Skip to main content

Digital Foundry vs. E3: Nintendo

What are the Wii U's specs? Digital Foundry examines Nintendo's new console.

Nintendo also needs to ask itself how long they will be able to "own" the concept of a touchscreen controller with console/HDTV connections.

While the seamless nature of the interface between pad and console in one package will be hard to match, Nintendo will be beaten to the market by Apple, offering dual screen gameplay and a wireless link to an HDTV, thanks to a forthcoming iOS 5 upgrade that brings AirPlay to games. This will be happening over a year before Wii U ships, offering plenty of time for app-builders to support it, as Firemint is doing right now with the upcoming Real Racing 2 HD update.

Sony is interested in the concept too, and there's nothing to stop PlayStation Vita running as a Bluetooth-connected joypad for PlayStation 3, with game-specific apps running simultaneously with the PS3 code, thus providing a very similar experience to what Wii U offers. Indeed, if the Sony conference told us anything, it's that the firm is immensely keen on Vita working as a mobile companion to its home-based console, and this concept is rife with potential.

Of course, the fact that you get everything you need out of the box with Nintendo makes a big difference. You won't need to buy extra hardware as you will with iOS or PlayStation implementations, but it's worth remembering that the competition will have its advantages too - such as full mobility outside of the home, for example.

The Nintendo E3 presser wasn't just about Wii U. New footage of Super Mario, Luigi's Mansion 2, Mario Kart and Kid Icarus suggested that good times are ahead for Nintendo 3DS owners.

In terms of how powerful Wii U actually is, aside from the occasional 1080p claim, Nintendo has made no effort to put any kind of distance between it and the current generation HD consoles, and it's fair to say that the demos back this up. There is still discussion amongst fans of an enthusiast-level gaming GPU in the machine, but the fact that the Wii U itself is quite small would present some serious heat dissipation issues - the pre-production units photographed at E3 certainly possess a lot more vents than the original Wii. Curiously, the diminutive form factor of the console itself tells us far more about the potential power of the machine than Nintendo's own spec sheet.

As it is, we now have direct confirmation that Wii U features a 45nm, power efficient, IBM multi-core processor based on POWER architecture, but almost nothing about the make-up of the Radeon GPU. Factoring in the lack of differentiation between Wii U and the current generation consoles, it's likely that Nintendo has put a great deal of investment into the controller and will be looking to make the base unit as cheap to produce as possible.

At this point we're speculating, but our guess is that Wii U's RAM is based on GDDR3 or DDR3 - far more cost efficient than the top-end GDDR5 and the hitherto non-existent DDR4. In terms of the make-up of AMD's custom Radeon GPU, we reckon it probably has more in common with the Radeon HD 4650/4670 as opposed to anything more exotic. The 320 stream processors on those chips would have more than enough power to support 360 and PS3 level visuals, especially in a closed-box system. Fabricated on AMD's current 40nm process, it would be cool enough and cheap enough, but the 2012 launch may well mean that Nintendo could move directly to 28nm, making for a more cost-efficient, cooler box.

A contact at one of Nintendo's major hardware suppliers tells us that more information on the spec will be released in the "coming weeks" but it may well be the case that more specific data on the make-up of the machine hasn't been released simply because the hardware hasn't been finalised yet.

The E3 media briefing was also as good a time as any to remind everyone about the strong third party support the Nintendo 3DS has managed to attract.

With all the excitement about the arrival of a new home console, we shouldn't forget that Nintendo has only just released another new piece of kit: the handheld 3DS. We loved what we saw at last year's E3, but it's fair to say that the launch didn't bring about anything like the same level of excitement. At this year's conference, Nintendo responded by rolling out stereoscopic re-imaginings of its heavyweight franchises.

Let's make no bones about it, the 3DS showcase was strong, albeit somewhat sequel-driven: Mario Kart, Luigi's Mansion 2, Super Mario, Star Fox - these are the kind of first party heavyweights distinctly lacking from the launch period and which will give the handheld the shot in the arm it deserves. From there we were reminded of the robust third party support: the Resident Evils, the Metal Gears, the Tekkens, the Ace Combats... and yes, Cave Story 3D too.

Thus far, Nintendo 3DS has presented itself as a good handheld with a gimmick that game-makers - including the geniuses at Nintendo - haven't been able to translate into a tangibly new and exciting experience. The stakes are so much higher with Wii U: Nintendo needs a showcase game in the box with all the appeal that Wii Sports had back in the day. Miyamoto and company have already proven that concepts trump tech. We can't wait to see if they can do it again next year...

Read this next