Wii U Only as Powerful as Xbox 360?

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata poses with the Wii U at E3 2011

Has there been a single console generation where Nintendo hasn’t held the “distant third place” title when it comes to horsepower? It’s starting to sound like the Wii U will be no different.

Industry insiders have been saying for a while now that Nintendo’s next-generation console, the bizarrely named Wii U, which is expected to run 1080p graphics and is approximately 50% more powerful than the current-generation Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. But a Japanese developer told fansite Wii U Daily late last week that that “50% more powerful” thing was an exaggeration.

The rumored Wii U specs are as follows:

  • Processor is a quad core, 3GHz PowerPC-based 45nm CPU that’s “very similar” to the processor inside the Xbox 360
  • 768 MB of IBM-made DRAM is embedded in the CPU, but shared between the CPU and GPU
  • The GPU is an unknown 40nm ATI-based chip

The Japanese source also told Wii U Daily that Nintendo has been testing two versions of the console — one at the aforementioned 768 MB of RAM, and another with 1 GB — presumably with the intention of releasing only one. It’s also important to remember that Nintendo will probably continue tweaking these specs until very close to the console’s arrival on store shelves. (And if I were cynical, I might point out Nintendo’s tendency to release hardware before it’s fully realized, so the specs could change even after the Wii U first releases. Good thing I’m not that cynical.)

Last year at E3, when the Wii U was first announced, it sounded like Nintendo was finally planning to catch up to the graphical capabilities of its two biggest rivals, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. But since then, there’s been loads of industry rumors indicating that both Microsoft and Sony are already hard at work on their next-generation consoles — and the specs for both will likely leave Nintendo in the dust once again.

I can’t help wondering why Nintendo is always content to always be the “third most powerful console,” letting Microsoft and Sony push the graphics boundaries while they (Nintendo) keep their own ambitions safely middle-of-the-road? (The generation gap between the Wii and the other two was so great during this last generation that if developers wanted Wii versions of their game releases, they had to re-make said games from scratch — or hire another developer to do it for them — at drastically lower specs.) I would even posit that credit should largely go to the more powerful machines for making possible brand new franchises that grab all the headlines and break new ground (like Gears of War, Assassin’s CreedLittleBigPlanet, Mass Effect, Uncharted, etc.). Meanwhile, Nintendo sticks to its tried-and-true formula of churning out endless sequels that star their legacy characters (like Mario).

So why does Nintendo settle?

An easy answer would be, “because they can.” Their sequels will sell to the faithful no matter what, so why should they push the envelope to come up with more modern games and franchises? Even the newer category of Nintendo games that use Mii avatars, like Wii Sports and its endless spinoffs, feels very old hat now. And the motion control technology that gave Nintendo its edge with the Wii has been outclassed by snazzier, higher-tech devices like Microsoft’s Kinect. But Nintendo doesn’t seem to care. While Microsoft and Sony are fighting to become the central media hub of the modern living room, by comparison Nintendo’s consoles tend to have more of a childlike “toy” feel to them.

On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with marching to your own beat and not following the crowd. Maybe that’s all it is, combined with a certain cultural divide.

What do you think? And will the Wii U’s lesser-than specs be enough to entice you away from the next Xbox and the PlayStation 4?

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Robin Parrish

Unathletic, uncoordinated tall man with endless creativity stampeding through his overactive brain. Comes with beard, wife, and two miniature humans. Novelist. General blogger and main Gaming Geek for ForeverGeek. Lead Blogger, Apple Gazette.

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