When the Nintendo Switch was first revealed, rumors circulated about the kind of GPU it was using. Was it Maxwell or Pascal? Was it the Tegra X1 or a completely custom GPU? How powerful was it? Eventually these questions were all answered. The GPU inside the Switch is a stock Tegra X1, meaning Maxwell, and the systems power sits just above that of the Nintendo Wii U. It has 2GB’s more RAM than the Wii U, but a slightly slower CPU(a mobile one at that.). Depending on how far publishers are willing to go, eighth generation games designed for the Xbox One and PS4 can be made to run on the Switch at the expense of graphics and/or framerate.
For an underpowered console compared to the competition, the Switch is doing quite well for itself and Nintendo’s stock has risen exponentially. It’s no longer a question that the Switch is more of a success than the Wii U. But even though it’s only been 7 months since the consoles launch, Nintendo and partner NVIDIA are likely looking towards the future. Nintendo’s next console is likely to be an upgraded Switch, a home console/handheld hybrid device, and as a result it will need to be built in a similar fashion. The question, however, is what route NVIDIA or Nintendo will take in terms of the systems power. Off the top of my head, there are four options.
Option #1 - Replace the Tegra X1(Maxwell) with the Tegra X2(Pascal)
The easiest route for NVIDIA and Nintendo to take would be to simply move up a tier. As of last year, NVIDIA began producing the Tegra X2, known as Parker, and based on their Pascal architecture which is shared with the GTX 10 series GPU’s. So far, the chip has only been designed for use with cars and other assorted projects, but it wouldn’t be out of the question for NVIDIA to spin-off a Tegra X2 built for dedicated gaming. The Tegra X2 is also capable of supporting up to 16GB of LPDDR4 memory as compared to the Tegra X1's 4GB(Though it’s questionable if a Switch 2.0, which might end up around the same size, would even be able to hold a full 16GB.). And that’s to say nothing of the CPU which replaces 4 of the standard ARM cores with two of NVIDIA’s custom Denver2 ARM cores, and all 6 cores can hit a frequency of up to 2Ghz.
All in all, the Tegra X2 isn’t a terrible upgrade, though because it hasn’t been used in anything outside of cars, it’s honestly hard to tell how it would perform in a gaming machine and just how quickly the systems battery would drain(Keep in mind that the Tegra X2 is a 16nm chip, whereas the X1 is 20nm. A smaller chip generally leads to reduced power consumption and heat. According to Wikipedia, the power consumption is about the same if not a tad bit lower than the X1.).
Of course, this is the easy path. They could also choose to jump up two levels...
Option #2 - Replace the Tegra X1(Maxwell) with the Tegra X3(Volta)
NVIDIA’s Volta architecture is its latest development in the GPU space and has yet to actually see a release in consumer graphics cards though that is expected to happen sometime in 2018 and be the first major upgrade since Maxwell, since Pascal was more of a half-step. From what I’ve been reading, Tegra chips based on Volta, codenamed Xavier, are already out in the wild, again being used in cars. And this is definitely a major upgrade even with the scant details available. Both the X1 and X2 have 256 CUDA cores, but the X3 has 512 CUDA cores(Basically, more is better in this department.). It also has 8 custom CPU cores, meaning that the stock ARM cores found in the previous two models have all been replaced by custom NVIDIA models, likely a newer version of their Denver cores. It will be 16nm like the X2, but capable of encoding and decoding 8K Ultra HD. The size of the chips die is currently estimated at 300mm squared.
That’s about all there is on Xavier, but it shouldn’t be hard to see that it would certainly yield a more substantial upgrade. And if the chip really has hit this year, it wouldn’t be out of a question for a dedicated gaming model to be ready in two to three years when a potential Switch successor appears.
Option #3 - NVIDIA Could Use a Max-Q GPU
Admittedly this one is just me spitballing. From all of my research into what exactly Max-Q is, it supposedly has more to do with redesigning the internals of the computer in addition to lowering the output of the GPU so that bigger fans and such aren’t required. That being said, I don’t doubt that the GPU was, in some way, made at least somewhat smaller and/or thinner to fit into such a small frame(Full disclosure, I am not all that familiar with mobile GPU’s, but we’re talking taking the legit GTX 1080, and cramming it into an extremely thin laptop. They did something to it.). As the years go on, it becomes more feasible to shrink technology and still achieve the same results. If NVIDIA applied it’s Max-Q design to the Nintendo Switch using a full GPU rather than a Tegra chip, it could potentially lead to some significant gains in the power department as well as efficiency. While I wouldn’t expect them to throw a 1080 in there, one of the weaker GPU’s, like the 1060, could potentially be on the table.
Option #4 - A Completely Custom Chip
In the world of console gaming, it’s standard practice to have a custom chip in your system. Microsoft and Sony give AMD their list of needs and wants, and AMD produces chips based on this. Alternatively, Sony is no stranger to producing their own proprietary chips, such as the PS3's Cell processor or the custom chip for the PlayStation Vita that allowed it to reach near PS3 levels of graphical power.
While the Tegra X2 and X3 are certainly the best contenders for a Switch successor, Nintendo could ask NVIDIA to make a chip completely detached from their Tegra line. I could really only speculate as to what this custom chip would be like. Architecture-wise it would likely still be derived from NVIDIA’s Pascal or Volta architectures, and power-wise it would still be stronger than the X1 used in the Switch 1.0, but given Nintendo’s disinterest in playing the power game, it might not reach the heights of the X3, instead settling somewhere in between the X2 and X3. Nintendo would also likely be conscious of the chips power consumption, heat generation, and overall size since it needs to fit into a rather confined space.
Off the top of my head, those are the 4 things I could see Nintendo and/or NVIDIA consider for a next-gen Switch. Now I’m curious as to which you all think is more likely. Personally I’m leaning towards the X3, but that might be wishful thinking.