GC

Nintendo's Expansion Ports

by Danny Bivens and Aaron Kaluszka - October 26, 2011, 11:19 am PDT
Total comments: 52

What's the deal with those expansion ports on Nintendo's older systems?

In a day and age where USB ports are prevalent on our game systems, expansion ports on video game consoles definitely harken to a gaming yesteryear that players can only look back on in awe. What once used to be a staple on many console releases is now a thing of the past. 

In previous Nintendo consoles, these expansion ports were portals to improve hardware, open up new possibilities for gameplay, and even to give the hardware additional features that were just not possible with the original release. Now we look back on past Nintendo hardware and not only examine how Nintendo used these mysterious ports, but also the kinds of devices that utilized them. From this, we have a picture of the company's past as well as some insight on where Nintendo are taking their hardware in the future.

First up is the Famicom and NES. Unlike the NES, the Famicom came with hard-wired controllers. Any extra controllers and peripherals could be plugged into Nintendo's first expansion port, which was located at the front of the machine. This port was used to host light guns, 3D shutter glasses, keyboards, extra controllers, and other items. Many system expansions plugged directly into the cartridge slot, such as the Famicom Disk System and the Famicom Modem. The Sharp Twin Famicom, a system that combined the Famicom and Disk System into one machine, added an additional three expansion ports, but these remained unused.

The NES shipped with an expansion port on the bottom of the console. On multiple occasions, modems were planned to be connected there. However, the NES expansion port never received a commercial application. Originally, the port was covered by a snap-in cover, but later model systems actually had a plastic tab covering the port completely. The port was still there, but the plastic actually had to broken off to access the port. The lack of expansion port utilization outside of Japan was an ongoing trend that started with Nintendo's first system.

The Famicom expansion port

NES expansion port cover

NES expansion port revealed

Twin Famicom expansion port A

Twin Famicom expansion port B

Twin Famicom expansion port C and D cover

Twin Famicom expansion ports C and D


The Super Famicom takes us on a story of CD drives and further connectivity. Like the NES, the Super Famicom and SNES designed included an expansion port marked EXT. The well-known SNES CD would have used this port, and the Satellaview did make use of it, but only in Japan. The SNES did see a very limited use of the port as a connection point for the Exertainment exercise bike.

Super Famicom EXT port cover

Super Famicom EXT port

North American style SNES EXT port

The Nintendo 64 brought us the Expansion Pak and the Disk Drive, one for each port. Continuing the trend, the EXT port, which resides on the bottom of the N64, would only be used in Japan for the N64DD, which was cancelled early and never saw a worldwide release. The memory expansion port on the top was necessary for certain games that needed the extra power, and this saw worldwide use.

N64 EXT port cover

N64 EXT port

N64 Memory Expansion cover

N64 Memory Expansion slot

The GameCube upped the number of expansion possibilities to three. Featuring two serial ports and a hi-speed port, the GameCube had the most expansion possibilities, though one serial port remained unused. The options were limited, but this time, all expansions were released worldwide. The Hi-Speed port was home to the Game Boy Player attachment, while the larger serial port could house a modem or LAN adapter.

GameCube bottom

GameCube ports - 2 x serial and 1x high speed

Panasonic Q - same as GameCube, but with a larger base

With the advent of the Wii, Nintendo decided to standardize their hardware connections, including two USB ports and an SD card slot. The Wii U includes the same interfaces, indicating a likely end of Nintendo's mysterious ports.

Next, we take an in-depth look at all of the system expansions. We will cover one system each day.

Photos provided by Danny Bivens, James Charlton, Nicholas Bray, Minoru Yamaizumi, Aaron Kaluszka, Uncle Bob, and 64DDFan

Images

Talkback

DanielMDaniel Mousseau, Staff AlumnusOctober 26, 2011

I believe it was so Nintendo could change/add any extra code to the motherboard/processor. That's probably why they were never needed after launch of the console. It was just easier for development and all that.


That's just my thought.

BlackNMild2k1October 26, 2011

Quote from: DanielM

I believe it was so Nintendo could change/add any extra code to the motherboard/processor. That's probably why they were never needed after launch of the console. It was just easier for development and all that.


That's just my thought.

Then why would they include it in the production model and not just the dev kits?

CericOctober 26, 2011

Quote from: BlackNMild2k1

Quote from: DanielM

I believe it was so Nintendo could change/add any extra code to the motherboard/processor. That's probably why they were never needed after launch of the console. It was just easier for development and all that.


That's just my thought.

Then why would they include it in the production model and not just the dev kits?

I'm not a game dev but wouldn't it make sense to have the production model also be the Dev Kit with just an addon that plugged into the special slot?

That's not really how it worked back then.

ShayminOctober 26, 2011

Shame that the test model SNES apparently hung out with a couple of smokers.

It's not caused by smoking. There's an interesting article about the science of the yellowing here and how to fix it here.

famicomplicatedJames Charlton, Staff AlumnusOctober 26, 2011

Strangely my Super Famicom is fine but my Famicom is a disgusting yellow colour! (as you can see from my photos above)


More on topic though, I would have loved to have been in Japan during the disk system days, getting to use the disk writer in a shop etc!
I'm too afraid to get a Disk System now though, knowing how unreliable they are.


The next part of the feature, SNES/SFC, is a really interesting part of history.

AVOctober 27, 2011

This is a wonderful article, I really think a podcast would serve it justice . Most of the expansions should have been built in to begin with, and nintendo KNEW they should have but didn't. 

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorOctober 27, 2011

The NES Top Loader and SNES-mini both removed the expansion ports...  Oddly, though, the redesigned N64 (i.e.: The Pikachu edition) actually included the expansion port... but there was no removable cover - the port is inaccessible without actually removing the bottom half of the casing.

I've heard there are revised GameCubes floating around out there that are missing the second serial port, but I've never seen one (never really spent a lot of time looking though).

BlackNMild2k1October 27, 2011

Quote from: UncleBob

I've heard there are revised GameCubes floating around out there that are missing the second serial port, but I've never seen one (never really spent a lot of time looking though).

But you must add one to your collection. How does it not bother you that you do not own one of these mythical revised Gamecubes? It's like I don't know you anymore.


...

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorOctober 27, 2011

Quote from: BlackNMild2k1

But you must add one to your collection. How does it not bother you that you do not own one of these mythical revised Gamecubes? It's like I don't know you anymore.

You'd think that - but, out of the 7 Game Cubes I own, 6 are original -001 units and one's the Panasonic Q.  I don't even own a -101 unit. ;)

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorOctober 27, 2011

Found a neat site that shows all three hardware revisions of the GameCube...

http://www.classiccmp.org/dunfield/vg/nintendo.htm

The GCN went through three revisions, although only one really changed the bottom ports.  A semi-educated guess would be that the second revision is limited to the "Limited Edition" Platinum consoles.  As I don't have any Platinum GCNs (not counting the Q, of course) or any -101 units, that would explain why I haven't come across one.  I'll have to be on the look-out now. :D

Kytim89October 27, 2011

There should be a similar thread made for all of Nintendo's controlles and peripherals.

ejamerOctober 27, 2011

Quote from: UncleBob

Found a neat site that shows all three hardware revisions of the GameCube...

http://www.classiccmp.org/dunfield/vg/nintendo.htm

The GCN went through three revisions, although only one really changed the bottom ports.  A semi-educated guess would be that the second revision is limited to the "Limited Edition" Platinum consoles.  As I don't have any Platinum GCNs (not counting the Q, of course) or any -101 units, that would explain why I haven't come across one.  I'll have to be on the look-out now. :D

Nice link.


I have a platinum console with the digital outs - apparently pretty rare. A friend was convinced they didn't even exist until seeing mine. Pretty lucky I guess, since it was picked up second-hand from EB Games as a backup system for the GameCube titles that I purchased after owning a Wii.


Oddly, tracking down an official component cable for the system was MUCH more expensive than the console itself.

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorOctober 27, 2011

Quote from: ejamer

Oddly, tracking down an official component cable for the system was MUCH more expensive than the console itself.

Don't look at my five sets then. :D  Four of which I scored from GameStop for under $5. :D

But to your other point, I think the only Platinum systems with the Digital Out are the original releases that were marked "Limited Edition" - it's my guess (without any hardcore evidence) that when the Platinum system became standard was when they removed the Digital Port (and revised the base).  Could likely be wrong though.

CericOctober 27, 2011

My Component cable for the GCN was ordered directly from Nintendo and I probably posted about it here somewhere.  It was Night and day.  When the component cables for Wii became first available through Nintendo I ordered a set of those because I didn't want a repeat of the GCN.  Though I have adapter to connect my GCN to everything in US but DVI and HDMI (VGA, Coax, Component, RCA, S-Video, etc.)

ejamerOctober 27, 2011

Quote from: UncleBob

Quote from: ejamer

Oddly, tracking down an official component cable for the system was MUCH more expensive than the console itself.

Don't look at my five sets then. :D  Four of which I scored from GameStop for under $5. :D

...

I'm not disappointed. Mine were well under the going price - it's only when you compare them to paying $10 for the entire console that it feels expensive.


If you are lucky, you can still score GameCube component cables at GameStop for cheap. Where you live plays a huge part in that though.


http://www.gamestop.com/accessories/gamecube-n64-component-cable-used/32149?utm_source=linkshare&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_campaign=deeplink&cid=afl_10000087&affID=77777&sourceID=FKSJxY2VJAk-YdQjxU0sI4sci3bux6kWNg


Of course, some hits are false-positives and sometimes you get lucky finding mislabeled cables where there aren't supposed to be any. A great deal if you stumble into any though!

yoshi1001October 28, 2011

I've thought about getting component cables for my GC to cut out the input lag when I do recordings of Game Boy Player for my YouTube channel (I actually own a component video capture device). Generally, I've seen these things sell for $60-$100 on eBay. By the way, did you notice the component port is labeled "Digital Out" even though component is analog?

I do own an official Nintendo SNES S-Video connector (bought for my N64 after we got a new TV with said inputs).

Chozo GhostOctober 28, 2011

Its a shame the port on the NES was never used. Does anyone know if it would be possible for some hobbyist or whatever to create peripherals for that port somehow? It was supposed to be used for a modem but Nintendo never created that modem, but could someone else make it happen? All the patents regarding the NES have expired since 2005 so there is no legal obstacles to people doing stuff like that, but are there technical obstacles?

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorOctober 28, 2011

Quote from: yoshi1001

By the way, did you notice the component port is labeled "Digital Out" even though component is analog?

Actually... the port is 100% correctly labeled.  The port actually does send out a digital signal.

*Most* electronics convert that digital signal to analog inside the system, before it gets to the port.

With the GameCube, it actually sent the digital signal to the port - the Digital-to-Analog conversion was done in the Component Cables themselves - this is why the cables were so expensive new and why you've never seen an off-brand/third party set of GameCube cables that output component signal.

It's also what let people mod them into awesome VGA cables. The Wii was truly a downgrade in that sense.

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorOctober 29, 2011

Quote from: UncleBob

I think the only Platinum systems with the Digital Out are the original releases that were marked "Limited Edition" - it's my guess (without any hardcore evidence) that when the Platinum system became standard was when they removed the Digital Port (and revised the base).  Could likely be wrong though.

Well, I don't really have anything for/against the "Limited Edition" Platinum 'Cubes all being with the Digital Out port while the non-Limited Edition 'Cubes are without, but...

I stopped into a Goodwill today - they had a Platinum -001 GameCube...  No cords and $10 price tag (I passed) - but I did take a second to look it over.  it was a -001, but it did have the third port on the bottom.

TheBlackCatNovember 01, 2011

You didn't mention any of the problems with the N64 RAM expansion pack.  For instance it pretty much broke Space Station Silicon Valley.

I've read many times that Game Boy Player is kinda laggy. Is this true?

TJ SpykeNovember 01, 2011

I never experienced any lag with my Game Boy Player.

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorNovember 01, 2011

Quote from: Kikori

I've read many times that Game Boy Player is kinda laggy. Is this true?

I've only had one such experience... kinda.

Back in the day, when I was running a solo-GameCube, a friend brought his over along with his Game Boy Player.  We hooked them up and played some Four Swords (GBA) on the big screen.  It was awesome.

Anyway, during one round, we came "desynched" - the Links on both screens would still respond to their respective controls, but they weren't in the same spot... so I could be walking up a path on my screen and be walking into a wall on his screen.  Likewise, he could pick me up on his screen and I'd be running around like nothing was wrong on mine.

The /official/ word from Nintendo is that you're not supposed to link Game Boy Players together...  but I've done it many times and this is the *only* time I've ever had a problem with the Game Boy Player - in any fashion.

StrawHousePigNovember 01, 2011

Oh wow, Warp Pipe and the LAN adapter. Never got a version of Warp Pipe to work right... something about the lappy I was using at the time... so long ago.

Never could get into PSO. Played it a few times but it seemed to mostly be people standing around chatting. No thanks. Plus it was a SEGA game and SEGA games *suck*!  ;D

Now that internet speeds are faster, we should try to get a Double Dash Warp Pipe tournament going.

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorNovember 01, 2011

Quote from: MegaByte

Now that internet speeds are faster, we should try to get a Double Dash Warp Pipe tournament going.

Totally up for trying that sometime.  Lord knows it went... poorly the last time I tried.

I don't know about a "tournament" though - we'll be lucky to get two people connected. ;)

It'd be cool if someone had come up with a Homebrew Channel hack that lets GameCube games see the Wii's Wi-Fi as a broadband adaptor. I'd imagine that would up the numbers we could pull in for such an event.

If by "come up with a hack," you mean "write an operating system..."

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorNovember 01, 2011

Quote from: MegaByte

If by "come up with a hack," you mean "write an operating system..."

For those who dabble in such things, does anyone know if the GameCube emulator for the PC does LAN Modes on compatible games?  And not Online where the second player is the second controller - but actually supportive of the LAN modes built into the games?

Would it be possible to write a GCN emulator for the Wii?  Is the Wii actually powerful enough for such a thing?

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorNovember 01, 2011

Fun Fact: Since we're kind of on the subject.

For those who have never seen it, in Mario Kart: Double Dash, the LAN Mode is a selection on the main menu screen - it only appears of you have a LAN Adapter in your GameCube.

What's really fun though - the Demo Disc (the ones for the in-store demo units) that contains a Mario Kart: Double Dash preview... the LAN Option shows up on that menu - again, only if you have a LAN Adapter installed... but you can't select it at all.  Just kinda neat.

Quote from: UncleBob

Would it be possible to write a GCN emulator for the Wii?  Is the Wii actually powerful enough for such a thing?

No, at 1.5x specs of the GC, the Wii is far too weak to emulate the GC (a rule of thumb used to be that you'd need at least 10x power, and that would be with speed hacks). Instead, you'd need to rewrite the GC BIOS to take into account the additional hardware and emulate the LAN adapter. However, that additional hardware part is non-trivial because you'd have to write drivers for the Wii security and I/O systems, which the GC BIOS doesn't know exist. Going in the other direction, you might be able to run the GC game as Wii software, with hooks patched in memory to deal with the network and any Wii-isms. In either case, it would involve massive architecting that would be hard even if all of the technical information was publicly available.

Chozo GhostNovember 01, 2011

Quote from: MegaByte

No, at 1.5x specs of the GC,

Didn't Iwata or someone else at Nintendo say the Wii was 2 to 3 times more powerful than the GC?

It doesn't matter what they said. The Wii CPU and GPUs are clocked at 1.5x the GC, and the memory was roughly doubled (it's more complicated than that).

Kytim89November 01, 2011

wonder hiw many times more powerful the Wii U will be over the Wii?

ThePermNovember 01, 2011

well considering I think someone said next E3 you'll see the more final design of the Wii U, I hope it has an expansion port, so it is future proofed. I had forgot about the GameCube's port, and that I actually used it for the GBA player. The Wii was future proofed as well in the controllers, but not the system itself.

The Wii U has USB ports, which is the modern version of expansion ports (unfortunately, Nintendo didn't do much with them on the Wii).

famicomplicatedJames Charlton, Staff AlumnusNovember 02, 2011

I learnt a lot from this feature, very interesting stuff here!
I'm especially into the SNES and N64 stuff, gotta love those add-ons!


Big thanks to Danny for digging up all this info and putting all in an easy to read manner, makes life easy for lazy people like me!  ;D

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorNovember 02, 2011

We should really try a Warp Pipe Mario Kart match up.  Who's in?

CericNovember 02, 2011

Quote from: UncleBob

We should really try a Warp Pipe Mario Kart match up.  Who's in?

Maybe if I can find all my stuff.

Quote from: StrawHousePig

Oh wow, Warp Pipe and the LAN adapter. Never got a version of Warp Pipe to work right... something about the lappy I was using at the time... so long ago.

Never could get into PSO. Played it a few times but it seemed to mostly be people standing around chatting. No thanks. Plus it was a SEGA game and SEGA games *suck*!  ;D

That annoyed me about PSO.  When you found a group that wanted to play the game then it was great.  I'm glad the Monster Hunter Community isn't super chatty like the PSO one was.

Chozo GhostNovember 03, 2011

Quote from: MegaByte

The Wii U has USB ports, which is the modern version of expansion ports (unfortunately, Nintendo didn't do much with them on the Wii).

But you can't add more RAM to a system via a USB port, can you? Yet the N64 had an expansion port which allowed just that, and Nintendo released the RAM pack so it actually happened. It might not be a bad idea for Nintendo to include a port in the Wii U to allow the RAM to be expanded at some future point so that it can remain competitive against the PS4/420.

If that can be done via a USB port, then fine, but everything I know or think I know about USB leads me to believe it isn't really capable of that so some other sort of port is required.

Kytim89November 03, 2011

If the Wii U had a a spot for an internal HDD then it it would be the modern day equivalnet of the N64 memory expansion pack and port.

BlackNMild2k1November 03, 2011

Quote from: Kytim89

If the Wii U had a a spot for an internal HDD then it it would be the modern day equivalnet of the N64 memory expansion pack and port.

Wrong kind of memory expansion.

Chozo GhostNovember 03, 2011

What BnM said.

But I would also like to see a port or slot or drive bay or whatever you call it for an internal HDD to be added if the user so desires. I understand if Nintendo doesn't want to bundle a $50 HDD in the system by default in order to cut costs, but it would be nice if the option existed for users to add one in themselves. The PS2 was that way, so its not like that is unprecedented.

But yes, that is separate from the RAM which would be nice if that could also be upgraded later on.

CericNovember 03, 2011

Ram can't be added vi any cost effective standard connector, I think Infiniband and like is fast enough.

I have mixed feelings about RAM upgrades in consoles.  Harddrive style space is sort of a non-issue but, RAM starts diversifying the spec and makes moving targets for developers.

Chozo GhostNovember 03, 2011

Any game which would require a RAM upgrade could come bundled with the RAM upgrade. That's how it was with the N64 games which required the RAM Pak. I'm not sure how much a RAM module would cost, but hopefully it could be manageable.

CericNovember 03, 2011

Quote from: Chozo

Any game which would require a RAM upgrade could come bundled with the RAM upgrade. That's how it was with the N64 games which required the RAM Pak. I'm not sure how much a RAM module would cost, but hopefully it could be manageable.

That's partially it.  I mean Capcom is citing a slightly bigger cart for RE:Rev as the $10 premium reason.  Which is bull but, think if you had to pack in something else.  Not to mention if its popular we as gamers have 10 or so of them.  Not good for the environment.

In theory that's great but in Practice its Wii Motion+.

Chozo GhostNovember 03, 2011

Nothing wrong with Wii Motion+. Even if Zelda Skyward Sword alone were the only game to support it that would make it a success in and of itself. Wasn't Zelda one of the games on the N64 which required the RAM Pak? Considering the N64 Zelda games were top notch and regularly top the lists of the greatest games of all time, I'd say that makes the N64 RAM Pak a success even if absolutely no other game ever supported it.

Mop it upNovember 03, 2011

Didn't Sega teach us that add-ons are a bad idea, partly because they split the userbase? Adding anything significant to a system halfway through its market cycle just isn't a good idea. The N64 Expansion Pak and Wii Motion Plus are essentially just accessories, since only a handful of games actually require them. The Kinect and PSMove are a little more successful, but still aren't the new standard for those systems and haven't really gotten out of accessory status.

The only exception I can think of is the PlayStation's Dual Analogue and then Dual Shock controllers, but they were added before the system gained significant market share. There were also still few games that required them, so for people who bought one of the first systems they were not a necessity. This is also why the 3DS slide pad add-on may also work out, since it's happening early on and likely won't be required for just about everything.

Chozo GhostNovember 04, 2011

Quote from: Mop

Didn't Sega teach us that add-ons are a bad idea,

The way Sega did it was bad. The problem wasn't the addon itself or the idea, it was that it conflicted with the Saturn and competed with it which split Sega's resources and pissed off fans and developers alike. It should have either been the Neptune or the Saturn, but Sega released both and that was the problem. If it was just one or the other I think things would have turned out very differently.

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