Wii U CPU is a 'bottleneck,' Digital Foundry concludes

Wii U is theoretically improved over the Xbox 360, equipped with "an improved, more modern AMD Radeon graphics core, twice as much RAM available to developers." However, a look at the Wii U version of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 shows that there may be one weak link in the console's design: the CPU.

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Oddly, Nintendo has never released official specs for Wii U. It is theoretically improved over the Xbox 360, equipped with "an improved, more modern AMD Radeon graphics core, twice as much RAM available to developers."

While games will undoubtedly improve as the console matures, a look at the Wii U version of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 shows that there may be one weak link in the console's design: the CPU.

The Wii U version of Black Ops 2 is essentially a straight port of the Xbox 360 version, down to the identical 880x720 resolution and 2x MSAA. "Aside from gamma issues, we're essentially looking at exactly the same presentation," Digital Foundry noted. In fact, the Wii U version looks better than the PS3 version, which the analysis described as "compromised."

However, the framerate struggles on the Wii U version, dipping to about half of what the Xbox 360 original can handle. Admittedly, this is a quick port on new hardware, which should account for some of the performance loss. However, Digital Foundry believes that the system's CPU is its "main bottleneck," especially when "bearing in mind the specific areas that are causing the most noticeable dips in performance," specifically "any scene where a lot of characters are in the area."

Future games on Wii U will undoubtedly perform better as the console begins to mature and developers get a better grasp on how to best harness its abilities. However, much like multi-platform teams struggled to deal with PS3's unique Cell architecture and divided memory allocation, developers will have to balance Wii U's beefier GPU with its apparently-underpowered CPU.

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  • reply
    November 26, 2012 2:15 PM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Wii U CPU is a 'bottleneck,' Digital Foundry concludes.

    Wii U is theoretically improved over the Xbox 360, equipped with "an improved, more modern AMD Radeon graphics core, twice as much RAM available to developers." However, a look at the Wii U version of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 shows that there may be one weak link in the console's design: the CPU.

    • reply
      November 26, 2012 2:23 PM

      I don't the performance of one port is enough evidence to support this claim. COD is probably poorly optimized.

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        November 26, 2012 2:31 PM

        Disney Epic Mickey 2 and Batman also are terrible FPS wise on the WiiU. Batman is using the Unreal Engine, no excuse. CoD is using and old engine and for a new console to get HALF the FPS of a modern console, is a joke. MW was running at 60fps on 360.

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          November 26, 2012 2:45 PM

          They're friggin ports. Many ports don't run well on PS3 either, and I'm pretty sure the PS3 is technically more powerful than the 360.

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            November 26, 2012 2:50 PM

            So a port of an old game running on old tech (that runs on iOS) on the first of the 'next gen' systems should run worse?

            Your argument is flawed.

            Epic Mickey started as a Wii game btw.

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              November 26, 2012 2:52 PM

              We've also had a few shackers here who own Epic Mickey say they didn't see the fps issues that Giant Bomb did on their stream.

              I haven't played it myself, so I can't comment.

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              November 26, 2012 2:59 PM

              I don't know, plenty of PC ports are really crappy and have terrible performance on a system 10x as powerful as the XBox. Epic Mickey started as a wii game, but not epic mickey 2, two completely different games.

              I can see both arguments, but i wouldn't take one or two games as evidence of anything.

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                November 26, 2012 8:28 PM

                Saint's Row 2 comes to mind on the PC.

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                  November 26, 2012 9:04 PM

                  The how about Dark Soul's for PC that was ported from Xbox/PS3 due to user petitions. Can't wait to see the bad port that GTA 5 will be, but people are petitioning for that as well.

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                  November 27, 2012 6:58 AM

                  Or GTAIV or Halo, good lord those were terrible in the beginning.

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              November 27, 2012 6:52 AM

              There's talk about firmware updates to help with that, apparently the CPU is spending too much time on the OS vs. the application, or at least that's the rumor. I think this was a half-baked launch to hit a prime purchasing schedule but it sounds all fixable at this point. I know the day one patch helped a lot of gamers with freezes in Nintendoland and apparently a few other titles on top of the additional functionality. I'd reserve judgement till next year.

              This all being said, it does appear that the Wii U should've used a more powerful CPU option, even if that meant keeping the GPU and CPU separate again and missing their "noise level" threshold.

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              November 27, 2012 8:25 AM

              It shouldn't but it happens. ZOE HD Collection is a recent example.

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        November 26, 2012 2:35 PM

        They went with IBM again to maintain backwards compatibility right?

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          November 26, 2012 2:42 PM

          Everyone uses something derived of IBM power PC right now.

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            November 26, 2012 2:54 PM

            Rumor is that the next gen of Xbox and Playstation might make a play for "standard" low-cost x64 processors.

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              November 26, 2012 3:05 PM

              True, but it is also true that the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and Wii U all use some kind of IBM PPC CPU.

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      November 26, 2012 2:34 PM

      Did people really expect this system to be that much more powerful than current gen, if at all?

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        November 26, 2012 2:52 PM

        More powerful than systems that came out seven years ago? Yeah, I kinda did.

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          November 26, 2012 2:55 PM

          Which in some ways it is. The problem is people expecting large leaps which just is not going to happen with Nintendo's philosophy of selling systems at a profit (or in this case close to one) along with a big chunk of the system cost going into the controller.

          At the end of the day though none of this should matter to people interested in the possibility of unique gameplay utilizing the controller. Sure this thing will stink for multiplatform releases once the next generation Playstation and Xbox come out, but that should not be the reason people want it anyway.

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            November 27, 2012 6:54 AM

            It's annoying for sure though, and as an owner I would like multi-platform releases to be approximately as good on the Wii U, which is frustrating :/

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        November 26, 2012 2:53 PM

        RuskiSnajper

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        November 26, 2012 8:34 PM

        Powerful or not, if it's one thing I learned from the Wii is that you can have shitty 480p graphics but your games can be light years ahead of something that looks amazing.

        Even though they don't actually look too bad, Xenogears and The Last Story are two of the best games to come out this generation.

        Even if nothing ever looks better than ZombiU (which I know isn't cutting edge graphically) on the WiiU, I'll be happy when Zelda, Metroid and hopefully another Mario Galaxy game come out.

        Oh yeah, and Monster Hunter in March.

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          November 27, 2012 6:56 AM

          I'm sure the next Zelda, Metroid, and 3D Mario will look fantastic. Here's hoping MH4 comes to the Wii U in some ultimate version maybe in 2014.

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      November 26, 2012 3:01 PM

      Shacknews is clearly trolling the Wii-U.

      This needs to stop.

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      November 26, 2012 3:03 PM

      The CPU is definitely weak. Without going into NDA'd details, Nintendo made some smart design choices for the CPU but also a few crippling mistakes. The CPU is very similar to the Wii, with no SIMD instruction set worth speaking of - games get a huge speedup from technologies like SSE / AltiVec / VMX that process 4 sets of data in parallel (great for particle systems and skeletal animation). Nintendo's CPU has no such feature.

      The memory bandwidth is also abysmal. 2 GB of RAM is great, but actually getting data from RAM into the CPU is far slower on the Wii U than on the 360 or the PS3. You can lock cache lines and manually DMA data to compensate a bit, but most code that ran quickly on the PS3 / 360 will run like crap on the Wii U because of cache misses. (Prefetching is actually worse than not prefetching due to the lack of memory bandwidth, so you have to go and comment out all your old prefetching optimizations, too. It's horrible.)

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        November 26, 2012 3:04 PM

        What do you do that you know all of this? Game dev?

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        November 26, 2012 3:17 PM

        Very interesting thanks

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        November 26, 2012 3:19 PM

        So essentially that's why the ports have had issues?

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          November 26, 2012 3:21 PM

          I'd imagine a proper port that takes advantage of the graphics card and advanced shaders would require less on the part of the CPU and give better visuals and performance than a cookie cutter port.

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            November 26, 2012 3:46 PM

            Not a bad statement for speculation. Time will tell thought right? If I had access to a dev kit I could give more insight.

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          November 26, 2012 8:36 PM

          3rd party launch titles are almost always pretty rough. If you didn't have a lot of time to spend with the dev kits, or if the dev kits sucked, it's almost a miracle to get it out the door on time. Ported games rarely have a big engineering team behind them, and they can't afford to remake all the content in a way that is optimized for the new console, so the deck is stacked against the launch-window ports being any good at all.

          Cross-platform games will probably be better in the future.

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            November 26, 2012 8:56 PM

            3rd party games next year will all still be 360/ps3 titles that have been in development for quite some time, and after that they will be actual next gen titles that will either be horrendously cut down or not ported at all.

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              November 27, 2012 7:00 AM

              Agreed, if the 720/PS4 do go x86 for next gen they'll have a lot of issues too I'm sure (at least, as far as optimizations go).

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                November 27, 2012 7:35 AM

                Why? X86 compilers are already much more optimized than almost everything else.

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                  November 27, 2012 7:54 AM

                  I assume whatever they had written for PowerPC prior to figuring that out (which would've likely been some time in the middle of this year from the sounds of the rumors) would have a fair amount of translating to do for x86, which cuts into either the amount of time that can be spent for other optimizations or fixing bugs.

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                November 30, 2012 12:45 PM

                tho x86 seems bad because it would only lead to even more proliferation of pc gaming.

                but problem is if one console goes x86 and the other doesnt the non x86 will get fucked for ports.

      • reply
        November 26, 2012 3:21 PM

        :(

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        November 26, 2012 3:26 PM

        Wow, how does a new game system CPU not have SIMD in 2012? I'm pretty sure my phone has SIMD instructions.

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          November 26, 2012 3:34 PM

          Because they are stupid and think they can dictate what the world wants? WRONG

          The Wii U should have been, at the very least, as powerful as the 360 and probably a tad more, the truth is its not even as good as a *7* year old console... sad stuff

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        November 26, 2012 3:34 PM

        Oh shit, facts.

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        November 26, 2012 6:25 PM

        so what were the smart design choices?

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          November 26, 2012 6:49 PM

          Out of order execution / instruction reordering with register renaming. And proper store-forwarding. Yay for those - less random penalties and performance hits that average non-engine coders don't understand.

          Every console CPU design needs to drop some "standard" desktop CPU features for budget and power consumption. The 360 and PS3 dropped a lot of complexity that helps general-purpose code, keeping the fast vector-math units and focusing on raw theoretical performance with perfectly written software. Nintendo dropped the vector-math unit in favor of better general-purpose performance.

          As engine coders find interesting ways to move chunks of animation/physics/particle work from CPU to GPU, game quality should improve dramatically, but Nintendo still dropped the ball with the lack of SIMD and the terrible memory performance.

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            November 26, 2012 9:11 PM

            Man, that's some very good technical insight that is so scarce to come around. Thanks a lot!

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            November 26, 2012 9:20 PM

            interesting, thanks a lot!

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        November 26, 2012 8:28 PM

        I've heard other devs talk about the GPU making up for the CPU when games are designed for it.

        Like, the GPU can do a lot of the work the CPU traditionally does and this can really offset the slower cpu issues.

        I'm not a dev and I don't pretend to know the techy stuff, but more than one dev has stated this kinda of thing/

        Is there some truth behind it?

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          November 26, 2012 9:26 PM

          Traditionally the cpu did everything, cause there were no gpus. Then they were invented and more and more stuff that the cpu either did very poorly or couldnt do at all in a reasonable amount of time, were done on the gpu. So yes. But there are also things that gpus are very bad at, and if your cpu is too slow to do those things in a game (which i am not saying the wii cpu is), then letting the gpu do those things will not help you at all because it will be even slower.

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          November 27, 2012 7:04 AM

          This should be more true than most previous times because of the GPGPU enhancements (supposedly) available on the Wii U's GPU being based on 7000 series Radeons last I heard. That being said, I'm not sure if the GPGPU enhancements will outweigh or be able to make up for the deficits in the CPU given which instructions each component is traditionally good at. That and I'm no programmer.

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        November 27, 2012 6:44 AM

        So devs vs. the longevity of this console = SOL other than Nintendo exclusives.

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          November 27, 2012 6:58 AM

          That's how their last few consoles have been anyhow.

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      November 26, 2012 3:21 PM

      Hopefully the price drops before they put out a HD Zelda, although they don't make em like they used to anyway.

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        November 26, 2012 9:35 PM

        As with any launch there's gonna be a learning curve. All the doom and gloom over performance issues is uncalled for IMHO. Compare launch titles for the 360 compared to games they have now. Huge leaps. While I believe developers saying it has a weak CPU, I also believe those developers will produce some pretty great games once they've had time to fully digest it. I love my WiiU.

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        November 27, 2012 7:06 AM

        I'm sure it'll drop in 2014, I think they want to make as much money as they can next year and while some stores may have great Black Friday sales in 2013 I think they'll be paying close to the same for the consoles till after next holiday season. Unless of course demand drops off a cliff :/

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      November 27, 2012 8:43 AM

      You seriously used a PORT as the basis of this article? This is a PC gaming site primarily, whether Gamefly wants that or not, and we know how shoddy ports can be. I'm not mad, I'm just.. disappointed.

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      November 30, 2012 8:24 AM

      the equivilent of putting a GTX620 on a board with a Single Core CPU with 1gb of RAM trying to run Windows 7.....

      Nintendo will NEVER learn how to make a good system.... they are the next Sega...