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Nintendo 3DS Hardware Specs Analyzed

Matt Peckham Matt Peckham – Thu Sep 23, 11:11 am ET

Nintendo's forthcoming 3D-without-glasses gaming handheld sounds mighty indeed, if just-leaked internal specs prove legitimate.

Tapping IGN, an unnamed source claims Nintendo's 3DS will sport two 266MHz ARM11 CPUs, 64MB of system RAM, a graphics processor running at 133MHz with 4MB of VRAM, and 1.5GB flash storage.

Let's walk through the numbers and speculate like proper gossips.

What an ARM11 CPU? The ARM11 processors have been around in multiple flavors for years--the original (and most widely used) ARM1136 version launched back in 2002. You'll find the ARM11 family in all sorts of mainstream devices, from the Amazon Kindle (including the most recent version) to Apple's iPhone 2G and 3G to dozens of HTC and Nokia phones.

The Nintendo DSi employs two ARM processors as well, though they're older (an ARM9 and ARM7) and at least one is clocked at half the speed (133MHz) of the 3DS's rumored 266MHz pair. Since most DSi games are released to be compatible with the original DS--which employs a pair of even slower ARM processors--it's debatable how much of the DSi's oomph developers have tapped, making another leap in chip architecture and speed sound that much more formidable.

But only 64MB of RAM? Before you panic, remember the DSi only has 16MB of RAM, and even that's four times the DS Lite's trifling 4MB. Sure, the PSP has 64MB, but the original PSP shipped with 32MB, and besides, look what the PSP can do with 64MB, right?

Sure, the iPhone has 512MB, as does Google's HTC Nexus One, and those devices both sport faster processors, but the 3DS isn't a phone-and-swiss-army-knife replacement, so comparisons between the two are dubious.

Who's behind the GPU? A company called Digital Media Professional, which developed the PICA200 family processors. I'd wager the PICA200 Lite is the actual chip version in the 3DS, not the full-bore PICA200, as IGN speculates. Whatever the case, Nintendo's definitely underclocked it at 133MHz, either down from 166MHz (the PICA200 Lite) or 200MHz (the PICA200).

At 166MHz, DMP claims the PICA200 Lite can do 12.7M polygons per second and 166M pixels per second (the PICA200 does 15.3M and 800M respectively). By comparison, the PS3's GPU can (theoretically) do 1.6B polygons per second and 4.4 gigapixels per second. Yeah, that comparison's weak given the massive architectural and output resolution disparities, but should suffice to put hyperbole about the 3DS approaching current console crunch-power to bed. Rest assured, the 3DS looked terrific when I fiddled with a copy of Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker at E3. Who cares if it's a PS3 in your pocket or not.

Finally, internal flash memory we can live with. The DS Lite and DS had just 256KB. The DSi has 256MB. The PSP has none. The 3DS has 1.5GB, and if that's not enough, you can always add a card. Let the not-complaining begin.

In rumormongering veritas? We'll find out shortly. Nintendo's supposed to formalize the 3DS's release timeframe on September 29. They've only said the system will be out in the U.S. before March 2011 at this point. Rumors place it this side of the holiday season, but it that's really the case, they'll be ramping up the marketing machine awfully late.
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