Trying to second-guess Nintendo is a bit like trying to work out why people watch Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps; the end result usually defies all logic and reason. Not only is Satoru Iwata's team notoriously tight-lipped about any unannounced products, but it also has a habit of coming up with plenty of surprises. The Wii had a fraction of the power of the Xbox 360, the GameBoy was similarly feeble compared with the Atari Lynx and the original DS looked like a clunky electric abacus next to the PSP, yet they all turned into cash-generating machines.
As such, bear in mind that anything you read about Project Café at the moment is rumour, conjecture, speculation or possibly a bit of all three. That includes this feature. What we do know is that Nintendo definitely has a new console in the works, it's codenamed Project Café and it's scheduled to be unveiled at E3 in June. There have also been plenty of rumours about the new device, which may or may not be true - all we're trying to do is disect the rumours in an informative manner.
These were really popular. Seriously, they were
According to IGN's sources, the CPU is going to be a triple-core IBM PowerPC chip that's similar to the Xenon CPU in the Xbox 360. This rumour has surprised some people, as there were previous rumours that the next Nintendo console would be based on an AMD Fusion CPU. However, if the triple-core PowerPC rumour is true, then it would certainly make a lot of sense, given that Nintendo also based the Wii and GameCube on the PowerPC CPU architecture.
Backward-compatibility is going to be important to Nintendo – all its portable consoles have maintained backward compatibility with their predecessors on release, and the Wii could also play GameCube games. Even with a great deal more processing power, it's unlikely that Project Café will have enough horsepower to play Wii games using pure software emulation, and while you can port a single game from PowerPC to x86 simply enough, doing this with the entire Wii back catalogue would result in a lot of complications, as well as a lot of mucking around in machine code to get every single game working properly. This would mean extra costs, delays and potential compatibility problems.
According to IGN, Project Cafe will feature a triple-core PowerPC CPU, much like the Xbox 360's Xenon chip
Even now, not every Xbox game runs on the Xbox 360, following a change in processor architecture from x86 to PowerPC, and Sony had to basically reinstall the Emotion Engine in the PlayStation 3 to get it to run PlayStation 2 games. Sticking with PowerPC makes sense for Nintendo, not only in terms of backward compatibility with old discs, but also in terms of easily making GameCube and Wii games potentially available via the online Virtual Console (or whatever Nintendo calls it this time around). Nintendo's exclusive first-party back catalogue is a major asset for the company, and a PowerPC CPU makes it potentially much easier to offer this up on the new console, as well as the backward-compatible ATI GPU.
IGN also claims that the chip will have a faster clock speed than the Xenon, although we're guessing the clock speed won't be very much faster. The Xenon's three CPU cores (six threads), which are based on the PPE part of the Cell architecture, are already clocked at 3.2GHz. Given that Project Café's main task will be gaming, it's not going to need an awful lot more than this in the way of processing power and significantly higher clock speeds are likely to result in thermal problems. If it is clocked any higher than 3.2GHz, then we'd hazard a guess that it's more likely to be in the 3.6GHz ballpark than the 6.4GHz area.