Could Nintendo's new Switch handheld-hybrid rely on NVIDIA's GeForce-powered servers for higher-end gaming? Will the Switch's unique external processing box open the door to dramatically improved gameplay performance on the Switch? I think so, and here's why.
Nintendo's Switch console may have a secret weapon that allows it to tap the might of NVIDIA's GeForce Now servers and allow dramatically improved performance via cloud accelerated GPU power. This secret weapon is the Supplemental Computing Device (SCD), an external processing box that hooks up to the Switch and boosts its power, not unlike today's eGPU external GPU boxes.
Nintendo has affirmed the Switch is a "home console first and foremost," but the system doesn't deliver performance befit of a home console, even with its onboard custom NVIDIA Tegra SoC. Instead, the Switch's gameplay performance while docked leaves something to be desired a times, with heavy-hitting games like Zelda: Breath of the Wild only hitting 900p 30FPS while docked.
But the SCD could change all of that. The Nintendo Switch could utilize NVIDIA's GeForce Now servers to beam high-end GeForce power to the console's built-in Tegra processor, facilitating boosted graphics and visuals, performance, frame rates and more.
"GeForce NOW is an on-demand service that connects you to NVIDIA's cloud-gaming supercomputers to stream PC games to your SHIELD device at up to 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second. GeForce NOW members enjoy a best-in-class streaming experience with access to a diverse library of more than 50 popular PC games, plus the option to purchase new game releases from our store and play them instantly."
As per the SCD patent filing, the external box can "Boost connection strength and improves latency with online games and games/services that are powered by cloud computing." NVIDIA recommends 50mbps internet connections for 1080p 60FPS gaming on the Shield TV's GeForce Now service, showing the requirements can be a bit high.
"The console may couple to a supplement computing device to increase the speed or quality of a user's gaming experience."
Here's how the Supplemental Computing Device will potentially interact with Nintendo consoles, but remember the patents have multiple instances of the hardware applications so this isn't a targeted explanation:
- Provide processing and/or storage resources to games consoles to assist in game performance or other tasks like viewing photos/watching videos, etc.
- Can be physically attached to a console to increase speed or quality of a user's gaming experience
- Consoles can connect to supplemental computing devices remotely via local wireless network, with the extra processing power/storage being tapped over a wireless network
- Boosts connection strength and improves latency with online games and games/services that are powered by cloud computing
- Users can share the supplemental computing device with others, possibly on an online basis but more likely with remote users in the same area, and can control the hardware boost threshold percentage shared with others and even impose a time limit on such resources
- Nintendo may compensate users who choose to share their supplemental computing device with others depending on duration and resource percentages shared. Compensation may include discounts on games, time on other SCD's, or points for redemption for other content/games (think Club Nintendo)
- Users can daisy-chain multiple supplemental computing devices to the same console
So where's all this coming from?
There were recent analysis findings on NeoGAF that discusses the SCD's possible specs, ruminating the SCD could feature a GP 106-based internal GPU and 8GB of RAM. This information is gleaned from an anonymous Foxconn worker who leaked a ton of information on the Switch back when it was known as the NX.
The Foxconn worker noted certain specs of what appeared to be the Nintendo Switch devkits, which led us to believe the Switch would be more powerful than PS4 and Xbox One--specs including a custom GPU based on NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 1060 series video cards and 8GB of RAM--but these specs never surfaced.
This leads us to believe that the missing devkit specs could be utilized in the external processing box--the SCD--essentially transforming the Switch into a decent gaming rig.
Now I believe that there's some truth to this.
Nintendo has partnered with NVIDIA to make the silicon to power its hardware, and NVIDIA sees this partnership lasting for some 20 years. So the SCD upgrade with its higher-end hardware could be Nintendo's own path to the iterative console cycle.
However, I think Nintendo will roll out a very specific SCD in the coming year or so that's aimed at boosting network latency and bandwidth over GPU power. This would allow the Switch to fully leverage NVIDIA's GeForce servers for accelerated graphics capabilities over the cloud.
I also believe that the Nintendo Switch's new paid online subscription service will tie heavily into this cloud-compute framework.
All of this speculation makes sense to me, and I think Nintendo will be keen on leveraging existing hardware and technology of its new partner (NVIDIA) rather than rolling out specific new hardware iterations. The higher-end GPU SCD would likely be something that releases in 2-4 years or so, whereas I see the connection-based SCD coming out in maybe 1-2 years.
Remember that all of this is 100% speculation on my part. Nothing has been confirmed by either Nintendo and NVIDIA, and I don't see them confirming anything for a long time.
Nintendo is doing something unique here, and if they can pull it off, they'll be the first modern console-maker to facilitate this unique platform. Microsoft has their Xbox Cloud Compute platform, but it's never really taken off.
This move would not only solidify Nintendo and NVIDIA's partnership, but it'd achieve something different, something unique and new. And it could be a strong way to get major players like Activision and EA to bring their most popular online games to the system.
I've also guessed that Nintendo could use NVIDIA's servers to make its own games rental service, maybe something like a Netflix sub that allows you to play a huge offering of Virtual Console games. It could even be a games on demand service, too.
Remember Nintendo is taking risks here and moving into new territory. Like Yoshi, the company is coming out of its shell and it might take a while, but I think we'll see Nintendo carve out its own path towards a modern legacy. Nintendo already has innovative and unique hardware with the Switch, and now it needs to match it with a unique ecosystem that can pull in all the third-party developers it needs to thrive.
The Nintendo Switch will release March 3, 2017 for $299. Check below for a catalog of everything we know about the Switch so far:
Everything we know about the Nintendo Switch:
- Nintendo Switch will have 'steady pacing of content'
- Putting Nintendo Switch launch games into perspective
- Stock Nintendo Switch JoyConGrip won't recharge JoyCons
- The new Zelda game takes up nearly half Switch's storage
- Zelda: Breath of the Wild runs at 900p 30FPS docked, 720p 30FPS undocked
- Nintendo Switch supports 2TB Micro SDXC cards
- Nintendo Switch online chat requires smartphone app
- Here's why Nintendo Switch doesn't come with any games
- Nintendo will soon charging gamers to play online multiplayer via subscription service
- Nintendo Switch UI revealed, let's take a closer look
- Nintendo Switch touchscreen has haptic feedback tech
- Nintendo stock drops after Switch unveil event
- Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Switch runs at 1080p when docked
- Nintendo Switch hardware specs revealed
- Nintendo Switch costs $299, coming March 3
- Nintendo Switch battery life is 2.5 hours to 6 hours
- New Mario: Odyssey game won't be Nintendo Switch launch title
- Zelda: Breath of the Wild is Switch launch game