After months of fabricated anticipation around the ‘Switch Pro’ and hopes for a new, improved machine, Nintendo finally unveiled its new OLED model yesterday, and it’s effectively a product update with higher screen quality, more storage space and a revised dock. No promises are made about actual improvements in machine performance because there are none. The same 16nm + version of the Tegra X1 found in current switches also strikes at the heart of the OLED model, so the end result is a machine that improves the quality of the handheld experience, but does not address what is without a doubt the Switch’s biggest drawback – the quality on docked games.
All this raises the question of how the Switch Pro hype train started in the first place, since reputable outlets with good sources seemed to indicate that an upgraded model with a new Nvidia processor was a done deal. On Digital Foundry, we attached the new device to be a product update a few months back (see the very first DF Direct for comments), especially since the Atmosphere-adapted firmware team had revealed the existence of a revised switch with a new monitor, but the same core specification back in January. Apparently the machine ̵
When it comes to how the new switch develops, Nintendo’s strategy is to add to the existing console family. At the moment, at least the original model remains, and so does the handheld “non-replaceable” Lite. The OLED model gets a higher rating, physically larger 7-inch screen, improved sound and a multi-position kickstand, along with a light sensor on top – presumably to help with automatic brightness adjustment. Overall dimensions are about the same, but the device is very, very slightly wider and a touch weight. Switch OLED is confirmed to work with older docks, but gets a more refined rendering with a built-in LAN port. This new dock can be purchased separately and also works with older Switch models, but there is a downside to it – you lose the internal USB port, while the two external USB 2.0 connectors are left.
Essentially, Switch OLED doubles the handheld experience that was already the strongest part of the package. The OLED screen should provide a larger, much higher quality image. We can confirm that there is no HDR functionality, but in commands with developers, Nintendo says that “OLED screen colors are more vivid”. We can not judge the quality of the improved sound until we hear it, but Nintendo talks about “an improved sound pressure level” for the new model. The new kickstand – reminiscent of Microsoft Surface – certainly addresses a key issue from the original model, which had a stand so flimsy that it could not really rely on stability on anything other than a rock-solid surface.
However, nothing in Nintendo’s marketing materials describes anything other than standard Switch performance. The size of the battery remains the same at 4310 mAh, the battery life is described in terms identical to the existing standard switch – 4.5 hours to nine hours, depending on the application. The Verge has a statement from Nintendo stating that “Nintendo Switch (OLED model) does not have a new CPU, or more RAM, from previous Nintendo Switch models.”
The new machine has more storage space – 64 GB NAND compared to the original of 32 GB, but beyond that we now have complete confirmation that the internals are essentially unchanged. The same 16 nm + rendering of the Tegra X1 – codenamed ‘Mariko’ – is retained for the new model. In the current environment of severe semiconductor shortages, sticking to the existing silicon on what is now a relatively old production process should ensure that Nintendo can deliver sufficient volumes of the new machines in a world where competitors are struggling, and make a decent profit. on them too.
So, for Nintendo and indeed game developers, the Switch OLED model is very common as usual, to the point where the platform owner tells game manufacturers that no new development kits are essential for making games, and there are no new technical requirements that require changing the standard Switch iconography in the game to accommodate the new model. On top of that, games running on Switch OLED have no idea that they are running on anything other than a standard device – Nintendo’s developer documents reveal that there is no way for their games to ask the system to find out if they are running on Switch OLED or not. With that said, the company recognizes the need for developers to test their games on the new screen. With that in mind, a new ADEV development model is being made available to co-exist with existing SDEV and EDEV versions. For reasons not stated by Nintendo, this machine comes with 8 GB of built-in memory compared to 6 GB in the other development models and 4 GB of all retail devices.
With the Switch approaching four and a half years on the market, it now seems almost certain that Nintendo will not distribute a mid-generation update in the form of the DSi or New 3DS and its offshoot models. With previous handheld devices, the platform holder introduced new specifications and the ability for developers to utilize extra horsepower, although developer footage for extra power ended up being quite small. This does not seem to be the case for the most modern machine. There has been disappointment that the Switch OLED is not the Switch Pro – or has any performance benefits at all – and it’s a shame because the longer this generation continues, the more obvious the machine’s challenges become when an anchored home console becomes.
In a way, Nintendo’s hybrid is a celebration of what’s possible with a mobile chipset, one that is significant underclocked compared to the reference specifications. We have seen achievements on the 1.02 GHz processor which are extraordinary, while the GPU is relatively slow, but is based on a relatively modern architecture, and opens the door to many of the “impossible ports” we have seen. The work in concert has games like Doom Eternal and The Witcher 3 appeared that run reasonably well on what is a six-year-old chipset. However, while the computer is holding handheld games, the anchorage situation looks pretty bleak – with many games, sub-1080p, sub-720p and even lower resolutions just do not hold up on today’s giant flat panels. There was a lot of discussion about a kind of 4K upscaling for the new switch, but it has not happened. Wired LAN port aside, there are no improvements for rooted users whatsoever – and it is undoubtedly a missed opportunity.
With a new Nvidia chip excluded, could the existing model have provided any kind of improved performance for anchored users? Certainly, but not to a truly game-changing degree. Overclocking (or actually underclocking), the switch has been part of the home brewing scene for many years now, with system hacks that can increase the CPU from its standard 1.02GHz to the entire specification 1785MHz, while the anchored clock at 768MHz can easily be increased to 921MHz. . On paper, there is a 75 percent increase in CPU performance and a 20 percent increase for GPUs. The ‘Mariko’ Tegra X1 graphics core can even run at 1,267 GHz – a significant improvement over 65 percent of the Switch specification. Despite the presence of extra ventilation on the new dock, however, it seems unlikely that Nintendo will open full performance for developers. In theory, it is possible, but there is absolutely nothing in the SDK that will make it happen for game producers. And in truth, based on our overclocking tests, you get extra stability and a cleaner image on games that support dynamic resolution scaling, so even if it’s an improvement, it’s not enough to solve the problem of docked gaming extensively.
Of course, the truth is that only a basic redesign of the switch itself can solve this – something that does not really make business sense for Nintendo here and now, and which will only cause headaches for developers when they support a third performance profile. Any kind of smart upscaling solution that can turn really low resolution images into something acceptable on a living room display requires new silicon, and while the Nvidia DLSS has been manufactured as a solution, this technology requires tensor cores baked into the hardware – and these are not present in Tegra X1. DLSS cannot function as a stand-alone ‘add-in’ chip in its current iteration, nor can it be used liberally on any game – it must be stirred into the game engine.
And both factors, combined with Nvidia’s recent improvements to DLSS, make the technology better suited for an actual Switch successor based on newer GeForce architecture. The potential is absolute mouthwash. DLSS performance mode runs internally at a quarter of the output resolution: 720p becomes 1440p, 1080p becomes 4K. The results are not perfect, but will certainly work well on a TV set at range in the living room. DLSS ultra performance mode can actually scale 720p to 4K. Yes, it’s a quality hit, but it works. DLSS or a similar technology is the missing piece in the puzzle to make anchored game from a mobile chipset viable, but the reality is that this is the next generation thing. Then it is this the actual Switch Pro that has been talked about for several months now? Would it still be a Switch Pro – or should we start referring to it as Switch 2 or Super Switch instead?