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Switching the Switch: How Nintendo Should Update Their Hardware

Last week, a rumor emerged from the Wall Street Journal [paywall] that Nintendo is planning to update the Switch with two new variants: an upgraded, “Pro” model and a smaller “Mini” model. These rumors follow up on a similar WSJ report from last year [paywall] that signaled Nintendo’s plans to launch a new variant of the system in 2019. With the Switch having sold an incredible 32 million units and pushing Nintendo’s cultural relevance to new heights, it’s worth taking a step back and speculating about what sort of changes could be in the works for Nintendo’s latest console.

Switch Pro: Pushing the Tegra to Its Limits

First up is the most exciting of the two prospects, the Switch Pro. If, as sources suggest, “the bump will be comparable to the one received by the 3DS upon its New 3DS relaunch,” then there’s reason to believe that Nintendo is looking to make some decently substantial, under-the-hood changes to the Switch in order to facilitate a better experience.

One of the first changes could be a change to the console’s central component: the Switch’s custom version of Nvidia’s Tegra X1 chip. Released back in 2015, Nvidia’s Maxwell-powered X1 has aged well, but aged nonetheless, in the years since. As a result, Nintendo could seek an upgraded version of this chip based on either Nvidia’s last-gen Pascal graphics architecture or their current Tesla architecture. However, given the two years of optimizations that Nvidia has achieved with Pascal, Pascal seems like the better choice.

If they do decide to upgrade the Switch’s system-on-a-chip (SoC) to any new architecture, they will solve another problem that has dogged Nintendo since the Switch’s release: the Switch’s increasing vulnerability to hacking and homebrew. It most likely won’t stop determined hackers or homebrewers from cracking the new SoC in due time, but it could help Nintendo counteract at least some of the more egregious hacking techniques. 

Nintendo Switch
The Tegra X1, Nvidia’s SoC in the Switch, is getting a bit long in the tooth. It’s time for an update.

The switch (pun not intended) to a new architecture could benefit Nintendo in other ways too. Besides a simple spec upgrade, the change could take advantage of Nvidia’s increased processor efficiency to either increase the Switch’s battery life, improve system performance, or strike a balance between the two. While an increase to the Switch’s overall power ceiling could be advantageous for some of the system’s more advanced titles, increased battery life would certainly take priority. After all, the original Switch’s battery life is one of its greatest limitations. 

The Switch Pro could also push for an increase in the system’s RAM. Simply doubling the amount of RAM (from 4GB to 8GB) could improve performance on large-scale titles a la Breath of the Wild or Skyrim. Given that two of Nintendo’s previous portable upgrades, from the DS to the DSi and from the 3DS to the New 3DS, both introduced increases in the amount of RAM and the decrease in RAM prices this year, it certainly remains in the realm of possibility. 

Finally, the system’s internal storage could use an upgrade. The base Switch’s 32GB of internal storage, while working fine on the base model, has always felt like a bit of a limitation to the system. Increasing the built-in storage to 64GB wouldn’t solve the Switch’s need for a Micro SD card, but it would help alleviate its out-of-the-box struggles with downloading most titles. 

With these changes in mind, what would a Switch Pro cost? If Nintendo decides to drop the original model of the Switch altogether and moves their manufacturing process over to the Switch Pro, then it’d be hard to imagine the console retailing for any more than $299.99. However, if they keep the original Switch model around at a reduced price of $249.99 and market the Pro as an upgraded, luxury model, then a price of $349.99 would not be completely unexpected.

Switch Mini: Getting to the Magical Price Point

Next up is the Switch Mini, or ‘Lite,’ as some outlets have taken to calling it. The Mini offers some tantalizing prospects for increased portability and for lowering the Switch’s manufacturing costs. If, as sources suggest, Nintendo is positioning the Switch Mini as a replacement for the 3DS, then the Switch Mini could target a much lower price point than it’s big brother. 

Given that the 3DS maintained a price of $199.99 for most of its life (outside of the 2DS line and the original launch 3DS), it would augur well for Nintendo to target the same price range for a Switch Mini. Decreasing the price of the base model Switch without losing money on every unit sold, however, would require a significant amount of sacrifice, even when taking into account the declining costs of manufacturing the now four-year-old Tegra X1. 

First of all, the detachable Joy-Con would have to be replaced, most likely with permanently-fitted controllers that evoke traditional handheld design. Gone with them would be HD Rumble, gyroscopic controls, and other “luxury” features of the Switch. This would pose a unique problem for games like Super Mario Party and Super Mario Odyssey that integrate motion controls inseparably within their games, but could be remedied by allowing wireless compatibility with existing Joy-Cons.

Nintendo Switch
Games like ‘Super Mario Party’ stand to be issues if a Switch Mini drops interchangeable Joy-Con.

Secondly, the system would need to be molded in a much smaller form factor. As it’s currently built, the Switch is on the verge of being too large to be a truly “portable” system. Reducing it to the size of a PS Vita would allow the Switch Mini to fit comfortably in all sorts of places (e.g. pockets, purses, and backpacks) that the current model simply can’t.

Thirdly, the Switch Mini’s ability to dock would need to be nixed. While it’s doubtful that Nintendo would consider such a drastic change to the Switch’s core modus operandi, it’s something that, if they truly want to cut costs, should be considered. The lack of a docked mode, and the higher clock rates that would come with it, would allow for a less expensive (possibly fanless) cooling system that could cut manufacturing costs even further. 

Finally, the Switch Mini would somehow need to shrink size without losing battery life. Usually, more compact batteries are more expensive. However, if fanless cooling is an option and the Mini can reduce costs in other places, perhaps a larger battery is something that Nintendo can account for. One certainly hopes so, given the unimpressive battery life of the original model.

Conclusions

Nintendo is selling Switches at a blistering pace and is set to have an amazing lineup of games for mid-to-late 2019. The time couldn’t be better for them to press forward with their next generation of hardware. With the PS5 and Microsoft’s next console inevitably on the horizon, its apparent that Nintendo needs some type of hardware update to keep within distance of the soon-to-be next gen consoles. 

That being said, if the rumors are true, the increased graphical puissance of a Switch Pro, coupled with the increased portability of a Switch Mini would be sure to help Nintendo’s console endure long into the next generation.

What do you think about a possible Switch revision? Sound off in the comments below.

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2 comments

Chariot Goblin April 10, 2019 at 9:29 pm

We could see more info at Nintendo’s upcoming investor’s meeting at the end of April. I wonder what they will say about 3DS since Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn was the most recent Nintendo-published game released on the platform. The only 3DS game we know about that’s left (in the west) is Persona Q2 which will release in June. I want to believe that there’s a few more games left in the system. They promised to support 3DS in 2019 and beyond.

Reply
Izsak Barnette April 11, 2019 at 8:03 am

You’re right! I had completely forgotten about the Investor’s meeting. That’s where we first heard some details about the NX a couple of years ago after all.

While I’d like to see more 3DS games, I think Nintendo is done with the system. The last few games haven’t done well financially for Nintendo.

Thanks for commenting.

Reply

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