It's interesting to watch the language around the rumoured Nintendo Switch hardware revision(s) slowly morph from that of cautious speculation to confident prognostication. More recently its turned to downright open discussion and with Nintendo itself playing the coy 'no comment' card, the scent of new hardware is wafting in with a Mary Poppins-esque change in the wind.
Many of the rumours and nuggets of information should be digested with a fistful of sodium, of course, but when Digital Foundry's Technology Editor, head boffin and all-round nice bloke Rich Leadbetter publishes something on the subject, it's worth paying attention. Just before E3 he was discussing the feasibility of a Witcher 3 Switch port and, lo and behold, it was announced during the Nintendo Direct.
Leadbetter has been looking at a new revision of the Tegra X1 (the basis of the mobile processor buried inside Switch, as well as Nvidia's Shield Android TV). The chip found in the current console is the 't210' but Nintendo added support for a revision - the 't214' - when it released firmware version 5.0 back in March 2018.
The Tegra codenames come from the names of superheroes (the Tegra X1 was 'Erista', the supposed son of Wolverine) and the 't214' is called 'Mariko' (a Japanese character who was a flame for Logan), the implication being that this is a sort of 'partner' chip rather than a total revision.
Doing some digging to find out more about this chip, Leadbetter discovered that Mariko and another X1 variant, the 't210b01' featured in an upcoming revision of Shield Android TV, are actually the same processor and, that being the case, the Switch firmware has supported a chip found in the upgraded Shield Android TV for over a year now.
Why is this significant? Well, while Mariko isn't the Tegra X2, it does seem to offer minor upgrades to the original processor (in addition to presumably closing the security hole discovered in the original). Specifically, after studying the specs Leadbetter believes that Mariko is likely manufactured using the more modern 16 nanometer fabrication process rather than the X1's 20nm design. Smaller chips require less voltage to run meaning better battery life and cooler running, in addition to a modest performance increase thanks to the higher frequencies the smaller design enables. Here's Rich's explanation:
With regards t210b01's improvements, higher clocks and lower voltages suggest a drop from a 20nm processor design down to 16nm FinFET instead - but Tegra X1 was always an outlier, a production chip running on an experimental fabrication process Nvidia never chose to pursue for its mainstream GPUs - and I wonder if the firm is following the same procedure with its replacement, mitigating the cost of exploring 7nm technology by sharing costs with Nintendo. Only a teardown of the new Switch revision(s) will give us the physical dimensions that allow us to firmly identify how the t210b01/t214 is manufactured, but the increase in clocks seen in the DVFS tables would likely favour 16nmFF, a mature process and a good fit for a mass-produced console.
Looking at the specs, Leadbetter notes that Mariko supports all the clock speed modes of the current console and more, and while performance enhancements would be minimal, there are still potential gains to be had:
And it's important to note is that the evidence does suggest that t210b01 is fully compatible with the original Tegra X1 - the DVFS table for the new chip lists all of the clock speed modes available, not just the maximums, and the modes used in existing Switch games are all in the line-up - it's just that this list is longer, with more frequencies supported at the higher end. And with that in mind, standard Switch performance could likely be achieved with no cooling assembly required at all, meaning that a prospective Switch mini wouldn't just be smaller with more battery life, it could be silent too. Meanwhile, a decent performance uplift on the GPU side could obviously improve frame-rates and image quality in a range of games using dynamic resolution scaling. Based on the clocks in Nvidia's documents (though again, this may be outdated info) there wouldn't be a revelatory increase in system performance - nothing like a generational leap as such, or even anything as profound as the jump from 3DS to New 3DS, but it would still be a valuable addition.
It seems, then, that something is afoot, and with numbers to back up the various whispers and listings that have been cropping up over the past few weeks, it's surely just a matter of time until we get a surprise 2DS-style announcement (although it'll be less of a surprise this time round). Be sure to check out Rich's original article for a far more in-depth analysis, or watch the video below if all those words are a bit much for a Friday. Exciting times ahead!
Looking at the mounting evidence, do you think 'Mariko' could be part of a prospective Switch 'Mini' or Switch 'Pro'? Let us know your thoughts below.