The unique hybrid functionality of the Nintendo Switch has made for an interesting design. Unlike a traditional system, Switch developers must design their games around two different performance modes: docked and undocked. The Tegra processor inside of the Switch changes its clock speed depending on which of these two states the console is in. Before, this could only be triggered by docking and undocking the system. Now, hackers have found a way to change the clock speed on their own.
This hack, called ‘Freebird,’ is an application that gives owners of modded Switch units the ability to change the GPU clock speeds on the fly. This has made for some interesting results when it comes to playing in handheld mode, as under normal circumstances most games tend to downgrade their graphical fidelity to compensate for the reduction in available processing power. With overclocking enabled, these negative effects are mostly nullified. Some games which had stuttering issues also run a lot better.
So, what gives? If hackers have been able to improve game performance by just overclocking, why does Nintendo hold the performance of the Switch back in the first place? Well, like every device, it has to do with optimization.
Unleash the Beast
Nintendo clearly knows that the Tegra is capable of doing more, but the values that it and Nvidia had set were done to ensure the Switch could strike a balance between performance, heat and battery life. By overclocking a chipset, even in a PC, this results in more power usage. As a result, more heat is generated which increases the risk of overheating. This is why most manufacturers that allow their components to be overclocked always warn against it. It’s really something that’s only meant for tech-savvy tinkerers to mess around with, as the average user will likely do some accidental yet still serious damage.
With the Switch also being a portable device, heat is a very big concern. Its small chassis already gets pretty hot (especially in docked mode), so upping the clock speed is likely to take a toll on the hardware after an extended period. Of course, battery consumption is also a big concern. There are already quite a few folks displeased with the fact that graphically-taxing Switch titles only allow the system to run for about three hours, so imagine if the Tegra was running at full tilt all the time in handheld mode?
For Nintendo to boost the clock speed on an official basis, this would require a revised model that could safely handle all these changes. This wouldn’t really be in the same league as a ‘Switch Pro’, as this would merely be a hardware boost rather than a fully-fledged upgrade. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what results are generated from this as more tests are done.