With the recent release of the Switch’s 5.0.0 firmware update, owners found a small selection of upgrades to how their favorite console/handheld hybrid gaming platform works.
There were more changes made under the hood that most would ever find, however—changes which could hint at some major upcoming hardware revisions.
This discovery started when the folks over at Switchbrew.org found new configuration data in the update used for a Tegra 214 (codenamed “Mariko”), which would be an SoC (system on a chip) revision from the Tegra 210 currently used in the Switch. This comes in addition to a new “a” folder for the “bct” and “package1” system files that seem meant for use on new hardware, versus the previously-existing “nx” folder that handles such files for the current hardware.
If that CPU upgrade came for no other purposes, one very likely reason that Nintendo would be looking to make the jump is that it would avoid the hardware vulnerability that was found in the 210. Because of that vulnerability, the Switch—no matter what version of firmware it’s running—could be susceptible to hacking, something Nintendo obviously doesn’t want for a system that’s trying to gain a foothold in the market.
Then, over the weekend, additional information was found that makes things even more interesting. In these pieces of the firmware’s code, we see evidence of both an entirely new PCB for the system along with a bump in RAM from 4 GB to 8 GB.
So, the big question is this: what does this all mean? That’s really hard to answer at this point, because if all of these changes are true, they could be coming for one singular reason, or multiple reasons.
Of course, it’s easy to jump to the assumption that this could point to a “Switch Pro” that may potentially offer more powerful hardware, better visuals, longer battery life, or other upgrades. Nintendo’s history of handhelds gives us plenty of examples of hardware revisions that boosted the capabilities of the platforms, and while the Switch is technically a console, it’s also still technically a handheld.
There’s another possibility at play, however: that some of these revisions are meant for the consumer side, and some for the development side. Some of the upgrades may simply be natural hardware revisions meant to make the system cheaper to produce while bumping up a few areas like battery life, where as the upgrade to 8 GB of RAM could be there to aid in the development and debugging of Switch software. (Current Switch dev kits are said to only include 4 GB of RAM, and while that isn’t odd, it’s also common for dev kits to have double the RAM of the consumer model to account for the software tools that need to run alongside the game while it’s being created.)
And, just because all of these mentions were found in the most recent firmware update doesn’t mean that they’re coming anytime soon. If you also add in talk from sources like the Wall Street Journal that major revisions to the Switch hardware won’t be coming during the company’s 2018 fiscal year (which runs April 2018 through March 2019), if some or all of these changes are true, they could be in the early testing phases and not anywhere near ready for the public.
Basically, it comes down to this: there’s no reason to throw your current Switch in the garbage just yet, and there’s also no reason to hold off from buying a Switch until more is known about what all of this could mean in the long run. All it means for now is that Nintendo isn’t just sitting on its hands when it comes to the Switch’s hardware side—which is to be expected—and that that work could end up benefitting gamers, game developers, or both at some point in the future.