Another report claims Nintendo's NX will use cartridges instead of discs

This report corroborates a financial briefing made by the Chinese company responsible for manufacturing the carts Nintendo uses for 3DS games.

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The Wall Street Journal has published a report stating that sources "familiar with the matter" claim Nintendo's upcoming NX console will run games on cartridges instead of optical media (via Polygon).

"Industry watchers said cartridges were a reasonable choice for Nintendo’s next-generation system, code-named NX, because the company targets a wider range of consumers than Sony or Microsoft," per the Wall Street Journal. "Nintendo’s core fans include small children, who might scratch discs but find cartridges tougher to damage. Cartridges also allow games to load faster, are harder to copy and can be mass-produced faster than discs, they said."

The Wall Street Journal's source corroborates another report from this spring. A financial briefing by Chinese manufacturer Macronix indicated that it expected ROM sales to spike later this year when production of NX games is expected to ramp up in anticipation of the console's projected March 2017 launch.

What's important to note is that Macronix did not indicate whether it expects an increase in production of special 32GB ROM chips (effectively flash media). Assuming it does, that naturally leads to speculation concerning whether NX cartridges would be comparable to games released on PS4 and Xbox One.

3DS games are burned to 8GB ROM carts. Assuming Macronix applies its 32GB ROMs to NX cartridges (and assuming NX winds up using cartridges at all), games for Nintendo's new consoles would be four times the size of 3DS carts, but still short of the max capacity of a Blu-ray.

Consider, though, that optical discs are increasingly considered a bottleneck. Processors, GPUs, and RAM are significantly faster than the read/write speed of an optical drive. This is why PS4 and Xbox One install games first: without installation, every other hardware component would be forced to wait for the optical drive to catch up. Out of all three current-gen consoles, only the Wii U actually loads data from discs.

Other write-ups opine that a major drawback of cartridges, their high production costs passed on to consumers in the form of sticker-shock-inducing price tags, would be curtailed. Ars Technica pointed out that although manufacturing ROMs would likely cost more than pressing discs, wholesale costs would be trivial compared to, say, the $80 MSRP commonly associated with N64 cartridges—one of many reasons why the original PlayStation steamrolled N64 in sales.

Moreover, Nintendo's FY2017 projections stated that it does not expect to sell NX at a loss; cutting an optical drive from each unit would cause a nontrivial reduction in costs.

Perhaps Nintendo and Macronix will use ROM chips with more capacity than 32GB, or perhaps that's the size they'll go with and hope they can make it work. Until Nintendo finally reveals NX, no one knows for sure.

Long Reads Editor

David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Stay Awhile and Listen series, and the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing Mario, Zelda, and Dark Souls games, and will be happy to discuss at length the myriad reasons why Dark Souls 2 is the best in the series. Follow him online at davidlcraddock.com and @davidlcraddock.

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  • reply
    September 2, 2016 3:35 PM

    David Craddock posted a new article, Another report claims Nintendo's NX will use cartridges instead of discs

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      September 2, 2016 3:51 PM

      Given that it's speculated to be partially a portable device, this makes total sense. Also, I assume the hardware/control design spec wouldn't be locked in to just a single 32gb chip. That would allow for some game choices to go beyond the initial launch spec. We've seen that before; all the way back to the SNES (can't remember if the nes did it too).

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        September 2, 2016 4:25 PM

        They've been adding shit beyond the basics to carts since at least TLoZ.

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          September 2, 2016 6:49 PM

          They stopped doing that 12 or 13 years ago when they added gyros to a few GBA games. The console hardware since then has had everything that some older NES/SNES/N64/GB/GBA cartridges added (graphics, audio, gyros, rumble). It seems like increasing storage is the only thing that would be added now.

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            September 9, 2016 4:49 PM

            That's what I meant, it's unlikely that it will be permanently limited in that way.

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      September 2, 2016 5:21 PM

      Bring on the return of cartridges. If I'm going to buy any more consoles I'd rather it be something different rather than a weak PC with a pay service and a few exclusives.

      Fast loading, no installing, and inability to scratch discs sounds perfect for kids too.

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        September 2, 2016 7:00 PM

        Load times are the most annoying thing to me on consoles. Some game types seem worse than others. Racing games for example. Think it was Dirt 2 .Fairly short races. Felt like I spent more time in the menu or loading than I did driving the cars.

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          September 2, 2016 7:09 PM

          32GB sounds like a good amount of storage too, if that's what they use. It seems like "enough" without really skimping, or going overboard to surpass a Blu-ray.

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            September 2, 2016 8:16 PM

            On PS4 Witcher 3 is 29GB, FO4 is 26GB, Dark Souls 3 is 12GB, Rise Of The Tomb Raider on PC is 20GB, etc etc.

            There are obvious exceptions like GTAV and Uncharted 4, but for the most part games don't come anywhere close to filling up a Blu Ray. Doubling cartridge capacity to 64GB for larger games doesn't seem like it would be difficult either since its a common flash memory size.

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      September 2, 2016 8:31 PM

      Do cartridges make emulation harder? I would think it could if they wanted to add some hardware key to the cartridge right? One that only the console had the master for?