Nintendo Wii2 And The AMD Contribution – Just how much of a contribution?

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.

Update – 2011/05/05 –  AMD announces the Radeon E6760 embedded solution

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?

Update – 2011.08.05 – AMD to market a triple-core Fusion APU

Rather diminishes the case for Fusion in the Wii2 if they already have plans for those defective APU’s! :p

13 responses to “Nintendo Wii2 And The AMD Contribution – Just how much of a contribution?

  1. I would imagine that Nintendo *may* look towards AMD, the Wii already has AMD graphics, moving towards an x86 architecture could help Xbox ports, but only if the price AND the spec are good enough, and that includes a fairly miserly power draw…

  2. i think price is the key issue.

    but the indications are that some kind of pc GPU is being considered, so half the silicon cost is already fixed, and moreover it is fixed to a greater die size given that pc GPU’s are fabricated at 40nm currently.

    this is where i think Fusion has an advantage, in that as a highly integrated SoC on a very advanced process it is already cost efficient to produce, and that if AMD is effectively selling off discards with a single duff core then the reduced price may be more acceptable to a console ecosystem used to cheapish parts.

    a midrange four-core fusion will have a retail price of £100, which includes the retailers cut, sell them by the million with a defective core and Nintendo might only be looking at a unit price of £50 on a £200 console, for 60W chip that includes a GPU, GPU and north-bridge functionality all in one.

    best of all, it could use standard low-power laptop DDR3: two 512mb DDR3 1800+ chips running in dual-channel would cost peanuts and still provide twice the memory of its competitors, and unified to boot.

  3. The Wii packs considerably less punch than the Xbox and PS2 does it not?

    I remain extremely uninterested on the CPU/GPU, if only because they have advanced so far in the past few years.
    You have to be off your rocker to suggest the Core2Duo is “slow”

    I’m far more concerned that it gets 4gb of Ram, a hard drive and functions as a DVD player.
    Carrying over controls, and virtua console would be nice as well.

    As to differentiate, well, they can maintain their, “we’re the console for adults, they’re the console for spotty teenagers” line.
    I think going head to head would be very dangerous, because at the end of the day, then it becomes about money, and Sony and Microsoft can buy nintendo out of pettycash.
    Why microsoft didnt I am at a loss to explain.

    • considerably less punch than the PS3 and 360, as it is nothing more than an overclocked flipper-chip from the gamecube way back in the mists of time.

      i didn’t mention the C2D, as both the PS3 and 360 use PowerPC derived CPU’s, but my media PC runs off a C2D 6600 and a 7950GT, which goes to show you just how old these chips are as i think they came out at the same time as the PS3 which uses its forbear; the 7800GTX.

      from talking to games developers i think nintendo are beginning to appreciate that the limitations of the Wii are hampering 3rd party studios in their attempts to make cross-platform titles that include the Wii, so while it might be nice to have 4GB all they really have to do is provide more than the 512MB available in 360’s and PS3’s.

      • as a humorous aside, i have built the following computers in the last ten years:
        2001 –
        Athlon Thunderbird 1200Mhz
        AMD 760 DDR chipset
        Geforce 3
        512MB of PC2100
        40GB HD
        17″ CRT monitor
        2002 –
        Athlon Thoroughbred 1733MHz (run at 2000MHz)
        Nvidia nForce2 chipset
        Geforce 4 Ti4200
        512MB of PC3200 (run at 200MHz)
        40GB HD
        17″ CRT monitor
        2003 –
        Athlon 64 2000MHz
        Nvidia nForce4 chipset (shuttle case)
        Nvidia 6600GT
        1024MB of PC3200
        160GB HD
        20″ Dell widescreen TFT
        2004 –
        Athlon 64 X2 2000MHz
        Nvidia 6150 chipset (Silverstone Sugo 01e case)
        Nvidia 7900GT (similar to the PS3 RSX)
        1024MB of PC3200
        250GB HD
        20″ Dell widescreen TFT
        2006 – (PLAYSTATION 3 ERA)
        Intel C2D 2400MHz
        Intel P965 chipset (Silverstone Lascala LC16 case)
        Nvidia 7950 512MB passive
        2048MB of PC6400
        320GB HD + 320GB data
        24″ Dell widescreen TFT
        2008 –
        Intel C2Q 2660MHz
        Intel G33 chipset (Silverstone Sugo 03 case)
        Nvidia 9800GX2
        4096MB of PC6400
        500GB HD + 1TB data
        24″ Dell widescreen TFT
        2010 –
        AMD X6 3200MHz (runs at 3600MHz + turbo)
        AMD 890FX chipset (Silverstone FT02 case)
        AMD 5870 2GB VaporX
        8192MB of PC 12800
        128GB SSD + 2x 2TB data
        3x 24″ Dell widescreen TFT
        i’m a sucker for SIlverstone cases! 😀

    • Microsoft could afford to buy Nintendo. Sony couldn’t as Nintendo’s market cap is about $5 million above them, meaning that Nintendo is really the bigger company.

  4. jedi, it certainly lacks the punch of the 7th gen, but i thought the wii was distinctly average compared to 6th.

    i think ram is more important than most people, so many games are utterly hamstrung by its lack, tiny fog radii, limited computer opponants ect.

    I wanna refight yrpes with 50000 independantly acting combatants over a 50x50km warzone.

    • i do agree, but it would appear that Nintendo’s goal is to make the Wii2 the champion of the current Gen, rather than the harbinger of the next Gen.

      i have nothing against sticking 2GB in there, it will certainly help, but they will need to keep costs down against consoles which have now paid off their investment and operate on superbly efficient manufacturing processes.

      the 250GB 360 is already only $300, and due for a price cut this year along with the PS3, so nintendo will have to hit a starting price of $200-$250 early next year because you can bet that further price cuts will arrive the moment it goes on sale.

  5. They could always go with an ARM core, A15 for example. That could easily be quad core and fit in a nice low TDP. Get someone like Samsung to fab it, complete with a quad core gpu. That would surely help keep the price down as I’m sure that this time next year smartphones will have a similiar configuration!

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