We have seen the Nintendo Switch overclocking process in the past. We know Nintendo chose not to use the Nvidia Tegra SoC for its specific inventory in order to conserve battery life and better manage heat. But once you’ve overclocked a hacked unit, it’s hard not to wonder how much extra performance you can get in each game, and few titles hit the console like The Witcher 3. To add a little spice, it There are a few mods that have emerged for porting the game which involves the ability to modify the game in parallel with the clock speeds of the CPU and GPU.
First of all, we would like to be clear. Even without mods, The Witcher 3 is a miraculous conversion given Switch’s limited capabilities. The programmers of the Nintendo Hybrid console were able to surprisingly adapt the graphics to make the game fit for the mobile GPU based on the Nvidia Maxwell architecture, but some ingenious solutions made the game run even at a not bad frame rate considering the availability of only three ARM Cortex A57 processor cores operating at 1 GHz. If you have a Switch, we strongly recommend that you read this port in portable mode as on large 4K TV screens the picture becomes too grainy. But maybe with some mods and overclocking it is possible to improve the anchored experience? In a worst-case scenario, we can get an idea of what The Witcher 3 might look like if Nintendo unlocks the stock Nvidia processor frequencies, which are 1785 MHz and 921 MHz for the CPU and GPU respectively.
Before continuing, you should be aware of the dangers of overclocking Switch hardware. Only a few selected models can be hacked, to begin with, and once you have access to areas of the Horizon operating system and its software to which you do not have rights, Nintendo can prohibit online access to your console. . You should also be aware that overclocking causes greater current draw and therefore creates more heat than the switch heat sink is not rated to withstand. This is a 75% increase in frequency per CPU and 20% per GPU.
Our first test was to use a mod to remove the 30fps limit and run the game at specific Nvidia processor frequencies, so with a strong overclock by Nintendo specs. Along with removing the frame rate limit, other mods can insert an fps counter into the game and reveal the exact resolution implemented frame by frame by the DSR system. These are fascinating tools that show how the dynamic-resolution scaling system actually works, and that Switch in docked mode rarely achieves 720p. In fact, playing on TV often hits 548p in areas like Crokback Bog or 636p in the Battle of Griffin. The resolution always changes, which indicates how much stress the GPU is under.
With access to these stats, you can see how fundamental the dynamic resolution of the scale is: it’s the key to the satisfactory performance we have in the end game. However, DSR works on offloading GPUs while the CPU remains much more problematic. Therefore going to Novigrad (our proving ground) can lead to serious performance issues. The large number of NPCs (which matches those of the PS4 and Xbox One versions) is a real challenge for a tri-core 1Ghz mobile processor, which causes drops of up to 25fps. Changing the resolution has no effect – it’s a fundamental aspect of game design that can’t be changed. The only way to avoid these fps drops is to overclock the system, and we were looking forward to it.
The performance gains with the locked frame rate are minimal, but on the other hand, the DSR system uses the extra GPU power obtained from overclocking to return interesting results. The resolution increases dramatically, and in one area it has increased by 45%. In other areas, although the performance benefits are limited, there are still benefits with a maximum increase of 4 fps. Definitely an upgrade, although not the one hoped for. As expected, however, overclocking the processor allows the Novigrad Zone to run at a higher frame rate of 8 fps. And it’s no surprise that with similar overclocking, the console’s cooling fan is splashing to the max with a level of noise never heard before – the system struggles to dissipate heat.
Oveclock solves a big problem: drops below 30fps caused by environments that suffer from CPU. However, the extra power can be harnessed elsewhere with the various mods available online to address other retail gaming issues. The DSR system can be completely disabled, blocking output to native 720p (although we have tried to go beyond this value but there seems to be an insurmountable limit). Needless to say, you will get a sharper, crisper image. The best advantages are obtained in areas where the resolution falls to the lowest values. The zoomed images below give us an idea of the improvements obtained but during the gameplay it is something else.
Does overclocking improve the experience without any issues? The improvement is palpable, but there is a price to pay. Regardless of clock rates, The Witcher 3 is a demanding game programmed with dynamic resolution for a reason – it uses effects extensively and the system needs a certain degree of scalability to maintain frame rate. . Many times this is fine, but forcing the maximum pixel count is a big mess if you want to keep 30 frames per second in places like Cookback Bog. The refresh rate can actually drop to 20 frames per second, a level worse than the stock market experience.
Setting the game to 720p is an interesting experience, but there are more direct ways to improve graphics fidelity. Through a mod with better settings, you can access a menu of graphics options. This is a work in progress and most of the options available on PC do not or do not work well on Switch. Textures, for example, are blocked and there are no better active ingredients on the cartridge, let alone available for download. What this improved mod does is add switches for vegetation visibility, skylights, water quality, depth of field, sharpness, anti-aliasing, and bloom. And these are obviously in addition to those already present for the blur. Many of these effects are related to post-process effects that have minimal impact on performance, but vegetation is very helpful. Try to fix the obvious pop-in of the latter.
You have four presets, from low to ultra, even though Switch toggles to the high preset by default, so there’s not much room for improvement. But even so, the low to medium jump shows that it affects the density of the grass, as well as the rendering of the trees on the horizon. Going to the ultra scene fills even more vegetation than in the base game and you can find more details throughout the scene. Going from low to ultra, you can lose an average of 3-4 frames per second. The interesting thing is that the mod unlocks options that seem to be already built into the code, it’s the developers who don’t use them.
Another adjustment that results in a tangible change is the sharpening filter. This is very popular with the mod community and its performance impact is minimal. High contrast dots are highlighted when activated, making the picture sharper at 720p (visible in the comparison on this page). There’s a minimal glittering artifact as a side effect, but it’s still a good option. The anti-aliasing switch allows you to turn it off, but we don’t recommend doing this because saws increase a lot.
There are some cool effects here, but basically the Switch version has tradeoffs that can’t be mitigated with mods. Even though the original uncompressed audio can be reinserted with a mod, the textures will still remain those of the PC version at the minimum value: Switch doesn’t have enough RAM to go further. CPU optimizations such as remote NPC animations that update at half the rate are built into the code. But we do have a certain level of scalability in the DSR system, acting on graphics settings and increasing CPU and GPU clocks. All this leads us to ask ourselves a question: can we start the game at 60fps?
It seems impossible because the 30fps limit is quite difficult to maintain, but with active overclocking we are closer than you might think. Removing all post-processing effects doesn’t seem to help much, but rendering vegetation clearly improves performance, so we set it to the preset level. The DSR was set to 832 × 468 with minimal variations. Visual results are extremely poor, and in docked mode with the minimum resolution value we managed to hit the much sought after 60 fps.
You can see the results in the attached video. The White Orchard area is the most amazing for achieving this, as the game is running at 55-60 frames per second here. It looks empty and sorry, sure, but it’s incredibly smooth. In Novigrad we have 45-60 fps, but although the frame rate is more variable, it seems better to play than the standard game.
This was all accomplished with games under GPU-bound conditions and using the lowest possible resolution to increase the frame rate. In the worst case, we get a frame rate of 30 frames per second in the denser areas of Novigrad and in the village of White Orchard. Even with overclocking set to maximum, Switch does not. But already the very fact that we are getting these results is incredible. After all, the idea of playing The Witcher 3 on this system is also somewhat incredible.
This experience leads us to consider the strength of this port for Switch on unmodified hardware, especially in portable mode where the small screen masks the ill-defined image. The bottom line is that the mod’s convenience is quite limited and perhaps the best perks are overclocking which allows for higher frame rates and higher resolutions.
This all brings us back to the story of Switch Pro, a unit that Nintendo has categorically denied for 2020. Even with a next-gen processor, the Mariko chip from the latest Switch revision, it’s calibrated to run on a GPU with a clock greater than 1.2 GHz. However, Nintendo chose not to access that extra performance, opting instead to increase battery longevity. Our experiences show us two things. The first is that the extra power can be harnessed by games without the need for additional developer work. The second is that overclocking the Switch doesn’t seem to cause any compatibility or stability issues, as we’ve tested several games without issues. If our findings translate into a new model, that will be all to see.
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