- Jun 8, 2004
History of Analogue Nt
In 2015, Analogue released its first NES/Famicom console, Analogue Nt. It was premium priced at $578, an aluminum console that used CPU and GPU chips harvested from original, supposedly cosmetically damaged Famicom's, combined with an awesome HDMI chipset from Kevtris. This provided it with compatibility with all NES/Famicom games and accessories, as well as a zero-lag, pixel perfect, 1080P presentation of games exactly as they played on the original consoles. As the amount of salvaged chips was limited, the console quickly sold out. Today units sell at $600-$900 on eBay.
Why Analogue Nt mini was made
With Analogue Nt mini, Analogue is tackling two issues. First, some retro gamers criticised Analogue for destroying Famicoms to make Analogue Nts. Second, there weren't just enough Famicoms going around to allow for more Analogue Nts to be made at reasonable cost. The emergence of FPGA chip technology allowed Analogue to create a NES/Famicom that doesn't use original chips, but that performes exactly like an original console, without the need to do costly custom silicon. Analogue weren't the first ones to do an FGPA NES/Famicom, Retro USB shipped their AVS already in 2016.
- Highly accurate, lag-free, FPGA-based hardware emulation
- Works with NES/Famicom accessories
- Works with Famicom disc system
- Scanline filters, colour palettes
- 4 controller ports
- Machined aluminum unibody
Key features upgrades from original Analogue Nt
- 8bitdo wireless controller/receiver included (value $55)
- HDMI/S-Video/Component inputs in one console
- Game Genie-like cheat codes integrated
- Supports also PAL games
- Upgradeable firmware with Micro SD
- Cropping (helps avoid flicker hidden by CRT overscan)
What is FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array)?
Traditionally, making chips, such as DACs or CPUs, required an expensive process of taping out a fixed design and mass producing it at scale. Once the chip was done, it couldn't change. FPGA chips changed this. You can now program a generic FPGA chip at will (or out at the ”field"). This means you could put a NES/Famicom CPU and GPU gates into the chip, and it'll behave exactly like the real thing, at accurate speed.
Why is FPGA better than software emulation?
Most NES/Famicom emulation, such as Virtual console or NES Mini Classic, is software emulation. The emulator attempts to replicate the output of CPU and GPU using the same inputs. While this often yields good enough results, it is not 100% accurate in terms of compatibility, timing or lag. The same output is achieved by different means than in the original console. For this reason, FGPA is more accurate.
WTF, this thing is $449?!
Analogue has seemingly positioned itself as a luxury manufacturer of expensive vintage consoles. Kind of like Astell&Kern, who produce insanely expensive but incredibly well engineered MP3 players. Or like Alienware, but with better materials and taste. With meticulously designed PWB boards and machined unibody enclosures, they seem to aim to produce the ‘ultimate NES/Famicom' consoles. There are significantly cheaper FPGA NES options available in the market, such as the $170 RetroUSB AVS.
Analogue's third chapter
Analogue's journey to Analogue Nt mini is a case study from a company growing from hobbyist to professional. Analogue gained name by making $649 wooden Neo-Geo CMVS retrofits. While beautiful, the units were often criticised for their gobbled together build quality and unpredictable delivery times.
Analogue's second major project was Analogue Nt, announced with great fanfare in May 2014. The project was announced early and seemingly ran into development hell, as Analogue struggled to learn the ropes of making their first fully custom product. In my view, their fortunes only really reversed when they joined forces with Kevtris, the creator of the HDMI NES chipset, who proved instrumental in helping Analogue exceed promises they might not otherwise have even met. I posted several bitterly critical threads tracking the troublesome development and erratic communications of Analogue Nt through to its surprisingly beautiful conclusion in Q3/2015.
With this background, Analogue Nt mini shows how much Analogue has learned along the way. It was announced in August 2016, and promised for delivery in January 2017. In stark contrast to the original, Analogue shipped Analogue Nt mini bang on promised schedule. Their communication throughout the project was clear and transparent. They didn't overpromise, and delivered what they promised (and a bit more, it turns out).
How I ended up with an Analogue Nt mini
DISCLAIMER - Analogue provided me with a free unit to test out
I wasn't planning to buy an Analogue Nt mini, as I didn't see it as a big enough upgrade to justify buying a new unit. So it was bit of a surprise when Chris from Analogue sent me a PM offering a unit to test. Slightly unnervingly, he had already connected my real name and GAF alias. Regardless, I appreciated the offer, especially considering that I had been pretty harsh towards their practices during the troubled Analogue Nt journey.
I considered the Analogue Nt the best NES ever made. It's totally accurate, highly compatible, 1080P and beautifully made. Analogue Nt mini fixes its final shortcomings, and adds some useful features. Coming in a slick black/gold foil box very similar to the original Analogue Nt, it now includes multiple power adapters and a controller.
I tested my mini with Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers (USA), Salamander (JPN) and Legend of Zelda (PAL/SCN). All games perform extremely well, without any detectable lag.
The user experience is a bit more involved, reflecting the grown feature set. By default, the system boots into a menu system, although this preset can be changed. The menu highlight is a bit hard to spot first, hopefully contrast will be increased in a firmware update.
The device has an extensive menu system for Audio, Video and System settings. Playing PAL games at correct speed requires setting the PAL mode in the menu. I'll be getting Gimmick (Famicom) next week, and was advised by Analogue that I should select the Sunsoft sound chip support from the device menu.
I enjoyed the 8bitdo wireless controller much more than I though I would. Initially I had three worries. The button layout seemed weird. The buttons and d-pad felt just a little bit looser than original NES buttons. I was also concerned about lag. All three concerns were quickly forgotten once I started playing. The angled buttons are great, the button tightness doesn't feel substantially different during gameplay, and I wasn't disturbed by input lag. Playing NES with a wireless controller is awesome.
For most people, a NES Mini Classic ($49) or an Retro USB AVS ($170) are excellent, and much cheaper ways to play NES. While Analogue Nt mini includes some features neither of them do, features alone won't justify the $449 price tag. It's a luxury product, for someone who wants a beautifully crafted NES/Famicom with awesome features, zero lag and superb compatibility. For me, this is the final form of NES/Famicom. It's clearly a product of love and passion - the best way to play NES games. From Analogue Nt, it's an essential upgrade due to the PAL and CRT support.
Now, I really hope Analogue has Kevtris working on an Analogue Sn - my Star Fox 2 is ready...
Gamespot - "Inside and out, the Nt Mini is an incredible piece of hardware that serves its audience better than any other NES-related product on the market. Analogue has outdone itself, setting a new standard for retro gaming hardware. Its price tag will no doubt scare off some potential customers, but if you're looking for a way to play NES games on your monitor of choice--without compromises--look no further than the Nt Mini."
Eurogamer - The Analogue Nt Mini does more than any competing product and offers a long-term solution for playing 8-bit consoles well into the future. For our money, this is the best console ever made for playing 8-bit NES games.
Engadget - "The perfect NES experience isn't for everyone, but for those who can foot the bill, it's here."
TechCrunch - "The Nt Mini is obviously not for everyone, given its high price tag, but you'd be surprised at how easy it is to justify the cost given the obvious care and attention put into both the console's industrial design and its hardware and software engineering."
Forbes - "The Analogue Nt is not some Nintendo clone gaming system hastily produced with parts found in the wreckage of a computer repair store. The Analogue Nt Mini is a solid tribute to the 8-bit era designed not to only capture our nostalgic spirit for a simpler time in gaming, but to keep our love for classic games alive with new hardware. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go rage quit Battletoads."
Digital Foundry video review
Linustech (video review)
Gamesack Review (video review)