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Classic Games (Games) Emulation (Games) Hardware Hacking NES (Games) Nintendo Hardware Linux

The NES Classic is a $60 Single Board Computer Running Linux 121

"Nintendo's accurate NES emulator apparently needs no less than a quad-core CPU," joked Ars Technica. "The next step, of course, is unscrewing of the nostalgic little box to see how it ticks -- and whether its limited functionality might ever be expanded, either officially or by hackers." Slashdot reader romiz summarizes what's inside Nintendo's new miniature emulator for classic games: With a quad-core ARM Cortex-A7, 256 MB of RAM, and 512 MB of NAND Flash, it is typical of the hardware found in Linux single board computers, like the Raspberry Pi 2. Surprisingly for Nintendo, there does not seem to be any custom components in it, and it looks like it even does run Linux. [YouTube video] The GPL license for the kernel and many other open source components is visible in the legal information screen. The source, however, is not yet available on Nintendo's open source page.

But it is the re-edition a 1980s video console: there is no network access, no hardware expansion port, and the 30 games cannot be changed. Changing the system running on it will probably be difficult.
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The NES Classic is a $60 Single Board Computer Running Linux

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  • Emulator (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dwedit ( 232252 ) on Saturday November 05, 2016 @03:38PM (#53219655) Homepage

    Apparently, it's not even a good emulator. [nesdev.com]

    • by cfalcon ( 779563 )

      . No Guardian Legend. Less space than a nomad. Lame.

      • . No Guardian Legend. Less space than a nomad. Lame.

        Thank you for that. Guardian Legend is a Legend and one of the best NES games imo.

      • Less space than a nomad.

        That entirely depends on how big of an SD card you have plugged into the EverDrive [stoneagegamer.com] in your Sega Nomad [wikipedia.org].

        • That entirely depends on how big of an SD card you have plugged into the EverDrive in your Sega Nomad.

          Alas, the Nomad is also lame. I sold mine when I discovered that it wouldn't play Forgotten Worlds. DEAD TO ME

  • FPGA (Score:4, Informative)

    by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Saturday November 05, 2016 @03:43PM (#53219681)

    If ever there was a product that should have been an FPGA this was it. People have already reverse engineered a large part of the NES and implemented it: https://danstrother.com/fpga-n... [danstrother.com]

    Nintendo also has the advantage of knowing what they put in the original NES.

    • Re:FPGA (Score:5, Informative)

      by Lisandro ( 799651 ) on Saturday November 05, 2016 @03:53PM (#53219711)

      Um, why? Not only this was quite possibly much easier to implement on a Linux mini PC, it was also way cheaper.

      • 1) It brings nothing new to the table that RetroPi doesn't already have.
        2) Software emulation isn't perfect.

        • by Fwipp ( 1473271 )

          Except, you know, not having to read a bunch of manuals learning how to install Linux on it, the custom hardware and aesthetic, and also it's y'know, legal.

          Both my grandmothers used to play a lot of NES. I could see either of them buying this to replay some of their favorite games - I can't fathom them trying to set up a Pi.

          • by cfalcon ( 779563 )

            Emulators are fully legal.

            • by tepples ( 727027 )

              Downloading ROM images from the Internet is copyright infringement in most notable* cases. Even if you own the cartridge, cartridge readers are illegal under anti-circumvention statutes in some countries.

              * Freeware NES games made by hobbyists [pdroms.de] exist, but few if any been reviewed by multiple reliable sources.

        • Neither is FPGA simulation. There is nothing a FPGA brings to the table, simulation-wise, that cannot be implemented with plain old software.

          • There is nothing a FPGA brings to the table, simulation-wise, that cannot be implemented with plain old software.

            I can think of one lack of latency. That's one of the advantages of the Hi-Def NES mod by Kevin Horton. Because its upscaler stores only 2 ms worth of the NES PPU's video output, latency can be one frame less than with the frame buffer used in almost every major video game platform since the Sega 32X. Even one frame can have a huge effect on the perceived responsiveness of twitchy games such as Punch-Out!!.

    • Re:FPGA (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Saturday November 05, 2016 @04:00PM (#53219721) Journal
      That would have been a more elegant solution; but why would Nintendo use a ~$70 FPGA to do something they can get a bottom-feeder ARM SoC to do; with the added advantage of being able to share the emulator software with any of their other products that are adequately powerful?

      If cost-per-unit were the binding constraint, Nintendo would presumably be best served by building their own, hopefully less eccentric, version of the NES-on-a-chip hardware that you find under a glob top in the assorted 'famiclone' consoles of the world; but doing that would both make doing the design relatively expensive; and be useless for any of their products that don't have the resulting hardware embedded.

      Emulation is kind of an ugly, brute force, approach; but it gives Nintendo the flexibility to add 'NES' to just about anything powerful enough just by providing a copy of the software.
      • by tomxor ( 2379126 )

        I was speculative that FPGA implementation could not be done cheaply, as they come in a range or capabilities and costs... So I thought I'd have a look at what HDL source is available and what would be required to run them... without much googling you will find many people have already done this, this was the simplest i could find in terms of hardware (although not accurate or complete) https://danstrother.com/fpga-n... [danstrother.com]

        It is difficult to gauge from these projects what a production cost would be, as they ar

        • by newsdee ( 629448 )

          ~£28, it would be interesting to know from someone experienced in this level of hardware how low the cost could be driven down by selecting an appropriate size FPGA based on the HDL and low frequencies those chips ran on the NES.

          Check out the MIST FPGA https://github.com/mist-devel/... [github.com] and Zx-Uno http://zxuno.speccy.org/index_... [speccy.org] projects.

          Both have an open-source NES core supporting many games (forks of the same original project). They are more expensive than the NES mini, the ZxUno at 70 euros (without case nor VGA adapter), and the MiST at 200 euros with a case [but bigger FPGA = supports more systems such as Atari and Amiga]. There are a couple of gotchas though: neither connects to carts (they could in theory, but the focus was

    • by tk77 ( 1774336 )

      So, one of these:

      http://www.retrousb.com/produc... [retrousb.com]

      3x the price of the Classic and you have to supply the controllers and games.

      I'm considering buying both..

    • by PRMan ( 959735 )
      Costs too much. I just got a Raspberry Pi Zero (the equivalent hardware) for 99 cents.
  • If they haven't yet posted the source for linux, then they're violating the license.
  • Is it a safe bet to reason that Nintendo picked this hardware because of its mass availability in the supply chain?

    I don't doubt that it is possible to make an NES with classic hardware today, but it looks like they went the easiest way to use whatever current teams they have already using off the shelf parts in a quick and dirty manner. Easy cash to be had on nostalgia.

    • by Lehk228 ( 705449 ) on Saturday November 05, 2016 @05:48PM (#53220089) Journal
      it would be harder than you think, classic hardware can't drive an HDMI interface or handle modern resolutions, so if you cloned the original hardware to spec, you would then need another layer to upscale it and send it out over HDMI, which would end up costing more than the COTS mobile phone chipset they are using, while having far less options for interchangeable competition if one of the suppliers went tits up. as it is now, if their supplier vanished, there are dozens of options which could be subbed in changing only the system drivers and configs, none of the emulator system would need to be changed.
  • Ars measured the controller cords on this system as a mere 31 inches long... they were 90 inches long on the original US systems.

    https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp... [arstechnica.net]

    • If the short controller cords on this are like those on the original Famicom, Famicom AV, and Super Famicom, then perhaps the console is meant to sit on the coffee table or kotatsu with a long HDMI cord to the TV.

  • I've been building and giving away Retro-pi boxes for a few months now. I guess now those normal people not fortunate enough to collect nerd favors only get 30 games and are locked to the NES controller.

    • What controllers did you end up going with? I used Buffalo's SNES style USB for mine because they're pretty cheap and feel right, but a Pi3 can handle PS1 and some N64 stuff as well as 16 bit systems.
      • The Buffalo Classic USB Gamepad (the SNES style) is one hell of a bargain. Dare I say it even better than the originals, certainly better than a 20yo SNES pad for sure.

        I don't know about the OP, but I use a DIY arcade stick as my main controller. Most people played NES/SNES using gamepads, but the NES Advantage stick was a much better controller. I based the layout of my stick on the SNES Score Master arcade stick, which is much better than trying to translate the SNES layout directly to a stick, as you're

        • What controllers did you end up going with?

          I set them all up with the X-Box 360 wireless adapter. It works "out of the box" and with the exception of one person, the people I've given them to all already have wireless X-Box 360 controllers around the house so I didn't have to buy them.

          • DIY arcade stick for my primary controller, suplemented with the Buffalo SNES clone pad and two Xbox 360 pads that I had already and use on my PC for GTA IV and such. I haven't had to have more than four controllers in use simultaneously yet, but I'll probably end up grabbing a few more Buffalo pads, since they're so inexpensive.

            • What sort of encoder did you go with on your arcade stick?

              I have a leftover ipac from an arcade build and had considered doing an upright with it, but am not sure if it will jive with the pi and I understand hacking a keyboard makes ghosting issues.

              • I'm using an Ipac, it works great with no issues so far. It's simply a USB keyboard to the OS, so there should be no compatibility issues if a normal keyboard works.

                If you don't want to go that route, I would recommend getting one of the Buffalo pads and soldering your connections to its PCB. It's as standard a USB gamepad as you can possibly find, I haven't had any issues with that either.

                The biggest benefit of the Ipac is that it acts as a keyboard, so it'll work with games that don't have gamepad support

  • Changing the system running on it will probably be difficult.

    Famous last words.

  • there is no network access, no hardware expansion port, and the 30 games cannot be changed.

    If you can find one in stock, the ESP32 costs about $9 [adafruit.com], is the size of a quarter, and also runs a NES emulator [youtube.com] and has wifi and bluetooth and a lot more.

    I'm (sorta) joking, especially as you'll need more hardware like a screen, controllers, etc. but the video is still pretty cool.

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