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Turning the Nintendo Switch’s Wi-Fi off can reportedly improve its frame rate

The Nintendo Switch has generally been lauded as an excellent handheld system, but its top game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, isn’t without some issues. As Digital Foundry noted when it tested the game, both the Switch and the Wii U often stuttered briefly when running around in the game world. What was odd, according to the DF folks, was that the Switch seemed to have problems in random areas.

Generally speaking, a game that bogs down in one specific area bogs down in that area in a very repeatable fashion. Granted, a badly programmed game may behave less well in this regard, but performance play-throughs are generally considered a reliable way to measure frame rate. If they weren’t, we literally wouldn’t be able to benchmark games (at least, not without an enormous number of play-throughs).

The Switch, however, doesn’t obey that rule, and NintendoLife thinks it knows why. One of its readers, JunkRabbit, claims that turning the Switch’s Autoconnect Wi-Fi feature to “Off” prevents these problems in Breath of the Wild, I am Setsuna, and Fast RMX. He writes:

I remember the Digital Foundry experts to have been puzzled how some of the worst framerate issues seem to occur so randmoly(sic), not area-specific. I believe these are not the fault of the game, but of the Switch trying to periodically auto-connect to WiFi where there is no network available. This is supposed to happen in the background, but it apparently does affect the game(s)…

I then delved into the Internet settings of the Switch, found the “Auto Connect” option and turned it off, and Voilà, no more FPS issues in Setsuna and FAST RMX! And only the “usual” minor ones in BotW in very specific (foliage intensive) areas, no more heavy random ones.

Nintendo hasn’t formally responded yet, but a developer contact at NintendoLife confirmed to that publication that the company is aware of the problem and working on a fix.

Setsuna1

This makes fairly reasonable sense, especially on a platform as young as the Switch is. It could be that the Wi-Fi check takes longer than it should, causing the system to stutter briefly, or that the method of scanning for open Wi-Fi connections is set to a high priority level that interrupts the Switch’s rendering and causes noticeable lag. Because the handset scans for Wi-Fi networks every so often, this would explain why people don’t see the same slowdowns twice in the same area.

The Switch’s Wi-Fi is provided via the Broadcom BCM4356, and it’s possible that the driver for the hardware needs to be updated to work more effectively in this configuration.

That said, this probably won’t fix the periodic slowdowns when the console is docked. Eurogamer’s tests show that Zelda uses dynamic resolution both in handheld mode and when docked. In handheld mode, the console renders at 1280×720 by default, but drops to 1152×864 when under heavy load. When docked, the Switch runs at 1600×900 natively, but drops to 1440×810 under load.

In both cases, the console is drawing roughly 80% of its base frame rate when it cuts the resolution, but that doesn’t change the fact that the base frame rate is far more bandwidth intensive when the machine is docked. The Switch’s maximum docked resolution is 1.56x higher than its maximum undocked resolution, and its reduced docked resolution (1440×810) is 1.56x higher than its handheld reduced resolution (1152×864).

One of the differences between the Switch when docked versus undocked is that in docked mode, it increases its memory speed to DDR4-1333 to DDR4-1600, but that’s only a 20% increase in memory bandwidth. It could be that the Switch runs into trouble when it tries to step up to 900p simply because it doesn’t have the RAM bandwidth to completely feed the chip. If that’s true, it’s unfortunate Nintendo didn’t opt for DDR4-1866 or even DDR4-2133. The machine might have taken a small power consumption hit, but performance in memory bandwidth-constrained scenarios would have been much better.

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