Nintendo revealed its intent to launch a new gaming system more than a year ago, but we still don’t really know much about it. The company, despite revealing that console’s existence, has been secretive about the “new concept” it has been working on. Nintendo has released its latest financial statements, and within the document we found a single line regarding the upcoming console that reveals that we’ll be waiting another year for the new gaming system.
“For our dedicated video game platform business, Nintendo is currently developing a gaming platform codenamed “NX” with a brand-new concept. NX will be launched in March 2017 globally,” read Nintendo’s consolidated financial statements.
The timing of the release window leads us to believe that the next Nintendo console may employ a Zen-based APU built on GlobalFoundries' 14nm FinFET process. We learned in December that AMD's Zen architecture will likely see the light of day between Q3 2016 and Q1 2017, and in March, Robert Hallock, AMD's Head of Global Technical Marketing, revealed that Zen APUs will follow the release of FX prcessors. We don't know when the APUs are expected to launch, but the timing seems to fall into place well for Nintendo's next system.
Third-Party Content Struggles, Abated By x86 Switch?
These two products being released at around the same time isn't our only reason to suspect that Nintendo will make the move to an AMD Zen based APU, either. Over the last few years, Nintendo has been struggling to attract third-party game developers to its Wii U console. Several important game developers never released titles on the Wii U, and most of the major companies that did ended support for the Wii U following the release of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
This is mostly due to the less powerful hardware inside of the Wii U, but it's also because of its customized IBM ISA that forces developers to invest more time into porting games to the Wii U. Switching to an x86 Zen-based system would eliminate both of these issues, as Zen is designed for high-performance processing, and its x86 ISA would make games created on the PC, Xbox One or PS4 easily portable to the NX console.
Of course, Nintendo could opt to use Intel's processors instead if it decides to switch to x86, but it is simply more likely that Nintendo will use AMD due to their collaboration on prior consoles.
For more than a decade, all of Nintendo's home game consoles have used graphics produced by AMD (or ATI), starting with the Nintendo Gamecube that was released in 2001. Nintendo also used IBM's fabs to produce the silicon processors in its consoles throughout this time period, up until the acquisition of IBM's fabs by GlobalFoundries, which now produces all of Nintendo's home console processors. Although there is nothing preventing Nintendo from switching to Intel, it is simply more likely that Nintendo will continue its long-term partnership with AMD.
For now, all we can do is speculate. March 2017 is still a long time to wait for a console that has been teased for over a year already, but considering we don’t really know any details about the forthcoming hardware, nor the “new concept” that Nintendo has been alluding to, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the NX won’t land this year.