Nintendo is launching the Switch Lite on September 20, but it has already released an updated version of the original model that you can buy now. So what improvements is this stealthy upgrade hiding? Well, as Nintendo promised, it all comes down to battery life. And the company was able to achieve that by creating a Nintendo Switch that is more energy efficient.
The original Switch had a battery life of 2.5 hours-to-6 hours. That might sound dismal, but it was actually right in line with other handhelds. Switch Lite, meanwhile, is going to get 3 hours-to-7 hours, according to Nintendo. And the updated larger Switch? It’s getting 4.5-to-9 hours of battery life.
So how did Nintendo accomplish this? Well, the system is using much less energy now.
In a power-draw test, Digital Foundry found that the system is using around 40%-to-50% less energy during similar gaming scenes. Where the original model often required 11-to-14 watts to run certain games, the new Switch is only sipping around 6-to-9 watts.
These numbers come from docked mode because Digital Foundry is testing using a watt meter between the outlet and the Switch power brick. But you should expect to see a similar ratio in handheld.
How is the new Nintendo Switch using less energy?
Nintendo and its hardware partner Nvidia have made a number of improvements that are all contributing to better efficiency. But everything stems out from the smaller Tegra X1 processor.
Nvidia originally used a 20nm process to create its X1. Put simply, that means that the transistors inside the chip are about 20nm in size.
Now, however, Nvidia is using a 16nm process to build the X1. And as transistors get smaller, they require less power and generate less heat to flip them. That is crucial when you are dealing with billions of transistors updating dozens of times per second.
So the chip itself is more efficient, but that has a ripple effect throughout the entire system. You need less power to run the same games. And the transistors are generating less heat, so you don’t need to run the motorized cooling fan quite as much. Potentially, you could make the heatsync smaller to have more room for a larger battery (the Switch does not do this).
Wait, does this mean it could run games faster?
If you’re unfamiliar with chips and how they work, you may be reading all this and having a realization. If The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild can run just as well on the updated X1 chip using less power, what would happen if it used the same amount of energy? Wouldn’t the game run better?
Yes. Most of the performance gains we see out of GPUs and CPUs comes down to manufacturers finding ways to more efficiently use the same amount of wattage. But Nintendo is not doing that with this Switch.
Again, the company is focusing all of its efforts in this revision on the battery life. And that is paying off. The Switch is now one of the longest-lasting portable devices ever made. Check it out:
- Nintendo Switch OG: 2.5 hours-to-6 hours
- Nintendo 3DS: 3 hours-to-5 hours
- New Nintendo 3DS: 3.5 hours-to-6 hours
- New Nintendo 3DS XL: 3.5 hours-to-7 hours
- PlayStation Vita: 3 hours-to-5 hours
- “New” Nintendo Switch: 4.5 hours-to-9 hours
- Switch lite: 3 hours-to-7 hours
This may mean that future Switch revisions have no where to go but better performance and visuals. Nvidia is constantly improving the efficiency of its GPUs. Its performance-per-watt is significantly ahead of the competition. But is Nintendo really going to just bump up the battery life again? When you are getting 4.5 hours-to-9 hours already, it might make more sense for a 12nm process (something Nvidia is already using on its desktop and server graphics cards) would better serve a Switch Pro.