Reviews and impressions of the NES Mini hardware began to circulate this week (including our own from yesterday). 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.
The first major image of the NES Mini’s motherboard hit the Internet thanks to Gamespot Senior Reviews Editor Peter Brown. His shots were shared and scrutinized by members of Reddit’s Nintendo community. Code numbers on chips led those users to determine that the system (which emulates NES games and displays them on 1080p displays) is primarily fueled by an AllWinner R16 “system-on-chip” solution.
If the chip works as advertised by Chinese manufacturer AllWinner, as opposed to being customized for the NES Mini in any way, then it includes a dual-core Mali-400 GPU which could be powerful enough to pump out as many as 55 million triangles per second (in its 28nm, 500MHz variant). There’s also a quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU, which has been clocked at 1.2GHz in smartphones, as well as 256MB of DDR3 RAM and 512MB of NAND flash storage.
Comparing different systems’ performance based solely on these kinds of numbers is always dicey. On paper, the tiny NES Mini appears to outpace the speeds and memory numbers of the 10-year-old Wii or even the eight-month-old New Nintendo 3DS. That might seem ridiculous for a system designed to emulate 35-year-old console hardware, but these days, it’s possible this overpowered SoC may have been the most affordable, suitable chip that could be produced quickly and at scale for a new device.
Either way, drooling over the chip’s potential to go beyond NES emulation might be moot. Nintendo has already confirmed that the NES Mini is not designed with expansion in mind, and the motherboard peek confirms a lack of expansion via USB connections or Wi-Fi downloads. The internal NAND ROM storage also seems difficult to remove or replace without a soldering iron. We’re sure someone will do just that before too long, and we hope they’ll dump and compile Nintendo’s new NES emulator on other hardware.