PICA200 graphics core at the heart of Nintendo 3DS handheld

For a time, it was rumored that Nvidia’s next-generation Tegra system-on-chip would find its way into Nintendo’s next-generation handheld. However, when the 3DS was officially revealed last week, we learned that the device would use graphics technology from a Japanese firm. DMP has provided further clarification, indicating that its PICA200 graphics core is in the new 3D gaming system.

Details on the PICA200 graphics core are a little thin, but this document (PDF) on DMP’s site offers a some background and specifications. The architecture supports OpenGL ES 1.1, bilinear filtering, render to texture, and what looks like 2X full-scene antialiasing. Vertex performance is said to peak at 15.3 million polygons per second, with pixel throughput topping out at 800 million pixels per second. Those figures are based on a clock speed of 200MHz, although there’s no word on whether that clock speed also applies to the 3DS.

Interestingly, the PICA200 uses "DMP MAESTRO technology" to handle per-pixel lighting, procedural textures, shadows, and "gaseous object" rendering, among other tasks. Those effects are typically crunched by shader processors, but the PICA200 has "various modeled CG algorithms as hardware" to perform the associated heavy lifting. DMP notes that this fixed-function hardware can reduce power consumption and the need for memory bandwidth, making it a rather nice fit for a handheld device like the 3DS.

Update — TR reader Helmore points to a Beyond3D discussion thread that dug up a more recent presentation (PDF) that mentions a PICA graphics core with a 400MHz clock frequency. That part’s performance is pegged at 40 million polygons per second (presumably at 400MHz) and 400 million pixels per second at 100MHz.

Comments closed
    • swaaye
    • 9 years ago

    That demo screen reminds me of GeForce 256 tech demos showing the amazing power of DirectX 7. Nice static background image! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    DS is a bit less powerful than a N64. Nintendo likes to make money off you and also have nice battery life. Graphics don’t really matter all that much to their buyers, especially stuff that only we enthusiasts might notice on that tiny LCD.

    PSP is clearly more powerful than DS. Did that matter to sales? Not really.

    I was thinking of picking up an ’80s-edition Gameboy for the road. Is that acceptable in this day and age?

    • lilbuddhaman
    • 9 years ago

    I’m a little upset at this..but given the very low resolution of the screen(s) on the 3ds, this will be plenty. Here’s hoping for a higher res, much bigger XL version of the 3ds in the future.

      • Game_boy
      • 9 years ago

      Like a Wii HD that never happened also?

    • Helmore
    • 9 years ago

    The performance of the chip used really depends on what version they use. Those specs that you posted, Geoff, are from the 2006 version of the chip. There’s also a 2008 version that’s made on a 65 nm process, this version can process 40 MTri/s and 400 MPix/s at a 100 MHz and the maximum clock speed is 400 MHz. That’s on the 65 nm node, we don’t know what specific node Nintendo will use to produce their chips. You can find some more information over in this thread: ยง[<http://forum.beyond3d.com/showthread.php?t=57800<]ยง

      • Game_boy
      • 9 years ago

      Agree with this.

    • Meadows
    • 9 years ago

    This is a minor disappointment. That other chip better be good.

      • Helmore
      • 9 years ago

      Other chip? It’s a SoC, that means pretty much all functionality is located on a single chip including the GPU and CPU(s).

        • Meadows
        • 9 years ago

        I meant what they picked in lieu of Tegra.

          • bhtooefr
          • 9 years ago

          For Nintendo’s application, Tegra probably *[

            • Silus
            • 9 years ago

            Tegra is a SoC, not “just” a graphics core with an ARM processor strapped on it. The first iteration of Tegra, which is roughly capable of 40 million polygons a second, only consumes at most, 1 watt. Tegra 2, which is twice as powerful as Tegra 1, (> 90 million polygons/s), consumes about half a watt. Also, Tegra 2 graphics chip, isn’t derived from the GeForce 200 family. It’s still an improved version of GeForce 6.

            Considering the capabilities of Tegra 2, in terms of HD work and what the graphics core can do, with its power consumption, I don’t really know of any other chip as powerful. Obviously Tegra 2 will be more expensive to get than these weaker chips, which is probably one of the reasons why Nintendo went with this chip. This and also the fact that this is a chip from a Japanese company and japanese like to keep everything “in house” or in this case “in country”, so to speak.

    • thesmileman
    • 9 years ago

    It doesn’t support OpenGL ES 2.0? Ummmm…I don’t…even know what to say.

      • Game_boy
      • 9 years ago

      Look at the demos of Kid Icarus and Metal Gear Solid. They use the preset shadow and particle effects to achieve ES 2.0 quality with fixed-function hardware, and thus much lower power than actual ES2.0 hardware.

      It performs like a Gamecube or PS2. Isn’t that good enough for a handheld? In return for not going all out on that front, you get DS-like battery life (instead of PSP-like) and a sub-$200 cost. Though those last two points I’m just extrapolating based on what Nintendo’s done with design decisions ever since the NES – trade performance for cost and power.

        • adisor19
        • 9 years ago

        No matter how hard they try, they will never attain the potential of ES 2.0 with a fixed hardware architecture. Think of it as what dithering is on 6bit LCDs versus real 8bit panels.

        Adi

          • Game_boy
          • 9 years ago

          Agreed. Is it going to stop them selling 130m like the current DS? Probably not. Graphics will no longer be a reason to not develop for Nintendo on a handheld, and Sony has no competition (they announced after E3 the PSP will continue for a 10-year lifespan, and that Nintendo’s 3D tech did not interest them).

          • Hattig
          • 9 years ago

          If they can attain the most common effects (including self-shadowing, subsurface scattering, procedural textures, etc) in a fraction of the power and die space, then I think Nintendo have made a good compromise.

          I’m interested to see the 3D effect, and I think that with good graphics and 3D, and removing a lot of the baggage of the DS (whilst retaining compatibility) they will have another hit on their hands for the next five to eight years.

    • tejas84
    • 9 years ago

    Who the hell are PICA???

    No AMD or NVIDIA GPU = FAIL

    ….but then it is japanese so what can you expect!

      • jdaven
      • 9 years ago

      Most smartphones don’t use AMD or Nvidia. Actually I don’t think any smartphones uses their chips (maybe a few Tegra models).

      Many use PowerVR from Imagination Technologies. There are some pretty cool games on smartphones so I don’t think AMD or Nvidia have the lock on hardware for good gaming performance.

      BTW, none of the PSP models nor previous gen GameBoy, DS models use ATI or nvidia hardware.

        • Helmore
        • 9 years ago

        That’s not true, pretty much everything that Qualcomm has uses an ATI designed GPU and there are also Broadcom and Samsung chipsets with ATI based graphics.

          • adisor19
          • 9 years ago

          Yes, but that’s because Qualcom bought ATI’s old embedded graphics core which totally blows by today’s standards even when paired with the Snapdragon Cortex-A8 derived ARM cpu core.

          Adi

            • Helmore
            • 9 years ago

            It wouldn’t surprise me if that was because of poor drivers or something like that. The architecture is quite capable.

            • adisor19
            • 9 years ago

            No, it’s not. This is the same old graphics core they bought from ATI years ago. There haven’t been any improvements besides a smaller process and faster clock. That’s it.

            They only reason Qualcom stuck with it is to save $$ from buying a licence from Imagination Technologies.

            Adi

            • bhtooefr
            • 9 years ago

            And poor drivers don’t help, at least in the implementation used in my HTC Touch Pro (which is pre-Snapdragon, but same basic GPU – to the point that the Android builds for it use Nexus One drivers.)

            • djgandy
            • 9 years ago

            because the gpu is poor. It’s like 5 years old.

            • Ashbringer
            • 9 years ago

            It’s using an ATI GPU, even if they bought it. Considering the Qualcom chips can be found in 70% of the smart phones out there, that’s a lot ground.

            The next most popular GPU is the PowerVR chip, which is the old dreamcast GPU with improvements.

            • swaaye
            • 9 years ago

            I don’t think it has much in common with Dreamcast. Beyond being a tiled renderer anyway.

        • djgandy
        • 9 years ago

        Correct. All the good performing smart phones (in terms of 3d) have SGX in them ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Meadows
      • 9 years ago

      Thunder shock attack!

    • Game_boy
    • 9 years ago

    About Gamecube/PS2 level graphics then, for the 200MHz version.

    There’s also a 65nm 400MHz version that came out in 2008, so Nintendo could be using that too. Or a custom version with some other clockspeed.

    Power consumption and pricing look good enough to keep in the region of the DS’s battery life and be about $200 for the console. That’s just my guess though.

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