Since the New 3DS arrived it's not always been particularly clear to the end user how much of an enhancement it offers. We can count on one hand (ok, maybe two hands at a stretch) how many games have been exclusive or improved on the hardware, and beyond integrated amiibo scanning owners of the system may overlook the day-to-day improvements in menu and UI navigation, for example.
Digital Foundry, however, has taken a mix of reverse-engineered stats online and captured footage to demonstrate the hefty - and largely unused - bump in the system's graphical capabilities. In the following segment it highlights - fairly - how the system was technologically limited even at launch, but also shows in numbers how the new model bumps the CPU in a big way.
Graphics duties are taken care of using a DMP PICA processor, again clocked at 268MHz. It was a remarkably old GPU, even for its time, lacking the kind of programmable pixel shaders we've seen since the launch of Xbox 360. However, it does have a number of fixed function blocks capable of handling per-fragment lighting, hard and soft shadowing, bump-mapping, procedural textures and even the rendering of 'gaseous objects'. Additionally, custom hardware also accelerates geometry processing.
It's something of a hardware lightweight though, and its library is effectively a triumph of software design overcoming some brutal limitations. Nintendo in particular has extracted magic from this meagre spec, to the point where titles like Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros compare favourably to their Wii U counterparts.
However, the New 3DS represents a significant leap forward - unfortunately, the GPU offers no improvement in any way whatsoever, but the main ARM processor is upgraded to a quad-core model, CPU frequency can increase to 804MHz, plus there's much more memory, opening the door to advantages such as shorter loading times, and higher detail textures. Specifically, system RAM doubles to 256MB, the GPU receives an extra 4MB of VRAM, while there's also some extra L2 cache on the CPU.
We've already shared Digital Foundry's assessment of the improvements with Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on New 3DS, and shown ourselves how wonky Hyrule Warriors Legends is on the original models, but the following DF video shows tangible framerates for all three versions of the game. Intriguingly - presumably with 3D off - the New 3DS version is showing a smooth framerate than the Wii U iteration.
In summing up, Digital Foundry breaks down the key takeaways from its analysis of the New 3DS.
After all, the spec revision doesn't actually introduce any new technology as such - there's just more RAM, more CPU cores and a clock-speed boost. The fact that we still see such impressive performance boosts when the GPU component apparently remains completely unchanged from one 3DS to the next is hugely revealing - it tells us that the initial launch hardware was unbalanced, that the GPU was left severely under-utilised, owing to a severe lack of CPU resources. Very possibly this was down to the fact that battery life was a real issue - we assume that the New 3DS takes advantage of a smaller process node for its hardware.
As things stand, existing 3DS titles see no performance bump when running on New 3DS hardware, even those with unlocked frame-rates. Unless the software asks for the additional power, the New 3DS simply runs at the old version's speed - though you do get loading time improvements from the larger pool of RAM. That hasn't stopped hackers with custom firmware kicking in New 3DS's 804MHz speed on older 3DS content. Unfortunately, this is something we couldn't test, but there are reported improvements on titles such as Pokemon XY (which ran poorly), Monster Hunter 3U and Luigi's Mansion 2 (unlocked frame-rate), Ace Combat 3DS (unlocked frame-rate). Curiously, you can also downclock New 3DS to old 3DS's 268MHz clock-speed, and not surprisingly, Xenoblade is crippled as a result.
As said in the source article, it's a shame that the New 3DS has been so underutilised by Nintendo; we've argued it's not really been given a fair chance due to poor strategy and minimal exclusive content. Whether there's still scope for that scenario to improve is up for debate.
Let us know what you think of all this, and whether you're a New 3DS convert.