News Article

GPU Images Reveal Wii U Graphical Power

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

If you're into that sort of thing

Since before it even hit stores, much speculation has swirled over the graphical power of the Wii U, by which we mean how many polygons, shaders and effects it can push all at once. The launch window line-up includes exclusives that look gorgeous, others that have modest visuals, as well as ports and multi-platform releases of varying standards. There's been guesswork and contradictory developer's comments, and claims to have actually deciphered CPU and GPU speeds.

Courtesy of some keen members of the NeoGaf community and tech photography company Chipworks, it seems the mysteries of the GPU — such a key part of the Wii U infrastructure, as argued by Nintendo itself — have been clarified. These ultra-magnified images drill down to within the chips themselves, allowing analysts to assess the "die shot", interpret the transistors present and to calculate its capabilities.

Thankfully, the team over at Digital Foundry has interpreted the results, a trust-worthy and reliable source when it comes to matters such as these. The full article goes into great detail, professing to remaining unknowns and suggesting that in time development teams will squeeze more out of the system — as is the case with every platform. The core facts are clear, with a level of detail now known for Wii U's infrastructure that's on a par with known specifications of the upcoming successors from Microsoft and Sony. Extracts are below.

The final GPU is indeed a close match to the 4650/4670, albeit with a deficit in the number of texture-mapping units and a lower clock speed - 550MHz. AMD's RV770 hardware is well documented so with these numbers we can now, categorically, finally rule out any next-gen pretensions for the Wii U - the GCN hardware in Durango and Orbis is in a completely different league. However, the 16 TMUs at 550MHz and texture cache improvements found in RV770 do elevate the capabilities of this hardware beyond the Xenos GPU in the Xbox 360 - 1.5 times the raw shader power sounds about right. 1080p resolution is around 2.5x that of 720p, so bearing in mind the inclusion of just eight ROPs, it's highly unlikely that we'll be seeing any complex 3D titles running at 1080p.

All of which may lead some to wonder quite why many of the Wii U ports disappoint - especially Black Ops 2, which appears to have been derived from the Xbox 360 version, running more slowly even at the same 880x720 sub-hd resolution. The answer comes from a mixture of known and unknown variables.

The obvious suspect would be the Wii U's 1.2GHz CPU, a tri-core piece of hardware re-architected from the Wii's Broadway chip, in turn a tweaked, overclocked version of the GameCube's Gekko processor. In many of our Wii U Face-Offs we've seen substantial performance dips on CPU-specific tasks. However, there still plenty of unknowns to factor in too - specifically the bandwidth levels from the main RAM and the exact nature of the GPU's interface to its 32MB of onboard eDRAM. While the general capabilities of the Wii U hardware are now beyond doubt, discussion will continue about how the principal processing elements and the memory are interfaced together, and Nintendo's platform-exclusive titles should give us some indication of what this core is capable of when developers are targeting it directly.

...While there's still room for plenty of debate about the Wii U hardware, the core fundamentals are now in place and effectively we have something approaching a full spec. It took an extraordinary effort to get this far and you may be wondering quite why it took a reverse engineering specialist using ultra-magnification photography to get this information, when we already know the equivalent data for Durango and Orbis. The answer is fairly straightforward - leaks tend to derive from development kit and SDK documentation and, as we understand it, this crucial information simply wasn't available in Nintendo's papers, with developers essentially left to their own devices to figure out the performance level of the hardware.

The key points, it seems, are that the Wii U GPU is stronger than its contemporary in Xbox 360, for example, but performance issues in some early ports possibly reflect CPU restrictions and some unknowns — this has been stated before. Vitally, the Digital Foundry team states that the "GCN (Graphics Core Next) hardware in Durango (Microsoft) and Orbis (Sony) is in a completely different league"; on a technical level this isn't necessarily a surprise, but is important to state. The gulf towards a new level of graphical fidelity has been argued by Satoru Iwata to be less pronounced than between Wii and its HD rivals, and Nintendo gamers have become familiar with enjoying games with weaker graphical capabilities than those seen on other systems.

Perhaps the most revealing aspect is in the final paragraph, with a suggestion that the secrecy around Wii U's specifications meant developers were "left to their own devices" to figure out the console's capabilities, thus avoiding the leaks that have revealed much about the rival systems on the way.

So, what do you think of these comments and latest revelations of the Wii U's graphical capabilities? A gallery of the related images is below.


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User Comments (83)



LanePhilly said:

power shouldn't matter on a Nintendo console, the only games that people should play on a Nintendo console are exclusives that aren't shovelware because they know how to use the power of the console to it's full potential.



GameLord08 said:

Let the familiar developers display what the Wii U is capable of.

Mere figures and values thrown about in a dodgy speculation mean next to nothing.



Lan said:

Also, keep in mind that x86 PC platforms do not, under any circumstances, represent what consoles are like. The Wii U is not a PC with a 3 core running at 1.2GHZ with an HD 4670 and some RAM thrown in. It's not that simple



ThomasBW84 said:

@GameLord08 I think the point of these images and the fact that Digital Foundry are exceptionally reliable in publishing this sort of article, is that much of the doubt is now gone. As suggested in the article though, for Nintendo gamers these revelations aren't necessarily surprising.

I'm personally sure we'll see plenty of gorgeous games on the system, because I kind of agree that the gulf between visuals is much narrower. Playing a game on a powerful PC is impressive, but with good art design weaker devices can deliver, as Wii did in various games up against the PS3 and 360.

It's Nintendo's modus operandi now, which is equally worrying and exciting, because its game libraries are often unique as a result.



Savino said:

I bought wii u for the nintendo games and only for it!
I dont expect to play AC4 on other multiplat from the next gen on it.... I dont know why someones expected that Nintendo would make an powerfull console.... Its not Iwatas desire!



HawkeyeWii said:

I hate is when I continue to see people that complain that the launch ports are poopier than the 360 and PS3,. And right there they count the Wii U out. Umm No, they console over the course of the rest of its lifetime starting this year will be much better than those games'performances. When we get out of the lazy port window it will all be better.



rjejr said:

"overclocked version of the GameCube's Gekko processor."

So now we can say the Wii U is 3 Gamecubes duct taped together



Jellitoe said:

It basically means that Nintendo once again skimped on its hardware and that we will not be getting 3rd party software targeted towards next gen and will miss out on a lot of current software that is CPU heavy.

And that we Nintendo fans are used to having a second rate product.

Shame on you Nintendo,



MAB said:

3 fully awesome GCN's smashed together... The Gamecube was starting to fire up at the end of its life but was cut short Resident Evil 4 was the best graphical achievement of that generation while the PS2 port looked like crap with an old dog of a frame rate.



aaronsullivan said:

Here's the thing. The raw power of the new consoles is going to be markedly better, but there have been diminishing returns on GPU upgrades for awhile now. In other words, the games can look better and better with more detail, but it just all sort of washes away as you play in MOST circumstances. Screenshots will put Wii U to shame, particular moments in new games will make Wii U LOOK primitive, but while you are playing, the graphics on the Wii U will generally be as effective at evoking thrills and awe.

I played Battlefield 3 on a very capable computer and that hardware destroys the 360 and PS3 (and Wii U of course), and at first it is sort of amazing, but eventually it feels similar to how playing BF2 felt on my ancient computer.

If you care about advancing game play experiences and trying new expensive techniques like the Game Pad. The Wii U is a very good balance. The new consoles will NOT have a Game Pad packed in. Not unless they start at a much higher price.

Perception is another thing, and as a business decision, what Nintendo has done (set themselves back graphically 4-5 years) has had mixed results. People still like to be titilated by screenshots and tiny details. I do, too. But I value the experience of playing a bit more, myself.



aaronsullivan said:

Oh, and the jury is still out on whether ports will be problematic. Eventually, you are just adding extra detail and the graphics are lower fidelity. It might not be so bad. We wil see.



NIN10DOXD said:

Sony already said that the PS4 wont be much stronger and M$ would be stupid to think that somebody will pay $600 for the next Xbox if it is going to be 8x more powerful than current gen hardware. Devs cant hardly afford to make games as it is and are going out of business. Basically 8th gen ain't gonna be "revolutionary."



cornishlee said:

Am I the only one that can remember various professed "leaks" of Wii U hardware over the last couple of years? It all seems a bit futile to try and compare photographs to speculation.



Jellitoe said:

@Lan Yes, and it is also the reason Nintendo is currently reporting loses and the Wii U is not selling like they wanted it too, Also the reason they were hush about the systems specs. It was a bad decision. The moment most consumers found out it was on par with the XBOX, they ran and bought an XBOX instead for half the price.



Lan said:

@Jellitoe You're right. Nintendo also should've made the 3DS more powerful. Maybe add a higher resolution screen. Because it's absolutely being creamed by the Vita. The weak 3DS has no chance in today's market.



New_3DaSh_XL said:

@Lan I wouldn't say no chance.

Anyway, I think the 3DS is more powerful than the Wii, so all it needed was a higher resolution screen. The 3DS is capable of supporting a higher resolution screen, but it doesn't, sadly.

Anyone else find it interesting the Wii U's GamePad has a higher resolution screeen than a devoted handheld?



Jellitoe said:

@Lan That is not a fair comparison. Nintendo has always been king of the portables and the #DS was destines to win that fight. Yes its graphics are not like Vita, but on that small screen it is considered HD, and on top of that you have the #D feature and massive "3rd Party support" - that last key being what Wii did not have. what Wii U is starting to to lose and what, yes Vita does not have.

And Lan, I hope you are having this conversation in the peace knowing that I love Nintendo, and will support them in whatever they decide since the do make the best games.



Lan said:

@Jellitoe In what way is it considered HD? Seems no one knows what HD means, it's referring to the number of horizontal lines in a picture. Not nice-looking shaders. Not high-poly models. Just resolution. Nothing more, nothing less.



Amigaengine said:

All this technical stuff hurts my head lol. All i care about are good games and if i want the best graphics will simply build a PC. That is the way it has been since mid 80's and has not changed since.

The HD generation has just about ruined game consoles and more importantly has chased off the best minds in gaming. We dont see original ideas from developers because they simply cannot afford the next Shenmue which imo is just sad. Which is why you get so many grey or brown games with a special map pack.

Sorry but the 6th gen (dreamcast,GCN, PS2,Xbox) was the best generation in gaming and had nothing to do with graphics



Sean_Aaron said:

I bought a Wii U on the strength of my experience with the Wii and the fact that it was a logical upgrade of that platform. The addition of HD visuals is all I expected in the graphical department; how it compares to other platforms is irrelevant to me.



ThomasBW84 said:

@cornishlee There were leaks, as far as I recall, in terms of "Wii U is powerful/Wii U isn't powerful/The CPU is horrible" and so on, but I don't remember many specifics. As the Digital Foundry article suggests, much is already known about what's coming (in terms of CPU/GPU speeds and details) from Microsoft and Sony; the remaining mystery is in control inputs or any potential innovations, which are still a little vague. It seems Sony may stick with DualShock but have a touchpad — similar to the one on the back of the Vita — for example.



LztheQuack said:

Meanwhile, back at Lz's apartment, Lz is still enjoying the fun games that Nintendo and third parties made. Yay games!



AVahne said:

Hmm.. Digital Foundry...though personally I'm not too sure about these conclusions.



FullbringIchigo said:

the power of the machine doesn't matter at all it's all about the games and as long as they are fun that's great

i mean if i cared about power i wouldn't still be playing my SNES now would i?



sonicfan said:

I got the Wii U because of the exclusive games like Bayonetta 2 etc. And that the fact you can play the games differently using the Wii U gamepad etc. Overall I like my Wii U very much



drdark said:

@Lan If that's the same NotEnoughShaders article I read weeks ago, a lot of the findings were already dispelled in the comments for the article, since it was pointed out the "Source" research the article was based on was incorrect [this added to my earlier annoying that one of their conculsions was "this information is from a trusted website so we don't need to look into it" #lolwhut #journalismisdead ].

So yeah, no time for me to read through it all again, but my advice to anyone reading that is -contrary to most advice about internet articles- READ THE COMMENTS!

P.S. The petty graphics squabbles of console gamers just amuse PC gamers. Let's talking about gaaaames.



AgentAPE said:

I think nintendo is a great position with its low end tech approach, i see alot of developers and publishers getting sticker shock when it comes to creating something for ps4/720 and will come running back to nintendo consoles when its cheaper and the install base is solid. Graphics matter when it cost too much to make them.



belmont said:

[The answer is fairly straightforward - leaks tend to derive from development kit and SDK documentation and, as we understand it, this crucial information simply wasn't available in Nintendo's papers, with developers essentially left to their own devices to figure out the performance level of the hardware.]

I understand hiding specs from the public but seems stupid to me to hide them from the developers.



TrueWiiMaster said:

"It basically means that Nintendo once again skimped on its hardware"
That's not exactly how it works. They could have made better hardware, but that would have made the price go up too. I think a stronger Wii U retailing for $400+ would have been a mistake.

"it is also the reason Nintendo is currently reporting loses and the Wii U is not selling like they wanted it too, Also the reason they were hush about the systems specs. It was a bad decision."
By that logic the Wii should have been a miserable failure, and of course, it wasn't. The reason the Wii U's sales are down is three-fold: Lack of games, lack of marketing, and price (there are a lot of people waiting for a price drop). If sales are still as they are now when Mario Kart, a 3D Mario, Windwaker, etc come out, then Nintendo will have a problem.

"You do realize Nintendo has always done this, right?"
Actually, the N64 was stronger than the PS1, and the Gamecube was stronger than the PS2.



Emaan said:

Quality over visual quality I guess. I think the Wii U games so far look beautiful. As long as it has a good art direction, they look more than good enough for me.



Haxonberik said:

I still have hopes the Wii U will become house of the indy developers, as the new graphics from other consoles will be too hard to develop for.



AbeVigoda said:


You listed off a bunch of current gen ports (some several months old) a few indie downloads and some launch titles. The Wii-U will be very underpowered compared to the new consoles coming, and most if not all the big third-party companies will be focusing on those systems instead.



Discostew said:

Even with all this information, there is still one thing people don't get.

It is 100% customized. Because of this, they really cant "compare" it to other GPUs. It was thought of being similar to the RV770 or RV730, except those are manufactured using a 55nm process when it was confirmed the Wii U GPU is made with a 40nm process.

Simply put, the scans show stuff, but they really don't show what the Wii U is capable of, because they are still "guessing".



BJQ1972 said:

How many developers have gone under because of the costs of development for HD consoles? How many will go under because those costs will increase even more for the Next Gen consoles. Microsoft and Sony seem, to me, to be racing headlong into another major crash of the gaming market.



yobucky said:

@NIN10DOXD YES! Exactly what I've said all along... there is no way in hell the other manufacturers are going to make a console that is so powerful that it a) prices itself out of the market and b) puts smaller developers out of business because they can't make the graphics "HD" enough. It's already happened a lot in this generation where companies invest millions into a game primarily for the sake of the graphics only to make a huge loss when the game fails to sell. In many ways nintendo's cautious approach that trades power for innovation is what will win out in the end. I cannot see sony taking another early price hit like they did with the PS3, in this economy they will need the PS4 to be making a profit from the word go and having specs that are too high is really going to be asking for trouble.
But honestly at the end of the day, I buy nintendo consoles simply because it's where all my best gaming memories have been made. I'm sure there's room for the other consoles and the eye candy kids but I've yet to play a truly memorable game on the other consoles, so it's PC and ninty all the way.



HawkeyeWii said:

Yes it does suck that we as Nintendo fans will inevitable endure another era of little to no top tier 3rd party support, but we have the first party games and the first party games or any games for that matter on the other systems, don't even come close to the originality or pure fun that Nintendo puts out.
I do hope that next generation that Nintendo jumps up in front of the competition and sets the new standard for graphics in addition to the gameplay. Otherwise one of the generations, Nintendo might be getting the boot.... due to the much better competition.



DerpSandwich said:

"it's highly unlikely that we'll be seeing any complex 3D titles running at 1080p."

I'm completely in the "power doesn't make great games" camp, but...that's pretty dang disappointing.



Itglows said:

I think this article is pretty misleading. From what I've been reading the chip in the WIIU is pretty custom and almost certainly contains fixed functions that make comparing it to off the shelf GPU's a bit difficult. I think when you look at the quality of some of the tech demos and games (like Wonderful 101) you'll see that the console is doing things that wouldn't be possible without far more get up and go than the basic specs would have you believe.



Moshugan said:

I'm gonna be a parrot here and say that this wasn't a huge surprise and I'm mostly worried about future ports having shoddy framerates.
Having older shaders or lower polygon character models isn't going to make for an inferior gameplay experience, but having laggy refresh rates can ruin any game, no matter how good.



Moshugan said:

@DerpSandwich On the graphics side, 1080p was something that I really wanted, because a clearer picture does provide more enjoyable gaming in 3D games.



ecco6t9 said:

Power isn't everything, as long as Nintendo makes money and great games that's all that is really needed at this point.
Something more along the lines of the Apple of old, appeal to your fans who will buy anything you make.

Secondly, if the PS4 and Xbox 720 are a major step up from the current consoles. Expect Sega,Majesco, and another company to not survive.



krunchykhaos said:

@AbeVigoda no it wont.
One: no one knows what the WiiU can do.
Two: i've seen the devkits. They aren't impressive.
Three: this graphics argument is stupid because of the fact that no one knows anything about what the wiiu can push out and also what the xbox and ps4 will do. Don't be surprised if the ps4 is just a ps3 with upgrades that make it just at the wiiu or a tad more. Considering sony said they werent making it that much more powerful than the ps3. Microsoft is just shooting themselves in the foot. They barely get by with exclusives and call of duty. So thats what...4 franchises? Thats pitiful considering xbox users still pay for online. Nintendo will come out on top again.



SKYW4LK3R said:

I think Nintendo's strategy is to optimize last gen graphics and give us something unique to play with instead of just upgrading the overall system specs... And to my knowledge their strategy works very well!



Neram said:

What I'm wondering is, why do people even talk about this crap anymore? Unless you're talking about custom building a PC, there's no point because pretty damn soon all video game graphics are going to look the same. There's only so much that hardware can do, the rest is up to the artistic integrity of the developers.

Also, shouldn't the fact that the DS outsold the PSP, and the Wii outsold the 360 and PS3 kind of tell everyone that graphics don't matter squat when it comes to video games? It's not the video in "video games" that counts, it's the games.



AVahne said:

Rumor has it that the PS4/720 will be using custom Radeon HD 6670 or 7670. Those are better than the custom "4670" that is SUPPOSEDLY in the Wii U, but just barely.
Don't care though, as long as the new Xeno game and new SMT x FE game look absolutely delicious.



WaveGhoul said:

Wii delivered enormously in terms of innovation and fun factor....I cannot whatsoever say the same based on the other two HD consoles which have got to be thee' most unappealing gaming consoles i've owned aside from the virtual Boy & Sega Saturn.

Nintendo's going at it's own pace, to see the NextGen graphical leap, incuding non-anamorphic 'true' widescreen and HD visuals regardless if they won't be much more powerful than the PS3/XBOX 360 for something like Pikmin 3 on the big screen is going to be very exciting. I buy Ninendo consoles for nintendo games and innovation. At this point I'd only buy a PS4 for 3rd party support....Aka capcom, and...Well. konami's pretty dissapointing these days....



black-kyurem said:

Its official!! Ps4 is gonna leave Wii U un the dust!! But casuals are gonna save wii u from being a total fail.



Zombie_Barioth said:

I'm not worried one bit about Wii U not selling due to being "slightly better" than current consoles. No, if anything I'm more worried about people opting to stick to the old consoles in general. The economy is bad and money is tight so why should Joe average spend $300-$400 for a console that just looks a little prettier than what he has? The rumor is the other two are focusing on multitasking but mobile devices and PCs do that better anyway and current consoles do things like hulu and netflix already so whats the point in buying one for that?

It'll take more than prettier pictures to convince people to shell out the cash and Nintendo is good at providing that. I personally don't care about pretty graphics so much as the over-all quality, and better AI or other game play improvements.



DaemonSword said:

Don't care, MS and Sony will never get a dime from me, ever. (everyone in my family uses Macs, and I stopped buying Sony products a long time ago)



GreenDream said:

"The final GPU is indeed a close match to the 4650/4670, albeit with a deficit in the number of texture-mapping units and a lower clock speed - 550MHz."

ARE YOU SERIOUS??? That's even weaker than the Geforce 9800 GT, which is based on the Geforce 8800 GT, a FIVE year old card!!! It was midrange at the time, but still... This means Nintendo is making serious bank on every console sold, regardless of software sales... That's the big deal here- the technical overhead and business equations, not the price-performance ratio by itself. This knowledge will affect their stocks.

Funny thing is, it's STILL stronger than the Xbox360 and PS3 GPU's... Even though the power equivalent is based on 2006 tech... I had one of these Radeon 4650 cards pre-installed in this computer, back from 2010... but it was a budget deal. That card was bare-bones at best... It couldn't even run many new PC titles at minimum settings. I was instantly forced to upgrade to something better...



GreenDream said:

@black-kyurem Yeah, and PC will make PS4 and Xbox720 look like sick jokes. Nintendo knows that times have changed, they're not pretending to claim that they hold avatars of technical abundance anymore, like Sony and Microsoft still claim. Nintendo is more into technical mastery, a more admirable trait than raw power.



GreenDream said:


Depending on if the Wii U GPU is closer to a Radeon 4650 or 4670 DDR3 version, it's a significant difference to the 6670. The 4650 doesn't even come close to the 6670, while the 4670 DDR2 version is still significantly weaker than the 6670. Only the DDR3 version comes close. This does not factor in "green" parts, which consume less energy and generate less heat, in exchange for lower speed and horsepower, which Wii U does.

The Radeon 7670 is roughly equivalent to 5 year old GPU tech in capability. If the PS4 really does use this device, then it looks like Nintendo is back in the "arms race". xD



dimi said:

"the obvious suspect would be the Wii U's 1.2GHz CPU, a tri-core piece of hardware re-architected from the Wii's Broadway chip, in turn a tweaked, overclocked version of the GameCube's Gekko processor". ..

Ouch. Gamecube old gekko on steroids? Sorry but this sucks



Ploutonas said:

wii U gpu it is not rv770 If you enter AMD website rv7xx and rv8xx are registered as ATI and NOT AMD... If wii U gpu based on rv770, AMD also Nintendo, should say : ATI based gpu and NOT AMD. (doesn't matter if AMD owns ATI, AMD registered AMD brand from 6xxx series gpu and newer), you can log in the official AMD website and check products and chipsets.

Wii U gpu is based more likely to e6760 modified...

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