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Commentary: Could gaming consoles move to ARM chips in future?

The tech industry was quick to realise the potential of ARM chips with Apple releasing its M1 chips. These chips delivered performance gains compared to competing x86 CPUs and graphics processors while consuming less power.

With Apple’s M1 chips achieving groundbreaking performance in both computing and graphical aspects, it led us to wonder about the possibility of ARM-based gaming consoles, which can be just as demanding as computers.

Many portable consoles have been using ARM processors

The recent Nintendo Switch and many other portable consoles have been using ARM processors. It is common to see many users of Nintendo Switch connect their devices to larger displays via the Nintendo Switch Dock accessory (sold separately).

The Switch offers decent performance and a resolution of up to 1080P at 60FPS when docked. Should there be a desktop console with ARM processors, we can expect a great performance gain that could match up to current consoles using the x86 architecture, as there is more room and power to ramp up its internals.

Adapting current titles for ARM

Games designed for x86 will run differently from how ARM processors function. Just like Apple’s M1 transition, there would be emulation involved (at least in the beginning) to make sure existing games can run on the new chips.

The ideal option would be to rewrite the games to run natively on the chip. However, doing so might incur extensive efforts depending on the complexity of the game. There could also be numerous problems, like what Microsoft experienced with their ARM transition.

Android games could run directly from consoles

With ARM chips possibly found in gaming consoles, users who have been gaming on Android games such as PUBG can now take full advantage of the stronger hardware in gaming consoles, skipping the emulation process entirely. Gamers would then be able to experience maximised gaming performance, especially for Android-only games.

It takes time for manufacturers to follow suit

AMD, the current processor provider on Xbox and PlayStation, has been focused on enhancing their x86-based chips for the gaming consoles. This leaves the ARM development mostly untouched.

Current ARM processors found on non-Apple laptops came from Qualcomm, and displayed disappointing performance in tests. Given that making power-efficient chips is their priority, it could take time to make a performance-centric processor (if they intend to do so).

ARM-based gaming consoles might come, but not so soon

As we have seen with Apple’s M1 chips, ARM chips gradually overcome the stereotype of being less capable than their x86 counterparts. If done correctly, it could inherit the positive traits from both groups.

In conclusion, it might still be unrealistic to expect games to reach the peak performance in ARM-based gaming consoles in the next 2 years, even if such machines are developed.

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