TinyNES Review – A Super Niche NES Console

My latest review is of a device designed for a very specific niche called the TinyNES. On the surface this might look like yet another NES clone console but it merges original NES hardware with a modern, open source design.

What it uses from the original NES are the CPU and PPU (graphics processor) chips. Although the NES uses a 6502 processor, the CPU chip used on the original NES and Famicom had its sound hardware also on the CPU die.

The TinyNES can be ordered with genuine chips but is also compatible with clone processors as the originals are no longer being manufactured. It’s not clear whether the genuine chips in this particular unit were pulled from dead consoles or leftover unused parts. The CPU and PPU chips on the TinyNES are socketed and can be swapped out easily.

The rest of the components are new and modern resulting in cleaner video and audio output. But nothing is added here – the console only outputs composite (not RGB component) and has no HDMI option. The design is open source so it’s conceivable somebody could add this functionality in later.

Part of the reason behind a lack of modern video options is that the original NES PPU output its video signal on a single pin as a composite of red, green and blue. Later revisions of the PPU did offer RGB output options but most NES and Famicom systems had the single pin output.

The TinyNES main board does support the RGB variants of the PPU but they are apparently much harder to find. There will be a solderless RGB add-on module available in the future for those lucky enough to have one of the RGB PPU chips.

So with no modern video outputs why does this thing exist when a real NES can be acquired for less money? Viewer Destructodisk has a good summation:

Now obviously this is a very niche device for an audience that wants something very specific… but there is a point and reasoning to it. Much that same as some people don’t like emulators because it isn’t as close to how real hardware plays. Some people aren’t satisfied with FPGAs. And then there’s the extreme that aren’t satisfied with the quirks a video signal add on brings. Its great everyone seems to have a perfect device being built for them.

The fact that the makers of the TinyNES found enough people willing to fund its production is proof enough that there’s a market for it. Not a large one, but a market nonetheless.

A big thank you to viewer Handheld Obsession for letting us borrow his unit for the review!