When Nintendo announced the Wii U there was a lot of interest in its hardware specs. The new console could very well end up the fastest kid on the block thanks to the sheer age of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. I wasn't all that interested in the Wii U, but I did want to get a look at the silicon inside so I grabbed a unit and went into teardown mode.

The Wii U is available in two versions: the basic and deluxe kits. The basic kit comes in white, while the deluxe is black. Both are glossy. The deluxe console gives you 32GB of on-board storage (eMMC NAND) vs. 8GB for the standard model. The deluxe kit also includes a stand and cradle for the Wii U tablet GamePad as well as a stand for the console itself. The two kits retail for $299.99 and $349.99, respectively.

The Wii U hardware itself looks a lot like a larger Wii. Getting inside the chassis is also quite similar. The CMOS battery door is the first thing you'll have to remove, followed by 8 more screws (a mixture of philips head and tri-wing). The bulk of these screws are behind console-colored stickers, be sure to peel them all off. With all 8 (9 including the CMOS battery door) screws removed, you can slide the left side of the Wii U away from the front of the console, and off all together. This reveals the final three tri-wing screws that you'll need to remove to get inside the chassis (the gallery of all of this is at the bottom of the article).

With all 12 screws removed, pry the top of the Wii U up and away from the body until it separates from the rest of the frame revealing the console's fairly compact internals:

The Wii U optical drive uses a custom format for game storage, but offers a very Blu-ray-like 25GB capacity per disc. Max sequential read speeds are pretty high compared to the current gen consoles at 22MB/s.

Two screws hold the front cover in place, followed by four screws that hold the optical drive in place. Be careful when removing the optical drive as there's a ribbon cable attached to the motherboard for power/data. The same goes for the front cover, although its ribbon cable is really only on light/switch duty.

With the optical drive removed, next up is removing the shielding on the top and bottom of the motherboard and the shround on top of the heatsink. Just go around the perimeter of the motherboard removing screws (you'll be able to remove all but two easily). Once you've done this, the motherboard will be able to separate from the Wii U's lower tray.

Removing the shielding itself requires carefully moving the antenna cables out of the way. As these wires are soldered to the Wii U chassis on one end, be very careful not to pull too hard otherwise you run the risk of needing to break out the soldering iron.

If you've removed all of the screws and freed the antenna wires from their guides a bit, you should be able to pull back the plastic heatsink shroud, revealing...more shielding:

With no screws left to hold it in place however, the shielding is easily dealt with (again pay close attention to the antenna wires). The same is true for the bottom of the PCB.

The two sets of antenna wires go to two independent wireless controllers: one for 802.11b/g/n WiFi, the other to a dedicated 802.11n controller to handle Miracast display streaming between the Wii U and the GamePad display. Thanks to Ryan Shrout over at PC Per for figuring this one out!

Once you've removed all shielding you're left with a pretty clean looking motherboard:

On the top side of the board you'll see the eMMC/NAND package, in this case it's a dual-die Samsung eMMC solution (there's another Toshiba NAND device on the back of the board, not for user storage):

There are four 4Gb (512MB) Hynix DDR3-1600 devices surrounding the Wii U's MCM (Multi Chip Module). Memory is shared between the CPU and GPU, and if I'm decoding the DRAM part numbers correctly it looks like these are 16-bit devices giving the Wii U a total of 12.8GB/s of peak memory bandwidth. (Corrected from earlier, I decoded the Hynix part numbers incorrectly). Our own Ryan Smith found a great reference for the original Wii so we can compare memory frequencies. It looks like the original Wii had a 32-bit wide GDDR3 memory interface running at a max datarate of 1.4GHz for a total of 5.6GB/s of bandwidth (excluding eDRAM).

That doesn't sound like a lot (it's the same amount of memory bandwidth on the Nexus 10 and iPad 3/4), but the Wii U is supposed to have a good amount of eDRAM for both the CPU and GPU to use. Also keep in mind that the Nexus 10 and iPad 3/4 have to drive much higher resolutions than the Wii U does.

The Wii U's MCM is unfortunately covered by a heatspreader, but given that I went through all of this to look at the console's silicon, I was going to look at the console's silicon.

Normally to remove an integrated heat spreader (IHS) you grab a sharp blade and go around cutting the (hopefully) glue around the perimeter of the chip. In the case of the Wii U's MCM, the blades I'd normally use were too thick. A few years ago I decided to give shaving with a double edge safety razor a try. My attempts failed poorly, but I had a stack of unused DE razor blades that were thin enough to get the IHS off.

The trick here is to apply enough pressure to the blade to cut through the glue, as simply trying to saw through the glue will take forever. There are two blobs of glue per side, but if you're trying to remove the IHS be careful not to cut through the glue and scrape any of the actual exposed silicon...like I did.

With the IHS off, we have the Wii U's MCM in all of its glory:

There are actually three components on this single package, made in at least two different microprocessor fabs. The multicore PowerPC based CPU is the smaller of the two larger chips. This die is made on IBM's 45nm SOI process. The RV7xx derived GPU is the biggest die on the package, and I'm presuming it was made on a 40nm process. I'm assuming the very tiny die in the corner is actually some off-chip memory. Both the CPU and GPU in the Wii U are supposed to have some eDRAM, although the bulk of it is likely dedicated for the GPU.


Clockwise from the top: CPU, GPU, off-chip memory?

The approximate die sizes for all components on the MCM are in the table below:

Wii U Silicon Analysis
  Dimensions Approximate Die Size
CPU 5.2mm x 6.3mm 32.76mm2
GPU 12.3mm x 12.7mm 156.21mm2
3rd die (memory?) 1.79mm x 1.48mm 2.65mm2

If we assume a 40nm process for the GPU, then we're looking at something a bit larger than the RV740. The Wii U does boast backwards compatibility with games made for the original Wii, which is made possible thanks to a shared ISA with the original PowerPC based Wii.

The size comparison between CPU and GPU die shouldn't be too much of a surprise. When building a dedicated gaming machine it always makes sense to throw more transistors at your GPU. The nearly 5x ratio of GPU to CPU die size here is a bit on the extreme side though. I suspect many of the current generation consoles, including the Wii U, suffered from a lack of a powerful yet affordable CPU solution that could be easily implemented. 

I also took some power measurements on the Wii U. The system is powered by a 75W external power supply, but total system power consumption doesn't even hit half of that (at least with the games I tried):

Wii U Power Consumption
  System Power Consumption in Watts
Standby (Power Off) 0.22W
Wii U Menu (No Disc in Drive) 31.2W
Wii U Menu (Disc in Drive) 32.8W
Super Mario U 33.0W
Netflix Playback 28.5W

Rendering the Wii U menu actually consumes almost as much power as playing Super Mario U. Watching a movie on Netflix consumes a bit less power, my guess is a lot of the 3D blocks are power gated leaving only the CPU cores and video decode hardware active.

The Wii U ships with its own web browser based on webkit, the user agent string for the latest version of the Wii U's software is: Mozilla/5.0 (Nintendo WiiU) AppleWebKit/534.52 (KHTML, like Gecko) NX/2.1.0.8.21 NintendoBrowser/1.0.0.7494.US.

Pages load quickly and compatibility is surprisingly decent (HTML5 test: 258 + 4 bonus points). By default you control and view the browser on the GamePad, but you can also choose to display the content on your TV via the console. Scrolling is very smooth and the overall experience is way better than what you'd normally expect from a web browser on what's primarily a game console. It's not quite as good as using a modern tablet, but still usable. And where there is a browser, we will run SunSpider on it:

SunSpider Javascript Benchmark 0.9.1 - Stock Browser

The browser is using an older version of WebKit, which is likely responsible for some of the not absolutely stellar performance here.

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  • Zodiark1593 - Sunday, November 18, 2012 - link

    Considering the Xbox 360 GPU is roughly on par with the Radeon 6450 (at least in compute power) this seems to be a pretty solid upgrade on the GPU side.

    I do agree on the CPU though. I think the 3DS silicone may actually be larger than that CPU die. Given the use of gamepads, I'd have thought that the CPU would need to be pretty strong.Guess we'll have to see what happens later on.
    Reply
  • EnzoFX - Sunday, November 18, 2012 - link

    a 6450? Is that true? Just sounds low to me.

    The low end graphic cards have always been so poor in gaming performance on the pc side, with every iteration too, they seem to keep the same core performance and only add some compatibility stuff. Always disappointing.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Sunday, November 18, 2012 - link

    25.6-28.8 GB/s (GDDR5) memory bandwidth, 200-240 GFLOPS Single Precision compute power, sounds about right as an equivalent to the 360s GPU. Reply
  • Zodiark1593 - Sunday, November 18, 2012 - link

    From my research, the Xenos (Xbox 360 GPU) puts out about 240 GFlops single-precision, and the Radeon 6450 top out at 240 GFlops as well.

    Of course that doesn't tell the entire story due to the extra eDram and a few extra tidbits including microcode optimizations, but yeah...

    Low end GPUs exist nowadays to upgrade older PCs for playing HD video well, or otherwise to upgrade from older (pre-Intel HD 3000) integrated graphics, mainly for HTPC use. Because it's target market doesn't rely on performance, there's little point in making an entire new core unless there's a fancy new video decoder or encoder.
    Reply
  • Arbee - Monday, November 19, 2012 - link

    Remember, 360 silicon was finalized in early 2005. A *lot* has happened at AMD since then :) Reply
  • Kevin G - Sunday, November 18, 2012 - link

    The XBox 360 has 48 shaders that would best be described as pre-Radeon HD 2000 series class. They're not DirectX 10 compliant, at least with what shipped with Vista. The XBox 360 was originally supposed to be DX10 compliant hardware but Vista was delayed and the PC spec changed while the XBox 360 GPU hardware was already completed.

    Anyway, in terms of performance, this puts the GPU between a Radeon X1950GT and Radeon HD 2900GT in terms of capabilities and performance. GPU efficiency has crept upward with AMD's VLIW5 designs over time which would actually mean that the Radeon 6450 would be slightly faster than the XBox 360's GPU.

    It appears that the Wii U's GPU has 32 MB of eDRAM on the GPU. More than likely this amount of eDRAM takes up half the GPU die but should be well worth it in terms of performance. I suspect that there are 96 VLIW5 shaders (480 ALU's), 32 TMU's and 16 ROP's. While everyone is drawing comparison with the RV740, chances are that this design incorporates many of the efficiency improvements found in AMD's VLIW5 architecture that made it into the Barts design (Radeon 6870).
    Reply
  • RussianSensation - Monday, November 19, 2012 - link

    Still miles faster than the GPUs in PS3/360.

    HD 4770 1GB = 51
    vs.
    X1950Pro 512mb = 20.4
    X1800XT 512mb = 16.7
    7900GT 256 mb = 16.1
    http://alienbabeltech.com/abt/viewtopic.php?p=4117...

    PS3's RSX is = 7900GT with half the memory bandwidth and half the ROPs. So it's much slower than the desktop 7900GT.

    The GPU in the 360 is probably at best as fast as X1800XT despite unified shader architecture because it is also memory bandwidth crippled.

    If it has an HD 4770, that is at least 2.5-3x faster already than either the PS3/360's GPUs. There is probably little doubt that the next PS4 and Xbox will be more powerful but this console is definitely more powerful than current generation.
    Reply
  • RussianSensation - Saturday, December 01, 2012 - link

    Well now that I read the article more carefully, the 12.8GB/sec memory bandwidth would cripple even an HD4770 GPU. Looks like the GPU is hopeless for next gen gaming. Reply
  • Zink - Sunday, November 18, 2012 - link

    Nice pictures, I can't wait for an in depth look at the high end hardware next years consoles bring. Reply
  • aryonoco - Sunday, November 18, 2012 - link

    The PowerPC is not competitive anymore. I doubt IBM has been throwing any R&D at it since Apple left ship. And yes it is a derivative of POWER which IBM is still developing, but there never was that much synergy between POWER and PPC, probably less so these days.

    It's pretty safe not to compare it with Sandy/Ivy bridge. But I'm pretty sure even a dual core Clover trail or even Brazos would outperform this thing.

    So, my question is, why is IBM still winning these contracts? Is it just ISA compatibility? I'm not sure that's such a big concern these days, considering how quickly even the PS3 got rid of its PS2 compatibility mode. I mean, does anyone actually want to play low-res Wii games on the Wii U? What for?

    And if we are to put ISA compatibility aside, why is IBM still winning these contracts? Is it because Intel isn't even bidding for them, due to low margins?
    Reply

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