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Hardware Hacking Entertainment Games

Nintendo NES Overclocking Guide 229

Deven "Epicenter" Gallo writes "I've perfected a process by which to overclock the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) to run games smoother without slowdown. The NES CPU normally runs at 1.79 MHz, I've reached a stable maximum of 4.2 MHz, about a 230% overclock. The games do not run faster than they should, the CPU never overheats, and most games are perfect up to 3.3 MHz!" Here's the guide on how to perform the modification, along with photos and demonstration videos
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Nintendo NES Overclocking Guide

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  • by FractusMan ( 711004 ) on Sunday December 26, 2004 @04:23AM (#11183933)
    I overclocked the NES to about 300MHz once. It was easy. First, I took the NES case itself and opened it up, revealing the delicate insides. Using a small screwdriver, I removed the mainboard and switches and power supply from the plastic case. Then I threw that shit away. I put in a small motherboard with a 266MHz Intel, hooked up a keyboard and mouse and monitor, and small HD. Downloaded an emulator. Used some fancy soldering to hook the NES controller up to the parallel port. Boom, there you go.
  • Warning! (Score:5, Funny)

    by falzer ( 224563 ) on Sunday December 26, 2004 @04:24AM (#11183936)
    Think carefully before overclocking your NES. This procedure will most likely void the warranty.
    • This NES isn't dead!

      It's pining for the fjords!

    • Re:Warning! (Score:3, Informative)

      by a8o ( 743233 )
      Actually, Nintendo used to offer a lifetime warrenty. You could get them to fix your NES if it overheated on its own, for example, due faulty workmanship. I read it the other day in the booklet I got with my SNES. Since the Gamecube and discs read by lasers, however, they've limited this lifetime warrenty to a year.
  • by Amiga Lover ( 708890 ) on Sunday December 26, 2004 @04:24AM (#11183939)
    That's pretty impressive - more than double clock speed increase.

    I wonder how far it could be pushed with heatsinks & active cooling. Time to being those finnish guys and their liquid nitrogen in, see if we can push it past 6MHz
  • "... and most games are perfect up to 3.3 MHz!"

    which explains why you went up to 4.2mhz.....

  • Jumpy games? (Score:2, Interesting)

    I'm curious, the article summary ( or the webpage, I can't remember ) mentions that now all of your games will run smoothly. I don't remember any games not being very smooth, but then, I was a small child at the time.

    What are some games that could stand to be played on an overclocked NES?
    • Re:Jumpy games? (Score:4, Informative)

      by metricmusic ( 766303 ) on Sunday December 26, 2004 @04:35AM (#11183967) Homepage Journal
      I remember getting Megaman for a christmas present many years ago and it had slowdown at some points when there were alot of enemies on screen. Here aa review on the game that mentions the slowdown in it: http://www.nesplayer.com/reviews/mm2r.htm
    • Re:Jumpy games? (Score:3, Informative)

      by dn15 ( 735502 )
      Most games were smooth most of the time. But there were a few that, during more intense parts (relatively speaking), tended to slow down. SMB3, as demonstrated in the video on the site, was one of those. With enough objects moving around the screen it did get a bit choppy.

      It certainly wasn't a big enough problem to affect the games' playability. It was noticeable, however, on the rare occasions that it happened.
    • In addition to the other games mentioned, I remember 1944 getting particularly bad @ some points (though being a shooter, you could use it to your advantage sometimes).
    • by Anonymous Coward
      AHHH the dreaded nes slowdown as we called it? How young were you? I didn't get my NES until I was 8 but the stark memory of Contra and Ducktales both slowing down when there were too many sprites on screen will always be sketched into my brain. Contra was difficult to slow down, as were most games. I think 2 player during one of the boss battles got hit. Ducktales seemed to get it a lot more often, especially the transylvania level. I don't know whats worse, that I remember, in detail, the specifics of gam
    • Tecmo Super Bowl - I still play that game ;) The players flicker on it, especially towards the middle of the TSB field with the big pretty logo on it.
    • you just thought of them as a cool slow motion effect.

      with quite many games you could see slowdown/jumpiness every now and then when there was a lot of action on the screen.
      • Hell, there were some games I couldn't dream of beating without the benefit of slowdown. "1943" being a prime example -- sometimes when there was so much on the screen that you could not avoid hitting something, the slowdown and flicker that would result would screw up the hit detection in the game, and it would be just enough to let you get through that tight spot unscathed. I don't think I could beat some stages without relying on this "feature".
    • Nintendo World Cup and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles were both heavy games with regular slowdowns and flickering sprites. I don't know whether or not the flickering sprites are in any way related to the slowdowns, but it always seemed so to me.
    • I take it you've never played Kirby's Adventure. This game suffered from slowdowns about half of the time due to its many simultaneous, big sprites.
      • Re:Jumpy games? (Score:3, Informative)

        by Dwedit ( 232252 )
        Size of sprites has no impact on performance, what matters is how much code to handle those objects is executed. You only have a 1 MHz 6502 processor, so if you can't finish handling all objects in 1/60th of a second, you get slowdown.
    • The Megaman games have some very slow and flickery spots. Overclocking will fix the slowness, but not the flicker, which results from trying to display more than 8 sprites on a scanline.

      Most emulators let you overclock. 150% eliminates almost all slowness.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 26, 2004 @04:30AM (#11183955)
    then we water-cool our coffeemakers...
  • Why? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 26, 2004 @04:31AM (#11183958)
    Many of you are probably asking, why in the world would you do that? Here:
    What does this accomplish?
    It's very common for games to push the consoles they are designed for to their limits, or beyond them. When this happens, the game slows down while it tries to execute all the instructions being thrown at it. Overclocking can greatly alleviate, or completely remove, this lag and make the games smoother and more fluid.
    • The bigger question is WHY do you make a game push the limits of the console, which is ALWAYS going to have the same performance?
  • Ummm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by peterprior ( 319967 ) on Sunday December 26, 2004 @04:38AM (#11183978)
    "The games do not run faster than they should"

    So what's the point in overclocking it? Faster load times?
  • by Quietust ( 205670 ) on Sunday December 26, 2004 @04:55AM (#11184006) Homepage
    ...there would be some very significant side effects to such modifications:
    1. NES audio is generated within the 'RP2A03G' (CPU) chip and is based on clock cycles, so doubling the CPU clock will cause the audio to go up an octave (assuming it even runs). The site mentioned in the article actually pointed this out, so it looks like it's legitimate.
    2. Games which use cycle-timed code will no longer work properly - Battletoads is the first that comes to mind.
    3. Some NES cartridges only used 250ns PRG ROM chips, which is only good up to 2MHz; go any higher and the game may not run at all.
    • by Epicenter713 ( 761169 ) on Sunday December 26, 2004 @05:05AM (#11184022) Homepage
      I tested about 10 games out (some of which I listed info about on the site). I don't have any that refuse to run-- every one handles at least 3.0 MHz. The pitch increase isn't as bad as theory would suggest it should be. In fact, it seems to kind of improve the tone of audio in some games, and a lot of the time, 'out of key' audio is put back IN key (most notably Metroid). That's my 2 cents. Sticklers for 100% perfect original audio won't be thrilled I'm sure. But I'm damn finicky and it still doesn't bug me.

    • I was wondering things like this myself, such as wouldn't overclocking just the CPU throw the bus timing out of whack? Does the PPU stay in sync? Why not overclock by replacing the clock signal at the clock source so ALL the components feed from it?

      Does replacing the clock signal at that point (CPU pin 29) accomplish that?
  • Buy some decent PC, download Snes9x [snes9x.com], quickly peruse the source files to find the sync code and screw it up, compile, run and watch Mario jump through all the screens at mach 3.

    How's that for overclocking uh? And if you're desperate to impress your friends (no doubt all over 35), buy one of these micro-mobos and stick it in a NES box as a clever disguise.
  • Why didn't Nintendo overclock this way in the first place? If there allegedly isn't any problems with overclocking it now with heat buildup and all, why not? They could have boasted they have a faster system than even Sega with thier "blast processing" Sonic the Hedgehog mascot thingamagig. I mean geez, c'mon!
    • It's very bad form to buy a chip and overclock it, then sell it like that. There's also no guarantee each chip will be STABLE outside of spec. It's a luck thing. Any rate, The manufacturer would be pissed. So, Nintendo'd have to buy the higher rated chip. Which cost more money. And as we all know, Nintendo has a very tight collective wallet... and back then, those 1 or 2 MHz on a CPU rating could come at a real premium.
  • Can I somehow overclock the clock in my office, so I can go home early?

    By reading all those overclocking articles on slashdot, I think clock is the only remaining thing to be overclock.

    Now, please do not come back to me saying that overclocking the internal clock is the first step to done before overcloking anything.
  • The biggest problem I experienced was the flickering of the graphics when the screen became overcrowded.

    I think that this would not be solved by this hack, because that has to do with maximum bits per scanline, rather than clock speed...
    • I think that had more to do with the fact that screen data was minipultaed as the screen would draw, so you only had so many cpu cycles per scanline that you could execute. The problem was a lot of those sprites depended on specific raster timing, that if missed (because the opcodes took too many cycles) would tend to flicker. Of course, this is just a guess based on how things worked on my expereinces with the commodore 64 that (sorta) shared the same CPU as the NES (6502).
  • You call the lines on the board a trace. Is it correct to also call that a bus, like what you call those traces on a PC's motherboard?
    • Re:Question (Score:3, Informative)


      All copper lines on a PCB are traces. This includes power and ground lines, excepting large areas of copper, which are usually called planes. Also, there are things called "ground shields", which are actually not connected to ground - they're electrically isolated continuous bits of copper used to provide electromagnetic shielding.


      Traces are the copper lines on a PCB - buses are composed of multiple traces carrying a collection of related signals (for example, an address bus is N tra
    • A trace is the copper strip on the PCB which carries electricity.

      A bus is the set of traces that collectively carries data (or one trace, as the case may be for serial buses).
    • Not all traces are buses. Buses are long circuits that carry signals (or power, of you want to get technical) to or between multiple (at least 3) devices. A connection which can only allow communication bewteen two devices is NOT a bus. (The Pentium4 and the original Athlon both reside on a point-to-point connection, not a bus, as the CPU is only able to communicate with one thing along that connection: the motherboard northbridge.)

      Also, buses are not confined to printed-circuit-boards. Parallel IDE cable

  • by simrook ( 548769 ) on Sunday December 26, 2004 @05:21AM (#11184056)
    Go and download the Mario Brothers 3 vid from the site and watch the count down clock. Not only does he double the clock speed on the motherboard, he also cuts the time in half that one is able to beat a level!

    Either that's the explination, or some wierd time warp has opened up and defied the laws of relativity via NES. Perhaps that's why I got the orignal Zelda for christmas.

    So wait.. why does this matter anyways? Just get an emulator. Still..Hella sweet mod. Right up there with softmodding an xbox.

    HoHoHo - Simrook
  • So now the question is... can we fool the box's timer into running at a faster sync rate? ie make a 60fps game refresh at 80 or 90? Anyone know if (modern) tv's can even handle this kind of signal without crapping themselves?
    It would be nice to mod my NES to make the games a little more... challenging.
    I'm still waiting on the NES Linux kernel hack...
    • It will depend on your TV. Modern TVs can certainly go about 10Hz faster than they should, you may have to overclock your TV too.
    • Argh. What's the point? A television screen in the USA is 15hz, but the signal is interlaced for a total perception of 30fps.

      That's right, your TV can only do 30fps out-of-the-box. If you send it a signal from a unit outputting a 60fps signal, you're just throwing bits to the wind.

      This is the sort of thing that drives me nuts. My monitor runs at 85hz, any framerate over 85fps is wasted CPU/GPU cycles. LCD monitors run at 60hz, for the most part.
      • You are full of shit, please don't speak unless you're absolutely sure you know what you're talking about.

        NTSC runs at a horizontal refresh rate of 15KHz (that is, approximately 15,000 lines per second), and a vertical refresh rate of 59.94Hz. For simplicity, I will refer to "59.94Hz" as "60Hz".

        Each refresh handles either odd or even fields (noninterlaced devices like the NES just output all odd or all even fields). Two consecutive fields can be combined into a 30fps signal, the set will display this at 6
    • I replaced the 14MHz clock crystal in a ZX Spectrum with a 17.73MHz colour crystal from a dead C64. The crystal oscillator output is divided down to 3.5MHz for the normal CPU clock, and all video timing is derived from that. I needed to modify my monitor to scan at 20kHz horizontally, but the 63Hz vertical scan was within its range (el-cheapo monochrome security camera monitor).

      All the timing loops were roughly 25% faster, making typing a bitch.

  • by SamMichaels ( 213605 ) on Sunday December 26, 2004 @05:27AM (#11184065)
    I have a little experience with the NES and emulation ;)

    The music gets out of whack and the time in the game doesn't work correctly...you can see it happen in the video of SMB3.

    I'd also like to have one of those laser thermal sensors take the temperature of the chip on the normal clock speed and the overclocked speed.

    Geek factor = 10; usage factor = 2. If you can find your NES, let alone have it work, all the power to you. If you give up, you can always hit zophar.net and emulate them.
    • The time works fine-- it's SLOWING DOWN below the PROPER speed when it lags. The overclocking stops it from slowing down-- it's going the speed the programmers intended. As for temperature, I estimate both to be pretty much indistinguishable, but around 75-85F. Not exactly a heat emergency.
  • Slashdot has gotten really slopppy. Wasn't this story supposed to be posted 15 years ago?
  • I'm surprised there wasn't a Zelda demo on the site. Whenever there was a room of those Jumping guys that turned into bats when you stab them, the system would lag like hell if you made too many bats. Also if I remember correctly, those pancake guys (?) that ate your shields never did much for the framerate either. ...Finally, a better solution to killing those guys than the Magic Sword
  • This guy "reclocked" it.
  • is this same thing for Nintendo 64. Perfect Dark with 4 players and 8 bots at 60 FPS would be a dream come true!
  • by Xoo ( 178947 ) on Sunday December 26, 2004 @12:21PM (#11185138) Journal
    Forgive me for linking to the file directly, but here's a direct link [epicgaming.uk.ro] to a demonstration video showing the overclocking differences in Super Mario Bros. 3.

    Instead of observing the obvious improvements in fluid animation (and gameplay), listen to the audio differences in both before and after overclocking. The original is exactly how I remember SMB3 to sound, while the overclocked version sounds kind of whacked.

    To me, the audio from these classic games is JUST AS important as the video, so I won't be overclocking until a better method is found that won't screw up audio.... but I'd imagine the bulk of people who still have *working* NES units, wouldn't want to mess around with their precious vintage systems anyways ;-)
  • anyone? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MasTRE ( 588396 )
    Has anyone duplicated this after reading? Just wondering. Instead of praising / dissing the article, it would be nice if someone actually used the information. Maybe provide some new information for those that are interested, like testing new games (Zelda?).

    Granted this is not a very useful mod today, but who cares? If it doesn't do it for you, move along, nothing here to see. For those of us that do dig it, it's a great lil' holiday read.
  • It's just the NES - Nintendo Entertainment System. The Nintendo Nintendo Entertainment System? Get a clue people.
  • by WWWWolf ( 2428 ) <wwwwolf@iki.fi> on Sunday December 26, 2004 @05:31PM (#11186510) Homepage

    NES folks have difficulty replacing processor because the sound unit is integrated to CPU...

    ...otherwise, we would have already seen some mods that would stick in a 65816 (as with Commodore 64 [cmdrkey.com]) and take the homebrew games to the next level. =)

    Yet, it's cool to see someone actually overclocking the thing and seeing what that does to the games! At least that will deal with the slowdown a bit. And, of course, it's at last a chance to see how well Nintendo games were actually coded - the games should work if you make the hardware different, even when the consoles traditionally never have to take hardware differences in account... or even if hardware differences were an issue at all in those days.

Never worry about theory as long as the machinery does what it's supposed to do. -- R. A. Heinlein