We Tore Down The Original Gameboy

Background: We are two friends who loved to tear things apart when we were kids. Plus we have a passion for design and engineering so we love to explore the hidden side of everyday life objects.

Before tearing the Gameboy down, let’s have a look at the history of this iconic object and the engineering powering the most successful handheld console in history.

A short history of the Gameboy

April 21st 1989, Japan. The first Gameboy is released. The Japanese Tsunami will reach the US in August of the same year, and Europe in September 1990.

The 8-bit video game device developed by Nintendo under the supervision of Gunpei Yokoi and Nintendo Research & Development. The same staff that brought to life the Game & Watch series:

Here is the Gameboy patent abstract describing the device:

A hand-held electronic game machine for use with attachable/detachable memory game packs wherein the game machine includes a case of a size which may be held by a hand and capable of being sandwiched by both hands with a first switch disposed at a position such that during a game it can be operated by one thumb on a front surface of the case, a second switch disposed at a position such that during a game it can be operated by the other thumb on the first surface of the case and a third operation switch means provided in a region of said front surface where imaginary loci of both thumbs intersect with each other on the front surface, and wherein the game machine can be connected with others for simultaneous multiple player competition.
Image 1/12 of the US patent 5,184,830

Powered by a 4.19MHz processor

When we look at the specs of the Original Gameboy, most of us will be surprise to realise that the Console was running on electronics way less powerful than today’s calculators. Impressive in 1989, not so much in the age of the multi-GHz processors.

  • CPU Custom 8-bit Sharp LR35902 core at 4.19 MHz. This processor is similar to an Intel 8080 in that none of the registers introduced in the Z80 are present. However, some of the Z80’s instruction set enhancements over the stock 8080, particularly bit manipulation, are present. Still other instructions are unique to this particular flavor of Z80 CPU. The core also contains integrated sound generation.
  • RAM: 8 kB internal S-RAM (can be extended up to 32 kB)
  • Video RAM: 8 kB internal
  • ROM: On-CPU-Die 256-byte bootstrap; 256 kb, 512 kb, 1 Mb, 2 Mb, 4 Mb and 8 Mb cartridges
  • Sound: 2 pulse wave generators, 1 PCM 4-bit wave sample (64 4-bit samples played in 1×64 bank or 2×32 bank) channel, 1 noise generator, and one audio input from the cartridge. The unit only has one speaker, but headphones provide stereo sound (for further information, see Game Boy music)
  • Display: Reflective STN LCD 160 × 144 pixels
  • Frame Rate: Approx. 59.7 frames per second on a regular Game Boy, 61.1 on a Super Game Boy
  • Vertical Blank Rate: Approx 1.1 ms
  • Screen size: 66 mm (2.6 in) diagonal
  • Color Palette: 2-bit (4 shades of “gray” {light to very dark olive green})
  • Communication: 2 Game Boys can be linked together via built-in serial ports, up to 4 with a DMG-07 4-player adapter.
  • Power: 6 V, 0.7 W (4 AA batteries provide 15–30+ hours)
  • Dimensions: 90 mm (W) × 148 mm (H) × 32 mm (D) / 3.5″ × 5.8″ × 1.3″

How does this specs translate in the real world?

The back of the motherboard where you can see the volume controller
On the right side you can see the jack connector which was used to plug the external battery pack
The Gameboy and all its different parts

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