The Nintendo Switch is essentially a hybrid console meant to bridge the gap between portable handhelds like the Game Boy and traditional systems like the Nintendo Wii. The problem, however, is that it’s severely underpowered and basically works like a glorified tablet. Now, thanks to a new teardown, we have better understanding of exactly how it works and how it was built.
The engineers at Mindtribe just published a detailed teardown of the Nintendo Switch, and it includes geeky annotations to make things a little more interesting and accessible than your average iFixit or Fictiv version. In this walk-through, you’ll find several hidden engineering feats and other cool tricks pulled off by Nintendo’s engineering team. It’s super interesting, especially if you’ve been curious about how the hybrid gaming console works — and how some of its abilities might change in the near future.
The teardown makes it clear how much time and effort went into refining every detail. If you've ever opened up a popular gadget before, you'll probably notice the injection moulding marks common to devices like this. What's unique about the Switch, however, is that there's also a stamped-in date (Nov 15, 2016 on this particular model) which will give you an idea of how long the production line has been running and what batch your unit came from. This is great for identifying older consoles from newer ones.
Beneath the case, you'll find the motherboard, battery and other main components that allow the machine to function. One of the most easily identifiable components is the gigantic heatsink (the gigantic copper piece) that runs through the middle of the system.
The heatsink is primarily used to cool the custom Nvidia Tegra processor, which runs hot, given its small size and high processing power. Mindtribe seems to disagree with the perception that the Switch is basically a glorified tablet, and while we're not entirely in agreement in that regard, we can say the Tegra chip does have some impressive graphics processing power.
The bigger issue is that this processing power generates a ton of heat. Enter the heatsink, which is actually more clever that it appears to be at first glance. Nintendo compressed the tube to maximise its flatness, and then filled it with coolant to maximise heat dissipation. There's also a small radiator and fan positioned right next to the battery. Which explains why this thing never gets as hot as other Tegra-powered devices.
Deeper into the console you'll see a relatively new USB Type-C connector that enables the entire device's power and data needs. Nintendo appears to given extra attention to making the USB Type-C connector durable, probably because the console will spend most of its life being carried around as a portable handset.
One of the other cool takeaways is the fact that the microchips have little pictograms of the chip orientations printed on them, and MindTribe also says there are diode marks if you look really closely at the circuit board. These little annotations are presumably to help Nintendo prevent any chips from being installed incorrectly.
The team also suggests that Nintendo could rather easily add a VR aspect to the console or add other accessories. This sounds great for any Nintendo Switch owners, but we'll be the first to say that we're not holding our breath waiting for any new accessories. We want more games. Until then, the Nintendo Switch is basically an extremely well-built tablet with one good game.