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Offline the_dan_x

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Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« on: October 26, 2011, 02:19:47 PM »

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

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/feature/27664

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.

Danny Bivens
Japan Correspondent
Nintendo World Report

Offline DanielM

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #1 on: October 26, 2011, 03:04:20 PM »
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.
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Offline BlackNMild2k1

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #2 on: October 26, 2011, 03:20:15 PM »
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?


Offline Ceric

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #3 on: October 26, 2011, 03:47:24 PM »
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?
« Last Edit: October 26, 2011, 04:21:40 PM by Ceric »
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Offline MegaByte

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #4 on: October 26, 2011, 03:56:11 PM »
That's not really how it worked back then.
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Offline Shaymin

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #5 on: October 26, 2011, 06:42:40 PM »
Shame that the test model SNES apparently hung out with a couple of smokers.
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Offline MegaByte

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #6 on: October 26, 2011, 06:49:36 PM »
It's not caused by smoking. There's an interesting article about the science of the yellowing here and how to fix it here.
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Offline famicomplicated

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #7 on: October 26, 2011, 07:29:10 PM »
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.
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Offline AV

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #8 on: October 26, 2011, 08:13:59 PM »
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. 

Offline UncleBob

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #9 on: October 26, 2011, 08:39:29 PM »
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).
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Offline BlackNMild2k1

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #10 on: October 26, 2011, 08:54:34 PM »
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.


...
« Last Edit: October 26, 2011, 09:23:40 PM by BlackNMild2k1 »

Offline UncleBob

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #11 on: October 26, 2011, 09:28:23 PM »
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. ;)
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Offline UncleBob

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #12 on: October 26, 2011, 10:25:59 PM »
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
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Offline Kytim89

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #13 on: October 26, 2011, 11:50:57 PM »
There should be a similar thread made for all of Nintendo's controlles and peripherals.
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Offline ejamer

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #14 on: October 27, 2011, 12:51:25 PM »
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.
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Offline UncleBob

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #15 on: October 27, 2011, 01:00:20 PM »
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.
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Offline Ceric

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #16 on: October 27, 2011, 01:06:57 PM »
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.)
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Offline ejamer

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #17 on: October 27, 2011, 01:26:51 PM »
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!
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Offline yoshi1001

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #18 on: October 27, 2011, 08:09:33 PM »
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).
« Last Edit: October 27, 2011, 08:15:42 PM by yoshi1001 »
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Offline Chozo Ghost

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #19 on: October 27, 2011, 08:47:03 PM »
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?
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Offline UncleBob

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #20 on: October 28, 2011, 04:11:54 AM »
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.
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Offline MegaByte

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #21 on: October 28, 2011, 11:53:27 AM »
It's also what let people mod them into awesome VGA cables. The Wii was truly a downgrade in that sense.
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Offline UncleBob

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #22 on: October 29, 2011, 07:47:33 PM »
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.
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Offline TheBlackCat

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #23 on: October 31, 2011, 08:31:13 PM »
You didn't mention any of the problems with the N64 RAM expansion pack.  For instance it pretty much broke Space Station Silicon Valley.
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Offline Kikori

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Re: Nintendo's Expansion Ports
« Reply #24 on: October 31, 2011, 11:07:14 PM »
I've read many times that Game Boy Player is kinda laggy. Is this true?

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