The classic Xbox
The Wii does not have the graphical horsepower of the five-year-old original Xbox, says Microsoft

Everyone knows that technical specs of the Wii are no match for those of Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 – a point which Nintendo isn’t even trying to hide. On paper, the Wii doesn’t match up with the technology of the current generation – and Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s entertainment division, recently went on to say that Wii wouldn’t even match up to one of the last-generation systems.

“The video graphics on it aren't very strong; the box itself is kind of underpowered; it doesn't play DVDs; there are a lot of down-line components [that] aren't actually that interesting,” Bach said in an eWeek interview. “They don't have the graphics horsepower that even Xbox 1 had.”

Bach’s comments meant no disrespect to Nintendo, as he stressed heavily his admiration for the rival company’s innovation and even predicts success for the Wii. What has raised a few eyebrows, however, is his comment that the Wii wouldn’t even be able to produce graphics that we saw from the original Xbox – a system released five years ahead of the Wii.

J. Allard-dreadlock-pusher N'Gai Croal of Newsweek sought to test the validity of Bach’s claim and polled a couple third party developers for their anonymous comments. One of the original Xbox’s greatest strengths was its NVIDIA GPU’s programmable shader capability – something that the Wii’s ATI GPU does not have.

“The Wii's GPU has fixed functions for vertex, lighting, and pixel operations,” said one of the developers. “All 'programmable shaders' means is that the code you write for the shader gets run on the vertex and pixel hardware of the GPU. This is how it works on the high-end ATI and Nvidia GPU parts. The Wii is an older fixed function design where you have lots of operations but the pipelines are not programmable in the sense of downloading shader code to run [on them].”

Even without programmable pixel shaders, the fixed functions of the Wii are able to do a pretty good job, said another programmer. “Almost all the shader effects on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 can be reproduced on the Wii by re-implementing them with the fixed function hardware of the Wii's GPU. Most games just port the effect over. A few teams have gone as far as making a shader-to-Wii conversion tool. It reads the shader code and generates the fixed function code necessary to achieve the same result. Keep in mind that the Wii's GPU is not as fast or feature rich as the Xbox 360 or PS3, but that doesn't mean you can't get very close results.”

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