Nintendo Switch hardware redesign

A few weeks ago, we heard rumors that there will be a new version of the Switch hardware. No further details were given other than it could arrive as early as summer 2019. It’s quite common for a game console to receive various hardware iterations. This generation has seen things change considerably, though. There are the mid-generation refreshes with the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X. The Switch itself is a little different as Nintendo is now completely out of step with its competitors in terms of console generation. So, what could the 2019 Switch hardware update be?

Most likely: Processor and internals refresh

The most likely, yet boring, option is that Nintendo is just refreshing the processor and internal hardware with cheaper options. This might sound like a bad move for consumers, but it really isn’t. All of the electronics packed into a console become cheaper as time goes on. Not only that, as advancements in technology are made it’s cheaper and easier to produce the same results. What this basically means is that Nintendo could put newer versions of the processor, GPU (graphics processing unit), memory, and motherboard in the Switch. Not only would it be cheaper for them, but that new hardware could be smaller, use less power, run cooler, and/or be more reliable.

It is normal for hardware manufacturers to do this. It’s usually mixed in with a slim version or redesign of the console (PlayStation 3 Slim, Xbox One S). This would be something of a first for Nintendo as they’ve not really gone into updating hardware, beyond items like the New-Style Super NES. It is the most likely option, though.

Possible: Screen update

Nintendo could choose to just change the screen on the Switch. There are a couple of options here.

One is that they swap the LCD screen for an OLED option. OLED is the screen of choice for all the top mobile phones right now. They don’t require a backlight, which garners three advantages over an LCD screen. The first is that they take up less space. A smaller form factor either provides a more aesthetic appearance or better cooling. The second is that it improves battery life. With no backlight to power, the battery is doing less work, and that means longer life. The third is that the contrast is greatly improved. OLED screens can produce really good dark images because there isn’t a constant backlight shining through the screen. If there are so many advantages to an OLED screen, why doesn’t the Switch already have one, I hear you ask? Put very simply, they’re a lot more expensive. They’re cheaper now than they would have been when Nintendo was designing the system. It’s still not a particularly cheap option, though.

The other thing that Nintendo could do is to up the screen resolution to a 1080p version. I would say this is pretty unlikely as the improvements would not be that great. The Switch processors and GPU are obviously capable of outputting a 1080p image, as that’s what it does in docked mode. Adding a 1080p screen may please some people, but it will really hurt the battery life of the system. For the Switch to output 1080p in docked mode, it needs the extra grunt of an external power supply. The other thing to note is that the difference between a 720p image and a 1080p image on a 6-inch screen is going to be negligible.

Unlikely: Handheld-only edition

Another possibility is that Nintendo could release a handheld-only version of the Switch. There are lots of rumors flying around about whether the 3DS will still be supported, replaced, or retired. The Switch has already eaten into the handheld market because it is a hybrid system. With a couple of tweaks, it could really become the handheld system. The first tweak would be to upgrade the battery. The battery life on the standard Switch is pretty good, but without too much expense they could add several more hours onto it. Battery durability could also be improved by updating the internals, as a handheld version would never be required to produce a 1080p image. By using processors that are only ever required to output a 720p image, the battery durability could be improved and the overall system cost could be reduced.

One thing I would like to see improved if a handheld-only version were released is the connection of the Joy-Con onto the system. I would be more than happy for a more portable version to have Joy-Con that are permanently fixed onto the console. There are games like Arms and Mario Party 8 where this wouldn’t work. This makes it unlikely that Nintendo would go this route, so a more solid fixing of the Joy-Con is something that should be looked at.

Very unlikely: 4K resolution

Ah, 4K resolution. There tend to be three camps in the 4K debate. Firstly, there are those that swear by it and try to claim, “If it’s not in 4K, why bother?” The second camp of people wishes that they were in the first camp. 4K televisions are readily available, but there is still the limiting factor of cost. There are a lot of people who want to join the 4K “revolution” but just aren’t able to yet. The final group of people can’t be bothered with it and don’t see the point. Personally, I do have a 4K set (along with a PlayStation 4 Pro and an Xbox One X), and I’m more impressed with HDR (high dynamic range) than the 2160p resolution itself. Could an updated Switch be made to output a 4K signal when in docked mode? Yes, but I think you’re more likely to see flying pigs than Nintendo release a 4K Switch next year.

Nintendo has not been trying to join in the power contest that Sony and Microsoft have been engaged in. In fact, the last time they released a console in the same power bracket as their competitors was the GameCube in 2001/2002 (depending on where you live). While the Wii U was the most powerful console when it was released, it was out of step with the other manufacturers and was blown out of the water by the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One when they were released less than a year later.

I don’t think we’ll see a Nintendo system able to output at 2160p until we get the Switch’s successor. It is possible that we could get a 4K Switch later in the console’s lifespan, but I think we’re quite a distance from that yet.

 

Well, those are my thoughts on what could be incorporated into a Switch hardware update. What do you think? What would you like to see? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section down below. If you’d like to see more thoughts on ways to improve the Switch hardware, then check out our “5 ways to improve the Switch hardware” article.

Steve Clist
Joint Editor-in-Chief at Xbox Enthusiast as well as a contributor for Nintendo Enthusiast and PlayStation Enthusiast. Steve is a musician and gamer who loves sharing his passion for each. You will normally find him at the front of the grid in racing games or on the other end of the kill cam when you've just been killed in a first-person shooter.

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