Saturday, February 20, 2010


The idea of building a computer from an old Nintendo Entertainment System is not a new one. While I may not be boldly going were no geek has gone before I took the opportunity to build one of these with no cost to myself (other than time).

I did look at a lot of other NES PCs before I started construction of this one. The primary goal of my NES PC was to make one that didn't feel flimsy. There are a lot of NES PCs out there that look like they'd fall apart if jostled too much. I wanted something that felt solid when you picked it up. I didn't want parts to rattle around.

The most notable thing left out of this NES PC is an optical drive. The owner wants to put in a blue ray drive, but it was cost prohibited at the time of purchase. The design left a place just big enough for one to be added in the future.

I divided this post into two parts. Lessons Learned, basically things I'd have done different in hind sight. The Cool Parts is the section of what I think worked really well.

There are some pictures on this post, but you can see a whole lot more here. Yes I know I can't take pictures worth a flip and I am sorry for that.

Lessens Learned
Power Supply - The one we chose is small, but a few months after the parts purchase I found much smaller ones.

Motherboard - A couple of lessons here. First of all, the memory slot, it's for standard size memory and it sticks way up. There are boards that support smaller laptop size memory and it lays flat. Second, no HDMI. While this was a factor taken into consideration when we chose the parts, I would have personally preferred an HDMI output. The owner has a TV that supports RGB input, so he saved a few bucks here. Last but not least, size. While the mini-ITX format is damn small, I couldn't mount the motherboard all the way on the bottom of the NES. If you've ever opened an NES you know there are three ridges that stick up and make mounting a board all the way on the bottom impossible without serious cutting. In my case I had planned to mount on top of those ridges, but it was the power and reset button that didn't allow me to lay the motherboard there. I used 1" mounting posts and a few brass washers so the board would clear the power and reset button assembly. Doing this gave me little head room inside the NES case.

Heat - Even with the low power of an Atom CPU it gets hot. The 40mm Fan was a decision made in hind sight.

The Cool Parts
Power and Reset buttons - I was able to use the original power and reset button assembly. For those with fond NES memories, you will know the power button stays in when pressed and the reset button is a momentary switch. PC's need momentary switches for both power and reset. To fix this I just had to remove a little piece of plastic on the power button that held it in when pressed. Then all I had to do is a little testing with a multimeter and some soldering, and we were in business. I even kept the original LED so when it's powered on it looks as authentic as it can get.

Controller Ports - RetroZone sells a USB chip to mod NES controllers so they can be plugged into a PC. Great idea, but I don't want to mod a bunch of controllers. I modded the controller ports (hey they were there). I was worried at first that Windows wouldn't pick up controllers plugged in after the PC was booted up. As far as the OS is concerned the controllers are always plugged in. After much testing I realized it was going to work perfectly. It's just awesome to be able to plug in an unmodded NES controller and play games. I even added software to move the mouse with the controller.

The less expensive option was to wire them to the parallel port. I've found this method to make the controllers feel sluggish. That, and the fact I didn't want a bunch of ugly wires running from the parallel port back to the inside of the case, made these USB converters a great idea.

Motherboard and Power Supply Mounting - Although I didn't get it exactly where I wanted it in the end, I really like the way the motherboard mounts. It feel solid and secure, just like mounting a motherboard in a real case. The ATX I/O plate even snaps in place.

Future Optical Disc - Raising the motherboard left little room between the top of the NES and motherboard, but there will be just enough room for a slim blue ray drive when the time comes. The hight of a slim blue ray drive is 13mm, there is 15.5mm to spare.


bobinc said...

Here is the NES PC I was working on. How does having a power supply board in the case effect the heat on top of the Atom?

James said...

Unfortunately I was unable to measure any long term effects. The mod was given away. I haven't heard any complaints, so I can only assume the design was decent enough.

I can say, if I was going to do this mod again, I'd use something like this...