What is Nintendo Switch boost mode and how does it work?.
Let’s start this article by getting straight to the point: Switch is indeed evolving and in some scenarios Nintendo’s hardware becomes a bit more powerful than it was in its original version. The recently released news about some sort of « boost mode » on the hybrid console may not be entirely accurate, but after carefully studying three recent releases, we can confirm that Nintendo is selectively overclocking its hardware or, to be more precise, provides new options that allow developers to increase performance in portable mode, while adjusting thermal management and processor speed to improve load times.
Back in December 2016, at Digital Foundry, we already revealed the clock speed settings Nintendo had set for the Switch, which was cause for concern. The specifications of the X1 processor were well known after its debut in 2015 with the Nvidia Shield, and it was clear that the Japanese manufacturer had taken a fairly conservative stance with its setup. The processor clock speed was limited to just 1020 MHz, while the GPU frequency remained at 768 MHz, numbers significantly lower than those used by the same chip on the Nvidia Shield. The situation was even more troubling in the Switch’s portable mode, where the GPU was only running at 307.2 MHz – although shortly before launch Nintendo added a 384 MHz mode.
The situation has recently changed, with more options available to developers. Under certain circumstances, the Switch processor can now temporarily increase its speed to 1785 MHz, while in portable mode The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey and Mortal Kombat 11, they increase the GPU clock speed. at 460 MHz, 20% more than 384 MHz and 50% more than the original option at 307.2 MHz. In addition, there is evidence that some titles may have access to a variable frequency mode on the GPU which adjusts according to the load.
Mario and Zelda are actually enjoying both of these upgrades at the same time, and it’s especially worth explaining how the upgrade works in the CPU. Basically, it is used exclusively to improve load times. Two elements define the length – or duration – of a load: the storage performance when sending data to memory and the processor speed when decompressing the data received by the system (the storage space is limited enough so the data is compressed to save space.) Using a switch with frequency monitoring and management software (SysClk), I was able to see how Mario and Zelda were loaded with a processor speed of 1785 MHz and then reduced that figure to the standard 1020 MHz after the charge was completed.
The 75% increase in processor frequency is an extreme improvement, but the truth is that increasing the clock speed to 1785 MHz just on loads is a very inspired decision. The most power consuming component of the Tegra X1 processor is undoubtedly the Maxwell graphics hardware, but normally during loads the amount of GPU usage is almost negligible. The demand in terms of battery consumption and thermal management is then low, which opens the possibility of temporarily increasing the clock speed of the CPU to its maximum frequency. It took twenty-eight seconds to load Super Mario Odyssey before installing the latest patch (and in this version I can confirm that the CPU was running at 1020 MHz), whereas with the latest update, in which the « boost » mode is used, the load is reduced up to twenty seconds, or 29% less. Dynamic processor tuning extends to in-game loads as well, but here are just a couple of improvements over the previous code.
This is a very well thought out tip, and there’s no reason we won’t see this CPU-driven improvement in load times implemented in more games, both first and third. Evidence suggests that Nintendo started experimenting with increasing clock speeds in their own games, before offering the option to outside developers, with a 20% improvement in GPU frequencies in handheld mode. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey appear to be the first to receive the boost to 460 MHz in portable mode, while NetherRealm’s Mortal Kombat 11 was the first third-party title to have access to this new mode. . .
With a modified switch, the SysClk tool also allows users to speed up or even slow down their hardware. Logically, this type of modification carries the risk that your console will be banned from Nintendo’s online services, which we do not recommend to the ordinary user. But for us, that was the only way to unequivocally confirm Nintendo’s changes to clock speeds, and therefore performance. And in the case of Mortal Kombat 11 – which can drop below 60FPS at some levels – SysClk allows us to force the Switch to move the game around with lower and less powerful mobile modes.
Using a repeat – to match the conditions in all the tests – as a sample, the results are fascinating. Running at 384 MHz, performance is generally less stable, but I have a feeling that is the mode in mind when designing the Mortal Kombat 11 portable setup. With the new 460 MHz option, developers get much smoother performance and better graphics quality because dynamic resolution scaling technology takes advantage of additional GPU resources. As you would expect with a 50% reduction in GPU frequency, performance freezes when you force the game to use 307.2 MHz mode. It’s safe to assume that additional consistency in resolution and performance also benefits Zelda and Mario, as they both use DRS and might experience drop in frame rates when we tested them at launch.
|Mode Dock||Portable mode # 1||Portable mode # 2||Portable mode # 3||Boost mode for charges|
|CPU speed||1020 MHz||1020 MHz||1020 MHz||1020 MHz||1785MHz|
|GPU speed||768MHz||307,2 MHz||384 MHz||460 MHz||Depends on game / mode|
|CEM speed||1600 MHz||1331 MHz||1331 MHz||1331 MHz||Depends on game / mode|
There are a few other oddities in the games I tried, especially in the interesting ports developed by Panic Button from Doom (2016) and Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus. Both titles use dynamic resolution scaling and temporary anti-aliasing to extract the maximum possible performance from the GPU. SysClk specifies that the GPU speed adjusts dynamically as you play, changing rapidly between 307.2 MHz, 384 MHz, and 460 MHz. In one step of a six-minute Doom game, SysClk counted up to twenty-eight GPU speed changes, which has surely been happening for a long time.
SysClk also allows us to test other possible overclocking vectors that Nintendo may explore in the future. There appears to be an official 1224 MHz speed mode, although we haven’t seen it applied in any games yet and it may just exist as a solution so developers have a bit more CPU power available for it. use of debugging tools. If Nintendo can increase GPU speed by 20% to improve performance, I see no reason why CPU limited games cannot use this 1224MHz mode while keeping GPU frequencies static.
I also find it fascinating that Nintendo has the ability to increase memory bandwidth in portable mode. The EMC (Integrated Memory Controller) operates at 1600 MHz in dock mode, up to 1331 MHz when playing in portable mode. This component can be locked at 1600 MHz in portable mode with SysClk and the effect on the battery is very low, with the advantage that in certain circumstances it can improve the performance of the game. For example, we know that the tremors we We experienced in the Korok Forest of Breath of the Wild while playing in portable mode improved significantly when playing in dock mode thanks to the increased memory bandwidth, as other speeds are normal.
As for games connected to the docking station, the Tegra X1’s Maxwell GPU can run at 921 MHz, another 20% reduction from standard specs. In the past, there has been news of Switch consoles bending a bit in the dock, possibly due to heating issues, making it questionable that this mode will unlock … at least on the Switch we have today. . There have been rumors of a purported “Switch Pro” that would offer better performance, and at the same time firmware dumps revealed that Nintendo was working on a revision of the Switch processor, which would be codenamed “Mariko”. It could be an upgraded version of the current Tegra X1 ‘Logan’ and could potentially open the door to more efficient and cooler operation, which is needed to increase CPU and GPU frequencies.
Anyway, what we can already confirm is that the news of the last few days regarding a boost mode on Switch is correct, despite the fact that it works differently from the boost mode of PlayStation 4 Pro. On the Sony console, the user Who decides whether or not to use the extra CPU and GPU power, while in the case of Nintendo, this decision is entirely up to the developers. Selective overclocking of the processor to 1785 MHz improves load times, but a 1224 MHz mode may be available later for games that require it. Meanwhile, a 20% improvement in GPU speed offers clear benefits in the most demanding laptop experiences. Years after its launch, Nintendo has taken Switch hardware beyond its existing limits to deliver more performance, and it will be fascinating to see what they do next in that regard.
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