Like most people my age (I’m 31, calm down), my first entry into games and gaming was the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), but video games had begun gaining traction as early at the 70’s with the spread of arcades and coin-operated games across the country. Gaming made its way into the home with the introduction of the Atari 2600 in 1977 and had become a cultural phenomenon by the time the NES rolled out in North America in 1985. By 1990, Nintendo released the Super Nintendo and Sega had released the Genesis and we were off to the console races that still continues this day with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
So, let’s eat a giant glowing mushroom, hop in a pipe, and take a trip down memory lane as we look back on how the technology behind gaming has taken leaps and bounds in only a few decades, as well as see how the technical specs of the early consoles match up to the latest and greatest in video-gaming.
ATARI 2600 (1977)
- CPU: 1.19 MHz MOS Technology 6507
- Storage: N/A
- RAM: 128 bytes
- ROM: 4kb
- Audio/Video: Plug it into the back of your TV
- Resolution: 160 x 192 pixels
The Atari 2600 (or Atari Video Computer System before November 1982) is a home video game console by Atari, Inc. Released on September 11, 1977, it is credited with popularizing the use of microprocessor-based hardware and ROM cartridges containing game code, a format first used with the Fairchild Channel F video game console in 1976. This format contrasts with the older model of having non-microprocessor dedicated hardware, which could only play the games that were physically built into the unit.
For five years, 1977 until late 1982, the system was officially sold as Atari VCS, an abbreviation for Video Computer System. Following the release of the Atari 5200 in November 1982, the VCS was renamed to the “Atari 2600”, after the unit’s Atari part number, CX2600. The 2600 was typically bundled with two joystick controllers, a conjoined pair of paddle controllers, and a game cartridge: initially Combat, and later Pac-Man.
NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (NES) (1983)
- CPU: 8-bit microprocessor
- Storage: N/A
- RAM: 2kB
- ROM: Varies from 8 kB to 1MB, with 128 kB to 384 kB being standard for most games
- Audio/Video: Plug it into the back of your TV,
- Resolution: 256 x 240 pixels
The Nintendo Entertainment System (commonly abbreviated as NES) is an 8-bit home video game console that was developed and manufactured by Nintendo. It was initially released in Japan as the Family Computer (also known by the portmanteau abbreviation Famicom on July 15, 1983, and was later released in New York city in 1985, and throughout the U.S as well as in Europe during 1986 and 1987, and Australia in 1987. In South Korea, it was known as the Hyundai Comboy was distributed by SK Hynix which then was known as Hyundai Electronics. The best-selling gaming console of its time, the NES helped revitalize the US video game industry following the video game crash of 1983. With the NES, Nintendo introduced a now-standard business model of licensing third-party developers, authorizing them to produce and distribute titles for Nintendo’s platform. It was succeeded by the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
SEGA GENESIS (MEGADRIVE) (1988)
- CPU: 7.6 MHz 16/32-bit Motorola 68000 CPU
- Storage: Nope, still none.
- RAM: 72 kB
- ROM: (No specs given for game cartridges)
- Audio/Video: Plug it into the back of your TV,
- Resolution: 320 x 224 pixels
The Sega Genesis, known as the Mega Drive in regions outside of North America, is a 16-bit home video game console developed and sold by Sega. The Genesis was Sega’s third console and the successor to the Master System. Sega released the console as the Mega Drive in Japan in 1988, followed by North America as the Genesis in 1989. In 1990, the console was distributed as the Mega Drive by Virgin Mastertronic in Europe, Ozisoft in Australasia, and Tectoy in Brazil. In South Korea, the systems were distributed by Samsung as the Super Gam*Boy and later the Super Aladdin Boy.
In Japan, the Mega Drive did not fare well against its two main competitors, Nintendo’s Super Famicom and NEC‘s PC Engine, but it achieved considerable success in North America, Brazil and Europe. Contributing to its success were its library of arcade game ports, the popularity of Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog series, several popular sports franchises, and aggressive youth marketing that positioned the system as the cool console for adolescents.
SUPER NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (SNES) (1990)
- CPU: Nintendo-custom 5A22 processor, based on a 16-bit 65c816 core
- Storage: Still not there yet, although save points started showing up! Hooray!
- RAM: 128 kB
- ROM: Could handle up to 128 Mbit, but the largest game was 48 Mbit, and the smallest was 2 Mbit, so somewhere in between.
- Audi/Video: Still not HD. Standard AV cables.
- Resolution: Progressive: 256×224, 512×224, 256×239, 512×239
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (officially abbreviated the Super NES or SNES, and colloquially shortened to Super Nintendo) is a 16-bithome video game console developed by Nintendo that was released in 1990 in Japan and South Korea, 1991 in North America, 1992 in Europe and Australasia(Oceania), and 1993 in South America. In Japan, the system is called the Super Famicom, or SFC for short. In South Korea, it is known as the Super Comboy and was distributed by Hyundai Electronics. Although each version is essentially the same, several forms of regional lockout prevent the different versions from being compatible with one another. It was released in Brazil on September 2, 1992, by Playtronic.
The SNES is Nintendo’s second home console, following the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The console introduced advanced graphics and sound capabilities compared with other systems at the time. The development of a variety of enhancement chips integrated in game cartridges helped to keep it competitive in the marketplace.
PLAYSTATION (PSONE) (1994)
- CPU: 32-bit RISC MIPS R3000A (33.8688 MHz)
- Storage: Memory cards! YES!
- RAM: 2MB
- ROM: CD’s! The PlayStation, while not the first to use CD-ROMs, popularized the movement by showing that they could be produced cheaper than the game cartridges and produce better technical results.
- Audio/Video: A/V Multi-Output– S-Video Components, RCA Composite…you choose.
- Resolution: 256×224 to 640×480 pixels
The PlayStation, (officially abbreviated to PS, and commonly known as the PS1 or PSX) is a home video game console developed and marketed by Sony Computer Entertainment. The console was released on 3 December 1994 in Japan, 9 September 1995 in North America, 29 September 1995 in Europe, and for 15 November 1995 in Australia. The console was the first of the PlayStation lineup of home video game consoles. It primarily competed with the Nintendo 64 and the Sega Saturn as part of the fifth generation of video game consoles.
The PlayStation is the first “computer entertainment platform” to ship 100 million units, which it had reached 9 years and 6 months after its initial launch. In July 2000, a redesigned, slim version called the PS one was released, replacing the original grey console and named appropriately to avoid confusion with its successor, the PlayStation 2.
NINTENDO 64 (N64) (1996)
- CPU: 93.75 MHz 64-bit NEC VR4300 (MIPS R4300i) with 24 KB L1 cache
- Storage: MORE MEMORY CARDS!
- RAM: 4 MB RDRAM (Rambus DRAM)
- ROM: Game cartridges, running at 264 MB/s. The Nintendo 64 was one of the few consoles that took advantage of the cartridges, using them as additional RAM, allowing for real-time data streaming.
- Audio/Video: A/V Multi-Output—S-Video, RCA Composite…you choose.
- Resolution: 480i standard resolution
The Nintendo 64 (Japanese: Hepburn), stylized as the NINTENDO64 and abbreviated to N64, is Nintendo’s third home video game console for the international market. Named for its 64-bit central processing unit, it was released in June 1996 in Japan, September 1996 in North America and Brazil, March 1997 in Europe and Australia, September 1997 in France. It was the last major home console to use the cartridge as its primary storage format until Nintendo’s seventh console, the Nintendo Switch, released in 2017.Though succeeded by Nintendo’s MiniDVD-based GameCube in September 2001, the Nintendo 64 was sold until the system was retired in late 2003.
Codenamed “Project Reality”, the N64 design was mostly complete by mid-1995, but its launch was delayed until 1996, when Time named it Machine of the Year. It launched with three games: Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64, released worldwide, and Saikyō Habu Shōgi, released only in Japan. As part of the fifth generation of gaming, the system competed primarily with the Sony PlayStation and the Sega Saturn. The suggested retail price at its United States launch was US$199.99, and it sold 32.93 million units worldwide. The console was released in a range of colors and designs over its lifetime
XBOX (ORIGINAL) (2001)
- CPU: 32-bit 733 MHz, custom Intel Pentium III Coppermine-based processor
- Storage: 8 or 10 GB onboard HDD, used primarily for game saves and to reduce load times. 32MB memory cards were also available to ransfer saved game files.
- RAM: 64 MB DDR SDRAM
- ROM: CD/DVD-ROM
- Audio/Video: A/V Multi-Out, including composite, S-Video, etc.
- Resolution: Sweet, sweet HD, up to 1080p, depending on your TV.
The Xbox is a home video game console and the first installment in the Xbox series of consoles manufactured by Microsoft. It was released on November 15, 2001 in North America, followed by Australia, Europe and Japan in 2002. It was Microsoft’s first foray into the gaming console market. It is the part of sixth generation console, and competed with Sony’s PlayStation 2 and Nintendo’s GameCube. It was also the first console produced by an American company since the Atari Jaguar ceased production in 1996.
Announced in 2000, the Xbox, graphically powerful compared to its rivals, featured a standard PC’s 733 MHz Intel Pentium III processor. It was also noted for its PC-like size and weight, and was the first console to feature a built-in hard disk. In November 2002, Microsoft launched Xbox Live, a fee-based online gaming service that enabled subscribers to download new content and connect with other players through a broadband connection. Unlike other online services from Sega and Sony, Xbox Live had support in the original console design through an integrated Ethernet port. The service gave Microsoft an early foothold in online gaming and would help the Xbox become a relevant competitor to other sixth-generation consoles. The popularity of blockbuster titles such as Halo 2 contributed to the popularity of online console gaming, and in particular first-person shooters. Despite this and being in second position, ahead of Nintendo’s GameCube and Sega’s Dreamcast, sales of the Xbox were always well behind Sony’s PlayStation 2.
PLAYSTATION 2 (PS2) (2000)
- CPU: MIPS R5900-based “Emotion Engine”, clocked at 294.912 MHz
- Storage: No onboard HDD, 8MB Memory Cards were available. Also, PS2 had an expandable HDD port on the back of the console.
- RAM: 32 MB RDRAM (Direct Rambus DRAM)
- ROM: CD/DVD-ROM
- Audio/Video: A/V Multi-Out
- Resolution: More of that sweet, sweet HD goodness.
The PlayStation 2 (PS2) is a home video game console that was developed by Sony Computer Entertainment. It is the successor to the PlayStation, and is the second installment in the PlayStation lineup of consoles. It was released on March 4, 2000 in Japan, October 26, 2000 in North America, November 24, 2000 in Europe, and November 17, 2000 in Australia. It competed with Sega’s Dreamcast, Microsoft’s Xbox, and Nintendo’s GameCube in the sixth generation of video game consoles.
Announced in 1999, the PlayStation 2 was the first PlayStation console to offer backwards compatibility for its predecessor’s DualShock controller, as well as for its games. The PlayStation 2 is the best-selling video game console of all time, in front of the Nintendo DS, selling over 155 million units, with 150 million confirmed by Sony in 2011. More than 3,874 game titles have been released for the PS2 since launch, and more than 1.5 billion copies have been sold. Sony later manufactured several smaller, lighter revisions of the console known as Slimline models in 2004 and well on, and in 2006, announced and launched its successor, the PlayStation 3.