What's inside the Wii U?

What's inside the Wii U?
After the thickest mists have thickened for months on the real hardware capabilities of the next Nintendo console, with a not just twist, a short interview has been made available on the Iwataask website in which Nintendo's boss, Satoru Iwata, and some of his closest collaborators, talk about some aspects related to the design of the Wii U complete with photos of some glimpses of the console's motherboard.

Many elements of the discussion between Iwata and his team of engineers confirm that that we had actually already suspected: with the Wii U, Nintendo made its first multicore console. However, the real topic of discussion is about using a "multi chip module" (MCM) to house the combination of CPU and GPU. We are therefore not along the lines of the only chip with which Microsoft has synthesized the technical design of the Xbox 360 in the S version, but of a completely different construction philosophy that changes the prospects for using this console in the immediate and future.

"Compared to the past, this time we have embraced the philosophy of creating a console completely based on the concept of MCM", is the introduction of Genyo Takeda, senior Managing Director and General Manager of Nintendo's Research and Development division.

"MCM stands for" Multi Chip Module ", a technology that allows the integration of CPU and GPU within a single component. Not only that, the GPU itself integrates the RAM it needs to function. . This involves three basic benefits: a lower production cost, a lower consumption of electricity and a faster exchange of information between the central processor and the video processing unit, which allows a net gain in terms performance ni. "

" The Multi Chip Module allows the integration of CPU and GPU within a single component. "

Satoru Iwata explained some details of the Wii U, which are analyzed in this article. The CPU supplier is IBM, while Nintendo has chosen AMD for the video part. Getting two such complex processors to coexist on a single chip must have been quite a technical challenge, especially if various kinds of incompatibilities occurred during the development process. The centralized module strategy also has the advantage of concentrating the heat production on the motherboard, which makes it easier to dissipate it without the need to assemble a particularly bulky cooling architecture, allowing you to reduce the size of the console compared to the PS3 Slim or the Xbox. 360S.

Ko Shiota, Takeda's deputy in the research and development division, confirms: "Decreasing power consumption has always been one of our priorities since the creation of the GameCube. Placing the LSI chips in a full-sized package contained, the energy requirement to transport data from one processor to another is considerably reduced. In addition to this, there are also other advantages in terms of production costs as it is possible to further miniaturize the motherboards and therefore the overall dimensions of the console . "

Despite the integration, the heat production compared to the Wii has tripled and therefore the Nintendo's team had to design the chassis with heat dissipation in mind as a fundamental element of the shape itself. The placement of the fans and the air outlet grilles have changed several times over time to maximize cooling.

"Despite the integration, the heat production compared to the Wii has tripled"

Another aspect of considerable interest concerns the reliability of the components in relation to the aging of the console itself. Nintendo has put a lot of effort into analyzing the longevity of the console after the debacle of some of the previous models. The concern is related to the concentration of so much heat within such a confined space. The modular design mitigates this problem to a certain extent but a threefold multiplication of heat production remains a technical challenge that is not easy to solve.

Here is the Wii U motherboard: elegant, spartan and minimalist together with the MCM module, containing the tiny CPU and the much bigger graphics processor. At first glance it looks like a simple but brutally effective design, all to the advantage of Nintendo's production costs. Nintendo conducted a series of "aging" tests in which the components were stressed without interruption for months and months, and be so sure they could stand the test of time. If you don't take this approach, problems occur when the console is in the user's hands and it's too late. Typically, many months are devoted to extensive testing of critical components and for this reason, if not properly scheduled, they can cause slips in the launch of a complex product like this.

In the interview, the team also discussed the ability to make the Wii U backwards compatible with the original Wii. A very important feature taking into consideration the huge user base already installed for the best-selling console of this generation.

"As the designers were already very familiar with the layout of the first Wii, they came up with a series of Really clever tricks to ensure compatibility between the two platforms despite the diversity of the hardware. In the past, to achieve this, the circuitry of both consoles was incorporated. Instead of proceeding in this way, the engineers created the Wii U with a particular design able to perfectly emulate the old console without having to make particular compromises in the design and architecture of the CPU and video processor. "

" The designers of Nintendo have come up with a series of tricks really smart to ensure backward compatibility "

Heat generation and CPU and GPU size are the topics of greatest interest that I don't they will also generate broad debates among hardware experts. Nintendo had made it clear that this console would be a multicore evolution of the previous one and not a triple processor from IBM with an integrated AMD GPU that has little or nothing in common with the old Nintendo consoles, including Gamecube. What really strikes you are in fact the size: the central processor is so tiny to the point that it raises some doubts about its efficiency that should be recovered from the much more generous AMD GPU.

At the moment it is difficult infer the size of the chips by comparison with other standard components on the motherboard (such as HDMI ports) but first impressions reinforce the belief that the Wii U marks a radical change in Nintendo's construction philosophy, proving to be a more graphics-oriented console than high level limited, however, by a lower efficiency of the main CPU. Comparisons with the Slim version of the Xbox 360 will not fail, especially since Microsoft's integrated solution shows off more balanced dimensions between video chip and central processor.

It is also worth mentioning that Nintendo should have integrated 32MB of eDRAM into the graphics processing itself, when on Xbox 360 this happens on a separate die. Other functions, such as I / O, may have been centralized to uniquely manage heat dissipation, but this has yet to be confirmed.

On all considerations, what struck us about the photos popular by Nintendo is the unusually spartan layout of the motherboard, absolutely sparse compared to the CECH-400 revision of the PS3 in the Super Slim version. Sure, the other side might hold some surprises, but what has been shown so far is very simple in design and therefore theoretically very simple to produce. Nintendo always talks about efficiency in consumption management and heat dissipation, but this goes hand in hand with the economies of scale related to production. The design is elegant, very different from that of the current console generation but also very minimalistic.

"What struck us about the photos released by Nintendo is the unusually spartan layout of the motherboard"

Nintendo has confirmed that the Wii U generates three times the heat of its progenitor - this is how the cooling system was designed. As nice as it is to look at, it is very likely that this transparent prototype was made for demonstration purposes. Also from the photos we can deduce the layout of the components surrounding the MCM module, starting from the heatsink surrounded by what appear to be four memory modules, probably DDR3 of 512 MB each. In addition to this, it seems that on this side of the mainboard there is nothing else particularly relevant: on the opposite side, near the HDMI socket there is instead another chip that we believe to be a video controller dedicated to image output. We are very curious to understand where the wireless transmitter housing may be: the motherboard is so thin that the suspicion of an exceptional miniaturization of this component is very strong.

Apart from that, the interview is definitely a fascinating peek of what are the essential components of the next Nintendo console, especially because we have not yet seen anything of what the other half of the console itself reserves, or the GamePad, which allows you to control without any latency what happens to screen. We will discuss this in the next article which will analyze the new statements by Iwata himself.

Translation by Matteo "Elvin" Lorenzetti.

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