Eurogamer recently reported that the next-generation Nintendo (NASDAQOTH:NTDOY) game console, known as the Nintendo NX, will use a low-power Tegra processor from graphics specialist NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA). The report says that development kits for the upcoming console currently use NVIDIA's Tegra X1 chip.
This has led some to believe that the console will actually ship with the Tegra X1 chip to customers. Here's why I believe that this is unlikely.
Tegra X1 is old, and a new Tegra is just around the corner
NVIDIA launched the Tegra X1 back in January of 2015. Tegra X1 was an interesting chip for its time that delivered quite a lot of graphics performance. However, if the Nintendo NX comes out sometime in 2017 and uses the Tegra X1, it will essentially be using a 2-year-old mobile-class processor.
Given that game consoles tend not to see frequent hardware refreshes, endowing a console that's supposed to last multiple years with a two-year old mobile processor would be a poor move on Nintendo's part from a longevity perspective.
Instead, I expect that the NX will come powered by NVIDIA's next Tegra processor, which the graphics specialist will detail in late August at the Hot Chips conference.
16-nanometer, Pascal architecture, Denver CPU cores
The new Tegra chip should see a move from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing's (NYSE:TSM) 20-nanometer manufacturing technology to its 16-nanometer technology. The main improvement in the 16-nanometer technology relative to the 20-nanometer technology is the transition from planar transistors to 3D transistors called FinFETs, which enables a large improvement in performance and efficiency.
Beyond the move to the new manufacturing technology, the architecture of the chip should also see several enhancements. On the graphics front, the new Tegra will move to the company's newer Pascal architecture, which should help further drive performance improvements in a given power envelope relative to the X1.
The new Tegra also comes with two of NVIDIA's custom-designed Project Denver CPU cores as well as four ARM (NASDAQ:ARMH) Cortex A57 cores. This should mean improved CPU performance over the Tegra X1, which used four Cortex A57 cores and four weaker Cortex A53 cores.
Indeed, games tend to favor fewer but more powerful CPU cores over many weaker cores. It seems likely that the two second-generation Project Denver CPU cores inside of the next Tegra should be quite good for gaming applications.
I'm sure NVIDIA has made additional enhancements to other portions of the chip, some of which won't really be relevant for a dedicated gaming machine, but we won't know about those until the company discloses more details about the chip.
Tegra X1 for development, not for deployment
It makes sense that development kits out today use the Tegra X1, as this is what NVIDIA has available today. The next Tegra will likely be much faster than Tegra X1, but the X1 should be good enough for developers to get a feel for what they're going to have to work with once the final NX hardware is available.
However, I seriously doubt that by the time the NX shows up in customers' hands it will have a Tegra X1.