NVIDIA Corporations Mysterious Nintendo Switch Chip Exposed

By Ashraf Eassa Markets Fool.com

For a while now, the investing public has known that NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA) is the supplier of the main applications processor for the Nintendo (NASDAQOTH: NTDOY) Switch console. The details of the chip that's inside, however, have been relatively scarce.

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In announcing that it was inside the Nintendo Switch, NVIDIA said in a blog post that the chip that powers the console is a "custom Tegra processor." NVIDIA also highlighted the fact that this Tegra processor "includes an NVIDIA [graphics processing unit] based on the same architecture as the world's top performing GeForce gaming graphics cards."

Image source: Nintendo.

All that sounded good, but it clearly lacked specifics. Thanks to a chip-level tear-down of the Tegra processor inside of the Nintendo Switch by TechInsights, we now know a lot more about the chip.

It's basically a Tegra X1

According to Chipworks, the NVIDIA chip inside of the Switch is called the Tegra T210. The Tegra T210, a simple search reveals, is just the code-name for the Tegra X1 processor that NVIDIA announced in early 2015.

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It's not clear what kind of customization NVIDIA did to the chip, but I would imagine that at a hardware level, the customization likely consists of disabling portions of the chip irrelevant to the Switch as well as potentially increasing the power budget to get higher frequencies (and thus higher-performance) out of the processor/graphics cores.

Additionally, since we know that it's a Tegra X1, we now know that the manufacturer is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (NYSE: TSM) and that it is built using TSMC's 20-nanometer technology (so the better the Switch does, TSMC should be set to benefit).

What did NVIDIA really do here, then?

It might seem as though NVIDIA just decided to sell Nintendo Tegra X1 chips that it had already designed, but that's almost certainly far from the truth. In NVIDIA's blog post talking up its spot inside of the Nintendo Switch, the company said the following:

The Nintendo Switch's gaming experience is also supported by fully custom software, including a revamped physics engine, new libraries, advanced game tools and libraries. NVIDIA additionally created new gaming APIs to fully harness this performance. The newest API, NVN, was built specifically to bring lightweight, fast gaming to the masses.

NVIDIA also goes on to explain that it has "optimized the full suite of hardware and software for gaming and mobile use cases," citing "custom operating system integration with the [graphics processing unit] to increase both performance and efficiency."

In other words, although NVIDIA didn't seem to do much on the physical chip side of things in support of this design win, it appears to have done much of the heavy lifting on the software side of things.

Will this pay off?

NVIDIA must have put a lot of money and effort in support of the Nintendo Switch design win. The company's gaming business appears to have gotten a nice boost from the initial ramp-up of the Nintendo Switch, but only time will tell whether the console -- and thus the revenue stream to NVIDIA -- ultimately has staying power.

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Ashraf Eassa has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Nvidia. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.