The SNES CD-ROM


Not long after the SNES was released, Nintendo, in response to Sega's hot new product, at the time anyway, the Sega CD, Nintendo promised players that they too would have a CD-ROM for their SNES, and it would be bigger and badder than Sega's. This CD-ROM drive has taken many forms over the years, until finally, Nintendo announced that they had decided to abandon CD-ROM technology, and discontinued any plans for a CD-ROM device; this still stands today.

One of the most interesting aspects of the defunct SNES CD-ROM, is that it, indirectly, was responsible for the creation of two new systems; the N64, the official replacement of the CD-ROM unit, and Sony's PlayStation. Read on, and you will find out exactly what happened.

At one time, Nintendo had deals going with both Phillips and Sony, to develop a CD-ROM for use with the SNES. Nintendo and Phillips were buddies for a while; in fact, for Phillips' own system, the CD-I, Nintendo licensed the Super Mario Bros. and Zelda characters. The Super Mario Bros. game was a puzzle game, and three Zelda games, two of which were nothing like the NES and SNES versions, and a third that had some similarities with the original NES and SNES versions, but was still quite different. There was even rumor of future CD-I/SNES CD-ROM compatibility! This partnership, for reasons I don't know, fell apart. Sony and Nintendo split over "creative differences"; there was arguments over the specs for the system. Phillips has pretty much abandoned their CD-I system, and Sony has gone on to release the PlayStation, a direct competitor with the N64.


The proposed 32 bit CD-ROM drive, attached to the Super Famicom

Originally, the Nintendo SNES CD-ROM was to be a 16 bit CD-ROM, similar to the Sega CD, with, however, improved specs and better hardware. A year or so after this new machine was announced, Nintendo told players that they had decided to shelve the 16 bit CD-ROM, and go back to the drawing board, and design a 32 bit CD-ROM that would provide a radically better game experience. This unit was to officially bring Ninendo gamers into the 32 bit gaming era. This 32 bit CD-ROM would go head-to-head with the new CD systems released, and in the works, such as the 3DO and Sega 32X. Nintendo ran with this for awhile, until, finally, Nintendo said that an entirely new system would be necessary, because as an add-on peripheral for the SNES, the CD-ROM's capabilities would be limited. This new system was to be called the Ultra 64, later renamed the Nintendo 64. There was debate early in its life whether or not it would be a cartridge or CD based system.

Finally, Nintendo decided that CD-ROM technology "sucked"; what they officially stated was that problems with CD load time and the fact that a CD is a read-only medium, made a CD-ROM based unit impractical. They stated this many times, and played down the significance of CD-ROM, after literally years of hype over CD-ROM capabilities. As we all know, Sony, Sega, and others embraced CD-ROM technology with open arms, and effectively abandoned ROM cartridges as a means of publishing games. The appeal of CD-ROM for these companies is obvious; you can store a great deal of information on a CD inexpensively. Nintendo scoffed at this, and said proudly, they were sticking with ROM cartridges, and that prices for ROM chips would not be a concern for consumers. Nintendo has stated that a high capacity disk drive unit will be available as an add-on for the N64 later this year, but NO CD-ROM unit is planned. In conclusion, the SNES CD-ROM, and any hopes for any Nintendo CD-ROM unit, are dead.

Without editorializing too much, I believe that a few comments are needed here. Since the popularity of CD-ROM games for the PC exploded, and the release of the Sega CD, there has been an insatiable appetite among players for the undisputed industry leader at the time, Nintendo, to release a CD-ROM unit. Nintendo took advantage of this, and for over 4 years, strung players along, giving out information and release dates on planned units, to entice players further, only to then, at the 11th hour, cancel the unit in favor of an even better unit. Players, like myself, began to resent this, and lose faith in the Big N. Even more so, many have turned against Nintendo. Nintendo has had a long history of not listening to what its customers want, and the CD-ROM fiasco is a prime example. Nintendo has had a hard time competing in the 32/64 bit gaming era, and I would ask Nintendo, is it any wonder why? We wanted a CD-ROM based unit, and you ignored us; same with a color Game Boy, a lifting of Nintendo's game censorship (only recently lifted in 1993), and so on. And, instead, they release what they think we should have; a cartridge based unit who's games are obscenely expensive, and a lame-ass "Virtual Boy", that no one asked for (saw one of those pups going for $25 and the games for $10 at my local Electronics Boutique, when it used to go for $125 and games for $40!). I have been a big fan of the Big N since I was a kid, and I hate to see things go downhill. The next time players ask for something, I would suggest you give it to us, and follow through with your commitments.



The following is a verbatum announcement published in Nintendo Power #43, concerning the change of a planned 16-bit processor for the SNES CD-ROM to a 32-bit processor.
 
CD ROM NEWS!
Just in case you haven't heard, Nintendo has announced that its upcoming CD ROM system will feature a custom 32-bit processor. We are convinced that a 16-bit processor will not provide game players with significantly enhanced and unique video games. By offering enhanced processing power and speed, we are confident that our CD ROM, when coupled with a Super NES, will offer a truly superior game experience to cartridge-based games. Thank you for all of the letters asking questions about the CD ROM system. We'll keep you posted as more details are released about this exciting accessory!



 


View scan of EGM article on SNES CD-ROM here


 


Planned SNES 32-bit CD-ROM Specs Main Memory:

Supplemental Memory Co-Processor (SCCP): CD-ROM Decoder (HANDS) CD-ROM Drive Name: It was to be released under the name "Super NES ND Drive". ND, standing for "Nintendo Disc"

Planned release Date: Early 1994

Suggested Retail Price: $250

Note: Would have used CD caddy like older PC CD-ROM drives; these caddies would also have had 256 Kbit storage for game info

HANDS: Hyper Advanced Nintendo Data Transfer System. The CD-ROM decoder inside the cartridge that plugged inside the SNES.

Hookup: The CD-ROM unit attached to the bottom of the SNES unit, and interfaced with the SNES through the bottom expansion port, as well as a cartridge that plugged into the SNES. This cartridge contained the CD-ROM decoder, the unit's processor and RAM, and most of the guts independent of the physical drive itself.

Appearance: The unit was color-coordinated to match the SNES. The unit was 9 1/2" deep, 7 7/8" wide, 2.9" thick, and weighed 2lb 7oz.

Sources: Nintendo Power, EGM Magazine #44

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