Editor's note: We'll be updating this guide with news of a potential Switch 'Pro' variant as it occurs.
Nintendo is no stranger to updating and iterating its hardware. Ever since the days of the NES, the company has seen the value in refreshing its consoles to maintain consumer interest, introduce new features and bring down the cost of manufacture, and that approach hasn't changed in over 30 years.
Therefore, reports that Nintendo is working on new Switch models should come as absolutely no surprise. We've already seen the release of the portable-only Nintendo Switch Lite, but given that the Kyoto veteran is yet to formally announce a more powerful system, there's obviously a lot of speculation and rumour floating around right now – and we plan to cover all of the solid leads here.
Much of the reporting on the topic was tied up with that of the 'Switch Mini', the system revealed as the Switch Lite and essentially a replacement for the outgoing 3DS. Hints that Nintendo was working on revised Switch hardware came as early as October 2018, with The Wall Street Journal claiming that a new Switch SKU was on the way. At the time, it was said that Nintendo was still "undecided" on how it would upgrade the new model, but the plans were clearly already in place.
Then, in January 2019, analysts predicted that we'd see not one but two new models – a Switch Pro and a Switch Lite – would be going into production. Of course, these were just predictions made by people who closely watch the industry, but given Nintendo's track record of updating its systems, it was a fair assessment of the situation – although Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa was quick to dismiss any rumours.
In June 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported that Nintendo was moving production out of China "to limit the impact of possible U.S. tariffs on Chinese-made electronics", according to "people who work on Nintendo’s supply chain". As part of this report, it was revealed that three Switch models will be produced at the new site in Southeast Asia – which would suggest that the current model, a Lite version and a Pro version are all being made.
Nintendo Switch Pro - What We Know So Far
There's little solid info floating around about the Nintendo Switch 'Pro', and Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa has explicitly stated that Nintendo has "no plans" to introduce a new Switch model in 2020.
That said, there are are plenty of rumours suggesting that Nintendo has the next iteration of Switch ready to go into production soon, so let's take a look at those.
Last summer Nintendo rolled out a 'silent' update of the standard Switch hardware which reportedly uses the same improved Tegra X1 chip found in the Switch Lite. With better power efficiency and less energy consumption, it enabled the shrinking of the case for the Switch Lite and also offers substantially improved battery life in the updated standard model.
While this internal upgrade to the standard Switch does not constitute a 'Pro' model, the improved chip has the potential to be pushed harder than either of the current models do, and could even offer modest improvements over standard performance. Nvidia stated that it expected to have a bumper year, and some have joined the dots and connected this positivity with increased demand for components from Nintendo for not just the standard console and Switch Lite, but also perhaps a Switch Pro.
In January this year reports of an updated model once again bubbled up, this time with Taiwanese website DigiTimes claiming that Nintendo has plans to release a new Switch model in the middle of 2020, with production beginning in Q1. Details on the supposed new model are thin on the ground, although a magnesium alloy body and improved CPU have been mentioned.
As for what improvements the Pro will offer over the existing machine, an improved Tegra X1 would only be able to offer so much. Those expecting a massive leap in performance between this model and the existing Switch may be disappointed; even a comparison with the 3DS / New 3DS might be off the mark, as Digital Foundry believes that the 'Pro' revision is more about making the chip more efficient and not about boosting power, as we've seen with the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. To offer something substantially more powerful would require shifting to a different chip (which could cause issues with compatibility with current Switch games), or potentially adding computing power to the Switch's dock (which obviously wouldn't help in handheld mode).
In January 2020, another rumour appeared which suggested that Nintendo would not use the Tegra X1 chip as previously believed. Instead, it will make use of new "custom" Nvidia processors – with the GPU supposedly based on Volta architecture. Despite this change, any serious performance improvements and other extras like 4K support are not expected, and production is not believed to have been started yet – meaning a release before the end of this year is "unlikely" at this point in time.
And then again in late August 2020, Taiwanese newspaper United Daily News reported that Nintendo could be set to launch a brand new Switch model early in 2021. The report cited hardware manufacturers involved in the production of current Switch models as its source, with production of this rumoured new Switch console supposedly set to begin as soon as Q4 2020, with a launch planned for Q1 2021. Early translations of the article suggested that the console will benefit from improved 'interactivity' and display quality.
In October 2020, a report suggested that Nintendo may be investigating Mini-LED displays courtesy of Taiwanese panel manufacturer Innolux Corporation. This screen tech could potentially provide contrast and brightness to rival that of an OLED screen, as well as improved battery life thanks to its more localised illumination of pixels.
Nintendo Switch Pro - Will It Offer 4K Visuals?
One of the more common rumours regarding the Switch Pro is that the system will offer 4K visuals – a seemingly outlandish claim given that the current model often struggles to hit 1080p with some titles, and is limited to just 720p in handheld mode.
However, a report from September 2020 claims that Nintendo is asking developers to make their titles 4K-ready, which would suggest the Switch Pro will indeed have 4K – although not in quite the way many people have assumed.
It is speculated that Nintendo will seek to leverage Nvidia's Nvidia’s DLSS AI upscaling techniques, rather than pure 4K output. This process – which grants high-resolution visuals with little in the way of a performance hit – is used in Nvidia's Shield hardware, which is based on the same internal architecture as Switch.
Nintendo Switch Pro - Release Date
Given how little we've heard about the Pro and how many of the details were tied up with the Switch Lite or the 'silent' standard SKU revision, any guess at a date is pure speculation. There are plenty of rumours doing the rounds, with analysts predicting a Switch 'Pro' is incoming this year.
However, Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa explicitly stated while presented the company's financial results at the end of January 2020 that Nintendo has "no plans" to introduce a new Switch model in 2020, and given the production headaches the global COVID-19 pandemic is causing, a new model seems even more unlikely.
From a purely business perspective, giving Switch Lite time to breath before discussing further iterations of the console was sensible, but new hardware from both Sony and Microsoft is looming at the end of the year. Switch is selling in huge quantities right now, but there's wisdom in the idea of putting out new SKU this year - something shiny that Nintendo can point to when the company's asked about competing hardware. The standard Switch is over three years old and Nintendo fans with launch models who weren't interested in Switch Lite might be looking to pull the trigger on some new hardware.
As per the rumour from January 2020 about Switch Pro using Nvidia's Volta architecture, it would seem that production is yet to begin on a Switch Pro, so coupled with Shuntaro Furukawa's comments, it seems very likely that a new console won't arrive until 2021 at the earliest.