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Nintendo Switch Tegra X1 Doesn’t Run At Full Potential; GPU Downclocked In Portable Mode To Preserve Battery Life

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Dec 19, 2016
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In the past week, there’s been a lot of talk surrounding the real power of the Nintendo Switch, the next Nintendo console launching next year in all regions. One report mentioned that the console will be based on the Maxwell architecture and that it will be less powerful than a PlayStation 4, while another mentioned that the console might not be powerful enough to run the upcoming Prey, currently in development by Arkane. Today, we have managed to learn more regarding the Nintendo Switch clock speeds, and things aren’t exactly looking pretty.

In a new report by Eurogamer, it’s been revealed that the Tegra X1 chip which powers the Nintendo Switch will not be running to its full potential. According to the report, clock-speeds will be locked at 768 MHz, which is considerably lower than expected.

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As things stand, CPU clocks are halved compared to the standard Tegra X1, but it’s the GPU aspect of the equation that will prove more controversial. Even while docked, Switch doesn’t run at Tegra X1’s full potential. Clock-speeds are locked here at 768MHz, considerably lower than the 1GHz found in Shield Android TV.

GPU clock-speeds are event more surprising, and will definitely impact the games coming to the Switch. According to Eurogamer’s report, the Switch’s GPU will be down-clocked to 307.2 MHz so that it will be possible to hit thermal and battery life targets.

But the big surprise from our perspective was the extent to which Nintendo has down-clocked the GPU to hit its thermal and battery life targets. That’s not a typo: it really is 307.2MHz – meaning that in portable mode, Switch runs at exactly 40 per cent of the clock-speed of the fully docked device. And yes, the table below does indeed confirm that developers can choose to hobble Switch performance when plugged in to match the handheld profile should they so choose.

According to the report, all this is going to impact development considerably. According to one source, making a game run at 720p while in portable mode and at 1080p while docked will require developers to essential develop two different versions of the same game, with extensive QA required for both portable and docked modes. Additionally, it’s pretty much assured that big, cutting-edge multiplatform titles won’t be making it to the Switch, as hinted by Arkane with Prey last week.

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The Switch handheld screen has a 720p resolution – so the gulf in GPU clocks means that in theory at least, there’s overhead there to run a 720p mobile title at 1080p when docked. One developer source likens this to creating two different versions of the same game – almost like producing a PS4 game and a PS4 Pro variant. At the very least, QA will require titles to be tested thoroughly in both configurations, plus a lot of thought will be going into exactly how to utilise GPU power in each mode.

The Nintendo Switch launches next year in all regions.

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