Wii U hardware dissected, next-gen capabilities 'ruled out'

Digital Foundry has analyzed the Wii U's innards, and "[rules] out any next-gen pretensions for the Wii U."

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Nintendo has yet to reveal specs of the Wii U. And although the hardware has been out in the wild for quite some time now, few could decipher the actual capabilities of Nintendo's "next-generation" hardware.

Chipworks released ultra-magnified images of Wii U internals to NeoGAF, allowing the community to decipher what hardware is actually being used. Digital Foundry put up their own findings, which "finally rule out any next-gen pretensions for the Wii U."

According to their report, it appears the Wii U GPU is a "close match" to the Radeon 4650/4670, "albeit with a deficit in the number of texture-mapping units and a lower clock speed--550MHz." Compared to the rumored specs of both Orbis and Durango, it's clear that Sony and Microsoft's next-gen hardware is "in a completely different league."

Wii U does have the potential to produce visuals that best Xbox 360, however. By Digital Foundry's estimates, Wii U can have about 1.5 times the "raw shader power" of Microsoft's current-gen system. However, given 1080p resolution requires 2.5x the power of 720p, "it's highly unlikely that we'll be seeing any complex 3D titles running at 1080p," the site concludes.

Once again, it appears that Wii U's CPU remains the main bottleneck for the system. Equipped with a 1.2GHz CPU that's derivative of the Gamecube's Gekko processor, the underpowered CPU could be to blame for some of the lackluster multiplatform games that debuted at the Wii U launch. However, Nintendo's Genyo Takeda defended the company's hardware decision at a recent investor's call. "In my view, Wii U is a console with low power consumption and has fairly high performance. Regarding your comment that we focus on the GPU and that the CPU is a little poor, we have a different view. It depends on how to evaluate a processing unit. In terms of die size (area a chip occupies), the GPU certainly occupies a much larger space than the CPU. As you can see CPUs used for the latest PCs and servers, however, it is usual for current CPUs that the logic part for actual calculations is really small and that the cache memory called SRAM around it covers a large area. From this angle, we don't think that the performance of the Wii U's CPU is worse than that of the GPU. In other words, we have taken a so-called 'memory-intensified' design approach for the Wii U hardware."

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  • reply
    February 5, 2013 3:00 PM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Wii U hardware dissected, next-gen capabilities 'ruled out'.

    Digital Foundry has analyzed the Wii U's innards, and "[rules] out any next-gen pretensions for the Wii U."

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      February 5, 2013 3:16 PM

      But seriously, when was the last time, in a console hardware generation, that Nintendo's platform has been unquestionably better from a performance standpoint? The SNES?

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        February 5, 2013 3:18 PM

        The Gamecube was definitely more powerful than the PS2. In fact, the Gamecube was so powerful, they used it again for the Wii.

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        February 5, 2013 3:19 PM

        Its rarely as simple as just "better" but the n64 definitely had certain advantages over the ps and the saturn, as did the gamecube over the ps2.

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          February 5, 2013 3:22 PM

          Perspective-corrected textures!!! Man, I remember when a divide per pixel was almost unthinkably expensive.

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          February 5, 2013 3:41 PM

          The GameCube was the only console with no DVD playback, I think it was the last one to have online capability, and it never won back all the 3rd party support that it lost in the previous gen.

          Ever since n64 its like they've tried to be creative in ways most people don't want (all those fucking weird controllers) and more conservative on the the hardware that people actually do want.

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            February 5, 2013 4:12 PM

            creative in ways most people don't want

            And yet somehow they've sold a shitton of consoles (are they still ahead for this generation?) and made crazy amounts of money on all of their consoles.

            This is almost the console equivalent of "No one goes there anymore, it's too crowded."

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              February 5, 2013 4:52 PM

              Thats like saying coors light must be really good beer because it sells a lot. There are many factors that led to their sales.

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                February 5, 2013 5:23 PM

                No. It's not. I'm not making a qualitative statement, I'm saying it's obvious that a shit ton of people wanted what they were selling. So you can't say that most people didn't want what they were selling when they sold more than everyone else.

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                  February 5, 2013 5:35 PM

                  However, you could say "most hardcore gamers" or "Most gamers on the internet who post on forums" - that very well could be. That would also give us ins for a discussion about if those people even matter for the survival of a company - which seems to be something that Nintendo likes to challenge. Point being, they're being creative in ways that matter to a considerable amount of people - enough so that they out sold everyone else this generation (as well as continue to absolutely destroy anyone in the handheld market). And they seem to keep doing it despite never making what the so-called core gamers want.

                  Does that make their systems "better"? Who can say - we all find a lot lacking in them (like coherent online) - but the numbers game is one they are doing well at and people seem to be enjoying them.

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            February 5, 2013 6:10 PM

            Because DVD playback is what I measure my gameplay experiences by, and lets face it...the PS2's online capabilities weren't exactly setting the world on fire.

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              February 5, 2013 6:16 PM

              DVD playback was huge with the PS2. It was a fairly affordable DVD player at the time IIRC. So a lot of people could double justify the purchase since they'd use it for both.

              So maybe not huge on the gaming experience part, but huge for the people purchasing it part.

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              February 5, 2013 6:20 PM

              like the ps3 was most people's first blu ray player, the ps2 was the first dvd player for many too. it was one of several factors that made it a more attractive purchase over the nintendo console.

              ps2 online wasnt great, but xbox live was for a console at its time.

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                February 5, 2013 6:37 PM

                I agree with you on DVD being a selling point...but I don't think disembodied potato was talking about that...I think he was speaking more to technologies as they affected the device as a gaming system. In terms of pure gaming performance the GC seemed to have more power and features than the PS2.

                The XBox was ahead of the other consoles when it came to online play...but I thought the point was that the GameCube was a more powerful machine than the PS2, in which case the XBox's capabilities don't matter as much to that discussion.

                That all having been said, its hard to measure performance on these platforms in a 1 to 1 manner, as they tended to do different things well. The Dreamcast did certain things better than the PS2 and was quite a capable machine.

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          February 5, 2013 4:04 PM

          Man, the N64 looked so much better than the PS1. Especially once that RAM expander came out.

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            February 5, 2013 4:09 PM

            it did but there was no excuse for it not to given how late into the cycle it was released

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        February 5, 2013 3:58 PM

        N64. And they'll be better for about less than a year overall.

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          February 5, 2013 4:08 PM

          Didn't the N64's framerate get cut almost in half if you installed the Expansion Pack?

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            February 5, 2013 5:02 PM

            All i can tell you is - even though I was not even a PC master race snob at the time, Turok 2 and Perfect Dark ran like total fucking shit with the expansion pack.

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              February 5, 2013 7:02 PM

              Didn't they run at a higher resolution with the expansion pack? That's probably why.

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                February 6, 2013 12:47 AM

                For Perfect Dark it enabled "ray-tracing" which destroyed CPUs at the time.

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          February 5, 2013 5:31 PM

          I would have gladly traded the N64's graphics capabilities for CD support rather than cartridges.

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        February 5, 2013 6:00 PM

        I don't think "unquestionably better" is at issue. "Unquestionably an order of magnitude behind" is their issue lately. In past generations they were competitive if not on top.

        Granted, being so far behind on horsepower is clearly a calculated position on their part. Cost is a huge issue for these things and they've decided that they'll stay competitive with a mix of other innovations and low price. Plus at the end of the day they have their first-party gold mines to fall back on.

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        February 5, 2013 7:23 PM

        Not even the SNES. Well, not as a clear winner. The Gensis had some advantages over the SNES. I'm too lazy to look it up, but I want to say even the SNES had some lame limts in terns of active sprites per scan row. It could do a total of like 128 sprites, but only... umm.. some limited number on a scan line.

        Fine, I Googled it.
        Maximum onscreen objects (sprites): 128 (32 per line, up to 34 8x8 tiles per line)

        wait.. maybe it wasn't sprites that Gensis was better at. Dang, that was like 30 years ago. I can't remember now.

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          February 5, 2013 10:13 PM

          The Genesis had a faster CPU but the graphics and sound chips were significantly worse than what the SNES had.

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      February 5, 2013 3:38 PM

      wow. i cant believe gekko is still in use. they have got to be ungodly cheap to produce by this point. 1.2ghz is only about 50% more clock speed than the wii cpu. im sure its got some differences with a register here and there, but if its essentially a broadway that is really insane.

      that fucking tablet must be over half the cost of this thing.

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        February 5, 2013 4:01 PM

        By themselves they would be but this is a tri core version so it wouldn't be that cheap. Not to mention that it's on the same silicon with the gpu and the 32 mb e-dram so it's pricier than it would be if they were separate.

        It's not like they just took 3 wii cpu's and soldered them onto a circuit board and called it a day.

        I'd venture that controller adds less than $100 to the cost of production, though definitely more than $50. That's a guess based on the cost of the standalone controllers that they're selling in Japan.

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      February 5, 2013 3:49 PM

      Confirmation of what we already knew. Though I'm not sure if it will be the thing that dooms it to failure like most internet fanboys seem to think.

      I think that there will be a "transition period" for 3rd party development on consoles just like this gen where dev costs would be too much to just release a game on durango/orbis because their install base would be too low the first 1-2 years of their lifespan. This timeframe will see scaled down versions of games come out for 360/ps3. It's that period where the Wii U can shine with a wide range of software.

      The goal that Nintendo must accomplish is getting 3rd party ports to sell enough to keep them coming throughout the transition period. The back half of it's life would probably be filled with Nintendo first party games and smaller downloadable games that would come out for all consoles.

      If holiday 2013 comes and Wii U isn't getting versions of most 3rd party games that are getting current and next-gen versions, it's time to panic.

      Will it be as successful as the Wii? Highly doubtful, a touch screen controller isn't as disruptive as the wiimote and doesn't have the simple mass-audience game that wiisports was. Dreamcast 2.0? Nintendo isn't going to make the same crazy bets that Sega did (Seaman, Samba, Shenmue) and their franchises can still sell the console.

      They'll exeed Gamecube sales on the strength of their own software (as they didn't have things like wii fit when the gamecube was around), indie support, and 3rd party games that take advantage of the systems' strengths but won't come close to hitting 90 mill worldwide. I would expect 40-60 once things are said and done. In the end, that's a pretty successful console.

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        February 5, 2013 5:47 PM

        Your predictions on sales between GC and Wii, and the reasons for them, seem reasonable to me b

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      February 5, 2013 4:10 PM

      When will Nintendo exit the hardware industry and just push their excellent 1st party software?

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        February 5, 2013 4:12 PM

        3 years

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          February 5, 2013 4:15 PM

          lol .. I would love to see a Mario game on bleeding edge PC hardware.

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        February 5, 2013 4:45 PM

        Thanks! I always wait for this comment for the lol

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        February 5, 2013 6:00 PM

        when people stop buying their hardware. likely a generation or two.

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        February 5, 2013 6:14 PM

        You mean like Sega did?

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          February 5, 2013 6:47 PM

          He said "excellent" (I don't necessarily think that Nintendo's games are that awesome, but they're way above Sega's overall offerings)

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            February 5, 2013 7:27 PM

            True, but people said the same thing about SEGA and they did have some fantastic games on their consoles.

            Problem was it seemed like they were the only ones who could develop great games for their consoles. :(

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              February 6, 2013 9:27 AM

              More like they were the only ones who actually cared to. EA and other companies were burned by the Sega Saturn's early release and poor performance of Genesis add-ons (The 32 X and the Sega CD) in past generations and snubbed the Dreamcast completely.

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            February 6, 2013 5:45 AM

            sonic was fucking awesome! on genesis.

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        February 6, 2013 12:09 AM

        You guys say stupid crap like this as if they didn't just kick the ever living shit out of Microsoft and Sony last gen while also outselling every gaming device ever (console or handheld) with the DS.

        Who the hell knows how Wii U and the 3DS will finish, but the Wii and the DS kicked ass, like it or not. People have been making that statement for pretty much a decade and as poor as GameCube did (sales wise) it didn't even make sense then.

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      February 5, 2013 7:39 PM

      I know people complain about Nintendo's offerings but I love my Wii U. It isn't perfectect but it's great system. I buy it because it's a fun party/family/Nintendo experience. My family has a blast playing Super Marios Bros U during the Holidays. Either way, there's room for it with any gamer's entertainment center, along with the XBox 720 or PS4. Still don't get the hate. I don't really buy a Nintendo console wishing it will be an XBox.

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        February 5, 2013 11:42 PM

        Same here - having a great time with my Wii U so far and excited for Pikmin, Metroid, Smash, Zelda etc. Nintendo builds hardware to support the new gameplay ideas they want to deliver. It's like the CISC vs RISC discussion - both good approaches which are leveraged in different ways. It doesn't all come down to clock speed; it's about how you use it.

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        February 6, 2013 12:25 AM

        I'm just waiting for more games. Wii U is the first Nintendo system in my adult life that I haven't purchased at launch and that's merely because there isn't a launch game I'm dying to get my hands on. Wii had Zelda, GameCube had Rogue Squardron. Give me Zelda (hell I'll take the remake), Mario (main series), Metroid... or something else and I'll be on board.

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        February 6, 2013 12:46 AM

        I love mine as well.

        Just as you, I fully knew that the WiiU will be for 1st party games and the odd gem like ZombiU.

        I just need to decide if I want a PS4 or Xbox for this gen.

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          February 6, 2013 5:03 AM

          I've been tossing that around too, to me the PS3 had the exclusives that couldn't go without. Plus it's so annoying when the 360's gold membership runs out and you have to buy another GOLD card just to use the fucking thing properly. I really hope MS drops the membership tie in with their next console.

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        February 6, 2013 4:49 AM

        That's part of why it's so funny to see people spitting venom at them. Awesome console for alot of reasons but for me it's the games you can't get anywhere else that keep me coming back.

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        February 6, 2013 5:04 AM

        It's nice if you already have something else to game on and have some spare money. If you have to chose between PC/PS3/X360 and Wii U it's the worse value proposition right now.

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      February 6, 2013 12:45 AM

      The gamepad functionality alone makes the WiiU next-gen.

      Next-gen isn't solely about graphics.

      I mean, are we going to be able to play Halo 5 while sitting on the toilet? I think not.

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        February 6, 2013 5:42 AM

        I agree, Mario has a much more fecal-friendly theme to it.

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        February 6, 2013 8:19 AM

        I'm just concerned about developing a Pavlovian response. I'm afraid every time i hear Mario's Wah Wah i'm going to drop a deuce.

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        February 6, 2013 8:46 AM

        I agree completely, the issue is there aren't more than a few good games on the horizon.

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          February 6, 2013 9:01 AM

          I think the Wii U will really start to pick up steam this summer as we see more quality titles available. Hopefully by that point sales aren't lagging enough to make it unattractive to 3rd party developers.

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      February 6, 2013 5:45 AM

      Most of the games I enjoyed the most lately on my 2k$ computer could have been played on a pentium2

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      February 9, 2013 10:52 PM

      Oh well, then, I concede. But modest specs aren't going to stop me from enjoying the Wii U! It's not about graphics with Nintendo.

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