IBM On Wii U’s CPU

Are you a true hardware geek? Are your really?  Do you honestly care about the size of the individual silicon features on the chips that power your gadgets and gaming toys?  If so IBM have a few tasty morsels for you on the CPU that will form the beating heart of Nintendo’s Wii U.

If you did not already know you may have found out from our earlier Wii U hardware post that IBM are behind the processors that powered both Nintendo’s GameCube and Wii.  Therefore it was no surprise to find out via Nintendo that IBM were behind the design and manufacture of the Wii U’s CPU.


The processor will be built using IBM’s silicon-on-insulator (SOI) technology which is again hardly surprising as the same technology in used in the CPUs for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 which IBM also had a hand in to varying degrees.  As a result IBM will still have been involved in all the home games consoles’ CPUs and they will all continue to be a part of IBM’s Power family of devices.

The Wii U’s CPU will also share the same 45nm-sized features as the 360’s Xenon processor in the 360 S and the PS3’s Cell since the launch of the PS3 Slim.  Does there ever come a point where you wonder whether the games are the only difference?

The IBM-design CPU  for the Wii U does do something different though, it will feature IBM’s embedded DRAM (eDRAM) on-chip meaning that the multi-core processor is unlikely to find itself starved of data due to bandwidth limitations.

How much eDRAM we do not know.  Speaking to Engadget IBM apparently said “a lot” but gave no figure.  Before you get too excited though remember that “a lot” in this instance may not be as much as you are imagining.  Chips tend to have only a few tens of megabytes (MB) of embedded memory at most, not the gigabytes (GB) your imagination has run away with.

It also will not be the first eDRAM to star as a key feature in a games console.  The 360’s ATI-developed Xenos GPU has 10MB of eDRAM onboard; something that developers have put to great use in 360 games.

IBM claim that their embedded DRAM technology allows them to “triple the amount of memory contained on a single chip” which in their own words makes “for extreme game play”.  Guys, respect and all, but technology is just the enabler it’s up to the devs to see what they can do with it.

What we do know is that the Wii U will be packing a custom-designed IBM Power Architecture-based CPU built on 45nm SOI technology, that it will feature “a lot” of eDRAM onboard and be manufactured at IBM’s East Fishkill fab.  Cool huh?

Have you ever wondered what eDRAM actually looks like?  No?  Then you should have given up after I asked that first question.  The pictures below are of a test chip IBM produced while developing their eDRAM technology.  The first is the full chip, the second is a close-up (actually just not shrunk) view of the diamond in the top left of the first.  Pretty.  Want one.



  1. Amazing, with some electricity and cleverness those very colourful jobbies can produce other colourful jobbies on your tv. I’d be happy playing with the original colourful jobbies, but then I’m easily pleased. Nice post, very interesting!

  2. All it needs really is less shovelware, maybe with more power there could be better games hopefully a Monster Hunter appears again then I’d likely buy it…. thats why I bought a Wii though

    • Nintendo are suddenly competing with both Sony and Microsoft on the graphics side as well.

      The architecture looks similar enough to the X360 so developing for both consoles (well, all three) is certainly an option. That should put the Wii U up there with both the X360 and the PS3 in terms of third party AAA titles. In addition to Nintendo’s console exclusives, I’d say MS and Sony really need to stay on their toes now.

  3. Can’t say I’m interested in the system at the moment. All we’ve seen is the ultimately gimmicky ‘controller with a screen’, yet more rehashes of the same games Nintendo have been churning out since 1983, and footage of 3rd-party games which Nintendo have admitted was taken from PS3 and 360.

    There was that tech demo of the bird flying around, which was very pretty, but again looked no better than anything we’ve seen on PS3 and 360. Plus, there was no indication of whether it was real-time or pre-rendered.

    At best, we can say that Nintendo has caught up with the competition tech-wise. They made a big deal about it being suitable for ‘casual’ and ‘core’ gamers, but I don’t see that any ‘core’ gamer will feel the need to buy the console if they already own a PS3 and/or 360.

    And while they made a big fuss about the new controller and concentrated on it rather than the actual system, how practical is it? Admittedly, I have yet to read up on the hardware, but I’m guessing that, since it streams video from the console, you can only use one of the new controllers per system, with everyone else using standard controllers.

    Above all, though, Nintendo will have to get a lot of good, exclusive content on the system before I’m tempted to buy one. Nintendo’s own titles like Mario, Donkey Kong etc. have never particularly interested me, even when I was a kid. And ports of PS3/360 won’t draw me either. They will need exclusive, adult games to get my attention – and a lot of them.

  4. IBM’s East Fishkill fab. Wait. What? Is Eat Fish Kill a rival to Eat Sleep Play?

    • Likely.

  5. will be interesting to see the architecture sony and microsoft bring to the table for their next gen of consoles,hopefully both learn their lessons this time and provide more ram and reliable parts :/

  6. “Does there ever come a point where you wonder whether the games are the only difference?”

    Actually, Nintendo (and I guess Microsoft) have proved that it’s the games and services that matter the most, not the hardware. Sony makes excellent hardware, but they tend to lag behind on the software side (although they are catching up). The Vita/PS3 connections mentioned could end up being a party system similar to that of Xbox Live, which would help getting Sony up to par there.

    Using eDRAM, like the X360, means the Wii U can do a lot of post-processing for “free” (in terms of memory bandwidth used), but the 10 MB size does limit the frame buffer size for the X360. That’s why very few games can go above 1280×720 if you want, say, anti-aliasing. I’m really looking forward to see more detailed specs about this new console.

    Now that Nintendo stepped up their game in the graphics department, MS and Sony might have to re-think their current 10 year console lifetime strategy. Exciting times!

    • You could argue that the 360’s hardware is better as it’s easier to develop for though.

      Plus Apparently the GPU in the 360 is better, which, as they are games consoles, must be at least as important as the cpu.

      • If the GPU is a rumoured R700, I wouldn’t be so sure the X360 GPU is that much faster or better. And with a multi-core (3 cores?) PowerPC CPU, I’d say it’s very similar to the X360, which should make porting quite a lot easier. It might be clocked lower due to heat and noise issues, but we don’t know that yet.

        Of course, it’s mostly rumours and unconfirmed speculation now, but we’ll know soon enough what this new console is capable of :)

    • Note that the Wii U’s eDRAM is said to be on the CPU, not the GPU. There’s no word of this being a full integrated system-on-a-chip design incorporating a GPU on the same die, so there could still be graphics processing bandwidth limitations which the 360’s GPU-hosted eDRAM ameliorates to a degree.

      Only rumours still on GPU specs.

  7. Has a lot of eDRAM?
    This is what helps some advantages of the 360 over the PS3, the 10mb eDRAM on the 360 helps the 360 prepare the next frame this obviously assists with frame rate & texture fill rate… however at 10mb its becoming a limitation

    The Wii U could therefore be the console which makes 60fps the norm… maybe. I suppose it depends if devs program specifically for the Wii U, or just port PS360 games to it

    I suppose the only differentiator between the consoles is now 1st party exclusives and motion control method and importantly their online offering

    Halo, Gears, Forza, Fable (& etc) along with Kinect backed up by Xbox Live
    Killzone, LBP, Res, GoW, GT (& etc) along with Move backed up the PSN
    Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, Metroid (& etc) along with the remote touch screens backed up by whatever infrastructure EA build for them (surely they’ll learn from MS & Sony)

    So has everything converged to be essentially the same – meaning competitiveness in exclusives becomes more important than ever

    • “This is what helps some advantages of the 360 over the PS3, the 10mb eDRAM on the 360 ”

      I’m guessing your sole source of information, is what Microsoft prime you with via internet forums..

      PS3 also has high bandwidth, ondie memory. Each of the 7 SPU’s has local store, 22Gbit/sec bandwidth, but then Microsoft don’t tell you this.

      They also love to pretend that you can directly compare the 360’s GPU with the PS3’s GPU, when of course any PS3 developer knows this is only really valid when comparing badly coded cross-platform titles that make absolutely no use of the PS3’s texture streaming system. When PS3 games are coded correctly (like Killzone, Uncharted and the like), the RSX GPU is only really the final guy in the rendering chain, all the hard work has already been done by the SPU’s rendering chain.

      But then pointing out that the PS3 has 10x the rendering capability (when coded correctly) of the Xbox is not something Microsoft want people to hear….

  8. So in simple terms for simple minds such as myself: it is a bit better than the current HD consoles, but not the same leap we saw from last gen to current?

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