Nintendo NX Spec Analysis: How Powerful Is It?

We look at performance implications for Nintendo’s latest gambit.

Posted By | On 07th, Aug. 2016 Under Article, Graphics Analysis

The Nintendo NX is a scary proposition. I’m not necessarily saying it’s a bad proposition. But going by Eurogamer’s comprehensive leak last month, the NX will have major ramifications for the industry whether or not it succeeds. With ever-shrinking transistor size and increased high bandwidth access to the cloud, the gaps between mobile and PC, mobile and console have been shrinking. Convergence is inevitable and the rise in popularity of 2-in-ones, touchscreen laptops, and tablets points precisely in that direction. The consoles this gen have mobile DNA by way of their low-power, low profile Jaguar processor cores, repurposed from AMD’s value-oriented APU line originally meant for netbooks, tablets, and entry-level laptops. As we look forward to 10nm process node and beyond, increased transistor density means that the mobile devices of tomorrow will offer better performance than the consoles of today.

At the same time, near-universal high-bandwidth internet connectivity will have a whole different set of implications: given enough readily-accessible bandwidth, streaming services like Nvidia’s GRID and the now-defunct Onlive could eliminate the need raw performance in local systems altogether. A cloud-based gaming ecosystem could power next-gen experiences on your phone, tablet, laptop, and TV. With all these developments in mind, console-mobile-PC convergence is a question of if, not when. But is it meant to be right now with the Nintendo NX? The NX is reportedly powered by a Tegra X1 mobile SoC, the same chip at the heart of the Google Pixel C and Nvidia’s Shield TV microconsole. How well will the X1 perform, particularly compared to the consoles? Performance in Tegra X1 exclusives on Android is a good place to start.


Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is one of the most high-profile AAA ports for the Tegra X1-based Nvidia Shield TV. Per Digital Foundry’s analysis, the Shield TV offers up a visual experience that’s on par with the PS3 and Xbox 360 in Revengeance, but at a much lower framerate. On the other hand, Doom 3: BFG Edition on the Shield featured a slick 1080p/60 FPS presentation, a meaningfully better experience than on the last-gen consoles. It’s important to take these Android results with a pinch of salt. Android games incur significant driver overhead thanks to OpenGL. With the NX, developers will be able to code closer to the metal and make platform-specific optimizations just as with any console.

With that in mind perhaps the Shield TV comparison doesn’t quite do justice for the X1 or the NX. A more appropriate comparison would be with the GM108-based GT 920MX. Haven’t heard of the 920MX? We don’t blame you: It’s a bottom-of-the-barrel Maxwell offering aimed at entry-level laptop buyers who want a little more graphics oomph than what an iGPU can offer. But the 920MX is a crucial part of the puzzle because it’s a dead-ringer for the Tegra X1’s GPU component: with 256 CUDA cores and a narrow, 64-bit memory interface address paired with DDR3 VRAM, presumably at 1800 MHz, it matches the X1’s GPU spec-for-spec. (For the sake of accuracy, we’ll add that the Tegra X1 uses LPDDR4, though this has a similar data rate to plain ol’ DDR3). Memory bandwidth on the 920MX, in the vicinity of 34 GB/s is slightly higher than the X1, which is at 25 GB/s, but apart from this the two are a near-perfect match.

The 920MX is a low-profile part. So low-profile that Nvidia didn’t even bother announcing it to the press: It just quietly made the part available to OEMs a few months ago. The 920MX has turned up in a couple laptops you’ve never heard of like the Asus X302UV-FN016T. Luckily for us, the incredibly thorough folks over at Notebookcheck have put the X302UV-FN016T through their standard gaming benchmark suite.

legend of zelda breath of the wild

Interestingly, the Asus laptop features a ULV (Ultra-low voltage) Core i5 6200u, a dual-core part that’s slightly faster than the X1’s Cortex-A57 CPU component. Phoronix benched a Shield TV running Ubuntu and found it to largely keep pace with ULV i3s. The takeaway from this is that even in terms of potential CPU bottlenecking, the Tegra X1 in the NX should offer gaming performance that’s broadly comparable to the Asus laptop. Going by Notebookcheck’s benchmark figures, the 920MX is just shy of a 30-FPS update in many current-gen games at 720p, while last-gen titles were comfortably above the mark. On a personal note, the 920MX’s performance figures are broadly similar to what I managed on my Lenovo Y500 laptop, with the 750M. For the record, the 750M hands in exceptional 720p performance in last-gen titles, and can just about get by in in cross-gen titles like Watch Dogs. 

With the NX’s mobile component having a much smaller screen, a 720p display isn’t out of the question–the PS Vita, for instance, features a qHD (960×540) panel. With a good deal of platform-specific optimization, we wouldn’t be surprised to see NX ports of at least some current-gen titles and this is seemingly in line with  earlier statements by Ubisoft that a projected a positive outlook for third-party content.

Comparing the NX to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is not as straightforward as you’d think. Again, the lesser amount of GPU power on tap means that NX games will likely target a 720p output, not 1080p. But how exactly would the X1 fare, GPU-wise compared to the consoles? Numerous benchmark features (including my own) indicate that GM107 parts like the 960M and 750 Ti perform near-identically to the PlayStation 4 when paired with a low-profile CPU like an i3-4130. Comparing GM107 to GM108 (what the 920MX is based on), we find that GM108/X1 features 40 percent as many shaders (256 compared to 640), and substantially lower memory bandwidth (25 GB/s compared to 86 GB/s). The low memory bandwidth would impact resolution scaling on the NX, again pointing towards 720p being a likely resolution target for many NX titles. Essentially, an X1-powered NX would be a little under half as fast as the PlayStation 4 under non bandwidth-intensive and non compute-bound workloads.  This isn’t a bad position at all for a primarily mobile console to be in.

A somewhat unlikely, yet tantalizing possibility is that the NX will use Nvidia’s Parker SoC (which everyone seems to be calling “X2” all of a sudden.) Parker itself is Nvidia’s codename for their next-gen Pascal-based Tegra part. Nomenclature aside, Parker is already here, strictly speaking. A couple months ago, Nvidia showcased a prototype of the PX-2 system for self-driving cars. The PX-2 used an unnamed Pascal-based Tegra SoC, presumably Parker. Parker potentially offers double the graphics performance of the Tegra X1, meaning actual parity with the PS4 and Xbox One. Sadly, going by Nintendo’s historical preference for mature, cheap parts, Parker isn’t likely to feature in the NX, least of all with the NX expected to hit an unexpectedly low retail price point.

nintendo nx

While we’re speculating, though, here’s another curveball: game streaming. As we mentioned earlier, cloud streaming is on the uptick: Sony’s PlayStation Now offers a selection of over 400 PS3 games, and Nvidia’s Geforce Now, powered by their GRID servers, offers a wide range of AAA PC titles. The Xbox One will be using Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform to offload physics calculations in Crackdown 3. With bandwidth getting cheaper by the day, a thin-client streaming service could effectively bypass all of the NX’s technical shortcomings. We don’t believe that Nintendo necessarily partnered with Nvidia on the NX with game streaming in mind. We don’t think it’s necessarily going to be feature available on launch-day. But nevertheless, three, four years down the line when the NX competes with the successor to the Xbox Scorpio, a premium streaming service offering games that the NX could never run locally, possibly leveraging Nvidia’s GRID infrastructure, could keep Nintendo’s gambit relevant for years to come.

With all this in mind, I still feel that the NX is a tough sell. The biggest risk is that, by the time it comes out, the NX would be irrelevant both as a console and as a handheld. Smartphones are getting more powerful by the day, and with release of the Vulkan API on Android (and, of course, Metal on iOS), a much larger chunk of their performance can be utilised in tomorrow’s games. Smartphone gaming is no small niche: King, the developers of Candy Crush, apparently contributed 20 percent of Finland’s capital tax revenue last year. That’s kinda scary to be honest. On the other hand, though, consoles appear to be doing better than ever, with the PlayStation 4 setting a record-breaking sales growth pace. What will the market be like next year when the NX is set to launch? Will anyone be willing to buy a console/handheld hybrid when they already have one of each? Only time can tell.

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  • d0x360

    The problem with games designed for tegra and mobile anything is they look awful blown up on tv screens. What looks good on a phone or tablet looks like a ps2 game with 4x mass applied to it

    Combining mobile and console sounds like a great idea on paper but in practice not so much….

    • hiawa23

      I agree. I wanted a traditional Nintendo console with specs on par with the Scorpio, Neo. I have no interest in a hybrid or handheld, so Nintendo may have lost me for good.

    • d0x360

      I hear you… I wouldn’t even mind less lower than the new consoles as long as they made it good enough to do ps4 quality at 1080p 60fps which at this point from a hardware cost perspective should be simple.

    • MrSec84 .

      A 24CU AMD Polaris GPU, clocked at 1200mhz could certainly handle most games at 1080p 60FPS and pack PS4 visual quality into NX releases.
      It’d be much cheaper to use that part than even an RX 470.
      Nintendo should even be able to make a small form factor console using that part and a more modern 14nm AMD CPU.

      Zen may not be available in an APU/SOC until later next year, but Nintendo could use the new CPU core on an MCM package, next to the GPU, in a similar fashion to how Wii U’s processor tech was designed.
      VRAM could be placed either on the Motherboard or on the MCM depending on the size of the package.

      Personally I don’t think Nintendo’s own official comments regarding NX hint at it being one device, more like a unified OS, with flexible API that can be used across devices.
      NX will be the brand for all of this and Nintendo can focus on making games and putting them on the appropriate device, making development more efficient.

      A Tegra part could be used in the handheld and maybe the rumored portable console is a thing, but I think this could be the replacement for 3DS, with another fixed console device being the true successor to Wii U.
      If Tegra X2 is used in NX handheld, with that device packing a reasonable 720p display then maybe lower end versions of modern games could run on it, with the higher end versions, on par with PS4 releases running on NX console.

      The idea of Nintendo being able to make a single Mario that works on both handheld and console makes sense too me, because it means Nintendo doesn’t have to use their resources in developing multiple versions of the same or similar games, thus allowing them to perhaps work on more new IPs, without cutting game output.

    • Eddie Battikha

      I’m the same way, I’ve had a ton of fun with my PS4 since day 1, But an upgrade after 3 years is fine by me.

    • David Wilson

      you have no idea what nvidia Shiled TV product is, do you?

    • d0x360

      Oh you got me. What’s a shield!?

      I swear to god every day that passes the internet gets dumber. You really believe a mobile device is going to match up with a modern console? Really?
      I hope I’m there to see your face the first time you play a game on a TV screen bigger than 22 inches ROFL

  • People [shrugs]

    I’m pretty sure no one has any idea just how powerful it’s gonna be.

    • Eddie Battikha

      It’s gonna have Nvidia Tegra X2 which is a little weaker than Xbox One.

    • Ruthscustard3

      <<g:u. ★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★:::::::!!bz228a:….,..

    • People [shrugs]

      No one has actually seen an x2 yet have they? Aside from developers? And how it’s implemented means an awful lot. So I don’t think you can make that statement with much authority. IMO.

    • David Wilson

      Tegra X2/Parker is already shipping today as part of nvidia’s Drive PX 2 automotive product. This was just confirmed by Jen Hsun Huang (nvidia CEO) in nvidia’s earning call last night. And there was a very, very detailed technical presentation about it (again in the Drive PX 2 context) back in April.

      You have to look beyond just Nintendo news sites if you want to learn things. The NX is not the primary target market for the X2, nvidia is going to allocate initial production to its own product lines first.

  • Jose Diaz

    I will laugh so hard when nVidia or Nintendo deny that the NX will have a Tegra or any other nVidia chip. If you have been reading Nintendo’s statements over the past 2 years, you will know that there will be no hybrid console/portable for the NX. Just a console and a separate portable. The only thing unified will be the OS and maybe some form of architecture for easier game porting, like MS does with the Xbox One, Windows 10 and Windows Phone. I can’t comprehend why do you guys take these Tegra rumors as fact.

    • Eddie Battikha

      Yup it’ll have Tegra X2 which is a lil bit weaker than Xbox one.

    • Aron Bradley-Clarke

      You’re taking a single statement from 2013. Things can change in that time, especially with Wii U’s performance. All the signs in recent times point to something of this nature.

    • Jose Diaz

      Check their 2015 statemments. They explicitly say “Future handheld” and “Future console”, not “a blend of both systems into one” And how they will have an account based ecosystem to unite both install bases instead of alienating the communications between the console and portable

    • Samuel Mungy

      Yes, the NX rumours point to it being a handheld that can connect to a TV… Why you tripping? It’s not really a blend and the hybrid terminology was used by other people doesn’t mean Nintendo see it as a hybrid, rather a portable that can hook up to a TV.

    • Jose Diaz

      Sure, the portable can be connected to an hdmi , but that would somehow jeopardize the console, since it’s the latter that connects to the TV. And the “docking” station rumor that other sites are citing are feeding even more the confusion.

  • red2k

    It’s very possible that include HDR via streeming services like Netflix. That will be a nice feature for a portatil device.

  • Adam Ramirez

    So Eurogamer knows everything… that a japanese company is releasing… that nobody else knows anything about?

  • Eddie Battikha

    It’ll have Tegra X2 which is a little weaker than Xbox One, PS4.5 and Samsung KS9000 55 in 4K HDR TV,I can’t wait for this fall.

  • Fred Lead

    What about all the talk of a docking system? What if it works like the MS Surface Book with a more powerful GPU in the dock? That could boost the performance for larger screens like TVs.

  • R6ex

    It had better come with Tegra X2!

  • jesse

    > Will anyone be willing to buy a console/handheld hybrid when they already have one of each? Only time can tell.

    I can’t wait!

    and for the record: We don’t “have one” of each, so to speak. You are confused. This won’t be a 3DS/WiiU hybrid, although it will also function like one. This is a console on the go – you’ll play Zelda BoW on the go. You will likely play Metroid, and you will likely play many other console (maybe even so called AAA) games on it.

  • i say they should go with the tegra x2 or a 8-core amd processor with a custom nvidia pascal gpu.

    • David Wilson

      They will. The fact that the protos distributed to developers feature overclocked tegra X1’s with loud fans is the tell that this is the plan. the wait until March is also to ensure that there is sufficient stock to support the launch (tegra X2 just started shipping in small quantities its first product, nvidia’s Drive PX 2 automotive product, within the last month).

    • yea i know, i usually wait when they announce it.

  • Stephen Richard

    Sounds like a modern day Gameboy…that you can play at home on TV…its a HOMEBOY

    • Wontime

      Lol imagine of that’s what it’s called

  • Miles

    Okay. What if Nintendo has deliberately been registering all these odd patents to throw people off?


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