The Electronic Entertainment Expo is right around the corner and Nintendo has a new piece of hardware that needs as much promotion as it can get. The Nintendo Switch is off to a great start, but everyone is thinking about its future and that goes doubly for Nintendo themselves. We all know games are coming to the Nintendo Switch, but what about accessories? What about additional hardware? That last one may seem strange to you, but patents from last year show that Nintendo has or at least had a lot of plans for companion devices. The biggest of which was a supplemental computing device.
It’s no secret that Nintendo doesn’t play the power game, at least not anymore. The Nintendo 64 was beefier than the PlayStation, but the PlayStation won out because it used discs instead of cartridges and was more developer friendly. The GameCube was more powerful than the PlayStation 2, but less powerful than Microsofts new Xbox. It ultimately lost to both due to its use of mini-discs. After that Nintendo resigned itself to being the odd one out. The Wii was little more than an overclocked GameCube, paling in comparison to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The Nintendo DS was also far behind the PlayStation Portable, Sony’s first foray into handheld gaming. However, despite having the weaker hardware on both fronts, Nintendo ultimately won both battles due to the Wii far outselling the Xbox 360 and PS3 and the DS having a stronger library and install base than the PSP. This told Nintendo that they could succeed without playing the power game. Then we come to the Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS. The Wii U was more powerful than the Xbox 360 and PS3, but just a year later the Xbox One and PS4 blew past it by miles. The Wii U ultimately flopped due to very poor marketing and developers not really understanding how to use the GamePad without it seeming like a gimmick. The 3DS started out rocky, especially when its competitor, the PlayStation Vita, came onto the scene. Eventually however the 3DS gained steam and continues to sell very well until this day despite being the weaker machine, meanwhile the Vita, while still receiving games, is pretty much on life support. Nintendo lost the console battle, but won the handheld battle.
That in turn brings us to the present day and the Nintendo Switch. The Switch is a hybrid device. The console itself is a tablet with detachable controllers, this makes it a handheld. Perhaps not quite as portable as the 3DS, but a portable none the less. The second half of the device is a dock which allows it to switch displays from the Switch’s built-in 720p screen to whatever TV you’re using with a maximum resolution of 1080p. It does nothing else other than charge the system. Regardless, it fills the role of both a handheld and a home console, and has already been recognized as the official successor to the Wii U, though its power isn’t much higher. The gap between the 3DS and Switch is far more significant, though Nintendo has not yet fully recognized the Switch as the successor to the 3DS, likely to keep the 3DS selling and to see if the Switch is truly a success.
So where does Nintendo go from here hardware wise? Well, their patents tell all. The Switch is a very modular device by nature. While you can’t change the tablet portion of the system without buying an entirely new Switch 2.0 when one inevitably exists, you could swap out the controllers for different configurations, and while the current dock may not do anything, it could potentially do something in the future.
Back in November, a leak from Foxconn claimed that there was a beefier Switch dev kit floating around. Since the leaker nailed the dimensions of the consumer Switch, there was no reason to believe his information on the beefier dev kit to be false. It had 8GB of RAM and a stronger GPU at least. This GPU was equivalent to NVIDIA’s GTX 1060. To put that into better perspective for you, the memory bandwidth of Microsofts Project Scorpio is 326GB/s, which is pretty close to the output of NVIDIA’s GTX 1080 at 320GB/s. The memory bandwidth of the GTX 1060 is 192GB/s and the PS4 Pro is 218GB/s. The PS4 Pro has 8GB of RAM with 5 and a half gigs usable for games while Scorpio has 12GB of RAM, presumably with 8GB available for games. The beefier Switch dev kit boasted 8GB of RAM, and taking Nintendo’s optimization history into account, it can be assumed that 7GB would be available for games.
All in all, if Nintendo were to jam a 1060, perhaps even a custom one, into a theoretical Switch Dock 2.0 and sell it as an optional accessory, it would have a home console experience that is competitive with the PS4 Pro, Scorpio is a bit of a different bag since it’s a much larger leap. But for Nintendo, it’s more important to fight Sony than Microsoft since Sony and Nintendo share the same home turf and thus share similar consumer bases and potential Japanese third party support. While Nintendo hasn’t cared about playing the power game for the last two generations, and the base Switch certainly doesn’t discredit that, but offering a more powerful dock could give them the edge they need, and it would appease gamers that left Nintendo BECAUSE they don’t compete in the power struggle. It’s a win-win for Nintendo, though it does create extra work for developers who choose to support it.
Only time will tell if this is actually a thing that Nintendo has opted to pursue or left on the cutting room floor. If a dev kit existed as far back as October, it stands to reason that a Dock 2.0 or whatever form this supplemental computing device would take is a 2017 release and thus an E3 reveal would be likely. There was also mention that it could potentially run alongside the Switch’s Tegra X1 SoC, further boosting the output of the system, but due to the differences in architecture and other assorted details, I find that to be a more unlikely scenario. If it did happen though, and this is me being hypothetical, it would likely land closer to Scorpio in power, blasting past the PS4 Pro. However, the CPU problems are still there as I don’t recall if it was mentioned that the beefier dev kit had a different CPU.
Wrapping up, Nintendo has patents for this SCD as well as a virtual reality headset, and that’s not counting their comments about potential Joy-Con’s styled after a GameCube controller, complete with analog triggers. After all of that, the only place left for them to go is to adopt the cell phone model and produce a new version of the dock and Switch every three or four years in order to keep up with the rapidly changing technology. Or maybe make a Switch mini that’s only portable.