Revolution to be '2.5 times more powerful than Cube'

More advanced kits going out.

Developers speaking to GamesIndustry.biz this week have commented that the the Revolution console, hardware kits for which began shipping to third parties recently, is shaping up to be around 2.5 times more powerful than GameCube.

Up until the past week or so, developers close enough to Nintendo's inner circle to have seen any Revolution hardware were working with development kits that were simply GameCube kits with mock-ups of the "wand" controller attached - a clear signal, if any were required, that the system is more about innovative control than about the hardware specs.

Now, however, Nintendo has spoken to developers in more depth about its hardware plans for the new system - and has begun shipping more advanced development kits to selected third-parties, featuring early versions of some of the chips which will appear in the final console.

An article published by US website IGN this morning revealed some details of the console, and several developers today have spoken to GamesIndustry.biz to help fill in the gaps.

The picture we're building up of the final console is as follows: the system will be powered by the IBM CPU codenamed Broadway, which is very similar to the Gekko CPU used in the GameCube, but runs at around twice the clock speed and offers potentially two to three times the overall performance, and the ATI graphics chip codenamed Hollywood.

While Broadway is well-understood by developers, the ATI part remains "a bit of a black box", according to one senior developer we spoke to. "We have theoretical throughput figures and stats from Nintendo, but nobody's seen the hardware yet - we're just treating it like it's a faster version of the GameCube GPU, at the moment."

How much faster exactly it will be remains to be seen, but the chip - which "seems to be an evolution of the Radeon range" according to our source - will probably mirror the CPU by running at around twice to three times the speed of the existing part.

In terms of RAM, the system is well-known to boast 512MB of Flash RAM which can be used to store save games and downloaded content, but this will not be accessible to developers, we were told. What they'll have available is 96MB of main memory, built on the same 1T-SRAM architecture as the Cube, and "a few megs here and there for other stuff" - such as 3MB of on-board memory on the graphics chip, which will be used for a frame buffer. "That's plenty, since the Revolution isn't supporting HDTV," one developer added.

As for the storage media the Revolution will use, "they're pretty much standard DVDs," we were told, with capacity similar to current PS2 and Xbox discs. "The only clever thing about the drive, really, is that you can put the little Cube discs into it despite being a slot-loading drive - I think that's the first time you've been able to do that with a slot loader."

In other words, what Nintendo is planning to ship is a system which is no more than around twice to three times as powerful as the current generation GameCube - indeed, more than one developer who has access to the hardware specs suggested "about 2.5 times the power" as the benchmark for the new system.

Although this makes the Revolution significantly less powerful than the PS3 or Xbox 360, developers we spoke to were upbeat about the machine.

"You can basically treat it like a current generation machine," one told us. "The time it'll take to ramp up to developing on this is basically nil - we can just work on a PC or maybe an Xbox, and then improve the quality of our assets when we move to the Revolution. Or even work on a Cube, in fact. The libraries are very similar."

"We could do a game for this in a few months," commented another developer. "Developing games is going to be easy, the challenge is going to be using the controller properly."

The approach mirrors Nintendo's strategy with the DS, which is far less powerful than its rival the PlayStation Portable but offers an innovative interface which has been a hit with gamers and has had major success in the mass market.

Crucially, the low specification will also allow Nintendo to score a victory in terms of pricing; speculation is already rife that the Revolution could enter the marketplace at $149 or even lower, suggesting a sub-GBP 100 price point at a time when the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 still retail for three times that price.

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