The writing was on the wall for the 3DS as soon as the Nintendo Switch proved such a hit. While the smaller, cheaper console had a respectable run at 75.17 million units sold, sales fell off a cliff once the Switch proved it had staying power and popularity. It’s been clear for a while now that the Switch was the future of Nintendo’s efforts, which is what makes this latest rumor rather interesting.
According to Mike Heskin, a vulnerability researcher and reverse-engineering enthusiast, the latest Switch firmware, 10.0.0, contains some interesting clues about future operating modes, including a new hardware model “nx-abcd.” The original Switch was codenamed “NX” and used the code “ABCB,” so a new model tracks this idea. The other interesting tidbit is that there are also references to “a secondary display of sorts:”
Firmware 10.0.0 adds preliminary support for a new hardware model: “nx-abcd”.
3 of the 5 new DRAM profiles are for this new hardware type and there’s evidence of a secondary display of sorts being added exclusively on this model.
( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
— Mike Heskin (@hexkyz) April 14, 2020
Theories about what that second screen might do include 3DS/DS emulation or a new streaming mode in which content is streamed from the Switch to the TV (think of this as a Wii U in reverse).
In theory, either of these is possible. First off, consider the 3DS. The original packed a dual-core ARM11 CPU clocked at 268MHz, with a single-core ARM9 CPU at 134MHz. The ARM11 CPU core is rated at 1.25 DMIPS/MHz, while the Cortex-A57 is rated at between 4.1 – 4.76 DMIPS/MHz. The New 3DS had a quad-core ARM11 CPU at 804MHz and the same ARM9 core at 134MHz. Both versions use the same PICA 200 GPU core, at just 268MHz.
The Switch should have little trouble emulating the 3DS in either original or “new” flavors. The fact that the New 3DS has a much faster CPU but uses an identical GPU says something about just how limited the original hardware is, and the PICA200 is a 2005-era embedded graphics processor. The Maxwell-era GPU inside the Switch isn’t just faster, it’s insultingly faster. DS games would also be no problem to support.
— Chicharostudios (@Chicharostudios) April 14, 2020
The question of using the Switch as a sort-of reverse Wii U is also interesting, though it might require buffing a very different section of the hardware. If the goal is for the Switch to wirelessly broadcast to the TV, we’d be looking at wireless networking improvements and the need to handle increased power consumption due to streaming rather than a second screen being added to a new device SKU. Ordinarily, I’d think this was unlikely because wirelessly streaming from the Switch would likely consume a great deal of power, but it’s possible Nintendo wants to spend its increased power budget on this feature. If you recall, the last Switch refresh made very few changes to the device except for significantly improving its battery life.
The idea of a hybrid VR device has been floated by some, but seems much less likely without a substantial hardware refresh and doesn’t necessarily fulfill the second screen concept. The VR concept found in the Switch used the console’s own hardware. The reference to a second screen “of sorts” could be a reference to VR capabilities, and the additional battery power in the refreshed Switch could make it possible, but Nintendo would still be splitting its hardware into two families: Switch owners who could play VR games, and Switch owners who couldn’t. It would make more sense to offer a model that supported emulation for interested customers than to bet on a mid-cycle add-on upgrade. Console add-ons, historically, do not sell well and Nintendo is well aware of it.