Posted on November 23 2012 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
So, let me preface this by explaining that I feel the developers are completely misunderstanding the Wii U. As with any new generation of consoles, there are bound to be some kinks the developers don’t yet understand with the new hardware. Out the gate, lets tackle the main complaint. The “slow” CPU. You see, the clock speed of the CPU is slow. In fact, it’s intentionally slow. It’s true that the CPU of the Wii U is a Power-Based custom IBM processor. For those wondering, it’s not a Power 7 based. Essentially, it means it’s built upon the same technology as the Wii. That’s on purpose mind you.
The the CPU is more than just the Wii’s version times three. For starters, it uses a newer technology from IBM called 45nm SOI process. This is a massive improvement over the 90nm SOI process the Wii version had. Essentially, this makes the processor “overclock” at higher end speeds while reducing power consumption. Essentially, it makes the Wii U’s processor run even faster than it’s clock speeds with higher efficiency and lower power output. Of course, that’s only going to make the processor run just a bit better, so it still is fundamentally slow. However, the CPU uses a significant amount of eDRAM. What this allows the Wii U to do, essentially, is move more data at once compared to the Wii processor times three. You can store more data in the eDRAM and as such, move more at once as well. So, the processor is slower, but similar to the Power 7 tech, it moves more data at once at that slower rate than the standard processor at such rates.
Again though, the CPU is not Power 7 based, so it only increases the performance level by a certain amount. Certainly though, the performance increase does fundamentally make it have a higher efficiency than whats in the current gaming consoles. It just wont win any awards in the next generation. However, thanks in large part to the super beefy GPU (by console standards), the Wii U doesn’t need a beefy processor. The GPU is based on a Radeon HD 5670. As the console break down shows, thanks to even more eDRAM, the Wii U version of the Radeon HD 5670 that has been custom built is actually more powerful than the original PC version of the card. This is extremely vital, because the HD 5670 is in fact a GPGPU.
A GPGPU are quickly become standard in gaming rig PCs for a few reasons, but chief among them is the fact that GPGPU’s actually handle several functions that the CPU traditionally does, except it does them better. In layman’s terms, some of the most CPU (processor) heavy applications like Physics are actually handled by the Graphics Card (GPU). This means, in a Wii U, while the CPU can handle these tasks, the console is actually built around the notion that the GPU will tackle said tasks.
The downfall of the GPGPU is that if it’s not being used in the fashion it’s intended to, which means taking on heavy graphical processing and extreme mathematical equations to perform in the game (aka, if you’re not heavily using the GPU and it’s processing), it actually performs slower. So if you run the bare bones through it, throw everything else at the processor, it not only over strains a processor not meant to handle such functions, it actually causes the GPU to under-perform, and as such… create problems. This is chiefly why games like Mass Effect 3 are having issues, and why Batman Arkahm City Armored Edition are having massive frame rate issues.
In essence, it’s not that the Wii U is underpowered. Rather, it’s the the Wii U uses more advanced technology that actually takes away the stress normally associated with a CPU, and in turn lowers power consumption, heat level, and ultimately leads to producing some of the best graphical capabilities on the market. Essentially, with everything customly aimed towards gaming, the Wii U is like a middle of the road gaming PC. A middle of the row gaming rig absolutely destroys the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Now, this doesn’t mean everything is peachy. Unless the PS4 and the 720 are being silly, both should also feature GPGPU’s like the Wii U, and will both likely have better processors than the Wii U. So, the Wii U will be behind, but it’s unlikely the PS4 and 720 will feature GPU’s that are any beefier than the Wii U. In fact, since they may have better processors (or, should based on normal conventions), it’s conceivable the other consoles in turn have less powerful GPGPU’s since the processor can help maintain some of what is lost.
I know, it’s a lot of technical jargin, but armed with this information you can see that the Wii U is actually going to hold it’s own quite nicely. It just requires people, like the DICE dev, to fundamentally change the way in which they make games take advantage of the hardware. Similar issues arose with the PS3 and it’s CPU back in the day, and now the issue rises up with the Wii U and it’s GPU.
In the future, developers would be wise to truly take hold of the beefy GPGPU in the Wii U and push it as hard as they can. With all the extra eDRAM running around, and all the processing power the GPU has to handle such aspects like Physics, it’s no wonder current generation games are struggling. Current generation (or last generation for us Wii U owners) are extremely CPU based games. Heavily reliant on the CPU pushing through. In the next generation, this is going to change significantly. The Wii U is already there. It’s just going to take time for console developers to get into the mindset to take advantage of the GPGPU featured in the Wii U, just like what will happen in the other next generation consoles.
In layman’s terms: The Wii U is a sexy, misunderstood, true next generation gaming system that requires developers to change the way in which they program their games in order to get significantly better looking, and better performing, games than what are currently out there. Any concerns over a slow processor are completely negated by the fact the Graphics Card on the Wii U can actually handle some of the larger processes, like physics, usually reserved for the processor.
The Wii U is going to be just fine folks. While it wont be as powerful as the PS4 or 720, that beefy GPGPU is going to ensure the Wii U can stay up with the new systems that are coming. Naturally, the biggest reason to go against console convention and use a GPGPU like the Wii U does is costs. GPU’s are just a lot cheaper, and when you start to be able to toss the larger processes at them like Physics, it pretty much increases the efficiency of the entire console 10 fold. The Wii U is doing something that the PS3 and 360 can only dream of doing presently. Truly, they have to catch up, as do the developers, because the way the hardware processes games is changing, and the Wii U is perfectly set up for that shift.