“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.” – From Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Famously, after the launch of the Wii U, Metro: Last Light developer Oles Shishkovtsov said: “[The] Wii U has a horrible, slow CPU,” causing the developer to shelve any attempts to port the game over to the console. In fact, it has been noted by many in the press that the early ports of titles such as Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 have some frame rate issues -i.e. slow down- while running much better on the current generation PS3 and Xbox 360. These issues with the processor, as well as with the lack of storage space on the Wii U’s internal drive, have caused many to worry about Nintendo’s future in the console market. If the Wii U cannot keep up with the current-generation technology, what hope could it possibly have once the next-generation consoles become available? Has Nintendo lost the “console wars” already? Or, as Prince Hamlet said, is there a method to this madness?
Nintendo has never been a company that has shied away from innovation. That being said, they have never been a perfect company, either. All one has to do is remember how Nintendo publicly humiliated Sony and chose Phillips to make its ill-fated CD based SNES add-on, spurring Sony to create its own console: the Sony PlayStation. Or, how they chose to retain cartridge format for their N64 console, despite the innovations in their controller. And need I even bring up the Virtual Boy? Regardless, all these mistakes have cost Nintendo dearly throughout its history, but if the gaming press at large is to be believed, the error of their choice of CPU for the Wii U will be their last, damning mistake, fated to end Nintendo’s presence in the home console market once the real next-generation consoles become available.
However, many of Nintendo’s critics –while technically correct– forget one very important fact: that Nintendo is a video game company through and through. Unlike Sony and Microsoft, who have significant financial interests in other sectors, Nintendo by and large focuses entirely on video games, and to blankly assume that Nintendo is making huge mistakes without carefully examining all aspects of the industry is simply wrong. Nintendo has been making consoles for thirty years now, so I believe a bit of examination before writing them off is not uncalled for.
I said that critics of the Wii U are technically correct, and they are. While exact specifications for the Wii U CPU are impossible to find, because while it is based on IBM’s Power-PC chip, much like the Xbox 360, it has been heavily modified by Nintendo for its own purposes. This modification is perhaps what Mr. Shishkovtsov was referring to when he criticized the chip, leading the Wii U to fall behind the Xbox 360, even though they share much the same architecture. The issue of the Wii U’s on-board storage is important as well, with only a maximum of 32GB available, it will fall well behind the next-gen consoles, and while users can connect external hard drives to expand this storage, the Wii U only supports USB 2.0 connectivity, which has been outdated by USB 3.0 and eSATA technology for about three full years before the console’s release. It is rumored that the PlayStation 4 will support USB 3.0 external drives, and come with a much larger internal storage drive.
There are several areas where the Wii U excels though, and that is in particular the Graphics Processors and Memory. The GPU is a modified version of ATI’s 5000-series, which is a strong processor in PCs, and when freed from the shackles of the Windows operating system, performs wonderfully. The console also has 2GB of eDDR4 RAM, about four times as much memory as the Xbox 360 and the PS3 at 512MB. Also the memory transfer speeds in the Wii U are much faster than the competition, as the DDR4 RAM is superior to their DDR3 RAM. In addition to all this, the GPU and the CPU are cast in the same die, meaning that the two are married together very closely, which not only saves money on production costs, but lowers power consumption and heat generation. Do you remember the so-called “Red Ring of Death” that has plagued the Xbox 360 since its launch? That ring appears when the connectors between the CPU and GPU become damaged from overheating. The Wii U -by marrying the two processors together- evades this problem altogether, leading to higher reliability and longer life. In fact, if the rumors concerning the next Xbox are to be believed, it will still have the slower DDR3 Memory, and separated CPU and GPU cores, which could very well continue the Xbox’s reputation as an unreliable machine.
So, with all this going for the Wii U, why is it that modern games have slow-down issues and developers are literally insulting the machine? The problem lies within the habits of developers and the way in which Nintendo is trying to encourage change within the game development industry.
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