Retro Future Electrics

A page about retro electronics, from the introduction of electricity until 1970-something. We refit old gadgets with new tech, and wonder at the makers who came before us.

The Chip single board computer in a SNES cartridge

Hi All, I’ve had an old Super Famicon (Super NES in America) cartridge laying around. I purchased it from a local thrift store for 100 yen, a little less than US$1 at the time. I meant to put a single board computer inside it as a case, but never quite got around to it. I’ve finally got there and below I’ll talk about installing this computer and getting some games running from a single a cartridge!

Forst off the SBC I used here is the original Chip  which I kick started. It was a little over $20 total with shipping and a battery! Plus it has inbuilt Wi-fi (2.4GHz only), 4GB of Flash,  and Bluetooth. It’s other specs are a little weak compared to a Raspberry Pi 2 or 3. It has a single core Arm-7 based CPU and 512 MB of RAM. Although they have shipped a pro version now with some beefier stats. The board is nice because it’s really the total package in a small area which makes it great for this application. For powerl ately I’ve been really happy with Anker brand USB chargers (Amazon Link). It’s not really an issue with the lower power Chip, but the Raspberry Pi 2 & 3’s really like to have the full 2 amps of power available.

You can see in the video below that I opened up a SNES Pachinko cartridge and took out it’s main board. I used a utility knife to cut thru a portion of the cartridge to make room for the power and USB ports. I used velcro instead of hot glue to allow me to move this chip in the future so it’s not so permanent.

The software side was straight forward. I followed the instructions on the Chip website to load up it’s OS, and then was able to connect to my WiFi using the GUI and I was off and running. Since this project is in a game cartridge I figured the best thing would be is to run some games. I paired an old Wii-Mote to it (most bluetooth controllers work with Chip). I’m not going to go into these details here,  you can google for “bluetooth controller chip” or “wiimote chip” for all the steps.

I flashed the chip with the desktop image using kernel 4.4 from the old chip site (Note Nov 2019 – Chip Single Board Computer is defunct, and no longer maintains it’s web presence. You can get some support via the chip Reddit page at Chip Reddit, ) (this is actually an impressive piece of web tech. If someone told me I’d be flashing ROMS (or NVRAMS) from a web browser I would never have believed them: Flash.getchip.com .

This image has all the bluetooth drivers installed. I went to add device, hit the sync button on the wiimote and it JustWorked.

This desktop image (4.4 kernel)  comes with PICO(Link dead due to chip computing closing  again)  installed with some demo games. These are games specifically designed for their “pocket chip” device, which is a chip paired with a small screen. This a free and open development environment, if you are interested in game design I recommend it. All of the games are free that are included. The chip is a little underpowered, but should be able to run NES & SNES era emulators. If that’s your goal you’re probably better off with a Raspberry Pi 2 or 3 and looking into RetroPi it’s a whole community and distro geared just for retro gaming. It also has some nicer screens that don’t require a keyboard or mouse at all once you have it set up.

A Chip SBC and battery in a SNES cart.

A Chip SBC and battery in a SNES cart.

So there you have it, an entire computer in a single SNES cartridge. The battery is strictly optional, I suppose if you had a battery powered TV you could take this rig on the go.

Parts list:

  1. Chip pocket computer (US$9 plus shipping when in stock here battery is a few buck more)
  2. USB power supply, a 10Watt or better supply will be best such as this Anker one
  3. Keyboard and mouse for setup. I use this logitech keyboard & mouse combo . It’s nice because you don’t need a hub or bluetooth support, the dongle looks like a wired keyboard & mouse to the OS, no drivers required.
  4. A TV for initial setup, and to actually play games. Although it does support ssh and X windows over ssh out of the box, so you can play on another monitor, although X11 isn’t ideal for gaming.

1 Comment

  1. Ian S

    Great Idea. Only sad part is that it looks like NextThing are going out of business, so CHIP will never be back in stock 🙁

    Have a few lying around, was going to try this as a case for my emulation software on my CHIP.

    Reply

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