Hackers Discover Wii U's Processor Design and Clock Speed

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News Posted: Thu, Nov 29 2012 8:51 PM
Ever since the Wii U was announced, there've been conversations on the type of CPU it used and what sort of performance gamers could expect from it. Deep off-the-record comments from game developers indicated that the Wii U's horsepower was on par with, or perhaps a bit behind the Xbox 360 and PS3, which naturally raised questions about just how "next-generation" the Wii U would be.

Now, Wii and PS3 hacker Hector Martin (aka Marcan) has answered some of these questions and raised a few others. According to him, the Wii U's CPU is a triple-core design clocked at 1.24GHz. Marcan identifies the base design as a PowerPC 750, which makes a great deal of sense. Nintendo used PowerPC 750-derived processors in both the GameCube and the Wii; retaining that architecture for the Wii U would simplify backwards compatibility and game programming.



So how similar is the new Wii U CPU (codename: Espresso) to Broadway (Wii) and Gecko (GameCube)? That's not yet clear. Broadway was Gecko at a higher clock speed, IBM's high-level executive overview of the two chips is word-for-word identical, save for different diagram locations. We know that Espresso's total die size is 32.76mm sq, compared to 156mm sq for the GPU. Broadway, on 90nm, was 18.9mm sq.

It's absolutely possible that Espresso is a triple-core, die-shrunk Broadway at a higher clock speed and with more cache. There have been rumors that the chip might incorporate out-of-order execution capabilities, but there's no definitive word on this yet. Marcan implies that the new chip is out-of-order, but then goes on to say that Espresso is "a saner core than the P4esque stuff in 360/PS3."

That's a problematic comparison. While it's true that Cell, Netburst, and Xenon all shared certain design characteristics, such as a deep pipeline, there were enormous differences in how these processors handled multi-threading, instruction scheduling, and branch prediction. Rather than getting buried in a discussion of the differences (particularly with Cell, which has always been its own distinct animal), I'll just say that treating the comparison as "Wii U = Core 2 = Good" is a drastic oversimplification.

The Questionable Metric of Current Game Performance

One thing we can say is that the Wii U's CPU is significantly different than Cell or Xenon. Combine that with the fact that many of the game studios now developing for the Wii U may not have worked on the platform before, and it's suddenly a lot clearer why architects might be having trouble wringing maximum performance out of the core. The Xbox 360 and PS3 are, at this point, well-known quantities. The Wii U isn't.

What we know about the Wii U, at this point, is that it's capable of executing three threads simultaneously. IPC is going to be higher than Xbox or PS3, but the clock speeds of those two architectures will help compensate for lower efficiency.

Into that mess, we toss in the GPU, which is reportedly clocked at 550MHz. Some have favored the Radeon HD 4000 series as a basis for the part; I still think a low-end Radeon 5000, like Redwood Pro, makes more sense. That GPU was built on 40nm, measured 104mm sq, clocked in at 649MHz, and had a 39W TDP. The die size discrepancy between the Wii U and Redwood Pro would account for the 32MB of EDRAM cache we know the Wii U offers.


Visual comparisons between the three systems show the Wii U equaling -- but not generally exceeding -- the other, more established consoles.

A triple-core Broadway CPU at 1.24GHz would have a theoretical peak of 14.79GFLOPS. The Redwood LE GPU has a peak execution rate of 350-430 GFLOPS at 550MHz, depending on core count. Nintendo may have propped up a relatively weak CPU with considerably more GPU horsepower. That's another place where the Radeon 5000 family would be a considerable improvement; the RV740 only supported OpenCL 1.0; Redwood LE supported OCL 1.1.

What all this means is that writing good games for the Wii U may well require developers to adopt new practices. It's absolutely fair to compare current Wii U games against the peak of the Xbox 360 / PS3 versions, but we suspect the platform has untapped potential at this early stage -- just as every other console always has.
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3vi1 replied on Thu, Nov 29 2012 9:21 PM

>> According to him, the Wii U's CPU is a triple-core design clocked at 1.24GHz.

Darn... I bet all my money on it being a MOS6510, based on comments I'd read from devs. But, it sounds like things weren't as bad as those comments made them out to be.

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" don't you understand?

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Its absolutely unbelievable, how far behind Consoles are...

It really ticks me off sometimes.

PC Specs:

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OSunday replied on Thu, Nov 29 2012 10:09 PM

If Nintendo tried to take shortcuts and simply reuse old hardware slightly tweaked and improved they'll definitely pay the price in the long run over the next 3-5 years as Sony and Microsofts next gen consoles come out...

Valve just needs to release their own modular console already and blow everyone else out of the water!!!

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fat78 replied on Thu, Nov 29 2012 10:23 PM

Well consoles only tend to cost 200-400 dollars, they cant be compared to computer rigs that people tend to pay around a 1000 dollars for. Since this is mainly a computer website i suspect most people, including myself, are pc gamers instead of console gamers, so graphics will always be behind what we are used to.

I just got my wii u today and it is pretty much a slightly upgraded wii with a cool tablet. After using it for about a hour it becomes clear that the money you spent on the wii u mainly goes toward the tablet and not the system itself. When i played batman on the wii u it was relatively the same graphic wise as the xbox 360. For the tablet which attracts most people to the wii works great as a universal media controller and allows games to be developed around a great and dynamic input device. Instead of having the simple button controllers like the xbox 360 and ps3, the touch screen of the wii u game pad increases greatly the potential of what can be done with the console controller (Some one will probably try and mod it for something other then gaming purposes very soon)

However what Nintendo brings to the table with all their consoles is the fact that they are great family consoles and usually don't cost as much compared to other recently released consoles. I Still remember many great mario party matches and super smash bros fights.

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Dorkstar replied on Thu, Nov 29 2012 11:12 PM

Is it just me or does batman on the Wii U overly cartoony? Hats off to Nintendo hanging in there though.

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sackyhack replied on Thu, Nov 29 2012 11:27 PM

Man, this doesn't give me much hope for 3rd party ports. Seems like it took developers several years to get used to the PS3 architecture. Before that they were using the 360 as a base and porting over to PS3 with terrible results (see Bayonetta). Things have only evened out recently, but now the WiiU gets thrown into the mix, and devs have to learn a new system. I wonder how many of them are going to want to spend the resources on a 3rd port without getting much in return in terms of upgraded graphics.

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It was only a matter of time until someone tore the Wii U apart and looked at the guts. I'm surprised that Nintendo didn't just tell people what kind of hardware they were using in the first place.

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Joel H replied on Fri, Nov 30 2012 12:22 PM

Dork,

Multiple graphic comparisons between Wii U and other consoles show games looking the same on it as they did on the Xbox 360 / PS3. Batman's look in Arkham City is identical.

Kidbest,

Its absolutely unbelievable, how far behind Consoles are...

It's not unbelievable. It's the nature of the market. The next-generation Xbox 360 and PS3 will be capable of PC-style graphics at launch. Over time, the window between what PCs can do and what consoles can do will widen again.

Keep in mind that consoles have access to hardware at a much lower level and are consequently much faster than PC hardware in the same circumstances.

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Dorkstar replied on Fri, Nov 30 2012 2:30 PM

Joel H:

Dork,

Multiple graphic comparisons between Wii U and other consoles show games looking the same on it as they did on the Xbox 360 / PS3. Batman's look in Arkham City is identical.

So basically, Nintendo decides to step up to the table right as everyone is finishing dessert?

 

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MCaddick replied on Fri, Nov 30 2012 4:54 PM

So the WiiU, hailed by idiot bloggers and the tech media as a 'next gen console' actually has lower performance than the aging 360 which has been with us now for more than 7 years ago.

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fat78 replied on Fri, Nov 30 2012 10:38 PM

The performance and graphics has nothing to do with why it is considered next gen. The reason why it is considered next gen is because Nintendo always tries to change and improve on how games are played, such as their motion control with wii and touch screen with the wii u. However Nintendo's attempts to innovate may be causing more problems then it is solving for nintendo( aka fps games on the wii and the 3ds).

In my opinion if graphics are the only thing that matters to someone when they are playing games just become a pc gamer, that way they can constantly upgrade their computer to support the best graphics possible.

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tankodd replied on Mon, Dec 3 2012 10:44 PM

luckily, I didn't have bought the WiiU. My friend told me that the FPS game Absolute Force Online allows players to use tanks to attack opponents. And it is the first game that players can use such a destructive weapon during combat.

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