The interwebs have been alive with rumours that Nintendo will announce a next-gen Wii console at E3 in June, and further fuel has now been added to the fire via official confirmation from Nintendo themselves. The rumours have focused on a funky new controller design featuring an embedded 6.2″ touch-screen and traditional controls, but also noted that it will be more powerful than current-gen consoles from Microsoft and Sony. No kidding, the PS3 and 360 are ancient, it would be hard not to make a console more powerful than these prettily packaged antiques!
That does not mean that there isn’t interesting speculation to be done about what’s inside however.
The hardware rumours have focussed on a custom triple-core PowerPC CPU similar to that found in the 360, and an AMD R700 generation GPU claimed to be more powerful than the 7800GTX derivative used in the PS3.
This blogger has his doubts however, so why not add a little more speculation to the mountain that already exists:
The R700 GPU’s series were all manufactured at 55nm, with the exception of the mid-range 4770 SKU that was used as a test-bed for 40nm manufacturing. On the one hand 40nm is a very mature process whose capital investment has long since been paid off, but on the other it was a short-lived design that itself suffered from yield problems, understandable given that its purpose was to debug the process and design for the later R800 generation. Do they still make this GPU, if they did would they have gone to the trouble of “re-spinning” to engineer out the design element of the yield issue? Why not use a modern design with a similar number of shaders-units manufactured on a modern process?
Likewise the evidence for a separate PowerPC CPU seems a little tenuous, and possibly exists for no better reason other than the fact that the CPU is rumoured to be a tri-core like the 360.
But………………………………… what if Nintendo are actually intending to use an AMD Llano Fusion chip in the Wii2?
It is a single piece of SoC silicon and therefore inherently cheaper to integrate into a system.
It would be manufactured at the start on a 32nm process which means it would have a small die-area and generate less heat.
It could have up to 400 shaders, which to use the equivalent AMD GPU would be the 627m transistor HD 5650, more than double the number in the PS3’s 7800GTX.
AMD already list Llano SKU’s with cut down shaders (from 400 to 320), but they don’t list any versions with cut down CPU cores, what are they going to do with all that silicon that doesn’t have four fully functional CPU’s?
By early 2012 AMD’s 32nm process will be pretty mature, but they will still be creating Llano APU’s with duff cores. Surely they would sell them off to Nintendo for a reasonable price, at which point you have a triple-core SoC sporting an AMD GPU.
Why opt for the complexity and power-burden of separate CPU and GPU silicon when for less than 60W you can have 1bn transistors on a piece of silicon smaller than a finger-nail that includes GPU, CPU and north-bridge functionality? Particularly so when you get the advantage of unified memory using standard DDR3, 1GB of which would cost peanuts and still be double that available to developers on rival platforms.
The other factor in favour of an R800 class GPU is its OpenGL 4.1 support which allows OpenGL 2.0 ES api support, thus making development easy for a generation of PS3 and mobile platform developers.
It is very likely the notion will be shot down in short order, but why the hell not?
A final takeaway from all this is the question of how Nintendo would differentiate themselves from Sony and Microsoft now that those two have copied the motion control shenanigans. The answer is perhaps that they don’t intend to, with standard dual analogue controls, more processing power, and a two year lead on any next-gen consoles from its rivals they intend to re-enter the mainstream of console gaming by making third party titles for the 360 and PS3 easy to port across to the Wii 2.
Roll on E3 in June.
As bit-tech have noted backwards compatibility is important to Nintendo, and emulating PowerPC in x86 is expensive from a performance point of view. Given Glo-Fo’s experience in producing multi-chip-modules for the latest Xbox 360 SKU, in addition the requirement for Wii compatibility, may indicate that a PowerPC + RadeonGPU combination is the most likely outcome. However, why go to the trouble of die-shrinking an R700 gpu and then maintaining it as a long-life product when AMD have just announced their 480 shader embedded product with a production life that will extend to 2016?
Rather diminishes the case for Fusion in the Wii2 if they already have plans for those defective APU’s! :p