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Usually when  a gaming console comes out it goes through several revisions in its life. Sometimes these revisions are all internal but many times they are also external. Sometimes the early version of a console are most desirable because of extra features or abilities that were later cut to save costs and sometimes later revisions with more refined internals and bug corrections are the models to get. In this series I’m going to pick a console and examine the different versions released and try to decide on the best one overall. For the first console I’m going to look at in this series I’ve picked one of my all time favorites, the Super Nintendo.

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I’ll be covering the North American systems here since there’s really no significant difference except for form factor and the NA SNES seems to be the best “universal” system. So first we should go over the SNES consoles available before we compare. The most common is the model pictured above. This was the model sold in NA from 1991-1997 and the one most retro gamers are familiar with. Its fairly easy to find and can be had for about $50 or under depending. Many of us may even still have one laying around from the 90’s. This model is pretty capable, it supports a wide variety of A/V outputs via the rear multi A/V  and RF port from RF to RGB. It has a nice little red LED power light and is pretty durable. The original model SNES is also fairly easy to modify. The inner tabs can easily be removed to allow the use of JP game carts as demonstrated here. Its also fairly easy to find someone online to perform a lockout switch disabling mod and a 50/60mhz switch mod to allow one to play European PAL games on a North American SNES. The one negative thing I can think of off the bat is its kind of ugly. I’m full of nostalgia for the thing so to me the site fills me with fond memories but to be realistic its not the sleekest looking machine especially when you compare it with the look of its Japanese and European counterpart.

Super-Famicom-Console-SetJapanese Super Famicom taken from Wikipedia commons under fair use

Another not very well documented issue with the SNES is the “middle light bar” or “vertical line issue”. Its a little hard to capture and explain but basically its a sort of distortion that sometimes can be seen running down the center of the screen. This is especially prevalent in dark scenes. I first noticed it when playing the game Robotrek. In the workshop sections of that game a large portion of the screen is black and you can notice a sort of “band” running down the center of the screen that I found a little distracting. I’ve read that early Japanese models do not have this issue and later production NA models have it to a lesser degree. If you want to see an example of this there’s an image at RetroRGB here.

The original model did go through several small internal changes through its life cycle and these changes did have a small effect on the machine. These changes were mostly just small refinements of the internal motherboard design. As these changes happened A/V quality, especially if your using RGB improved. The last version of the original SNES’s are known as 1chip motherboard SNES’s. The 1chip design consolidated several of the chips and is the same layout used in the SNES Mini. This redesign improved picture sharpness but introduced some other issues such as minor graphical glitches to some games. There’s no sure way to tell what motherboard revision your SNES has unless you open it up and look inside. 1chip SNES’s tend to have serial numbers starting with UN3. The serial number can be found on the underside of the unit.

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Here is my machine opened up. As you can see my serial number starts with UN1 and inside my motherboard is labeled SHVC-CPU-1. this is NOT a 1chip motherboard. 1chip boards should actually have “1chip” printed on the board.

and here is another non 1-chip board from my other version 1 SNES

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A second cost reduced version of the SNES came out in 1997 and was known as the SNES Mini, SNES Jr. or SNES 2.

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Unfortunately the yellowing of the plastic shell is a problem all SNES consoles suffer from due to the nature of the plastic used. The SNES mini is not quite as well known and I still encounter many casual gamers around my age that have never heard of it. As far as I know works with most add-ons for the original model. This model may also  be harder to mod with a lockout disable switch and a 50/60htz switch for PAL games due to smaller chips but I have not confirmed this yet. It’s a much smaller and sleeker machine much more in the style of the Japanese and PAL models then the NA version. Removing the tabs as in the original model to allow JP games to be played is achieved largely the same way. Unfortunately despite its new look and less shelf space needed this is a cost reduced machine and many capabilities were omitted. First it lacks an eject button of the original model requiring slightly more force to remove games. The SNES mini has the best A/V quality output of any former SNES, even the 1chip motherboard models *unconfirmed*. Unfortunately this is almost completely negated by the fact this model has had support for S-video and RGB disabled. This model also lacks a power LED light when the machine is on. A minor thing next to the reduced A/V options but still a minus. The mini is also slightly more expensive due to its relative scarcity and usually goes for $60+. On the positive side S-video and RGB output can be restored via an internal modification and a power LED can be easily added. there are notches next to the power switch to indicate on/off position which make excellent drill holes for a small discreet power LED.

compared to the model 1 SNES the SNES mini AKA Jr. has a sharper image, especially after a RGB mod. Also the RGB mod tends to reduce the vertical line issue present with the SNES. Unfortunately recent information indicates that this model has several incompatibilities and graphical issues.

1) the white levels are overly bright compared to the original

2) “ghosting” of images may occur with certain backgrounds on certain monitors that have poor filtering

3) a number of games appear to have minor graphical glitches on the SNES mini though none of these seem to make any game unplayable but usually consist of random white dots appearing, upper screen visual glitches, missing shadows or warped text boxes. These games include but are not limited to

  •  Air Strike Patrol
  • Treasure of the Rudras
  • Aladdin
  • Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
  • Demon’s Crest
  • Soul Blazer
  • Magical Pop’N
  • Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts

.

Here’s an example I captured from Air Strike Patrol of the shadowing issue. Both SNES’s had the images captured via S-video.

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SNES MINI

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SNES “standard”

Notice you can barely make out the shadow of the fighter on the SNES Mini but it is very noticeable when played on a standard SNES

more.

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SNES Mini

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SNES “standard”

Or if you would like to view the two versions in motion I captured some video.

4) games that use add on chips like the Super FX chip (Star Fox) seem to run slightly slower (unconfirmed ATM). I’ve captured the intro and some game play from both Starfox and Stunt Racer FX and played them side by side.

The SNES mini has been S-video/RGB modded but has a diagonal line issue in S-video not present in RGB. I tried to sync the games best I could in the video but its still a little inconclusive. Star fox does appear to run slightly slower, Stunt Racer FX is inconclusive.

5) first version of Game Genie will not run on SNES mini

more information on these issues can be found here

to compare models.

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In the picture below you can see the SNES mini (on left) has had the RF port and channel select removed requiring an external RF selector if using RF.

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so which is the better model, well that depends.

BEST MODEL STOCK (out of the box, no modifications)

original SNES with non-1chip motherboard

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  • Eject button
  • Power LED
  • ability to output RF, composite, s-video and RGB easily
  • cheaper
  • full game catalog compatibility and compatibility with all peripherals
  • correct white levels

BEST OVERALL MODEL

SNES mini (with A/V and LED modifications) I’ve changed my mind after learning about the issues with the mini and 1chip units.

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  • small sleek look
  • LED easily installed
  • with s-video/RGB restoring mod has the absolute best A/V output quality of any SNES model

Almost all the major shortcomings of the mini can be overcome with modifications. Full A/V can be restored and an LED added. I think I paid under $50 to have someone perform the needed mods for me. Yes the mini lacks an eject button but is that really such a loss for getting the best awesome A/V output in return. The price is also a little higher but its sometimes only a matter of $10-$20 dollars. If you want the best SNES I defiantly advise tracking down a mini and at least getting the A/V restore mod done. Its worth it for the S-video alone and if you have an RGB monitor the difference in quality is very noticeable.

after the new information I think overall even compared to a modded SNES mini that the original non-1chip SNES is the overall best version. With the right monitor or TV the “ghosting” isn’t much of an issue with the mini and even though a lot of people seem to find the overly bright whites to be a major negative it never bothered me to much but the graphical glitches and possible speed issues with games that use add on chips is just a deal breaker for me. Even with the sharper image and lessened vertical lines if it cant play the games correctly that’s a huge downside. The best possible solution would be to have a original as well as a modded mini for games that have no graphical issues but if you could have only one go with the compatibility of the original and besides RGB on a non 1chip is still pretty good, especially on a quality TV or monitor.

I got a lot of information from this very awesome site. I recommend you check it out as he has quite a few comparison images of the RGB quality of the various models. RetroRGB.com

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One Comment

  1. BTW, SHVC models seems to have better audio quality than all the other ones, http://assemblergames.com/l/threads/audio-comparison-of-different-snes-revisions.48548/ , and also the vertical line issue seems to be less noticeable in this revision and the 1-Chip/Mini one (Sorry for my bad english)


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