Nintendo Family Computer

The Nintendo Family Computer, or Famicom was a console released by Nintendo in Japan, and went on to become one of the best-selling videogame consoles of its time.

For more information on the North American and European versions of this console, see: Nintendo Entertainment System

Nintendo saw firsthand how successful videogames were in the late 1970's. They also saw the success the Colecovision, released in 1983, had with their own game, Donkey Kong, as a pack-in. Nintendo wanted to get into the console race. At first, they distributed the Magnavox Odyssey in Japan, before they decided to make their own console.

Hiroshi Yamauchi, then CEO of Nintendo, wanted this console to outperform the other consoles. He decided to let Masayuki Uemura make this console. At first, the console was supposed to be a 16-bit machine with a disk drive, and average for 75 U.S Dollars. However, the price was too high due to component prices, and so they made an 8-bit system. The disk drive would be an add-on exclusively in Japan.

The Nintendo Family Computer was made intentionally to look like a toy. The Famicom design was only used in the Japanese version of this console. It had a smaller cartridge port on the top of the unit than the NES (60 pins vs. the NES's 72 pins), no regional lockout circuitry, and hard-wired controllers with a 15-pin expansion port on the front of the unit for a light gun, Power Pad, special controller, keyboard for BASIC programming, etc. It had many additional hardware peripherals that were only available in Japan, including a karaoke machine, true 3D glasses, and a floppy disk drive, the Famicom Disk System, that could be used to play games purchased at game kiosks in stores.

The Famicom was released in Japan in July 1983 for 100 USD. The first games for this console were Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior, and Popeye. At the end of the year, they made versions of the latter two games that supported two players. They had also made a Baseball game, Mario Brothers, a Go title, and an adult title.

During its first year, people found the Famicom to be unreliable, with programming errors and freezing rampant. Yamauchi recalled all sold Famicom systems, and put the Famicom out of production until the errors were fixed. The Famicom was re-released with a new motherboard. It sported the same design, however.

The Famicom became extremely popular in Japan, where it outsold the SG-1000, the Sega SG-1000 Mark III, and the Sega Master System.

The Famicom's decline started when NEC released the PC Engine in 1987, and Sega released the Sega Megadrive in Japan in 1989. When Nintendo saw their market get eaten away by the PC-Engine and Megadrive, the Super Famicom, the NES' successor, was released. Nintendo recaptured the Japanese market thanks to the Super Famicom, but the Famicom wasn't dead yet, and wouldn't die for a long time.

A redesigned Famicom, called the AV Famicom, was released in Japan in 1993. However, it had a 60-pin connector and had composite output only. They had be found brand new in many denki-ya in Japan until recently, from 4,800 to 7,200, equivalent to $42-60. The new Famicom was released because many Japanese televisions at the time only had AV output, which meant that the old model was already out of date in 1993. The original Famicom was RF only, so the Japanese made a new model. The FC Expansion port was moved to the right side of the console, and the microphone on controller 2 was removed. The controllers are detachable;the older Famicom had the controllers wired in.

An original, unmodified Famicom cannot be used on US TV Signals properly. Even if one got it working, the picture would be on one channel and the sound would be on another channel. The newer Famicom can be used on US televisions.

Famicom fans on foreign shores would have an easier time buying the newer Famicom over the older one, as they do not have to mess with the RF output of the older one, and it is still widely availible with importers.

Technical specifications

  • CPU: Nintendo 2A03 8 bit processor based on MOS Technologies 6502 core, running at 1.79MHz, with four tone generators, a DAC, and a restricted DMA controller on-die
  • Main RAM: 2 KB
  • Palette: 48 colors and 5 grays in base palette; red, green, and blue guns can be individually darkened somewhat on a particular scanline
  • Onscreen colors: 25 colors on one scanline (background color + 4 sets of 3 tile colors + 4 sets of 3 sprite colors)
  • Sprite sizes: 8x8 and 8x16 pixels
  • Maximum onscreen sprites: 64
  • Maximum number of sprite pixels on one scanline: 64, dropping out the lowest-priority sprites on overflow
  • Video memory: PPU contains 2 KB of tile and attribute RAM, 256 bytes of sprite position RAM ("OAM"), and 28 bytes of palette RAM (allowing for selection of background color); 8 KB of tile pattern ROM on cartridge (bankswitchable to up to 512 KB)
  • Scrolling layers: 1 per scanline
  • Resolution: Most games used 256x240 pixels; for additional video memory bandwidth, it was possible to turn off the screen before the raster reached the very bottom.
  • Expansion port on the bottom right hand side used originally for the Famicom Disk System, but piracy concerns kept this device from being released in the US.
  • 2 seven pin controller ports in the front of the machine
  • 1993 re-release does not have RCA composite output plugs.

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