Nintendo Entertainment System

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Platform - NES.png
Nintendo Entertainment System
Released: 1983-07-15
Discontinued: 2003-09-??
Developer: Nintendo
Type: Hardware

The Nintendo Entertainment System, often shortened to NES, is a third generation 8-bit video game console developed by Nintendo. In its native Japan the system was called ファミリーコンピュータ (Family Computer) and often shortened to ファミコン (Famicom). The console was the most popular of the third generation consoles in both Japan and the USA. The console used a Ricoh RP2A03 for a CPU which contained a modified MOS Technology 6502 processor. The RP2A03 also contained the console's audio processing unit (APU). There are special versions of the CPU for NTSC and PAL regions.




A complete boxed Famicom unit.

Nintendo released the console as the Famicom (family computer) in Japan on July 15, 1983. It uses the Ricoh RP2A03 chip for both its CPU and audio capabilities. The platform was officially discontinued in September 2003.

Family Computer Disk System

The Disk System add on.
Main article, Famicom Disk System.

On February 21, 1986, Nintendo released the Family Computer Disk System (FDS) add-on which used diskettes instead of cartridges. This unit has slightly enhanced graphics and an extra sound channel. Players can also save their data on the disks. The FDS uses an RP2C33 for an additional audio channel. The console became redundant not too long after its release due to a couple key problems; One problem was that the disks and disk drives often had problems to prevent the games from being played. Also, by the time the problem was remedied, developers were able to fit more onto cartridges with the help of mapper chips. It was discontinued in 2003.

Nintendo Entertainment System

The NES Action Set.

The United States released the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) on October 18, 1985. Minor hardware changes were added to prevent pirating, but a full cosmetic overhaul was made, giving the USA system a very different look. The look of the NES was designed as to not look like a children's toy like the Famicom did. This style of the console became the standard design for later regions like Canada (released in February of 1986), Europe (September 1, 1986), Australia (1987), Brazil and South Korea. On October 15, 1993, Nintendo produced a second generation version of the NES with a redesigned console and controllers. NTSC consoles use an RP2A03 processor as the main CPU and default audio chip, while PAL consoles use the RP2A07. It was discontinued on August 14, 1995.

Sharp C1 Nintendo Television

Nintendo partnered with Sharp to produce a television with a built-in NES. In Japan, models with 14" and 19" televisions were made, each in exterior colors of red or black, and the units featured improved video display capable of true RGB color. The US models used the NES's original display capabilities and only came in black.

However, the C1 had some hardware differences, and as a result, many Famicom games warn that the game is not compatible with the C1.


The PlayChoice-10 arcade cabinet.

The PlayChoice-10 is a dual-screen arcade system that ran hardware nearly identical to the NES. It was released in 1986 to market the more popular NES games in arcades and advertise them to potential buyers. Each machine had ten slots, each slot could have a special PlayChoice-10 game cartridge inserted into it. Instead of buying lives, players bought play time, and could switch between the ten games and play until their time ran out. For the most part, the PlayChoice-10 games are identical to the home game, but occasionally the developers would make modifications to the game, sometimes even the music. The PlayChoice-10 used the RP2A03 processor for sound.

Vs. System

A Vs. System arcade cabinet.

The Vs. System is similar to the PlayChoice-10 system, in that it allowed slightly-altered NES games to be to be played as arcade games. The Vs. System differed by allowing two players to play head-to-head in some of the more popular games. Also, the system took a more traditional approach so players bought lives, not time. Because of this, Vs. System games had to be altered a bit more than the PlayChoice-10 games. The Vs. System used the RP2A03 processor for sound.


The M82 is an NES reworked to function as a store display unit where merchants could let customers test games. The system featured 12 slots for cartridges and included a built-in play timer. The player would select a game from the 12 slots and play for the allotted time (customizable between 30 seconds and 2 hours) and then the system would reset. The Japanese version had 15 built-in games rather than 12 interchangeable slots. In Japan, there was an equivalent called the FamicomBox, which also mentions the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Family BASIC

The Family BASIC was a development kit for the Famicom which was developed by Nintendo in association with Hudson Soft and Sharp. Potential users could develop their own games and put it on the cartridge the development system came with. TOSE used the Family BASIC for developing sound for their Famicom titles.

Twin Famicom

On July 1, 1986, Sharp, who had collaborated with Nintendo several times before, released the Famicom Twin (ツインファミコン Famikon Tsuin) in Japan. The console came in red and black variants and was a Famicom with a Disk System built-in. It also had expansion ports, as well as AV output. There was later a Turbo version which used Turbo controllers. However, similar to the original Famicom, the controllers are hardwired into the console.

New-Style NES/AV Famicom

In 1993, long after the release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo released a new NES designed by Lance Barr. Unlike the frontloading original NES, which caused problems with the pins to prevent games from working, the New-Style NES uses toploading cartridges, similar to other cartridge-based platforms. It removed the NES lockout chip, allowing for games from other regions to be played on it. The only drawback is that the console still relies on RF output, although there are few versions that exist with AV capabilities.

In Japan, the console was released as the AV Famicom. As its name suggests, unlike the original Famicom which relied solely on RF output, it now had AV plugins.It has an identical look to the North American version, but can only play Famicom games. However, it allowed for interchangeable controllers, so North American and European controllers could be used with the console as well. Unfortunately, the AV Famicom does not have the microphone on the second controller, so for games that required it, while they would work with the console, they would be unbeatable. The New-Style NES retailed for $50.

Music and Sound

Every version of the NES used the RP2A03 for its main CPU which had an integrated programmable sound generator (PSG) designed by Yukio Kaneoka. The PAL versions of the NES used the RR2A07 which was the same chip only with a PAL clock rate. The PSG in the RP2A03 contains two pulse wave channels with four different waveforms, a triangle channel use mostly for bass and percussion, a noise channel usually used for percussion, and a DPCM channel which would play digital samples at a low bitrate. The use of the DPCM channel was limited in early games because samples took so much cartridge space. Several expansion chips were made for the NES. These were added to the game boards of the NES cartridges. Below is a complete list of all the audio chips found in the various NES consoles and game cartridges.

Chip Manufacturer Description
5B Sunsoft Features three extra square channels. It was only used in Gimmick! (FC).
K-663  ? A chip (YM2413 clone) featuring 9 channels of FM synthesis. It was only used in Family Noraebang (FC).
MMC5 Nintendo The Memory Management Controller 5 added two extra square channels.
NAMCO163 Namco Contains 8 wavetable synthesis channels. Most players do not properly emulate the chip, raising the notes an octave higher.
RP2A07 (PAL)
Ricoh This is the original built-in audio chip for the NES. It has 2 pulse waves, a triangle wave, a noise channel, and a DPCM channel. The only difference between the two chips is that the NTSC version ran at 60 Hz while the PAL version ran at 50 Hz.
RP2C33 Ricoh Included on the Famicom Disk System. It adds a 32-volume wavetable synthesis sound.
VRC VI Konami Virtual ROM Controller VI adds two additional pulse waves and a sawtooth wave. It was only used in Akumajou Densetsu (FC), Madara, and Esper Dream II.
VRC VII Konami Virtual ROM Controller VII adds 6 channels of FM synthesis due to a modified Yamaha YM2413 integrated into the chip. Unfortunately, only one game utilized the audio capabilities of this chip, Langrage Point (NES).

Audio Developers

In the earliest days of the NES, most composers were either expected to learn 6502 assembly and write their own audio driver for the RP2A03 or use an audio driver developed by a programmer and feed audio input in a custom Music Macro Language. Because of this, many of the first composers were also competent computer programmers. In the later years, developers had written utilities that converted MIDI music into 6502 assembly instructions the audio chip could process. This conversion method was especially popular for US and European development companies, and was of great help when professional musicians who had no programming experience were contracted. Many low-budget game companies either couldn't afford to hire professional musicians or couldn't find anyone capable of composing in such a limited medium. Because of this, a lot of sub-standard music was made by programmers.

Recently, special audio trackers have been created that either emulate the sound of the NES, or properly function on the original audio hardware. For example, Nerdtracker and Famitracker are designed to be compatible with the specific chips found in the NES, and music composed in them can be put directly into an NES ROM.