Hot off the presses comes this release from Digital Media professionals Inc in Tokyo, proudly proclaiming that the recently announced Nintendo 3DS will be using their Pica 200 GPU hardware for its 3D graphics engine.
Now that we know a little about the graphics chip, and the hardware specs of the 3DS, we can start to understand where we should be setting our expectations. After all, if we know how it compares to the PSP and DS before it, we should know what to expect, right? The demos at E3 didn’t tell us much, since they mostly seemed to be comprised of canned demos and movies. Nintendo’s main goal last week was to let everyone know that their 3D screen technology worked, and they did a great job at that.
It’s clear that Nintendo is keeping with a tradition that dates all the way back to the NES/Famicom. That is, they make sure to offer innovative gaming products that are affordable to the mass market by using slightly outdated hardware. It worked for Famicom, worked spectacularly well with the original Gameboy, and of course you have the DS and the Wii. The Pica 200 is an OpenGL ES 1.1 part, first announced in 2006, and the specs show. It does add some features on top of OpenGL 1.1 though, so it is quite a capable little chip. Looking at their most recent pdf fact sheet, along with some other slides that have been floating around since 2006, we have an idea of performance and clock speeds, as well as power consumption.
The latest info shows specs using a 200 MHz clock speed, but it is stated that it can be clocked as high as 400 MHz (and that was in 2008). Knowing that it draws up to 1 mW per 1 MHz of clock speed, we can assume that the 3DS will probably have it clocked at a minimum of 400 MHz, since 400 mW isn’t very high at all for a 3D chip. For reference the original PSP-1000 uses between 2100 and 2500 mW to play MGS Peace Walker, depending on screen brightness. Sitting in the main menu, it draws 1500 mW. That means that the combination of 3D, sound is adding around 600 mW of power. It isn’t unreasonable to assume most of that is going to 3D (certainly at least 400 mW) which puts it right in line with a 400 Mhz Pico 200 chip in the 3DS. We also know how the chip scales from 100 Mhz to 200 Mhz, based on comparing the 2008 release to the 2010 one.
So let’s look at how the specs compare. Most importantly, we have to look at the vertex performance and pixel fill rate of the GPU. I have included the original DS, along with the PSP and iPhone 3GS for comparison:
|GPU||DMP Pica 200 @ 400 MHz||Nintendo Proprietary||Sony Proprietary||powerVR SGX535|
|Screen Resolution||Top screen: 400x240 (800x240 effectively)|
Bottom screen: 320x240
|256x192 (each screen)|
|Vertex Performance (Triangles per Second)||30.6 Million|
(possibly 40 M)
|120 Thousand||33 Million||28 Million|
|Fillrate (Pixels per Second)||1.6 Billion||30 Million||664 Million||500 Million|
Keep in mind that the analysis below is based on early speculation, since we do not have a confirmation of clock speed nor pixels per clock. Actual performance could be much higher (or even lower), so we’ll have to wait and see.
As you can see, the 3DS is definitely a huge step up from the original DS before it, and its specs don’t look too out of place compared to the PSP and iPhone 3GS. Compared to the PSP (its main competition?), its vertex performance is a comparable, but the fillrate is what is really impressive about this chip (well that and the power efficiency). They do have to fill a huge 1120×240 area, while the PSP only has to deal with a relatively tiny 480×272 screen. The 3DS has twice the screen area to fill, but with 2.4 times the fillrate, it should have no problem keeping up.
It is possible, however, that the GPU will be dedicated to the top screen, while they use a separate chip (or the CPU) to handle the bottom screen. If this is the case, the Pica 200 should have little problem displaying graphics even better than the PSP, in terms of raw power.
And this doesn’t even take into consideration the extra features the GPU has. It’s an OpenGL 1.1 part to begin with, but with extra features that won’t be difficult to support in games (and even the tech demos at E3 supported some of these advanced effects). With these additions and hardware shader support, developers will be able to make even better looking games.
We’re still not sure what CPU the 3DS uses, but knowing Nintendo’s history with recent handhelds, it is almost sure to be another combination of ARM chips. Most likely another ARM9 with a higher clock speed (which would maintain original DS compatibility). Whether they add another chip to that remains to be seen.
The bottom line is, it’s too early to tell for sure how it will compare to the PSP, but we at least know that the 3DS isn’t going to be completely under powered, and it will feature effects that will lead to far more impressive visuals (lighting, shadows, fog, antialiasing, etc). Overall, we can probably expect the visuals to be more detailed than the PSP, if they manage to use a Pica 200 with a high clock speed. We’ve seen some impressive looking “screenshots” and gameplay demos on Youtube, and so far it is looking great. Their focus is clearly going to be on having cool 3D effects though, and not mind-blowing detail in their games, so we’ll have to wait and see.
Oh and in case you’re wondering, we didn’t include the iPhone 4 because there is no word on the final hardware specs. My assumption is that it uses the same GPU as the 3GS, since they never claimed better 3D graphics capability (and Apple rarely passes a chance at adding more hyperbole to their product announcements). But it does have a much higher resolution, so they may have increased the GPU’s clock speed or used a newer iteration of the chip. This chart will be updated when we receive final confirmation of specs.
Update 1: Fixed a major typo in our original chart that greatly affected the analysis. Sorry about that!!!
Update 2: Since publishing this, a lot of people commented that this information is useless, since it is purely speculation (one person suggested that people avoid it “at all costs” as if this article is somehow costing anything, or is risky in some way). Well it is speculation, that’s the fun of it. As stated above, nothing is totally confirmed about this chip, or at least the version Nintendo will be using. We used a sort of ‘best case scenario’ considering power consumption and the specs given. I really think with the good fillrate performance, and fixed-function hardware, that the 3DS will be to my expectations – better effects than PSP (with antialiasing) but nothing mind-blowing. It’s more about the 3D, and just having a chip that can give XBOX 1-like effects with low power consumption is pretty amazing in itself.
The trailer for Resident Evil: Revelations came out after we published this, and it appears to confirm my speculation – low poly count (especially considering it’s all cut-scenes) with clearly visible special effects (self-shadowing, AA, and the lighting effects are amazing for a handheld) running at a smooth framerate. Also, it has been reported that the game (and most likely all other Capcom 3D games) is using a version of their multi-platform MT Framework engine that powers games like Lost Planet 2 and Resident Evil 5. I have embedded the trailer below:
Update 3: Found a better source (good ol’ Youtube) ;)