Ubisoft and Nintendo would doubtless prefer that one of the biggest news stories of the week never happened. The release of gameplay video showing off the forthcoming Rayman Legends apparently running on Wii U revealed some great stuff: superbly animated 2D visuals spliced expertly with polygon 3D elements, topped off nicely with beautiful cartoon animation and some lovely dynamic lighting. Not only that but we also were treated to a preview of one of Wii U's new features: the tablet controller's Near Field Communication (NFC) wireless tech.Some say that it was a canny move by Ubi in generating terrific buzz for a title which performed badly last time around - despite Rayman Origins being an excellent release. Others saw the exciting video as a strategically leaked hors d'oeuvre for the Wii U loveliness to come next month at the E3 games convention. In reality, the combination of pre-production controllers and music lifted from the Back to the Future and How to Train Your Dragon movie soundtracks all but confirms that it was indeed an internal Ubisoft presentation that was never meant to see the light of day.And unfortunately, the gameplay footage we did see gives away very well little about the Wii U's hotly contested "next-gen" credentials, which have dominated headlines recently. Does the Wii U's graphics tech disappoint compared to the Xbox 360? Or, as developers likeGearbox have suggested, does the new hardware allow for improved versions of multi-platform titles?On the face of it, Wii U's capabilities are fairly self-evident. We've seen Nintendo's game demos, we've seen their tech presentations - from a graphics perspective, this is PS3/360 stuff. Perhaps more obviously, it is telling that company has made no effort whatsoever to suggest that Wii U offers next-generation rendering in any of its marketing - something that would surely be a major selling point that the company would want to get across to the core audience. Yet rumours appear suggesting that Wii U will be twice as powerful as Xbox 360.The existing body of evidence suggests it won't be (though this particular claim is somewhat lacking in context - 2x what, exactly?) but there's a strong possibility that individual components could see an impressive boost over what is found in current-gen consoles. Similarly, other elements may fall a little short. There's no reason why both the anonymous briefings on the machine's deficiencies and the on-the-record statements can't be equally true. So what exactly should we expect from this year's next-gen entrant?"Does Wii U graphic tech fall short of the Xbox 360 as rumours have stated? Or can the console exceed current gen performance? In different applications, both situations could be true."
Nintendo doesn't typically talk specs, but the combination of official information released thus far plus a basic knowledge of existing hardware production infrastructure can give us a pretty good idea. Consoles are not built in a vacuum - their parts are fabricated by companies whose facilities and outputs are a matter of public record.Processing power is driven by Moore's Law, which is typically a factor of the amount of transistors you can cram onto a piece of silicon. The current-gen consoles launched at 90nm (a state-of-the-art fabrication process at the time) and have gradually transitioned to 45nm, being refitted into smaller cases in the process. Nintendo has already revealed that its IBM Power7-derived CPU runs at the same fabrication process as the current PS3 and Xbox 360, and the worldwide shortages in "next-gen" 28nm production suggest that the Wii U's AMD Radeon graphics chip will also be produced at 40nm/45nm - it's the only way to create millions of viable chips in time for a 2012 release, and also opens the opportunity for a die-shrunk cheaper unit to be put into production sooner rather than later.Combine the realities of chip production with the miniscule dimensions of the Wii U casing (172mm x 45mm x 267mm according to Nintendo's E3 PR - a bit bigger than a current Wii) and we're looking very much at current gen ballpark power - a true "next-gen" upgrade over the current Xbox would be extremely challenging to cool in a box that's so tiny compared even to the slim versions of the PS3 and 360.Efficiencies in design can make a difference, of course. The Xbox 360 CPU is clocked at 3.2GHz for example, but by Microsoft's own estimates, most games only process around 0.2 instructions per clock - suggesting it's a somewhat poor design that can be improved. GPU design is set to change somewhat going forward with more efficiency in mind (something we've seen with NVIDIA's Kepler tech) but to date, graphics power has been driven very much by Moore's Law, which combined with the rest of the available information suggests that Wii U GPU processing will be very much in the ballpark of the Xbox 360 and PS3.Some have interpreted the "re-introduction" of the Wii U at this year's E3 as a showcase for a revised spec, with insider sources suggesting that more powerful devkits have been dispatched to developers. To put that into perspective, it's worth noting that designing microprocessors as complex as a CPU or GPU is a hugely involved task that can easily take over a year to complete. Even a GPU like the Wii U's - essentially an offshoot of an existing PC-based product - needs to be designed, fabricated and tested.
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