A Fresh Linux For The Most Unexpected Platform – The Nintendo 64

Though it was famously started by Linus Torvalds as “a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones“, the Linux kernel and surrounding operating system ecosystems have been ported to numerous architectures beyond their x86 roots. It’s therefore not unusual to hear of new ports for unsupported platforms, but it is extremely unexpected to hear of one when the platform is a games console from the mid-1990s. But that’s what [Lauri Kasanen] has done, announcing a fresh Linux port for the Nintendo 64.

This isn’t a Linux from 1996 either. The port builds on an up-to-date kernel version 5.10 with his N64 branch and a tantalising possibility that it might be incorporated into the main Linux source for the MIPS-64 processor architecture. That’s right, the Nintendo 64 could be an officially supported Linux platform.

It would be stretching the story a long way to call this any kind of distro, for what he’s produced is a bootloader that loads the kernel and creates a terminal with busybox loaded. With this on your flashcart you won’t be replacing that Raspberry Pi any time soon, so why other than [Lauri]’s “because I can” would you be interested in it? He supplies the answer and it lies in the emulation scene, because having a Linux for the platform makes it so much easier to port other software to it. If this tickles your fancy you can see the source in his GitHub repository, and we’re certainly looking forward to what the community will do with it.

We are more used to seeing the N64 as a subject for case-modding, whether it be as a handheld or a an all-in-one console.

Via Phoronix, and thanks [David Beckershoff] for the tip.

Header image: Evan-Amos, Public domain.

Is This The World’s Smallest Nintendo 64?

A niche activity in console fandom is the shrinking of full-size consoles to smaller formats, taking what could once only be played on the family TV into portable formats that fit in the pocket. In a particularly impressive example of the art, [GmanModz] has made what he claims is the world’s smallest portable Nintendo 64. What makes it particularly noteworthy is that he’s done it not with an emulator or a custom PCB, instead there is a real Nintendo 64 motherboard in there having undergone a significant quantity of trimming.

The video below the break goes into detail on the state of the art in these mods, and shows how he has eschewed the latest tech and instead restricted himself to only using commercially available breakout PCBs and off the shelf modules. The N64 board trimmed down particularly aggressively, requiring a lot of fine magnet wire soldering for the various PCBs replacing the parts removed. The cartridge slot is brought out to the back of the board at a right angle, jutting out from the rear of the 3D printed case above a space for an 18650 cell and allowing an original game cartridge to be played. There is a microcontroller to facilitate a few compromises on lesser uses of the Nintendo control pads, but the result is a fully playable mini handheld console. He does admit that “The battery life sucks, it’s uncomfortable to hold […] But hey — it fits in my pocket. Does your N64?” We can’t fault him on that.

This isn’t the first portable N64 we’ve seen, but will it hold the title of smallest for long? Only time will tell.

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Dumping A N64 Development Cartridge Safely

Retro gaming enthusiasts have always had great interest in rarities outside the usual commercial titles. Whether they be early betas, review copies, or even near-complete versions of games that never made it to release, these finds can be inordinately valuable. [Modern Vintage Gamer] recently came across a pre-release version of Turok 3 for the Nintendo 64, and set about dumping and preserving the find. (Video, embedded below.)

With one-off cartridges like these, it’s important to take the utmost care in order to preserve the data onboard. Simply slapping it into a regular console might boot up the game, but carries with it a non-zero chance of damaging the cart. Instead, the first step taken was to dump the cart for archival purposes. When working with a prototype cart, commodity dumpers like the Retrode aren’t sufficient to do the job. [Modern Vintage Gamer] notes that a Doctor V64 or Gameshark with a parallel port could work, but elects to use a more modern solution in the form of the Ultrasave and 64drive.

With the cartridge backed up and duplicated onto the 64drive, the code can be run on a real console without risk of damage to the original. At first glance, the game appears similar to the final retail version. Analysis of the dump using a file comparison tool suggests that the only differences between the “80% Complete” ROM and the retail edition are headers, leading [Modern Vintage Gamer] to surmise that the game may have been rushed to release.

While in this case the dump didn’t net an amazing rare version of a retro game, [Modern Vintage Gamer] does a great job of explaining the how and why of the process of preserving a vintage cartridge. We look forward to the next rare drop that shakes up the retro world; we’ve seen efforts on Capcom arcade boards net great results. Video after the break.

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New Controllers On Old Nintendos With USB64

The Nintendo 64 made a big splash when it launched in 1996, not least of all for its innovative controller. Featuring a never-before-or-since seen trident design, and with an analog stick smack bang in the center, it changed what gamers expected from consoles from that day forward. Of course, those controllers are now much worse for wear, and technology has moved on somewhat. The latest development from [Ryzee119] aims to rectify this somewhat.

The result of that work is USB64, a tool designed to allow the use of USB controllers on the Nintendo 64. Using a Teensy 4.1, it builds upon earlier work to get the Xbox 360 controller working on the platform. However, the feature set has been greatly expanded, covering almost any use case imaginable. Mempacks are now efficiently emulated, and save files can be backed up to a PC via SD card. Additionally, the GameBoy Transferpak is emulated, meaning data can be transferred between GameBoy ROMs on an SD card and games on the N64. Even the N64 mouse is supported, and can be emulated with a regular USB mouse. Capable of doing all this for all four players, work is ongoing to increase the number of compatible aftermarket controllers for the utmost flexibility. [Ryzee119] also coded up a useful test ROM for the N64, which is invaluable when debugging controller hardware.

Console controllers take a lot of punishment, particularly from serious gamers, so we’re always eager to see projects that allow modern replacements to be used with old hardware. We’ve featured other great projects in this area before, too!

Hackaday Podcast 075: 3D Printing Japanese Joinery, Android PHONK, One-Armed Time Bandit, And Whistling Bridges

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams scoop up a basket of great hacks from the past week. Be amazed by the use of traditional Japanese joinery in a 3D-printed design — you’re going to want to print one of these Shoji lamps. We behold the beautiful sound of a noise generator, and the freaky sound from the Golden Gate. There’s a hack for Android app development using Javascript on an IDE hosted from the phone as a webpage on your LAN. And you’ll like the KiCAD trick that makes enclosure design for existing boards a lot easier.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (~65 MB)

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Remote Code Execution On The N64

Some like to garden in their spare time, while others prefer to smoke cigars or fold complicated origami figurines. Security researcher [grifter] [CTurt] seems to enjoy cracking consoles instead, and had a go at exploiting the Nintendo 64 over an obscure modem interface.

The 1990s were a wild time, where games shipped in cartridges. This format opened up crazy possibilities to add additional hardware to the cartridge itself. Perhaps most famously, Nintendo packed in the SuperFX chip to enable 3D graphics on the Super Nintendo. Later on, the N64 game Morita Shogi 64 shipped with an entire telephone modem in the cartridge itself.  The resulting exploit is therefore dubbed “shogihax”.

Armed with a dodgy GameShark and a decompiler, [CTurt] set to work. Through careful parsing of the code, they were able to find a suitable overflow bug in the game when using the modem. Unlike more pedestrian savegame hacks, this not only allowed for the execution of arbitrary code but also the modem interface means that it’s possible to continually stream more data to the console on an ad-hoc basis.

It’s a great hack that takes advantage of a relatively accessible cartridge, rather than relying on more obscure hardware such as the N64DD modem or other rarities. We’ve seen other N64 homebrew hacks before, too. Video after the break.

Thanks to [grifter] for the tip!

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Trimmed PCB Makes The Ultimate Portable N64

One of the most impressive innovations we’ve seen in the world of custom handhelds is the use of “trimmed” PCBs. These are motherboards of popular video game consoles such as the Nintendo Wii and Sega Dreamcast that have literally been cut down to a smaller size. As you can imagine, finding the precise shape that can be cut out before the system stops functioning requires extensive research and testing. But if you can pull it off, some truly incredible builds are possible.

Take for example this absolutely incredible clamshell N64 built by [GMan]. After cutting the motherboard down to palm-sized dimensions, he’s been able to create a handheld system that’s only a bit larger than the console’s original cartridges.

Incidentally those original cartridges are still supported, and fit into a slot in the rear of the system Game Boy style. It’s still a bit too chunky for tossing in your pocket, but we doubt you could build a portable N64 any smaller without resorting to emulation.

In the video after the break, [Gman] explains that the real breakthrough for trimmed N64s came when it was found that the system’s Peripheral Interface (PIF) chip could be successfully relocated. As this chip was on the outer edge of the PCB, being able to move it meant the board could get cut down smaller than ever before.

But there’s more than just a hacked N64 motherboard living inside the 3D printed enclosure. [Gman] also designed a custom PCB that’s handling USB-C power delivery, charging the handheld’s 4250 mAh battery, and providing digital audio over I2S. It’s a fantastically professional setup, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the board was part of the original console.

Considering how well designed and built this N64 SP is, it probably will come as no surprise to find this isn’t the first time [Gman] has put something like this together. He used many of the same tricks to build his equally impressive portable Dreamcast last year.

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