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GameCube FAQ

Understanding the Specs

by the NWR Staff - October 17, 2001, 6:19 pm EDT


Not everyone is a technical genius but every Nintendophile has a right to understand & know what to expect from Nintendo's GameCube. Therefore, this section of the FAQ breaks down the specs and explains.

I'm confused! What the heck do all these technical specs mean?!? Can you explain?

Thanks to David Trammell, the Planet's NGC FAQ now includes a breakdown of the NGC's specs. If you're a bit clueless when it comes to the technical side of things, never fear! This section of the FAQ is for you.

Let's look a little deeper into the GameCube's architecture comparing it to the Xbox and the PS2.

The Gekko Chip

The "Gekko" is a modified PowerPC chip specifically geared towards gaming. PowerPC chips are used in Macintosh computers. The chips are much better than X86 technology (Pentium III) on a per clock cycle basis, especially for games. This means that even running at nearly half the speed of Xbox's 733 MHz Pentium III, the GameCube's "Gekko" may actually out-perform it in many situations. This is due to the PowerPC architecture combined with the large L1 and L2 cache (twice as much as the Xbox in each case). You should also note that the Pentium III only computes floating points at 32 bit precision as opposed to the 64 bit floating point precision of the "Gekko".

Art X Graphic Chip, "Flipper"

Not a lot is known about the internal architecture of the "Flipper" because it is a custom chip surrounded by Nintendo's legendary NDAs. We do know a lot of important things though. First, it has a built in geometry engine. In normal PC games, and this-gen consoles, the main processor spends roughly 90% of its time handling geometry processing. "Flipper" (as well as the Xbox) has a built in geometry engine that does nothing but transform calculations. This takes an incredible burden off of the main processor freeing the "Gekko" for other things like artificial intelligence, physics, and much more. Another important aspect of the "Flipper" is the amount and quality of the effects built in. While PS2 programmers must program effects from scratch, the GameCube has everything you can dream of already built in. It also retains some degree of flexibility so innovative developers can make their own effects. The extent of this flexibility is not yet known. 24-bit color provides you with more colors than your eyes are capable of detecting. No current or conceived systems ever plan on going beyond this color depth, because our eyes cannot detect the difference. Basically, expect a smooth blend of color at all times with no banding or other artifacts produced by lower color depths (all next-gen systems render in 24 bit color except the Dreamcast).


The 16-bit DSP was designed by the sound wizards at Factor 5. It is a very capable chip that has a raw sound output that is very similar to the sound chip in the Xbox (about 255 channels). Nintendo, as usual, opted to release realistic figures with effects included, so official spec sheets say it has 64 3D channels. 48khz sampling is CD quality, the same rate used in all next-gen consoles. The chip is supported by sound tools that were developed by Factor 5 as well.


There are 24 MB of 1T-SRAM and 16 MB of dynamic A-RAM to draw from. The dynamic A-RAM is just standard 81 MHz RAM with normal access times and such. It's good for information that the system doesn't need to get in an instant like sound and animation data. The 1T-SRAM on the other hand is really special. Access times for 1T-SRAM ranges from 5-10 nanoseconds compared to 50-60+ nanoseconds for normal dynamic RAM (used in, PS2, PSX, N64, DC, PCs and GameCube A-RAM; XBox has double data rate DRAM which is about 50% quicker on the draw). The importance of 1T-SRAM can hardly be overstated because a processor that has to wait for memory is wasting its clock cycles (MHz). Finally, with a memory bandwidth of 2.6 Gigs a second for the 24 megs of 1T-SRAM alone, "Flipper" can read and write the entire bank of RAM once for each frame at sixty frames a second (under optimal conditions). Basically, developers won't be limited to fitting all visible textures in the 1 Meg of on-chip texture memory. "Flipper" automatically retrieves textures from the main memory in plenty of time to implement them on a frame-by-frame basis.


The GameCube optical disk may seem like a liability to some people at first glance. However, there are so many good reasons for using them, including piracy protection. While critics have said that the 1.47 gig capacity is not large enough, keep in mind that most PS2 games released right now are still pressed on regular 650 MegaByte CDs. With the added bonuses of S3TC texture compression and MusyX audio compression as well as MPEG video compression, space will simply not be an issue.


The GameCube has all the data ports you would expect from a next-gen system. These include: high-speed serial and parallel ports for any peripheral you can imagine, a traditional analog video output, a digital video out for progressive scan TV's and monitors (sorry PS2 fans), and of course four controller ports (again, sorry...). Some might complain about having only two memory card slots. Personally, I've never had to use more than one or two at a time. Swapping shouldn't pose a problem for the rare occasions that you have more than two.

(FAQ Section by David Trammell)

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