If you’ve followed the Nintendo Switch at all, then you’ll likely be familiar the power argument. The Switch is, by all accounts, more powerful than the Wii U when docked. Its undocked performance is still up for debate, but it seems to be maintaining that same level of quality while portable. However, it isn’t hard to see that it isn’t quite hitting Xbox One levels of performance and that has many gamers worried about potential third party support for the Nintendo Switch.
When you look at the Switch, it isn’t hard to see how it’s as powerful as it is. NVIDIA is the mastermind behind the Switch’s innards and they’re known for their powerful, but expensive hardware. But even they have ceilings in terms of just how much performance they can squeeze out of such a small chip when the CPU also needs to be put on the same die. It stands to reason that the Switch itself is cutting edge in terms of portable power(not to be confused with laptop power which is something else.) limited by the need for a reasonable battery life, decent size, and manageable weight.
The Switch itself is technically two pieces: The tablet that is the console itself and the dock which outputs to your television. Everything we know so far suggests that the dock does not have any extra processing power, which is odd considering its hefty price tag of $90 when bought separately. But perhaps it may earn that price tag in the future.
Two months ago, a supposed leaker that worked for Foxconn reportedly outed the specs of the Nintendo Switch and the latest dev kits(Not to be confused with the Eurogamer reports.). I’ve always held this rumor to make more sense than the Eurogamer stuff, but with no proof to back it up, it faded just like a lot of rumors. However, someone on NeoGAF named Thraktor has gone over that old leak again, combined with some things he’s heard as well as a decent dose of speculation. You can find his post quoted here:
Simply put, there’s mention of a dev kit that is more powerful than the normal ones with only 2,000 having been preoduced, that more powerful dev kit was mentioned a month later in an AMA with Laura Kate Dale, which suggests that it very well does exist(Though not confirmed.). This dev kit can potentially output 4K video and has twice the RAM of the normal Switch unit. The SoC inside this heftier dev kit is a match for the GTX 1060, one of NVIDIA’s Pascal desktop GPU’s, though on the lower end. Thraktor speculates that this beefier dev kit with something similar to a 1060 is not meant for the base Switch unit that consumers will get their hands on this March. Rather, he speculates that this has some relation to the supplemental computing device that Nintendo patented either last year or a few years ago. Simply put, this SCD increases the amount of power that the Nintendo Switch has in order to output higher fidelity graphics. The caveat of course is that this theoretical SCD only has a few forms it could take. The most likely is that of a new Switch Dock 2.0 which houses this newer, beefier GPU and augments the Switch’s power when it’s docked.
And that sounds all fine and dandy. Third parties would likely find the additional power to be a big plus and consumers who have the extra cash to throw around and want competitive graphics could purchase this newer dock that would certainly earn whatever its price tag is. However, I’m not very confident in this approach simply due to the fact that this will then create a large power gap between the undocked Switch and the Switch in a Dock 2.0. According to Thraktor, a Switch augmented by this faux-GTX 1060 would rival the PS4 Pro in terms of power, putting Nintendo in a comfortable position between Sony’s high end machine and Microsofts new high end Xbox that releases later this year, but giving developers an increased workload because they’ll then have to essentially design three sets of graphics settings for their titles: Portable mode settings with an upper limit of 720p for screen resolution, Dock 1.0 graphics settings with an upper screen resolution limit of 1080p, and Dock 2.0 graphics settings with an upper screen resolution limit of 4K(Thraktor mentions something about 8K at 30fps, but I think he’s getting ahead of himself there.). No matter what, developers would always have to limit themselves to what the undocked Switch could do and scale up from there, just like going from PS3 to PS4, PS4 to PS4 Pro, or Xbox One to Scorpio. The portable mode will limit what is possible with the Switch like a data cap, just like how Xbox One will always chain down Scorpio and how the PS3 and Xbox 360 chained down the generation for about two years.
That being said, there is a saving grace to all of this SCD talk, and that is the very nature of the console life cycle. See, Nintendo is releasing the Switch in March, and this beefy Dock 2.0 would be likely to hit store shelves no earlier than this fall. This creates an interesting opportunity for Nintendo in that they could continue to release newer versions of the Switch Dock with heftier GPU and CPU power without the limitations of a portable SoC such as battery life and size. This would allow the Switch, when acting as a docked home console, to keep up with the competition. But obviously the Switch itself will become rapidly outdated and as NVIDIA works on their newer architectures, newer, more powerful versions of the Tegra chip will become possible. And so in about 5 or 7 years, Nintendo could release the Switch 2.0 which is backwards compatible with the Switch docks. So now the “data cap” has been raised to whatever this Switch 2.0 can produce and is then augmented by whatever dock version you happen to own.
Now, keep in mind that all of this is mostly speculation based on a write-up based on a leak from November that has thus far been proven partially correct. If this more powerful dev kit does exist, if this supplemental computing device is really a thing, then it may take other forms besides a dock, though a dock is probably the safest bet. It would allow both Nintendo and consumers to evolve the Switch at their own pace and give developers the extra juice they want. In fact, this could actually tie in to Nintnedo’s VR plans that were hinted at via a patent(Though obviously not the same.). Releasing a dock with an SCD inside would allow the Switch to support VR and the Joy-Con’s have actually been theorized to be on par with the Oculus Touch and Vive controllers in terms of capability. If this is all true, Nintendo has put themselves in a position to evolve themselves over time in order to keep up with their competitors while also offering a portable experience they can’t match. It’s honestly genius in my opinion.
But, again, take it all with a grain of salt and we’ll see what happens over the next two years. But please, do let me know your thoughts on this in the comments below. What do you make of it? Would you buy a beefier dock when/if it becomes available?