Wednesday’s announcement of the Switch Lite put to rest months of credible rumors that a miniature, portable-focused Switch was on the horizon. But Nintendo still has yet to confirm the other side of some of those rumors: suggestions that the company is planning to upgrade the Switch’s internal hardware in the near future.
Nintendo CEO Doug Bowser recently told CNET that no further updates to the original Switch hardware are coming this year. But that hasn’t stopped Nintendo-watchers from trying to glean information about Nintendo’s future hardware plans from various tea leaves.
Following the evidence
The most concrete of these hints is an FCC request (noticed by The Verge) that Nintendo filed July 2, seeking a “class II permission change” for the original Switch model. The request says the new hardware revision will feature a “change of SoC type,” a “change of NAND memory type,” and a new CPU board to accommodate those changes.
What will those hardware changes look like? To figure that out, some Switch watchers are looking back to suggestive hardware references that first showed up in the underlying code for Switch firmware 5.0.0 back in March 2018. That firmware was the first to include internal references to both the original Switch hardware configuration—running on original Nvidia Tegra X1 “T210” chips, codenamed “Logan”—and two new configurations sporting a Tegra X1 “T214” chip codenamed “Mariko.” Those “Mariko” configuration references seemingly include space for the newly announced Switch Lite as well as revision of the Switch hardware, like the one referenced in the FCC filing.
When originally discovered, many assumed this coming chip revision would be a “hidden” change to the Switch’s internal hardware focused on protecting new Switch units from otherwise unpatchable security vulnerabilities in the X1 chip. These kinds of stealth configuration changes are pretty common in the console world; Microsoft pulled something similar when it replaced the original Xbox 360 internals with a new model less susceptible to overheating, for instance.
But Digital Foundry did a deep dive into some public Nvidia documents that suggest the new “Mariko” chip could be a more substantial upgrade.
Better battery life or better performance?
There has been some speculation Nintendo might upgrade the Switch with Nvidia’s improved Tegra X2 chip. That would be a true generational CPU improvement over the Switch’s current X1 and would lend itself to a true “Switch Pro” style mid-generation refresh, similar to the PS4 Pro or Xbox One X.
But using an X2 chip in a “Switch Pro” would probably require Nintendo to file an entirely new Switch model with the FCC, rather than the simpler “permission change” being sought for the existing model. And Digital Foundry’s evidence suggests Mariko’s “T214” chip is instead a renamed version of the revised “T210b01” X1 chip that will soon be found in a revision of Nvidia’s Shield Android TV (just as the original Switch was a renamed version of the chip in the original Shield Android TV).
While details are still sketchy, evidence suggests the Mariko revision could be using a new 10nm production process (down from the original X1’s 20nm process. Besides saving production costs, that would allow for a smaller overall SoC that could use less voltage, which would in turn improve battery life. And improved battery life just happens to be one of the core improvements announced for the upcoming Switch Lite.
But a smaller chip could also allow a Mariko-based Switch to run at a higher clock speed, which could in turn potentially allow for performance improvements in games designed specifically for a “new” Switch revision. That wouldn’t be unprecedented; the New Nintendo 3DS line featured a similar internal chip upgrade that allowed for a few exclusive/upgraded games that took advantage of the new system’s faster clock speed.
While there’s still a bit of speculation involved in all of this, there’s enough evidence now to suggest Nintendo is planning to refresh the standard Switch’s internal hardware in the future, possibly using revised chips similar to those that will be in the Switch Lite. It’s still an open question, though, whether that revision will be a “hidden,” cost-reducing upgrade to the standard hardware or a public “New Switch” line that supports slight performance improvements in select games.