As the dust settles on the launch of three new next generation consoles, it’s hard not to think that right now would be the perfect time for Nintendo to announce an upgraded version of the Switch. An upgrade of the popular hybrid has been long rumoured, dating as far back as the same year the console was released, but while speculation has run rampant for some time, Nintendo – in typical Nintendo fashion – has been pretty tight-lipped about the supposed upgrade.
The first thing we should probably discuss is what the Nintendo Switch Pro would likely bring to the table. To do that, we should look at the current Switch hardware, to show what any upgrades would bring to the table. The current Nintendo Switch and Switch Lite both feature a Nvidia Tegra X1, an eight-core 1.020 ghz CPU which outputs 1600 MHz docked and 1331.2 MHz in handheld and 4 GB LPDDR4 @ 1331/1600 MHz memory.
Depending on if you’re playing handheld or docked, the Switch can output up to 720p or 1080p, though whether it can actually reach those resolutions depends on how demanding the game is. Surprisingly, when you step away from the “impossible” ports, the Nintendo Switch has a pretty solid record of running games at 60fps, although there are often major cutbacks or clever optimisations in order to make that happen. That said, it’s definitely starting to show its age, especially in the face of the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S.
Nintendo Switch Pro Specs & Upgrades
Firstly, the Nintendo Switch’s Tegra X1 SoC will need to be seriously upgraded or swapped for something much more modern, both in terms of more powerful CPU cores and advancing the graphics technology.
The difficulty Nintendo face is in choosing the right chipset to replace it. Sticking with Nvidia, the X2 would be the most direct replacement, but it’s a chip that’s older than the Nintendo Switch itself, and lacks some of the more modern features that Nvidia offers. Recent rumours suggest that Nintendo is going to focus on implementing Nvidia DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) based on a recent job listing.
That leads us to Nvidia’s more recent Tegra Xavier. A NeoGAF going under the username Raploz predicts Nintendo could work alongside Nvidia to create a custom version of the Xavier chip to fit the needs of a Nintendo Switch Pro. Raploz makes the interesting point that the only chip which could suit the Switch that has machine learning – a necessity for DLSS – is the Xavier chip.
This would be an unusual use case for a chipset that Nvidia have elsewhere used for embedded AI computing in robotics and cars, and not for consumer electronics and smart devices where power efficiency is a vital factor. Its Carmel CPU has an unusual paired CPU core design that could pose a challenge for developers, and the abilities of Nvidia’s Volta architecture aren’t known for video games, as it was overlooked for their PC GPUs. That said, there is a version of Xavier that would be a match for the 10W TDP of the Tegra X1, and much like how Sony and Microsoft work with AMD, Nintendo could customise Nvidia’s chipset designs.
Whatever ends up in a Switch Pro, native 4K gaming is a thoroughly unlikely target, and this is where the DLSS technology comes into play. Using DLSS, it’s most realistic that a Nintendo Switch Pro could target running games natively at 1080p and upscale to 1440p or 4K depending on the game when docked. Alternatively, that extra power could be utilised to run games at higher and more consistent frame rates.
Will the Nintendo Switch fall behind PS5 and Xbox Series X|S?
With new consoles, new graphics cards and a new standard for customer expectation being established, the Nintendo Switch is looking more dated by the day. Interestingly, the Switch was the leading console for sales across Japan, USA, Australia and the UK during 2020, beating the PS5 and Xbox Series S/X due to major supply issues around launch. This doesn’t mean Nintendo can rest on its laurels though, as 2021 is likely to take a very different course once Microsoft and Sony address their supply chain issues.
In just a few short months, the Nintendo Switch will celebrate its fourth anniversary. With typical console generations lasting around seven years these days, it’s safe to say we are at least half-way through the Switch’s life-span at this point. If Nintendo want to keep up with the surrounding industry, it needs to update the Switch to bring it closer in line with the new consoles. While it’s never going to have the same performance, additional power processing power would keep it in the spotlight alongside the new consoles.
Microsoft has already shown how easy it is to cater to customers across two different types of consoles with the Series S and X, so it’s not unrealistic that Nintendo could do the same. Releasing the same game library across both consoles, but offering an enhanced experience to those customers who want better resolution or frame rates. Rather than splitting the market, Nintendo could continue developing it’s excellent first-party titles for two separate consoles, further increasing its market share by tempting those who want 60fps frame rates or higher resolution visuals.
I wanted to do a little market research of my own, so I recently took to Twitter – very official I know – and posed the question “Would you buy a Switch Pro?”. The results were actually quite surprising.
While 131 total votes is a pretty small sample size, it was pretty much an even result, which poses some interesting questions. There’s clearly a portion of people who are more than happy with the Switch in its current state, while there’re others who want a more powerful version. Of course, the results of this small poll don’t represent the thoughts of every Nintendo Switch owner, but it shows how Nintendo could continue to cater to two different target markets.
With reports coming through every month, there’s still no definite sign that Nintendo is going to pull the trigger on a Switch Pro, and some might argue, why should they?
Does the world need a Switch Pro?
It’s a valid question, we’ve already seen that there’s clearly a split of opinion. Chances are, there are plenty of people who are more than happy with what their Switch can do. For a more casual crowd, a Switch Pro would likely seem like a costly venture for something that does pretty much the same as the existing console.
It’s also important to take 4K televisions sets into consideration. While there’s still countless households that are yet to invest in the upgrade, 4K TVs make an ever-growing percentage of TVs sold each year. Since the launch of the PS4 Pro, we’ve gone from a global install base of 31 million 4K TVs as of 2017, to more than 36 million 4K TVs being sold in a single quarter last autumn. There are hundreds of millions of 4K TVs out there, and people will want content that makes the most of them.
That demand is obvious to see with PlayStation and Xbox. In 2017, from the time of its launch, the PS4 Pro was accounting for one in every five PlayStation 4 consoles sold since the more powerful console launched. If that ratio has held, it would mean roughly 10% of the 114 million PlayStation 4 consoles sold by October 2020 were PS4 Pros. It was also reported that the Xbox One X was outselling the PS4 Pro in the US. It’s clear that there’s was an audience for the more powerful consoles, but as we see the scramble for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X stock, that has been amplified with the new generation.
If you look at the wider industry, Nintendo absolutely needs to release a Switch Pro to stay relevant. While the current model has performed well against past competitors, it’s only a matter of time until Sony and Microsoft again start to dominate the market. Both are now selling a number of different consoles across two generations, whilst Nintendo have only got the Switch and Switch Lite, two consoles that will surely feel more dated the further we go into the next generation. A new console release from Nintendo would enable them to keep up with Sony and Microsoft, by keeping what makes the Switch special, but with a slight tweak or upgrade.
Then again, Nintendo could continue to ignore the rest of the industry. The Switch itself is an exercise in isolated design. Its hybrid design of portable and TV based playing completely ignored the industry standard, but it’s what has made the console such a tremendous success since its launch. Whatever happens, Nintendo will always be Nintendo, but 2021 is the year where something needs to happen if the Switch is going to keep up with Sony and Microsoft.
As Charles Darwin once said: “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” The industry is changing, and this is the time for Nintendo to adapt once again.