I have had a slight tip off on this for a while but didn’t think the information was strong enough to report on yet, but enough people are verifying the rumors that I thought it was worth a post.  My first indication of this news was an insider pointing me to this article on Yahoo! Games website that claims executives were showing off an NVIDIA Tegra-powered Nintendo handheld at Gamescon:

Okay, according to various “sources” Nintendo has been showing off its next generation of handheld hardware to a select group of gamesbiz bigwigs at the recent GamesCom show. Hmmm, really?

Well, maybe. But let’s run with the rumours for a while…

By all accounts the new unit is built around Nvidia’s Tegra chipset, hence the new moniker – the Nintendo “TS” (Tegra System). The Tegra is appropriately described as a computer-on-a-chip in that it integrates many functions into one slender slice of silicon. It is specifically designed for mobile devices and is scheduled to power Microsoft’s Zune HD handheld later this year. In other words, it’d be the ideal foundation for a new generation of handheld consoles, assuming that Nintendo was ever in the market for such a thing. But moving on.

Obviously Tegra has a huge performance advantage over the existing ARM processors inside the current Nintendo DS:

Practically-speaking, the TS would be on a par with the Wii in terms of its processing power and graphical grunt. The new unit is set to retain many features of its immediate predecessor too – notably a DSi-style built-in camera and a higher-resolution touch-screen interface. Full backwards-compatibility is also on the cards, we’re assured.

I still think that the current Sony PSP would get the nod if these two systems were in any way benchmarked against each other – not that that is likely to be possible anytime soon.  But the Tegra architecture, especially an upcoming design due later this year, would definitely offer Nintendo a big boost in 3D gaming power.

NVIDIA Tegra rumored to be included in new Nintendo handheld - Mobile 3

Now, according to this story over at Bright Side of News, NVIDIA has won a contract from Nintendo for that next-generation handheld:

As the time passed by, Nintendo started to work on the successor of its handheld console with a debut planned for late 2010 [Tokyo Game Show?]. According to our confidential sources, Nintendo is going to use Tegra System-on-Chip processor for the successor of DS/DSi handheld console. Unlike the current design, nVidia offered a single-chip proposal to Nintendo, a company famous for keeping the hardware platform absolutely simple.

Given the fact that Nintendo DS hardware is based upon 16-bit and 32-bit ARM cores, it looks like Next-Gen DS could be backwards compatible with the DS application library. According to our sources, all of the apps that came for old DS could run on a single ARM11 core, yet alone the next-gen CorTex-A9-based Tegra, leaving graphics subsystem to do “something smarter”.

If NVIDIA hopes to survive in the world of post-Fusion products (combined CPU/GPU offerings) then they will definitely need products like Tegra to win designs like this.  Nintendo has sold over 100 million Nintendo DS systems and if NVIDIA does indeed power the next revision of it with a Tegra-based processor, that is a huge boost to the company’s bottom line and could put the Tegra brand on its way to “capturing 50% of nVidia’s revenue within the next couple of years.”

NVIDIA Tegra rumored to be included in new Nintendo handheld - Mobile 4

Besides these two reports of NVIDIA powering the upcoming Nintendo system, I am hearing from my own internal sources at NVIDIA that this is indeed the case.  Obviously no one wants to go on record about this deal until both NVIDIA and Nintendo are ready to talk about next-generation systems, but anyone in the industry realizes that NVIDIA is in desperate need for some good news – even if it has to come in the form of leaked information.

For those of you unfamiliar with what Tegra is, check out our analysis of the technology from last year.  In it we detail the various processors at work in the System-on-a-Chip as well as the power consumption advantages it offers (which are crucial to a mobile gaming system from Nintendo).

Further Reading: