Continuing our guides on the basics of playing retro hardware in more modern times, this article focuses on the much loved Super Nintendo or SNES console.
The Super Nintendo, or SNES, was Nintendo’s follow up to the phenomenally successful NES console. Just as the NES is known as the Famicom in Japan, the Super Nintendo is known as the Super Famicom over in Japan too. While the SNES didn’t gain the same levels of popularity as the original NES, it was still a very successful console globally, shifting nearly 50 million units worldwide.
Like other 4th generation consoles, most SNES games are displayed in 240p (NTSC) or 288p (PAL). A handful of games also use 480i screen modes and some will switch between the two. As regular readers of our site will be aware, modern HDTVs almost invariably handle 240p/288p signals incorrectly. Using a CRT or an upscaler with the system is highly recommended.
European, American and Japanese Super Nintendo/Super Famicom consoles all output composite, s-video and RGB when used with a suitable cable. The redesigned Super Famicom/SNES Junior however only offers composite video output. RGB output can be added to the SNES/Super Famicom Junior via a simple hardware modification. We can carry this modification out for you if needed.
Confusingly, although the SNES, N64 and Gamecube consoles all share the same AV connector, there are subtle differences between the SCART cables required for each machine. When shopping for a RGB SCART cable for your SNES, remember that the PAL and NTSC units require a cable that is wired slightly differently. See this page for details of the exact differences.
Later models of the SNES and all SNES/Super Famicom Junior units are known for having a slightly sharper RGB output than earlier models. Enthusiasts refer to these better models as “1 Chip”, in reference to the single RGB encoder chip present on the later design motherboards. The 1 chip revision Super Nintendo/Super Famicoms are highly sought after and many gamers will go to the effort to get a SNES/Super Famicom Junior RGB modded to ensure that they are getting a unit with the very best possible quality RGB output.
The SNES shares the same power supply as the original NES. The UK SNES console uses a 9 volt AC power supply. While this power supply can be replaced with a third party unit that outputs DC, you should not use the stock Nintendo unit with other consoles. The reason for this is that most other units accept DC current only and feeding in AC current to a unit only designed for DC can damage it (however, the reverse is not true). Never try to power a Famicom/Super Famicom unit with a PAL NES/SNES power supply.
When shopping for a replacement power supply for your SNES/Super Famicom hardware, observe the following specifications:-
The original AC Adapter for the Famicom and the Super Famicom has the following specifications:
Input: 100VAC 50-60Hz
Output: 10VDC 850mA
Polarity: Centre Pin Negative
Barrel Size: Outer Diameter 5.5mm; Inner Diameter 2.1mm
For more information, see this page.
The US Super Nintendo console uses a completely different, proprietary connector for its DC power input. Adapters are available so that more common replacement PSUs can be used however.
If you are not using a CRT, it is highly recommended to use an external upscaler with your SNES/Super Famicom. This will drastically improve picture quality and in many cases reduce input lag too. On certain upscalers (e.g the XRGB3), you may get better results using a cable wired for pure/raw sync output, rather than composite video for sync.
Regional lockouts and circumventions
The SNES and Super Famicom are both region locked. Circumventing this regional lockout requires either an adapter cartridge or a hardware modification. Import adapter cartridges typically plug into the consoles cartridge slot and then accommodate the import game as well as a local game that acts as a bypass to the regional lockout chip. Import adapter cartridges work with most games, but some (such as Super Mario RPG) have more advanced regional lockout protection and are therefore incompatible.
The SuperCIC hardware modification that we offer on the site is 100% compatible with all SNES/Super Famicom games. This modification also allows the console to be switched between 50hz and 60hz modes. Keep in mind that when you switch a PAL console into NTSC mode, or vice versa, due to slight differences in the timing crystals in the machine the video signal will be ever so slightly out of spec. This can cause issues on some HDTVs, but CRTs are generally unaffected.
1 chip SNES/Super Famicom consoles require a slightly different revision of the SuperCIC mod. This mod actually includes a replacement timing crystal and so the above issues with out of spec video timings do not apply to the 1 chip consoles.
American Super Nintendo cartridges are physically wider than their European and Japanese counterparts. If you want to play all region games on a PAL SNES or Japanese Super Famicom, we can widen the cartridge slot for you to accommodate this. Alternatively, if you do not want any cosmetic changes to your console you can use an import adapter instead.
Flash cartridges exist for the system, allowing ROM images to be loaded. These flash cartridges also circumvent regional lockouts in most cases. SNES flash cartridges do not have 100% compatibility. Largely, this is due to custom chips that were used in certain SNES games. Many SNES game cartridges include not only ROM chips with game data but processing chips too. These chips expand on what the stock SNES hardware can do. In order to run these games on a flash cartridge, the custom chips must be either emulated or taken from a donor cartridge. Because of the large number of different custom chips, it is difficult to offer 100% compatibility in a flash cartridge. The most compatible SNES flash cartridge is the SD2SNES.
Many emulators exist for the SNES/Super Famicom. Emulation of the system can be an excellent way to enjoy SNES games on an HDTV.
Some SNES emulators are highly accurate, SNES emulator Hygan is close to cycle exact, though requires a faster PC than many other emulators. Many of the better emulators have pixel shaders and other graphical effects that can be used to scale and enhance the graphical output beyond what is possible even with a RGB modified console and an upscaler.