Our first look under the hood of the Wii U

Under the hood of the Wii U
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Nintendo has released an internally conducted interview of four engineers working on the Wii U product. Though the company stopped short of getting into the specifics of clock speeds and architectures it does provide some new details about what is in the company’s latest console.

Wii U GPU CPUThe juiciest information relates to the new processor, which Nintendo calls the multi-chip module (MCM). It is a package that puts both the CPU and the GPU onto a single die. This is similar to what both Intel and AMD do with the integrated graphics components in some products. In this case, however, the package combines hardware from IBM (the multi-core CPU), AMD (the GPU) and Renesis (RAM).

Genyo Takeda, one of the engineers on the project, stated this approach was beneficial because “the package costs less and we could speed up data exchange among two LSIs while lowering power consumption.” The MCM’s reduced latency between components and reduced power consumption has made it possible for Nintendo to extract respectable perform from a small, inexpensive part.

Wii U heat sinkWith that said, this decision bolsters complaints that the Wii U might not have mind-blowing performance. Placing the CPU and GPU on one package concentrates power draw and heat generation at a single location. This reduces the maximum performance potential relative to a system with a separate CPU and GPU.

Engineer Yasuhisa Kitano went further into the packaging of the new console. He revealed that Nintendo sees its console as a “stagehand” – something that works unobtrusively behind the scenes – and went on to describe how this influenced its design.

To be unobtrusive the Wii U had to be small, quiet, and reliable. The new MCM helped achieve this goal by reducing the areas responsible for producing significant heat from two to one. However, because of the console’s improved performance, overall heat generation tripled. The engineers dealt with this by substantially increasing the size of the heat sink and the fan. Even the system’s vents were tweaked to ensure maximum airflow. 

Wii U fan

Yet, in spite of these efforts, the system’s fan speed still had to be increased to keep the console cool. Kitano said that engineers accounted for this during testing. “If you increase the number of fan revolutions, it makes more noise, so we checked to see how much noise was acceptable while playing games.”

Some details about the console’s exterior emerged, as well. The engineers confirmed that it is designed to be primarily horizontal, but will work in a vertical position with a stand that comes in the Deluxe Set. They also revealed that the Wii U has moved the two USB ports found in the original Wii from the front to rear and made the remote sync button more accessible.

Wii U heat sink and shieldNintendo’s engineers took time to talk about the extensive testing conducted on the Wii U to make sure defects won’t occur after launch. Using the MCM made this process particularly complicated because components from three different manufacturers were included. All four companies had to work closely during testing to locate and squash bugs.

While a fair amount of information was divulged in this interview there’s some that we’re still waiting to hear. Specifics about the architecture used in the CPU and GPU remain elusive, and the engineers did not reveal any new information about the technical specs regarding the console’s controller. It’s possible that we’ll have to wait until release, or even after, to know more.