Nintendo 3DS Specs Revealed:133MHz GPU, Dual 266MHz ARM11 CPUs

By Wesley Fenlon

These may be the final specs of the Nintendo 3DS--and the GPU seems to be clocked lower than anyone expected.

Game demos at this year’s Electronics Entertainment Expo proved that the processing power Nintendo’s upcoming 3DS will be a marked step forward from the DSi model. We still have no idea what, exactly, Nintendo’s new handheld is packing under the hood. Odds are good we’ll be getting an official rundown of the 3DS specs on September 29th, when Nintendo announces pricing and release information.

But September 29th is a whole week away, and we hate waiting. Instead, we’d rather pore over the goods IGN has supposedly gleaned from “persons familiar with the hardware.” If IGN’s leaks are accurate, the 3DS is doubling up with two 266MHz ARM11 CPUs. A 133MHz GPU from Japanese company Digital Media Professionals, 64MB of RAM and 4MB of dedicated VRAM round out the basic specs. The system will supposedly have 1.5GB of built-in flash memory for storage.

Nintendo DSi boasts two processors, an ARM 9 and ARM 7, the faster of which clocks at 133Mhz. Though the DSi only has 16MB of RAM, that’s still quadruple the DS Lite’s 4MB. The ARM11 processor represents a step up from the DSi’s ARM9, though even with two ARM11 processors the 3DS won’t be matching the clock speeds of newer smartphones. For example, while the ARM11 processor in the 3DS is based upon the older ARMv6 architecture, phones like the HTC Evo running on the 1GHz Snapdragon processor are based on the ARMv7 architecture.

 Nvidia's first Tegra used an ARM11 core.
road map for ARM’s Cortex chips, you’ll see that ARM11 is an older model, already being eclipsed by the chips in new cell phones. But Nintendo has never been a company to push the envelope with pure processing power--the Game Boy dominated all of its competitors, no matter how much better their graphics were. And the 3DS certainly will be no slouch, with dual CPUs and the DMP Pica200 IP Core GPU. For a rough estimate of what a single ARM11 CPU can do, picture the Zune HD and first- and second-generation iPhone and iPod Touch.

The most interesting aspect of IGN’s report concerns DMP’s graphics processor, which was previously reported to be running at 200MHz. If IGN’s sources are accurate, apparently the 3DS will be running an underclocked GPU. How that affects the system’s ability to push polygons remains to be seen--perhaps the change was made as a concession to battery life. It could even be incorrect! Where do these numbers leave the 3DS in relation to Sony’s PSP? Hard to say--the PSP’s CPU clocks at 333MHz with an embedded GPU around 166MHz and 64MB of memory in newer models. While the PSP technically runs on a faster CPU powering only one screen,  the newer chips in the 3DS will likely be more than a match for Sony’s portable. Again, it really comes down to what the GPU can handle.

What do you think about the 3DS: Are you let down by the specs? Or do you prefer to reserve judgment until the game developers work their magic? Hopefully we’ll have confirmation on the exact internals, pricing information and a release date in a week’s time.