Wii U: the green console

Wii U: the green console
A few weeks after the launch of the Wii U, we have repeatedly confirmed that Nintendo's new console cannot be considered a substantial leap forward compared to the computing capacity of Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. However, a technological element persists in the design. of Nintendo to be considered exponentially better than its competitors released in 2005 and 2006: energy efficiency. In terms of performance / consumption ratio, the Wii U is confirmed as a winner as it allows you to achieve the same performance using less than half the current of the PS3 Slim and Xbox 360s, which already represented a radical improvement over the first generation consoles.

When the first drawings of the Wii U were revealed, many feared that due to its very small size the new console might incur the Nintendian equivalent of the Red Ring of Death, which so many Xboxes have passed away. The problem behind the death of the first Xbox 360s has always been the same: a non-optimized heat dissipation that brought the processor to very high temperatures, with the consequent breaking of the connections on the mainboard when they then cooled down with the console off. Since then the manufacturers have changed the materials but above all decreased the size of the processors, therefore the production of heat and the percentage of failures.

The fact that the Wii U offers similar performance to the current-gen consoles, with a much smaller size than an Xbox 360S or even a PlayStation 3 Super Slim, says a lot about the ventilation capabilities of the new Nintendo console, despite the fact that the fans are much smaller than those mounted by Sony and Microsoft.

"The fact that the Wii U offers similar performance to the current-gen consoles speaks volumes about the ventilation capabilities."

The reliability of the current console generation has been affected by the death of processors condemned by the excessive heat produced within poorly ventilated chassis. Aside from the original Wii, the latest Nintendo console offers an even smaller form factor, thanks to a clever design that avoids the need for complex dissipation procedures. The photos provided by Nintendo itself about the inside of the Wii U have given very precise indications in this regard: CPU and GPU are positioned on the same area of ​​the motherboard, thus allowing to centralize the production of heat and the same dissipation. This has also been reflected in the construction of the frame, which is less linked to the need for heat dispersion and therefore smaller in size. Microsoft has already done the same thing with the 360s but going even further, by integrating the CPU and GPU into a single chip.

IBM has in fact confirmed that the Wii U CPU is manufactured with the same manufacturing process as Xbox 360 and PS3 at 45 nanometers. On the other hand, the graphics core derives from the Radeon RV770 family. There is talk of a 40 nanometer GPU exactly like the PS3 RSX chip. The next step in the physical reduction of the chips will be 28 nanometers, but to get to this order of magnitude Nintendo would have had to commission several million chips to contain costs in preproduction. This is also the reason why the new Xboxes and PlayStation will arrive only next year.

The table below confirms that the Wii U is very efficient in managing heat, to the point that it is difficult to perceive any kind of heating by placing the palm of the hand on the chassis. Nothing to do with what happens with the new Xbox 360s or the PS3 Super Slim. Indeed, the overall consumption is much lower than that of many laptops.

"Overall consumption is much lower than that of many laptops"

Wii U Xbox 360S PS3 Super Slim Dashboard 32w 67w 66w FIFA 13 Demo 32w 76.5w 70w Netflix HD 29w 65w 62.5w At the end of the tests, we observed that the standard consumption of the console is practically almost always 32 watts when gaming. While we've tried all the titles in our catalog far and wide, the Wii U stuck to these values ​​with a spike of just 33 watts for a few seconds. Under load, the new PS3 is more demanding on the energy front by 118% while the Xbox 360s even by 139%. All consoles show a sharp drop in power consumption when engaging in media execution, to the point where watching an episode of a TV series via Netflix consumes less power than dashboard viewing.

So, how is it was Nintendo able to obtain such a percentage of optimization between performance and consumption? Surely the first clue points to the scarcity of computing power of a CPU that runs only at 1.24GHz and that uses far fewer transistors than the competition, thanks to processor sizes that are themselves smaller than those of Xenon and Cell. Surely this disparity in power of calculation will remain a question mark on the long-term potential of this console, given that some devices such as the possibility of executing out of order instructions only partially compensate for the deficiencies in pure computational power.

Despite this, the difference in consumption is too high not to give rise to more than a legitimate question on the internal architecture of the CPU and above all of the Radeon GPU, of which however we know very little except that it integrates the RAM directly on the core of the video processor itself.

"The difference in consumption is too great not to raise any questions about the internal architecture of the CPU and GPU"

Here is the performance per watt of the Wii U in Mass Effect 3. In this video you can see how the performance is the same as the Xbox 360 and superior to that of the PS3 but with a power consumption less than half that of the competitors.

Watch on YouTube. As mentioned above, we know that AMD has built the graphics core of the Wii U based on the design of the RV770 architecture mounted on the ATI video cards of the 4xxx era. Looking into the technical specifications of that generation of video processors, we find that the graphics processing pipelines were very efficient compared to previous versions. More importantly, AMD was able to optimize performance by forty percent for every square millimeter of silicon over the previous generation. A leap forward in performance of absolute value for how much between generations of an obsolete technology, given that the RV770 chip family now dates back to 2008.

In addition to the low power consumption, what is striking about the tests carried out is the uniformity of results that lead to another consideration. The fact that the console always remains plafonata between 32 and 33 watts of consumption with any type and game situation, suggests that it is difficult to push beyond the potential of the CPU and GPU. Those hoping for increases in power due to the unlocking of particular console features by the developers, could therefore be disappointed as the variance of performance available on a console under load is always very limited and the suspicion is that already with the current titles the Wii U is already pushed to the maximum, or nearly so, of its capabilities. It is also interesting to note that all three consoles consume half a Watt in standby mode: the Wii U is stable while the Xbox 360 and PS3 occasionally have some spikes, possibly due to background processes running when the console is not operational. >
Our tests have also highlighted another particularly intriguing aspect, although not strictly linked to the latest addition to Nintendo. The energy efficiency of the PlayStation 3 has dropped enormously over the years: if the first generation drank the phenomenal amount of 195-209 watts (CPU and GPU at 90nm) while playing, the first Slim version (CPU and GPU) at 65nm) had halved that amount to 95-101 watts. The Super Slim went further, bringing power consumption into the range of 75-77 watts thanks to a combination of CPU and CPU from 45 and 40nm.

This fact confirms what will be the trend also for the next Sony and Microsoft consoles. While both are unlikely to be as efficient as the Wii U as they are predictably more powerful consoles than the current generation, a 22nm Cell is already in the works and a new version of Sony's RSX is just as likely. it will be produced with the same 28nm manufacturing process currently used by NVIDIA for the latest generation GPUs. Likewise, the new Xbox should gain significantly from CPU / GPU compression in the same chip as was done with the 360s, using a 32 nanometer manufacturing process.

Translated by Matteo “Elvin ”Lorenzetti.

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