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Playing With Its Wii: Nintendo's 8G Console

By Trollaxor in Technology
Thu Jul 02, 2009 at 07:37:56 AM EST
Tags: gaming, IBM, Nintendo, Power Architecture, Trollaxor, Wii (all tags)

Now that the dust has settled in the Seventh Generation console wars, with the Nintendo Wii emerging the clear winner and the XBox360 and PlayStation 3 duking it out in the dust behind, game manufacturers are already tapping out prototypes of their next-generation consoles in the race for the Eighth Generation console war.

At stake is billions in licensing and sales revenue, and each company is straining to optimize its next-generation offering to slaughter its competition. And as before, Nintendo is playing it cool and designing a low-footprint, system that will zip between its peers' enormous specs and straight to players' hearts.

Having been conservative in its last two console releases and realizing success from multi-segment appeal and diverse game interaction, Nintendo sees no reason to break this formula. So going by it, you can expect a direct follow-up to the Wii, codenamed "Wii2."

The rumors coming from IBM R&D labs is that the new chip Nintendo and IBM are testing is another speed-bump and tweak of the previous PowerPC G3-derived cores, codenamed "Raiden," clock-doubled over its predecessor to 1.4 GHz, and sporting the same AltiVec-like vector instructions, 32k/32k L1 caches, and an enhanced 1MB on-chip L2 cache at 45m.

The GPU in the next-gen Nintendo system is still relatively undetailed at this point, but it is expected to be an Nvidia Tesla C870-derived core, called "Chōjin," which will be a similar conservative jump ahead of the Wii's Hollywood. Also present in the latest prototypes are 2GB of flash storage, two SDHC slots, and 180 MB of system memory. Of course closer to production the industry will expect USB ports and other bells and whistles as well.

In staying conservative Nintendo is missing something: though Sony and Microsoft overplayed their hand in the seventh generation, with ridiculously gigantic specs developers struggle to use efficiently even today, those developers have gotten used to their big, beefy hardware and started to program lazily, depending on huge numbers to run their bloated code fast.

One example of this is the Halo series. Halo 3 started life as an x86 Xbox game but realized they had pushed well beyond the limits of the anemic Celeron-derived, cache-hobbled Coppermine core. With the Xbox 360 looming, it was abandoned for the Xbox. Instead of rewriting for the Power Architecture, however, Microsoft simply wrote a translation wrapper and shipped it.

In stark contrast, the Wii can play GameCube games without emulation since the chips between the two consoles are relatively identical. Nintendo foregoes the problematic layer that the Playstation series has dealt with in bringing old favorite games forward to its new platforms. But while this works out for the value-minded casual gamer, this tight march of CPUs and other specs makes porting between consoles a serious question, let alone fat, bloated lazy programming.

So while it might have been a lot to wolf down this generation, by the next generation Nintendo, in only doing another paltry upgrade, will be way behind what developers expect to be able to do. In other words, games won't get ported from the PlayStation 4 or Xbox 8G to the Wii2, which has already been happening between the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii.

Simply put, the upgrade to the Wii's hardware for the Wii2 isn't enough. And it's so tempting to do it anway: IBM is willing to do this measly upgrades because it's cost effective for everyone involved. The development overhead for the Cell and Xenon cost about $65 million and $25 million, respectively, to develop. The cost for creating the Broadway CPU and chipset? Just under US $4 million.

[To view tabular data, please visit Trollaxor.com.]

But it wouldn't take all that much more money to push the Wii2's CPU to 2 GHz and bump system memory to a full gigabyte of RAM, nor would it be out of the question to put more than one CPU on the motherboard. The GameCube was about as fast as a Blue & White Power Mac G3 (ca. 1999). In the Wii itself we're talking about a system about as fast as the Digital Audio Power Mac G4 (ca. 2001), and in the Wii2 something about as fast as the FW800 Power Mac G4 (ca. 2003).

Despite specialized hardware that pushes console rendering capabilities beyond the desktop, the core system at the heart of each console at once well behind the latest desktop technology. Another way to look at it is that each Nintendo console generation is worth about a third of a Mac desktop generation!

Though Raiden currently looks like a clock-jumped Broadway, its core microarchitecture could change. Right now it's got three 32-bit fixed-point units, two 64-bit floating point units, and two 128-bit vector units. One possible tweak would be to replace the 32-bit fixed point units with 64-bit units, which would make Raiden the first truly 64-bit PowerPC 603-derived core.

Other possibilities for Raiden include an extra vector unit and a third floating point unit. Each of those changes would make the chip more complex, more power-huingry, and hotter, and more expensive, things Nintendo isn't likely to see as a useful tradeoff.

The GPU is another thing that can, and should, change significantly. Since Nintendo and Nvidia are working with the Tesla platform, which is really a general-purpose coprocessor and not just for graphics, Nintendo should exploit this power. If early benchmarks are true, Tesla can manhandle graphics, sounds, and physics without breaking a sweat, leaving Raiden to handle game AI and mundane data routing and system clerical duties.

Further rumors of plug-in coprocessor units that come with games, the adoption of QNX for the Wii2's operating system, and distribution of games on high-speed flash cards have yet to be substantiated, but show that Nintendo isn't covering its eyes to possibilities. Let's just hope that the Wii2 as it stands now is just a placeholder and Nintendo is just as seriously considering pumping its ascetic specs up.

At this early stage, one thing remains clear: while Nintendo doesn't have to overdo things to keep its edge, it should think about shifting up another gear or two to close the gap in what developers, who are really the lifegivers of any platform, are expecting in the Eighth Generation.


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Playing With Its Wii: Nintendo's 8G Console | 51 comments (27 topical, 24 editorial, 0 hidden)
I take issue with this: (3.00 / 10) (#6)
by QuantumFoam on Mon Jun 29, 2009 at 04:28:44 PM EST

In the Wii itself we're talking about a system about as fast as an Apple Power Mac G4 ca. early 2001, and in the Wiituu something about as fast as the G4 in 2003.

Comparing consoles to general computer is not an apples-to-apples comparison. The tighter integration of hardware and software gives consoles (at least up to the 360 and PS3, which are capable of running processes in the background) a significant cycle-per-cycle advantage. Furthermore, since the hardware in a console is standardized, developers can program much closer to the metal than they would on a general computer.

In the earliest consoles the cartridge connected with the system hardware in a more fundamental way: You didn't have an NES running a program, the cartridge and the hardware formed a device that WAS the game. This was continued into the sixth generation of consoles.

I've run a Powermac G4 in early 2001 and another Powermac G4 in 2003, and neither of them were capable of performance anywhere near that of the Gamecube. Those fucking things could barely decode Xvid files in real time, even when relieved of the burden of the POS OS9 or the then-sluggish OSX. The best-looking Gamecube game I played was Resident Evil 4, and there is no way in hell that could be rendered on anything from that era. Similarly, my PC in 2000, which significantly outspecced the Xbox, could barely run Morrowind. It wasn't until I'd upgraded (essentially doubling the relevant specs) that I could run it anywhere as smoothly as I could on the Xbox.

You are right that developers are getting lazy, and that has many implications. In the sixth generation the hardware was abstracted enough that cross-platform games were possible to make without doubling or tripling development costs. The result was that big third-party games, which cost an unprecedented amount to make, did the logical thing and tried to target all platforms in order to have the largest possible consumer base and revenue. Since the PS2, with it's Emotion Engine and capability of delivering Toy Story-like graphics (hahahaha, maybe in an FMV), was the shittiest surviving console of the generation it became the lowest common denominator for developers and all games began to look as shitty as PS2 games.

Nintendo knows that having the most powerful console is a sucker's game. You can put a ton of money into hardware development, subsidize the consoles to the point where the average consumer must buy five games to get to the break-even point, and pay billions of dollars to replace all the cutting-edge hardware that breaks on your customers within a year of purchase only to find that the other console's popularity drags down the quality of your games. Or, you could try to make something that isn't a cutting-edge console but instead delivers something that your competitors don't offer. They'll copy it, as MS and Sony have, but that takes time and in the meantime you can sell a shitton of your innovative consoles to a wider range of demographics than your competitors.

That said, I have found the Wii to be a huge disappointment. The capability I'd imagined it would have has only recently been achieved with a hardware upgrade, and it really should have been there from the get-go. What I, and I'm sure most people, thought upon the revelation that the Revolution's big deal was motion controls was that there would be some kind of one-to-one correspondence between the movement of the Wiimote through space and the input to the game. For fuck's sake, the system was built for a badass game that would involve lightsabers. The Wiimote's speaker could even play the lightsaber noises. But instead we got games that substituted a digital input from a button with a digital input from motion sensors. So instead of pushing the A button to have Link swing his sword, I have to move around the Wiimote and hope it registers the motion so it can do the same fucking thing it would have done if I was limited to the Gamecube controller. Fighting enemies is such a pain in the ass in that game I've just resorted to running past them, which for some reason is a viable option.

- Barack Obama: Because it will work this time. Honest!

I addressed this in the story. (3.00 / 3) (#23)
by Trollaxor on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 01:30:59 PM EST

I used links and anecdotes and you can't argue with it now.

[ Parent ]
The plural of anecdote is not data (none / 0) (#47)
by it certainly is on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 09:48:30 AM EST


kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

Major bite detected $ (3.00 / 2) (#31)
by sausalito on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 05:20:26 PM EST


GBH - "The whole point is that the App Store acts as a firewall between busy soccer moms and goatse links"
[ Parent ]

Also, wii software architecture kind of fails (3.00 / 3) (#7)
by some nerd on Mon Jun 29, 2009 at 06:27:46 PM EST

"The Wii could have just been the lower end, lesser graphics cousin of the 360 or PS3. Instead, it's the lower end, lesser graphics cousin with shitty online, no multimedia abilities, non expandable storage, no peripheral support, and no hope for new features via updates. And all of that is the software's fault."
Hopefully they'll rethink their approach for Wii2.

Home Sweet Home

It Fails? (none / 0) (#50)
by brunes69 on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 01:19:39 PM EST

If by "fails" you mean "sells more systems and makes more money than the next two competitors put together", then yeah, Nintendo probably hopes that the Wii2 will be as massive of a failure as the first one. Seriously I don't know when the 360 and PS3 fanboys will realise - Nintendo does not give a crap what you want in a system. What they give a crap about is selling to the mass market and making money. As it has shown, fancy graphics and expandable storage do not do that. What does that is enjoyable pick up and throw away games and a system tailored to them.

---There is no Spoon---
[ Parent ]
lol strawman (none / 1) (#51)
by some nerd on Sun Aug 02, 2009 at 05:12:36 PM EST

I don't own any current generation consoles, but I recognise a bad design decision needlessly crippling one when I see it. Case in point, the Wii Motionplus: it isn't backwards compatible, and it never will be. Even the most casual of gamers are going to be disappointed by that.

Home Sweet Home

[ Parent ]
I'd just like to say (2.40 / 5) (#9)
by infernalmajesty on Mon Jun 29, 2009 at 09:18:42 PM EST


I [...] hit submit [...,] repeating a rookie mistake. Oh well. - Kaki Nix Sain
random speculation about a boring subject (3.00 / 2) (#10)
by GrubbyBeardedHermit on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 01:35:07 AM EST

the console as a gaming platform remains inferior to the PC, no amount of fanboi hype will change that


Not random speculation. (none / 1) (#24)
by Trollaxor on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 01:31:54 PM EST

I have inside sources.

[ Parent ]
So does MichaelCrawford /nt (none / 0) (#35)
by ksandstr on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 09:10:28 PM EST

[ Parent ]
-1 trollaxor (3.00 / 3) (#25)
by I Did It All For The Horse Cock on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 02:18:50 PM EST

  \ \        ^.^._______  This comment brought to you by the penis-nosed fox!
    / /    \ \
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is trollaxor.com (1.50 / 2) (#26)
by loteck on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 02:50:47 PM EST

at least benefiting from all this?
"You're in tune to the musical sound of loteck hi-fi, the musical sound that moves right round. Keep on moving ya'll." -Mylakovich

Benefit? How? (3.00 / 3) (#27)
by Trollaxor on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 02:52:49 PM EST

I don't monetize my site.

[ Parent ]
higher traffic? (none / 1) (#29)
by loteck on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 04:49:17 PM EST

more attention from esr?
"You're in tune to the musical sound of loteck hi-fi, the musical sound that moves right round. Keep on moving ya'll." -Mylakovich

[ Parent ]
What's higher traffic get me if I don't monetize? (3.00 / 6) (#30)
by Trollaxor on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 05:00:06 PM EST

More lulz? Eric Raymond doesn't know how to read so most of what I do is lost on him anyway.

[ Parent ]
i dont fucking know (none / 1) (#32)
by loteck on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 05:59:25 PM EST

just answer the question
"You're in tune to the musical sound of loteck hi-fi, the musical sound that moves right round. Keep on moving ya'll." -Mylakovich

[ Parent ]
We must be careful how we define benefit. (3.00 / 3) (#44)
by Trollaxor on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 11:42:22 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Dear Nintendo: (3.00 / 5) (#39)
by I Did It All For The Horse Cock on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 04:53:48 AM EST


Seriously, I am jumping up and down and throwing my shit in handfuls at the fucking television in some impotent primal effort to get the thing to work. I have been sitting here trying to enjoy your product - YOUR PRODUCT, YOUR GAME, YOUR CONTRACT BETWEEN DEVELOPER AND CONSUMER THAT THE CONSUMER WILL ENJOY YOUR PRODUCT - but instead the damn thing's been crawling out of the console and taking warm shits in my gaping mouth. Swear to god, you should have just added a little door to the console through which a hand pops out and flips me off, because I am insulted that your QA or testers or whatever brainless shitstove three genes short of a monkey FAGNUT signs your games through thought that a person with more than a single fucking digit IQ could enjoy Story Mode Chapter 7. INSULTED.

WORK WITH ME HERE: The goal's simple enough! Come in first! Hey, that's fine, it's just like playing the grand fucking prix; not a problem! Only deal is your cross-eyed team of tongue-slapping wunderkind decided to give the game every single fucking advantage possible TO THE GAME rather than me.

How in the fuck does Black Shadow - whose car is the heaviest and lamest piece of shit next to the Crazy Bear - suddenly become SO FUCKING GOOD that he can stay in first without using a drop of boost? Huh!? Why!? You never see this shithead anywhere near the top fucking 20 in a normal race. BUT HO HO HO THIS TIME HE'S MEGA-COCK, THE FASTEST FAGGOT IN THE WORLD. 1.21 GIGAWATTS MARTY, LET'S GO BACK TO THE FUCKING FUTURE.

But it's not just Black Shadow with the magical powers, it's the entire fucking lineup of racers! THEY'RE ALL FASTER THAN YOU. AND DON'T REQUIRE ANY BOOST.

But but but I of course, am still driving some piece of shit hamster-powered jalopy who guzzles it's entire energy bar in no less than four fucking boosts! Add to this the entire course just got shitted on by some retarded space tiki volacano god and you've got a course full of hazards that'll drain at least 1/4 of your energy bar JUST BECAUSE IT CAN. WHOOPIE.

HURRR, you say. THAT'S JUST THE CHALLENGE. IT'S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE EASY. Well fuck that noise, you lopsided frankenfaced fuckfurter.

Tell me, please, why does the GAME have to win? Huh? What happens when the game wins and I lose? Is there some huge fucking kegger waiting for it when it gets done? Is there money involved? Or perhaps the motives are more sinister. Maybe the game's family is being held hostage by another game and that game has it's cock in F-Zero's wife's mouth and he's holding a cell phone up to her and F-Zero can hear her pained moans and cries for help and the asshole game then says, "You beat that cock-sucking human, or I'll blow her brains out." I COULD UNDERSTAND THAT. I CAN BE SYMPATHETIC.

It's not any fun if I can't win, you faggots. I want to move on. I want to unlock whatever piece of shit clown car you have hidden away from me so I can start racing and get pissed off with that too. When your game prevents me from fully enjoying the product I have bought you have failed in your fucking mission to deliver a game. You lose! You break the contract! You contract the gay and fucking DIE DIE DIE.

  \ \        ^.^._______  This comment brought to you by the penis-nosed fox!
    / /    \ \
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i never even got to stage 7 (3.00 / 5) (#41)
by Jobst of Moravia on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 07:23:25 AM EST

   .,-;-;-,. /'_\ ---Did this Negro say "Street Moor"?
 _/_/_/_|_\_\) /
  ""     ""    ""

[ Parent ]

You've failed to notice or deliberately ignored... (none / 0) (#40)
by jolt rush soon on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 05:28:43 AM EST

That the Wii is more fun than the xbox and ps3 and the games that make it fun sure aren't the Electronic Arts multiplatform games like Tiger Woods takes a shit.

As long as you can only play each Mario game and the rest of the Nintendo software catalogue on the next Nintendo console, I'd consider it to have a reasonably good run.

I just want it hi-def.
Subosc — free electronic music.

Just to clarify (none / 0) (#46)
by jolt rush soon on Thu Jul 02, 2009 at 06:32:16 AM EST

Tiger Woods takes a shit uses digital buttons on the Xbox360 and PS3 but on the Wii you have to 'waggle'.
Subosc — free electronic music.
[ Parent ]
Sometimes, I twiddle my wiinis (none / 1) (#42)
by Strom Thurmond on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 10:45:29 AM EST

and this goo squirts out.

Can you help with this?

VEGETARIAN: An Indian word meaning "lousy hunter"

That's the next installment. (3.00 / 2) (#43)
by Trollaxor on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 11:05:48 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Third installment is Wiinis envy (none / 0) (#45)
by Armstrong Hammer on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 01:30:47 PM EST

by the other game console owners. envious of the Wiinis of the Wii2 owners.
Learn about the true liberal agenda in the United States of America.

[ Parent ]
I'm more interested in something with a Cell (none / 0) (#48)
by Ron Paul on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 08:08:07 AM EST


This [Ron Paul] Diary! has brought Kuro5hin back to life! HUZZAH

Nintendo lucked out (3.00 / 4) (#49)
by dark ally on Thu Jul 09, 2009 at 12:34:59 PM EST

The fact of the matter is, more Wiis were bought as fitness equipment than as game consoles.  (Nintendo has sold a Wii Fit system for every 3 Wii consoles in the United States.) If all that mattered were the games, the Wii would have done as well as the Gamecube (i.e. not very well).

I don't think Nintendo will be able to pull off the same the same trick with the Wii2.  Gamers and games will be making the decisions, not senior centers and Wii Sports workouts.  480p won't be good enough anymore, not with everyone buying giant HDTVs.

Developers and publishers have also noticed although Nintendo sells lots of Wiis and first party software, it doesn't sell much third party software.

IMHO, if Nintendo thinks they can win again with a next-gen Wii, I think they are sadly mistaken.  The question then becomes whether the other two will try to emulate the Wii, or remain locked in a processing power deathmatch.

Playing With Its Wii: Nintendo's 8G Console | 51 comments (27 topical, 24 editorial, 0 hidden)
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