Nintendo NX may use cartridges; might not be the worst idea

Macronix, Nintendo's supplier of ROM chips typically used for 3DS games, has made an announcement that has many Nintendo NX theorists scrambling to find out what they could possibly mean. The quote is as follows:

"旺宏ROM晶片主要供貨給遊戲機大廠任天堂,第1季雖是銷售淡季,但營收表現仍與去年同期相當,吳敏求表示,由於任天堂才剛宣布,明年3月將推出新一代遊戲機, 並會在日、歐、美等三地同步開賣,所以今年下半年ROM可望擴大出貨,將有很大的成長潛力。"

“Macronix’s ROM chips are usually supplied to videogame console maker, Nintendo. Although the sales is in off season during the first quarter, the revenue is similar compared with the same period last year. Wu Miin suggested that as Nintendo had just announced it will release a new generation console in March next year, and the console will be launched at the same time in Japan, America and Europe, so ROM’s sales is expected to increase in the latter half of this year, and it will have a large growth potential.”

For those who couldn't catch the point of interest: Macronix has subtly implied that the Nintendo NX has a high likelihood of using cartridge-based games. While this may seem like a step backward - and another potential Nintendo blunder - there may be method to Nintendo's madness if the rumors are true.

Those with basic knowledge of computers - particularly those who build their own PC gaming rigs - will all tell you that disc formats are the most common bottleneck in gaming right now. While many disc formats can range from 50 gigabytes or even 1 terabyte, the main disadvantage is that a disc drive has to physically search and read the data contained on the disc. Because of this, loading times can be stretched to a minimum of 2 times the waiting times that solid state media does. This is also one of the main reasons PC gamers have turned to SSDs for gaming, as the minutes-long loading times that HHDs cause can be reduced to seconds using SSDs.

Cartridges are more or less identical to SSDs in terms of function. Since all data is stored on a digital medium, all data can be drawn at a much faster pace than an optical disc drive. Not only that, but when ordered en masse, cartridges are now cheaper to produce (and smaller) than discs of similar capacities.

If Nintendo and Macronix truly collaborate on production for the NX, the new cartridges (based on new Macronix technology) could fit up to 32GB of storage. That is nearly 1.5 times the storage space of the Wii U's current discs.

While the technological advantages are harder to differentiate between physical and solid state discs beyond loading times, there are some practical advantages as well.

One advantage is that cartridge media is much more reliable than disc media on a daily wear-and-tear basis. Nintendo's last generation of consoles - the Wii (without the U) - suffered from a high risk of complete failure if the discs were scratched in the slightest. While the risks are slightly less with modern discs, the potential for scratches to ruin the game's readability is still there. Cartridge media cannot be scratched, and therefore has a competitive edge in the practicality market based on this alone.

Unless you are one of the few people who takes good care of your discs, chances are that you've had at least one completely fail on you...

Another advantage of cartridges is that unlike disc drives, cartridges have a near-zero chance of damaging the media they are reading. An uncommon (but class-action lawsuit worthy) case with the Xbox 360 led to systems "eating" game discs. While cartridge media may suffer from the occasional need to clear the receivers on either the console-side or the media-side, a bit of dusting is much easier to fix than a chewed up media disc.

One last purely subjective benefit of cartridges is the fact that there is no hole in the middle of your disc. This means that cover arts can be beautifully displayed without any damage to the original art.

Nintendo has yet to announce any plans to reveal what exactly the NX is. While they did promise to talk about it at E3 late last year, recent news has pointed toward Nintendo's E3 presence being purely Zelda Wii U based. That said, cartridge media would certainly be an interesting move for the NX, even if it is an unlikely one. But considering Nintendo's shift to the red and white format, and their unconventional business plans in the past, perhaps their rebranding based on the old style may be more than just symbolic...

What do you think about a new cartridge console release? Would you like to see consoles return to cartridge formats again? Do you think this is a terrible decision for Nintendo if it turns out to be true? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!



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