Anatomy of a Nintendo 64

Recently I disassembled a broken Nintendo 64 to discover what was inside. After having done so I attempted to find a good overview of the motherboard I found inside. I was unable to find what I wanted, so I decided to post my own overview.

Top View of Motherboard:

Underside View of Motherboard:

Main Components:

This is pretty self explanatory. This is the Central Processing Unit (CPU) responsible for the non-graphical calculations of the system. It is a 93.75 MHz, 64-bit R4300i processor. It was dubbed the “Reality Engine.” The chip was fabricated by NEC. You can read more about it here.

This chip is called the “Reality Co-Processor.” Developed by Silicon Graphics, it is a 62.5 MHz vector processor. A vector processor is a processor that can perform mathematical operations on multiple numbers at the same time. This chip is responsible for much of the audio and video processing power of the N64. More here.

This is the N64’s 4 MB of Dynamic Random Access Memory (D-RAM). This is the main memory for the system.

According to this thread, this chip “combines Video DAC, Video Encoder and Audio DAC into one chip.” A Digital to Analog converter (DAC) converts the digital (on or off) signals used by the motherboard’s electronics to the analog (wave) used by older televisions as video and audio inputs. This allows the images and audio created by the processor and co-processor to be in the proper format to display on the analog televisions of the time.

According to this thread:

The console has the PIF, which stands for Peripheral InterFace, for which there are two kinds, PIF-NUS and PIF(P)-NUS (NTSC and PAL respectively), which take care of controlling the peripherals, like the controllers, and one very special kind of peripheral, the CIC microcontrollers located on the cartridges.
These babies not only have NTSC and PAL variants, but also there are at least 5 variants for each zone, and each game works with ONE and ONLY ONE of these. There’s some communications going on between the PIF the CIC and some checksumming involving the game’s ROM that should come out right for the game to boot (some games with extra protection also make additional checks during the game, like PD, and will degrade the experience if this fails, which happens with bootloaders which can only patch the initial check for booting).

So it sounds like this chip is responsible for coordinating communication between the controllers, CPU and the chips within the game cartridge itself.

According to this, the AMP chip is an audio mixer and DAC that deals with the output from the RCP-NUS.

You may have noticed that all the chips contain NUS. Apparently this a reference to the original name of the N64, the Nintendo Ultra 64.

How Stuff Works has a great article on what’s inside a Nintendo 64. However, the article does not actually show which chips are responsible for which functionality. A gap I hope this article has filled.

Leave a comment


  1. NUS is actually a reference to nintendo itself and appears in other nintendo consoles.
    Including the wii and even the nintendo ds/dsi/3ds/2ds etc. its even in the gameboy if im not mistaken.

  1. Nintendo 64 Architecture – A Practical Analysis | Au moelleux
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