Overclocking the Nintendo Switch Shows Its Potential, as Well as Its Drawbacks

Overclocking the Nintendo Switch Shows Its Potential, as Well as Its Drawbacks

Digital Foundry takes a look at the potential inside the chip.

The "new" Nintendo Switch is on the way, with not just more battery life but a slight upgrade to the internal Tegra X1 chip. You might hope this would lead to an improvement in performance, similar to gradual upgrades made to games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Thanks to Digital Foundry, we've got an idea of what that could look like, if Nintendo opens the door.

Using an app called SysClk, a homebrew system that lets you overclock the Nintendo Switch, Digital Foundry ramped up the horsepower on the hybrid console to see just what was possible with the Tegra X1. By utilizing this tool, the Switch can reach the stock clocks Nvidia set for the Tegra X1. In comparison to Nintendo's internal docked clock configuration, that's roughly 20 percent more on the GPU side, and 75 percent boost on the CPU.

Digital Foundry looked at some of the games most known for hitting performance hitches, like Mortal Kombat 11, Wolfenstein Youngblood, and the recent Dragon Quest Builders 2.

What DF found was an improvement to gameplay, but at the cost of battery life. Games like Mortal Kombat 11 and Youngblood saw noticeable improvements when both the CPU and CPU were clocked up, highlighting the impressive scaling of some projects from devs like Panic Button. But the more power you push into the Switch, the faster the battery life drops, underscoring the decision-making process behind various Switch ports. Yet a few games, like Mortal Kombat 11 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, have seen incremental upgrades to its internal clock time, essentially a selective overclock to beef up the machine in certain areas.

"The emphasis so far has been on increasing GPU power, but my results so far suggest that the experience could be improved significantly with a CPU upclock," wrote Richard Leadbetter of Digital Foundry. "Even moving to the next step up (1220MHz) could deliver significantly smoother gameplay."

While the new Tegra chip is ultimately the key to Nintendo's path forward, it seems like improved performance may only be strategically employed triage rather than an uptick across the board. It seems pretty clear that battery life is critical to the Nintendo Switch, and that honestly makes a lot of sense. If its selling point is being a hybrid console that can go portable, it wouldn't do to have it run out of battery every two hours. But perhaps we'll see some of this selective upclocking in the future as a way to bridge the gap between Switch and the bulkier consoles.

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Eric Van Allen

News Editor

Eric is a writer and Texan. He's a former contributor to sites including Compete, Polygon, Waypoint, and the Washington Post. He loves competitive games, live music, and travel.

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