Nintendo Entertainment System

Nintendo Entertainment System
Nintendo Entertainment System
Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom)
Official Nintendo Entertainment System logoFamicom Family logo
Nintendo Entertainment System with controller
Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom)

Top: Nintendo Entertainment System with controller
Bottom: Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom)
Manufacturer Nintendo
Generation Third generation
Release date
  • JP July 15, 1983
  • NA October 18, 1985
  • EU September 1, 1986a[›]
Units sold 61.91 million[3]
Media ROM cartridge ("Game Pak")b[›]
CPU Ricoh 2A03 8-bit processor (MOS Technology 6502 core)
Controller input 2 controller portsc[›]
1 expansion slot
Best-selling game

Super Mario Bros. (pack-in), 40.23 million (as of 1999)[4]
Super Mario Bros. 3 (pack-in), 18 million (as of July 27, 2008)[5]

Super Mario Bros. 2
(10 million)[6]
Predecessor Color TV Game
Successor Super Nintendo Entertainment System

The Nintendo Entertainment System (also abbreviated as NES or simply called Nintendo) is an 8-bit video game console that was released by Nintendo in North America during 1985, in Europe during 1986 and Australia in 1987. In most of Asia, including Japan (where it was first launched in 1983), China, Vietnam, Singapore, the Middle East and Hong Kong, it was released as the Family Computer (ファミリーコンピュータ Famirī Konpyūta?), commonly shortened as either the romanized contraction Famicom (ファミコン Famikon?), or abbreviated to FC. In South Korea, it was known as the Hyundai Comboy (현대 컴보이) and was distributed by Hynix which then was known as Hyundai Electronics. In Russia, an unlicensed clone was manufactured called Dendy (Де́нди). A clone that was popular in Eastern Europe in the 1990s was the Super Design Ending-Man BS-500 AS, also known as Terminator. Similarly, in India, clones by the names of Little Master and Wiz Kid were popular.[7] In Poland, there was a clone produced called Pegasus, and in Argentina, there was a clone called Family Game. It was succeeded by the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

As the best-selling gaming console of its time,[8]e[›] the NES helped revitalize the US video game industry following the video game crash of 1983,[9] and set the standard for subsequent consoles of its generation. With the NES, Nintendo introduced a now-standard business model of licensing third-party developers, authorizing them to produce and distribute software for Nintendo's platform.[10]

In 2009, the Nintendo Entertainment System was named the single greatest video game console in history by IGN, out of a field of 25.[11] 2010 marked the system's 25th anniversary, which was officially celebrated by Nintendo of America's magazine Nintendo Power in issue #260 (November 2010) with a special 26-page tribute section. Other video game publications also featured articles looking back at 25 years of the NES, and its impact in the video game console market.



Following a series of arcade game successes in the early 1980s, Nintendo made plans to produce a cartridge-based console. Masayuki Uemura designed the system, which was released in Japan on July 15, 1983 for ¥14,800 alongside three ports of Nintendo's successful arcade games Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. and Popeye. The Family Computer (or Famicom) was slow to gather momentum; a bad chip set caused the initial release of the system to crash. Following a product recall and a reissue with a new motherboard, the Famicom’s popularity soared, becoming the best-selling game console in Japan by the end of 1984.[12]

Encouraged by these successes, Nintendo soon turned its attention to the North American market. Nintendo entered into negotiations with Atari to release the Famicom under Atari’s name as the name Nintendo Advanced Video Gaming System; however, this deal eventually fell apart when Atari executives discovered that Nintendo had released a port of Donkey Kong on the ColecoVision, one of Atari's competitors.[13]g[›] Subsequent plans to market a Famicom console in North America featuring a keyboard, cassette data recorder, wireless joystick controller and a special BASIC cartridge under the name "Nintendo Advanced Video System" likewise never materialized.[14]

In June 1985, Nintendo unveiled its American version of the Famicom at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). It rolled out its first systems to limited American markets starting in New York City on October 18, 1985, following up with a full-fledged North American release of the console in February of the following year.[15] Nintendo released 17 launch titles: 10-Yard Fight, Baseball, Clu Clu Land, Donkey Kong Jr. Math, Duck Hunt, Excitebike, Golf, Gyromite, Hogan’s Alley, Ice Climber, Kung Fu, Mach Rider, Pinball, Stack-Up, Tennis, Wild Gunman and Wrecking Crew.[16]h[›] Some varieties of these launch games contained Famicom chips with an adapter inside the cartridge so they would play on North American consoles.[17]

The system was originally targeted for release in spring '85, but the release date was pushed back. After test-marketing in the New York City area in late fall, the system was released nationwide in February, 1986.

In Europe and Australia, the system was released to two separate marketing regions. One region consisted of most of mainland Europe (excluding Italy), and distribution there was handled by a number of different companies, with Nintendo responsible for most cartridge releases. Most of this region saw a 1986 release. Mattel handled distribution for the other region, consisting of the United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, Australia and New Zealand, starting the following year. Not until the 1990s did Nintendo's newly created European branch direct distribution throughout Europe.[18] Despite the system’s lackluster performance outside of Japan and North America, by 1990 the NES had outsold all previously released consoles worldwide.[19] The Nintendo Entertainment System was not available in the Soviet Union. The slogan for this brand was It can't be beaten.[20]

As the 1990s dawned, however, renewed competition from technologically superior systems such as the 16-bit Sega Mega Drive/Genesis marked the end of the NES’s dominance. Eclipsed by Nintendo's own Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), the NES’s user base gradually waned. However, even as developers ceased production for the NES, a number of high-profile video game franchises and series that started on the NES were transitioned to newer consoles and remain popular to this day. Nintendo continued to support the system in North America through the first half of the decade, even releasing a new version of the system's console, the NES-101 model (known as the HVC-101 in Japan), to address many of the design flaws in the original console hardware.[citation needed] The last game released in Japan was Takahashi Meijin no Bōken Jima IV (Adventure Island IV), while in North America, Wario's Woods was the last licensed game; unlicensed games are still being produced.[21] In the wake of ever decreasing sales and the lack of new software titles, Nintendo of America officially discontinued the NES by 1995.[2] Despite this, Nintendo of Japan kept producing new Nintendo Famicom units until September 2003,[22] and continued to repair Famicom consoles until October 31, 2007, attributing the decision to discontinue support to an increasing shortage of the necessary parts.[23][24]

North American bundle packages

The Nintendo Entertainment System console/Control Deck

For its complete North American release, the NES was released in four different bundles: the Deluxe Set, the Control Deck, the Action Set and the Power Set. The Deluxe Set included R.O.B. and a light zapper and two controllers. The Control Deck retailed from US$129.95 and included the console itself, two game controllers, and the Super Mario Bros. game pak released in 1985. The Action Set, however, was released in 1988 was sold for US$149.99 and came with the console, two game controllers, a NES Zapper, and a dual game pak containing Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt.[2][25] In 1989, the Power Set was released, which came with the console, two game controlers, a NES Zapper, a Power Pad, and triple game pack containing Super Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, and World Class Track Meet. In 1990, a Sports Set bundle was released, including the console, an NES Satellite infrared wireless multitap adapter, four game controllers, and a Super Spike V'Ball/Nintendo World Cup game pak. [26] Two more bundle packages were released using the original model NES console. The Challenge Set included the console, two controllers, and a Super Mario Bros. 3 game pak released in 1990. The Basic Set, first released in 1987, included only the console and two controllers with no pack-in cartridge.[26] Instead, it contained a book called the Official Nintendo Player's Guide, which contained detailed information for every NES game made up to that point. Finally, the console was redesigned for both the North American and Japanese markets as part of the final Nintendo-released bundle package. The package included the new style NES-101 console and one redesigned "dogbone" game controller. Released in October 1993 in North America, this final bundle retailed for US$49.99 and remained in production until the discontinuation of the NES in 1995.[2]

Regional differences

The Famicom Disk System was a peripheral available only for the Japanese Famicom that used games stored on "Disk Cards" with a 3" Quick Disk mechanism.

Although the Japanese Famicom, North American and European NES versions included essentially the same hardware, there were certain key differences among the systems.

Different case design

The Famicom featured a top-loading cartridge slot, a 15-pin expansion port located on the unit’s front panel for accessories (as the controllers were hard-wired to the back of the console) and a red and white color scheme.[27] The NES featured a front-loading cartridge slot and a more subdued gray, black and red color scheme. An expansion port was found on the bottom of the unit and the cartridge connector pinout was changed.

60-pin vs. 72-pin cartridges

The original Famicom and the re-released AV Family Computer both utilized a 60-pin cartridge design,[17] which resulted in smaller cartridges than the NES, which utilized a 72-pin design.[28] Four pins were used for the 10NES lockout chip.[29] Ten pins were added that connected a cartridge directly to the expansion port on the bottom of the unit. Finally, two pins that allowed cartridges to provide their own sound expansion chips were removed. Some early games released in North America were simply Famicom cartridges attached to an adapter (such as the T89 Cartridge Converter) to allow them to fit inside the NES hardware.[17] Nintendo did this to reduce costs and inventory by using the same cartridge boards in North America and Japan. The cartridge dimensions of the original Famicom measured in at 5.3 × 3 inches, compared with 4.1 × 5.5 inches for its North American redesign.[citation needed]


A number of peripheral devices and software packages were released for the Famicom. Few of these devices were ever released outside of Japan.

  • Family BASIC is an implementation of BASIC for the Famicom that came with a keyboard. It allowed the user to program their own games.[30] It was considered for release in the United States, but ultimately rejected.[31]

Famicom MODEM

Famicom Network System

The Famicom Modem is a modem that allowed connection to a network which provided content such as financial services,[32] but it was only available in Japan. A modem was, however, tested in the United States, by the Minnesota State Lottery. It would have allowed players to buy scratchcards and play the lottery with their NES. It was not released in the United States because some parents and legislators voiced concern that minors might learn to play the lottery illegally and anonymously, despite assurances from Nintendo to the contrary.[33]

External sound chips

The Famicom had two cartridge pins that were originally intended to facilitate the Famicom Disk System’s external sound chip, but were also used by cartridge games to provide sound enhancements. These pins were removed from the cartridge port of the NES and relocated to the bottom expansion port. As a result, individual cartridges could not make use of this functionality and many NES localizations suffered from technologically inferior sound compared to their equivalent Famicom versions. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse is a notable example of this problem.[34]

Unlike the NES, the Famicom's controllers were hardwired to the system itself. The 2nd controller eliminated the Start and Select buttons, replacing them with a microphone and a volume control slider.

Hardwired controllers

The Famicom’s original design includes hardwired, non-removable controllers. In addition, the second controller featured an internal microphone for use with certain games and lacked SELECT and START buttons.[27] Both the controllers and the microphone were subsequently dropped from the redesigned AV Famicom in favor of the two seven-pin controller ports on the front panel used in the NES from its inception.[35]

Lockout circuitry

The Famicom contained no lockout hardware and, as a result, unlicensed cartridges (both legitimate and bootleg) were extremely common throughout Japan and the Far East.[36] The original NES (but not the top-loading NES-101) contained the 10NES lockout chip, which significantly increased the challenges faced by unlicensed developers. Tinkerers at home in later years discovered that disassembling the NES and cutting the fourth pin of the lockout chip would change the chip’s mode of operation from "lock" to "key", removing all effects and greatly improving the console’s ability to play legal games, as well as bootlegs and converted imports.[citation needed] NES consoles sold in different regions had different lockout chips, so games marketed in one region would not work on consoles from another region. Known regions are: USA/Canada (3193 lockout chip), most of Europe (3195), Asia (3196) and UK, Italy and Australia (3197). Since two types of lockout chip were used in Europe, European NES game boxes often had an "A" or "B" letter on the front, indicating whether the game is compatible with UK/Italian/Australian consoles (A), or the rest of Europe (B).[citation needed] Rest-of-Europe games typically had text on the box stating "This game is not compatible with the Mattel or NES versions of the Nintendo Entertainment System". Similarly, UK/Italy/Australia games stated "This game is only compatible with the Mattel or NES versions of the Nintendo Entertainment System".

Audio/video output

The original Famicom featured an RF modulator plug for audio/video output,[27] while its redesign, the AV Famicom, featured only RCA composite output.[35] On the other hand, the original NES featured both an RF modulator and RCA composite output cables, but the top-loading NES 2 featured only RF modulator output.[37] The original North American NES was the first and one of the only game consoles to feature direct composite video output, and thus having the ability to be connected to a composite monitor. The French NES, model (FRA) featured an unique "RGB audio/video Output", a proprietary output connector similar to the SNES connector. With the help of an additional PAL-to-RGB chip, it allow this model of NES to output RGB video signal. A specific cable was given with every unit, using the SCART plug to connect it to the TV set.

Third-party cartridge manufacturing

In Japan, several companies, namely Nintendo, Konami, Capcom, Namco, Bandai, Taito, IREM, Jaleco, Sunsoft and Hudson Soft, manufactured the cartridges for the Famicom.[38] This allowed these companies to develop their own customized chips designed for specific purposes, such as Konami's VRC 6 and VRC 7 sound chips that increased the quality of sound in their games.

European "Mattel" and "NES" Versions

In the UK, Italy and Australia which share the PAL A region, two versions of the NES were released; the "Mattel Version" and "NES Version".[39] When the NES was first released in those countries, it was distributed by Mattel and Nintendo decided to use a lockout chip specific to those countries, different from the chip used in other European countries. When Nintendo took over European distribution in 1990, they produced consoles that were then labelled "NES Version", therefore the only differences between the two are the text on the front flap.

Game controllers

In addition to featuring a revised color scheme that matched the more subdued tones of the console itself, NES controllers could be unplugged. They nevertheless lacked the microphone featured in Famicom controllers.

The game controller used for both the NES and the Famicom featured an oblong brick-like design with a simple four button layout: two round buttons labeled "A" and "B", a "START" button and a "SELECT" button.[40] Additionally, the controllers utilized the cross-shaped joypad, designed by Nintendo employee Gunpei Yokoi for Nintendo Game & Watch systems, to replace the bulkier joysticks on earlier gaming consoles’ controllers.[41]

The original model Famicom featured two game controllers, both of which were hardwired to the back of the console. The second controller lacked the START and SELECT buttons, but featured a small microphone. Relatively few games made use of this feature. The earliest produced Famicom units initially had square A and B buttons.[42] This was changed to the circular designs because of the square buttons being caught in the controller casing when pressed down and glitches within the hardware causing the system to freeze occasionally while playing a game.

The NES dropped the hardwired controllers, instead featuring two custom 7-pin ports on the front of the console. Also in contrast to the Famicom, the controllers included with the NES were identical to each other—the second controller lacked the microphone that was present on the Famicom model and possessed the same START and SELECT buttons as the primary controller. Some NES localizations of games, such as The Legend of Zelda, which required the use of the Famicom microphone in order to kill certain enemies, suffered from a lack of a hardware to do so.[27]

The NES Zapper, a light gun accessory

A number of special controllers designed for use with specific games were released for the system, though very few such devices proved particularly popular. Such devices included, but were not limited to, the NES Zapper (a light gun), the R.O.B.,[43] the Power Pad, the Power Glove,[44] and the LaserScope.[45] The original Famicom featured a deepened DA-15 expansion port on the front of the unit, which was used to connect most auxiliary devices.[27] On the NES, these special controllers were generally connected to one of the two control ports on the front of the unit.

Nintendo also made two turbo controllers for the NES called NES Advantage and the NES Max. Both controllers had a Turbo feature, a feature where one tap of the button represented multiple taps. The NES Advantage had two knobs that adjusted the firing rate of the turbo button from quick to Turbo, as well as a "Slow" button that slowed down the game by rapidly pausing the game. The "Slow" button did not work with games that had a pause menu or pause screen and can interfere with jumping and shooting. The NES Max also had the Turbo Feature, but it was not adjustable, in contrast with the Advantage. It also did not have the "Slow" button. Its wing-like shape made it easier to hold than the Advantage and it also improved on the joystick. Turbo features were also featured on the NES Satellite, the NES Four Score, and the U-Force.

Near the end of the NES's lifespan, upon the release of the AV Famicom and the top-loading NES 2, the design of the game controllers was modified slightly. Though the original button layout was retained, the redesigned device abandoned the brick shell in favor of a dog bone shape. In addition, the AV Famicom joined its international counterpart and dropped the hardwired controllers in favor of detachable controller ports. However, the controllers included with the Famicom AV had cables which were a three-feet long, as opposed to the standard six-feet of NES controllers.[35]

In recent years, the original NES controller has become one of the most recognizable symbols of the console. Nintendo has mimicked the look of the controller in several recent products, from promotional merchandise to limited edition versions of the Game Boy Advance.[46]

Hardware design flaws

The official NES Cleaning Kit was intended to address flaws in the NES design that caused cartridge connectors to be particularly susceptible to interference from dirt and dust.

When Nintendo released the NES in the U.S., the design styling was deliberately different from that of other game consoles. Nintendo wanted to distinguish its product from those of competitors and to avoid the generally poor reputation that game consoles had acquired following the video game crash of 1983. One result of this philosophy was to disguise the cartridge slot design as a front-loading zero insertion force (ZIF) cartridge socket, designed to resemble the front-loading mechanism of a VCR. The newly designed connector worked quite well when both the connector and the cartridges were clean and the pins on the connector were new. Unfortunately, the ZIF connector was not truly zero insertion force. When a user inserted the cartridge into the NES, the force of pressing the cartridge down and into place bent the contact pins slightly, as well as pressing the cartridge’s ROM board back into the cartridge itself. Frequent insertion and removal of cartridges caused the pins to wear out from repeated usage over the years and the ZIF design proved more prone to interference by dirt and dust than an industry-standard card edge connector.[28] These design issues were not alleviated by Nintendo’s choice of materials; the console slot nickel connector springs would wear due to design and the game cartridge copper connectors were also prone to tarnishing.[47]

The 10NES authentication chip contributed to the system's reliability problems. The circuit was ultimately removed from the remodeled NES 2.

Problems with the 10NES lockout chip frequently resulted in the console's most infamous problem: the blinking red power light, in which the system appears to turn itself on and off repeatedly because the 10NES would reset the console once per second. The lockout chip required constant communication with the chip in the game to work.[48] Dirty, aging and bent connectors would often disrupt the communication, resulting in the blink effect.[28] Alternatively, the console would turn on but only show a solid white, gray, or green screen. Users attempted to solve this problem by blowing air onto the cartridge connectors, licking the edge connector, slapping the side of the system after inserting a cartridge, shifting the cartridge from side to side after insertion, pushing the ZIF up and down repeatedly, holding the ZIF down lower than it should have been and/or cleaning the connectors with alcohol after observing on the back of the cartridge that this action was warned against by Nintendo. Many of the most frequent attempts to fix this problem instead ran the risk of damaging the cartridge and/or system. In 1989, Nintendo released an official NES Cleaning Kit to help users clean malfunctioning cartridges and consoles.

With the release of the top-loading NES-101 (NES 2) toward the end of the NES's lifespan, Nintendo resolved the problems by switching to a standard card edge connector and eliminating the lockout chip. All of the Famicom systems used standard card edge connectors, as did Nintendo’s subsequent game consoles, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Nintendo 64.

In response to these hardware flaws, "Nintendo Authorized Repair Centers" sprang up across the U.S. According to Nintendo, the authorization program was designed to ensure that the machines were properly repaired. Nintendo would ship the necessary replacement parts only to shops that had enrolled in the authorization program. In practice, the authorization process consisted of nothing more than paying a fee to Nintendo for the privilege. In a recent trend, many sites have sprung up to offer Nintendo repair parts, guides, and services that replace those formerly offered by the authorized repair centers.

Third-party licensing

Nintendo's near monopoly on the home video game market left it with a degree of influence over the industry exceeding even that of Atari during Atari's heyday in the early 1980s. Unlike Atari, which never actively courted third-party developers (and even went to court in an attempt to force Activision to cease production of Atari 2600 games), Nintendo had anticipated and encouraged the involvement of third-party software developers—but strictly on Nintendo's terms. To this end, a 10NES authentication chip was placed in every console and another was placed in every officially licensed cartridge. If the console's chip could not detect a counterpart chip inside the cartridge, the game would not load.[48] Because Nintendo controlled the production of all cartridges, it was able to enforce strict rules on its third-party developers, which were required to sign a contract by Nintendo that would obligate these parties to develop exclusively for the system, order at least 10,000 cartridges, and only make five games per year.[49]

Unlicensed games, such as Wisdom Tree's Bible Adventures, were often released in cartridges which looked very different from typical NES Game Paks.

Unlicensed games

Several companies, refusing to pay the licensing fee or having been rejected by Nintendo, found ways to circumvent the console's authentication system. Most of these companies created circuits that used a voltage spike to temporarily disable the 10NES chip in the NES.[50] A few unlicensed games released in Europe and Australia came in the form of a dongle that would be connected to a licensed game, in order to use the licensed game's 10NES chip for authentication.

Atari Games created a line of NES products under the name Tengen and took a different approach. The company attempted to reverse engineer the lockout chip to develop its own "Rabbit" chip. However, Tengen also obtained a description of the lockout chip from the United States Patent and Trademark Office by falsely claiming that it was required to defend against present infringement claims in a legal case. Nintendo sued Tengen for copyright infringement, which Tengen lost as it could not prove that the legally obtained patent documents had not been used by the reverse engineering team. Tengen's antitrust claims against Nintendo were never finally decided.[51]

Following the introduction of the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, Nintendo began to face real competition in the industry and in the early 1990s was forced to reevaluate its stance towards its developers, many of whom had begun to defect to other systems. When the console was reissued as the NES 2, the 10NES chip was omitted as a cost-saving measure. Games marketed for the NES after that point still included a 10NES chip in order to work with the large installed base of original NES consoles.

Pirated clones of NES hardware remained in production for many years after the original had been discontinued. Such devices were frequently built to superficially resemble younger consoles, such as this one modeled after a PS One.

Hardware clones

A thriving market of unlicensed NES hardware clones emerged during the heyday of the console's popularity. Initially, such clones were popular in markets where Nintendo never issued a legitimate version of the console. In particular, the Dendy (Russian: Де́нди), an unlicensed hardware clone produced in Taiwan and sold in the former Soviet Union, emerged as the most popular video game console of its time in that setting and it enjoyed a degree of fame roughly equivalent to that experienced by the NES/Famicom in North America and Japan. The Family Game was marketed in Argentina, resembling the original hardware design. The Micro Genius (Simplified Chinese: 小天才) was marketed in Southeast Asia as an alternative to the Famicom, Samurai was the popular PAL alternative to the NES and in Central Europe, especially Poland, the Pegasus was available.[citation needed] Samurai was also available in India in early 90s which was the first instance of console gaming in India.

The unlicensed clone market has flourished following Nintendo's discontinuation of the NES. Some of the more exotic of these resulting systems have gone beyond the functionality of the original hardware and have included variations such as a portable system with a color LCD (e.g. PocketFami). Others have been produced with certain specialized markets in mind, such as an NES clone that functions as a rather primitive personal computer, which includes a keyboard and basic word processing software.[52] These unauthorized clones have been helped by the invention of the so-called NES-on-a-chip.[53]

As was the case with unlicensed software titles, Nintendo has typically gone to the courts to prohibit the manufacture and sale of unlicensed cloned hardware. Many of the clone vendors have included built-in copies of licensed Nintendo software, which constitutes copyright infringement in most countries.

Although most hardware clones were not produced under license by Nintendo, certain companies were granted licenses to produce NES-compatible devices. The Sharp Corporation produced at least two such clones: the Twin Famicom and the SHARP 19SC111 television. The Twin Famicom was compatible with both Famicom cartridges and Famicom Disk System disks.[54] It was available in two colors (red and black) and used hardwired controllers (as did the original Famicom), but it featured a different case design. The SHARP 19SC111 television was a television which included a built-in Famicom.[55] A similar licensing deal was reached with Hyundai Electronics, who licensed the system under the name Comboy in the South Korean market. This deal with Hyundai was made necessary because of the South Korean government's wide ban on all Japanese "cultural products", which remained in effect until 1998 and ensured that the only way Japanese products could legally enter the South Korean market was through licensing to a third-party (non-Japanese) distributor (see also Japan–Korea disputes).[56]

More recently, in 2010, Hyperkin developed the RetroN3, which, besides NES carts, also runs SNES and Genesis carts, as well as their Japanese counterparts Famicom, Super Famicom and Mega Drive.

Technical specifications

Original chassis/casing

The original Japanese Famicom was predominantly white plastic, with dark red trim. It featured a top-loading cartridge slot and grooves on both sides of the deck in which the hardwired game controllers could be placed when not in use.[27]

The original version of the North American NES used a radically different design. The NES's color scheme was two different shades of gray, with black trim. The top-loading cartridge slot was replaced with a front-loading mechanism. The slot is covered by a small, hinged door that can be opened to insert or remove a cartridge and closed at other times. The dimensions of this model are 10 in (250 mm) wide by 8 in (200 mm) long by 3.5 in (89 mm) high.[57] When opened, the cartridge slot door adds an additional 1 in (25 mm) height to the unit.

Redesigned model

The NES-101 control deck alongside its similarly redesigned NES-039 game controller.

The NES-101 model of the Nintendo Entertainment System (HVC-101 model in Japan), known informally as the "top-loader", uses the same basic color scheme, although there are several subtle differences. The power switch is colored a bright red and slides into the on and off position, similar to the SNES, instead of the original push-button. Also, there is no LED power indicator on the unit. Like the original Family Computer, it uses a top-loading cartridge slot. The NES-101 model was redesigned after the (also top loading) SNES and indeed they share many of the same design cues. The NES-101 model is considerably more compact than the original NES-001 model, measuring 6" by 7" by 1.5". The NES-101 model offered only RF outputs instead of the RF and RCA (mono) outputs offered on the original NES-001 model,[37] whereas the HVC-101 model of the Family Computer offered RCA connectors only.[35]


A North American/PAL cartridge (or "Game Pak") was significantly larger than its Japanese counterpart.

All officially licensed NTSC-U and PAL region cartridges, or "carts", are 5.25 inches (13.3 cm) tall, 4.75 inches (12 cm) wide and 0.75 inches (2 cm) thick. Originally, NES carts were held together with 5 small, slotted screws. Later games (post-1987) were redesigned slightly to incorporate two plastic clips molded into the plastic itself, eliminating the need for the top two screws.[58] This is why older NES carts are referred to as "5-screw" and are distinguishable by their flat tops and, as the name suggests, five screws instead of three. Around this time, the standard screws were changed to 3.8 mm security screws to further secure the ROMs inside from tampering. The back of the cartridge bears a label with instructions on handling. These labels were gray for standard games and gold (or in rare cases silver) for games that featured battery backup. With the exception of The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, which were available in gold-plastic carts, all licensed NTSC and PAL cartridges were a standard shade of gray plastic. Unlicensed carts were produced in black (Tengen, American Video Entertainment and Wisdom Tree), robin egg blue (Color Dreams and Wisdom Tree) and gold (Camerica) and were all slightly different shape and style than a standard NES cart. Nintendo also produced yellow-plastic carts for internal use at Nintendo Service Centers, although these "test carts" were never made available for purchase by consumers.

Japanese (Famicom) cartridges are shaped slightly differently, measuring only 2.75 inches (7.0 cm) in length, and 4.25 inches (10.8 cm) in width. While the NES used a 72-pin interface, the Famicom system used a 60-pin design. Some early NES games (most commonly Gyromite) were actually 60-pin Famicom PCBs and ROMs with a built-in converter.[17] Unlike NES games, official Famicom carts were produced in many colors of plastic. Adapters, similar in design to the popular accessory Game Genie, are available that allow Famicom games to be played on an NES.

Central processing unit

Versions of the NES console released in PAL regions incorporated a Ricoh 2A07 CPU.

For its central processing unit (CPU), the NES uses an 8-bit microprocessor produced by Ricoh based on a MOS Technology 6502 core. It incorporates custom sound hardware and a restricted DMA controller on-die. To save some space on the silicon, the Ricoh CPU omitted the 6502's BCD (binary coded decimal) mode. NTSC (North America and Japan) versions of the console use the Ricoh 2A03 (or RP2A03), which runs at 1.79 MHz.[59] PAL (Europe and Australia) versions of the console utilize the Ricoh 2A07 (or RP2A07), which is identical to the 2A03 save for the fact that it runs at a slower 1.66 MHz clock rate and has its sound hardware adjusted accordingly.[60]


A static ram chip from a NES clone 2k × 8 bit.

The NES contains 2 kB of onboard work RAM. A game cartridge may contain expanded RAM to increase this amount. It also has 2 kB of video RAM for the use of the picture processing unit (PPU), 256 bytes of OAM (object attribute memory) to hold a display list, and 28 bytes of palette RAM. The system supports up to 32 kB of program ROM at a time, but this can be expanded by orders of magnitude by the process of bank switching. Additionally, cartridges may contain 16,352 bytes (nearly 16 kB) of address space reserved as "Expansion Area", which often contained an 8 kB SRAM. Expanded Video memory (VROM or VRAM) may also be available on the cartridge (on-cartridge mapping hardware also allowing further video expansion past 12 kB).[59]


The NES uses a custom-made Picture Processing Unit (PPU) developed by Ricoh. The version of the processor used in NTSC models of the console, named the RP2C02, operates at 5.37 MHz, while the version used in PAL models, named the RP2C07, operates at 5.32 MHz.[60] Both the RP2C02 and RP2C07 output composite video.[59] Special versions of the NES's hardware designed for use in video arcades use other variations of the PPU. The PlayChoice-10 uses the RP2C03, which runs at 5.37 MHz and outputs RGB video at NTSC frequencies. Two different variations were used for Nintendo Vs. Series hardware: the RP2C04 and the RP2C05. Both of these operate at 5.37 MHz and output RGB video at NTSC frequencies. Additionally, both use irregular palettes to prevent easy ROM swapping of games.[61]

All variations of the PPU feature 2 kB of video RAM, 256 bytes of on-die sprite position/attributable RAM (object attribute memory or OAM) and 28 bytes of on-die palette RAM to allow selection of background and sprite colors. This memory is stored on separate buses internal to the PPU. The console's 2 kB of onboard RAM may be used for tile maps and attributes on the NES board and 8 kB of tile pattern ROM or RAM may be included on a cartridge. Using bank switching, virtually any amount of additional cartridge memory can be used, limited only by manufacturing costs.[59]

The system has an available color palette of 48 colors and 6 grays. Red, green and blue can be individually darkened at specific screen regions using carefully timed code. Up to 25 simultaneous colors may be used without writing new values mid-frame: a background color, four sets of three tile colors and four sets of three sprite colors. This total does not include color de-emphasis.[59]

A total of 64 sprites may be displayed onscreen at a given time without reloading sprites mid-screen. Sprites may be either 8 pixels by 8 pixels, or 8 pixels by 16 pixels, although the choice must be made globally, as it affects all sprites. Up to eight sprites may be present on one scanline, using a flag to indicate when additional sprites are to be dropped. This flag allows the software to rotate sprite priorities, increasing maximum amount of sprites, but typically causing flicker.[59]

The PPU allows only one scrolling layer, though the horizontal scroll can be changed on a per-scanline basis for a parallax effect. The vertical scroll can also be changed between scanlines for a split-screen effect.[59]

The standard display resolution of the NES is 256 horizontal pixels by 240 vertical pixels. Typically, games designed for NTSC-based systems had an effective resolution of only 256 by 224 pixels, as the top and bottom 8 scanlines are not visible on most television sets. For additional video memory bandwidth, it was possible to turn off the screen before the raster reached the very bottom.[59]

Video output connections varied from one model of the console to the next. The original HVC-001 model of the Family Computer featured only radio frequency (RF) modulator output. When the console was released in North America and Europe, support for composite video through RCA connectors was added in addition to the RF modulator. The HVC-101 model of the Famicom dropped the RF modulator entirely and adopted composite video output via a proprietary 12-pin "multi-out" connector first introduced for the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Conversely, the North American re-released NES-101 model most closely resembled the original HVC-001 model Famicom, in that it featured RF modulator output only.[42] Finally, the PlayChoice-10 utilized an inverted RGB video output.


The NES board supported a total of five sound channels. These included two pulse wave channels of variable duty cycle (12.5%, 25%, 50% and 75%), with a volume control of sixteen levels and hardware pitch bending supporting frequencies ranging from 54 Hz to 28 kHz. Additional channels included one fixed-volume triangle wave channel supporting frequencies from 27 Hz to 56 kHz, one sixteen-volume level white noise channel supporting two modes (by adjusting inputs on a linear feedback shift register) at sixteen preprogrammed frequencies and one differential pulse-code modulation (DPCM) channel with 6-bit resolution, using 1-bit delta encoding at sixteen preprogrammed sample rates from 4.2 kHz to 33.5 kHz. This final channel was also capable of playing standard pulse-code modulation (PCM) sound by writing individual 7-bit values at timed intervals.[59]

NES Test Station

The NES Test Station was a Nintendo Entertainment System testing machine made by Nintendo in 1988. It is a NES-based unit designed for testing NES hardware, components and games. It was only provided for use in World of Nintendo boutiques as part of the Nintendo World Class Service program. Visitors were to bring items to test on the station, often with assistance from a technician or store employee.

The NES Test Station features a Game Pak slot and connectors for testing various components (AC adapter, RF switch, Audio/Video cable, NES Control Deck, controllers and accessories) at the front, with a knob selector in the center to select the component to test. The unit itself is very large, weighing almost forty pounds, and securely hooks up to the television through both AV Cables and RF Switch in one wire. The user can choose which output to use for gameplay by pressing the RF/AV for Audio/Video Cable connection, or leave it unpressed for RF Switch connection. The television it's hooked up to (normally nineteen inches) is meant to be placed on top of it. On the front edge are three colored button switches: an illuminated red Power switch, a blue Reset switch and a green switch for alternating between AV and RF connections when testing an NES Control Deck. The different knob selections are:

  • Game Pak Channel (for testing Game Paks)
  • Control Deck and Accessories Channel (includes tests for NES Controllers, the Zapper, R.O.B. and Power Pad)
  • Audio Video Channel
  • AC Adaptor Channel
  • RF Switch Channel
  • System Channel (for testing a Control Deck)

The testing simply displays the selected output's results as either 'Pass' or 'Fail.' Very little is known about this equipment. Nintendo later provided an add-on for testing Super NES components and games, named the Super NES Counter Tester.



The NES/Famicom was one of the most influential video game systems ever produced.[citation needed] It also had the longest-lasting production run that lasted 20 years, from July 1983 to September 2003, before being discontinued in Japan. The NES was released after the "video game crash" of the early '80s, and many retailers and adults treated electronic games as a passing fad.[62] Five years later, in 1988, video gaming was a multi-billion dollar industry.[63] Before the NES/Famicom, Nintendo was known as a moderately successful Japanese toy and playing card manufacturer, and the popularity of the NES/Famicom helped the company grow into an internationally recognized name almost synonymous with video games[64] and set the stage for Japanese dominance of the video game industry.[65] With the NES, Nintendo also changed the relationship between console manufacturers and third-party software developers by restricting developers from publishing and distributing software without licensed approval. This led to higher quality software titles, which helped to change the attitude of a public that had grown weary from poorly-produced titles for other game systems of the day.[66] The NES was the first system to use special technology to lock-out unauthorized cartridges.[67]

The NES hardware was also very influential. Nintendo chose the name "Nintendo Entertainment System" for the US market and redesigned the system so it would not give the appearance of a child's toy. The front-loading cartridge input allowed it to be used more easily in a TV stand with other entertainment devices, such as a video cassette player. The controller was radically different from those of previous consoles,[68] replacing the joystick with a 4-way directional "control pad."[41] Unlike a joystick, the control pad could be manipulated precisely and easily with a single thumb. As the industry adopted the idea, it became universally known as the "directional pad," "D-pad," or "cross pad." Nearly every major game system after the NES incorporated a D-pad onto the primary controller. In later years, Nintendo was recognized with multiple industry awards for the innovation.[69][70][71]

Many prominent game franchises originated on the NES. The system's hardware limitations led to game design similarities that still influence video game design and culture. Some of the more important franchises that debuted on the NES were Nintendo's own Super Mario Bros.,[72] The Legend of Zelda[73] and Metroid,[74] Capcom's Mega Man[75] franchise, Konami's Castlevania[76] franchise, Square's Final Fantasy[77] and Enix's Dragon Quest[78] (now Square Enix's) franchises. All of these still exist today.

NES imagery, especially its controller, has become a popular motif for a variety of products,[79][80][81] including Nintendo's own Game Boy Advance.[46] Clothing, accessories, and food items adorned with NES-themed imagery are still produced and sold in stores. Such items include hats, shirts, underwear, wallets, wrist-bands, belt buckles, tins containing mint candy, and energy drinks.

See also


^ a: For distribution purposes, Europe and Australasia were divided into two regions by Nintendo. The first of these regions consisted of France, the Netherlands, West Germany, Norway, Denmark and Sweden and saw the NES released during 1986. The console was released in the second region, consisting of the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland and Italy, as well as Australia and New Zealand, the following year.
^ b: In Japan, Nintendo sold an optional expansion peripheral for the Famicom, called the Famicom Disk System, which would enable the console to run software from proprietary floppy disks.
^ c: The original Famicom included no dedicated controller ports. See game controllers section.
^ e: The NES was the overall best-selling system worldwide of its time. In Japan and the United States, it controlled 85 to 90 percent of the market.[8] It was not as successful in Europe, where it was at in most ten to twelve percent of households.[18] Nintendo sold 61.9 million NES units worldwide: 19.35 million in Japan, 34 million in the Americas and 8.5 million in other regions.[3]
^ f: The commonly bundled game Super Mario Bros. popularized the platform game genre and introduced elements that would be copied in many subsequent games[82]
^ g: Atari broke off negotiations with Nintendo in response to Coleco's unveiling of an unlicensed port of Donkey Kong for its Coleco Adam computer system. Although the game had been produced without Nintendo's permission or support, Atari took its release as a sign that Nintendo was dealing with one of its major competitors in the market.[13]
^ h: Donkey Kong Jr. Math and Mach Rider are often erroneously included in lists of launch titles. In reality, neither title was available until later in 1986.[16]


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