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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Trimmed Dreamcast Board Makes For Perfect Portable

In the last year or so we’ve been seeing an array of portable game system builds based around “trimmed” Wii motherboards which have literally been cut down to a fraction of their original size. It turns out that most of the board is dedicated to non-essential functions, with the core Wii system contained within one specific area that can be isolated with a steady hand. But as [Gman] shows in his latest build, the same concept can also be applied to the Sega Dreamcast.

But of course, there’s a bit more to it than just taking a hacksaw to a Dreamcast motherboard. [Gman] had to supplement the trimmed system with quite a bit of additional hardware, such as a power management board he originally designed for portable Wii projects.

Other components were specifically built for this project. For example there’s a custom PCB that handles emulating the Dreamcast controller using a PIC32MZ microcontroller. He’s also using a LM49450 to pull digital audio from the motherboard over I2S, completely bypassing the analog output.

While not currently functioning, [Gman] also included an SPI OLED display and the hardware necessary to emulate basic functionality of the system’s unique Visual Memory Unit (VMU) right in the front of the system. We’re looking forward to seeing him revisit this feature in the future when he’s got the software side of things worked out.

The Nintendo 2DS inspired enclosure is completely 3D printed. A Prusa i3 with textured PEI bed was used to achieve the gorgeous dappled look on the system’s front panel, while the buttons were done on a Form 2 SLA printer. With a mold made from the printed buttons, [Gman] was able to cast the final pieces using a variety of colors until he found a combination he was happy with.

If you’re not Team Sega and would rather hack up your own tiny versions of Nintendo’s hardware, look no further than this fully functional trimmed Wii built into an Altoids tin.