was to make sure the Switch was more powerful than their previous consoles – and yes, it is.

On the mobile side of things: This is where things actually look very, very good for Nintendo. It’s pricey, but for a mobile system it has no equals. Having more power than the Wii U, there’s  no doubt it beats Nintendo’s own mobile devices. Sony’s Vita doesn’t come close, either. Maybe nVidia’s Shield? But that might have been discontinued.

As it stands, the mobile market has been pretty stagnant. The Vita is an old device. Nintendo’s own mobile devices are basically just as old, but with new coats of paint. It’s basically been presumed that cell phones have taken over the mobile market. Which actually really sucks because touch screens are terrible controllers, business models for cell phone games have been awfully predatory, and honestly even the games touted as the “best” games for cell phones aren’t great. The graphical prowess of cell phones isn’t even that good, and is often used mostly for pushing “retina” level resolutions.

So when it comes to the mobile space, the Switch is the best mobile platform, hands down. It’s got superb power in a mobile package, uses real controllers rather than relying on the touch screen, and has some of the best games for a mobile platform.

So I think the Switch is very well positioned, power-wise: It’s where Nintendo needs it to be in the console space, and it beats the competition in the mobile space, hands down. And yes, it is handily far more powerful than the Wii U.

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