After the enormous success of the SNES, Nintendo were obviously anxious to release another powerful console to their loyal fanbase. They were, however, in for a shock, as not only would they have Sega to contend with in the next generation, but Sony as well! Having briefly worked together with the idea of a CD-ROM expansion for the SNES, but splitting on less than amicable terms, Sony were continuing the project and were to release a console they dubbed the "Playstation".
Nintendo were going to have to pull out all the stops if they were to maintain their enviable grip on the market. Both Sega and Sony were to release 32-bit, CD-ROM based consoles. So why not produce a 64-bit machine? The increase in power over their rivals would be incredible. However, Nintendo were not at all happy with including CD-ROM drives with their new console. They still favoured the cartridge system, with its non-existant loading times, over the slow - but huge capicity - CDs. This would prove to be a costly mistake.
The cartridges were costly to make (and thus, more expensive to sell), and couldn't store anywhere near the same amount of data as a CD. This meant that in the age of flashy FMV videos and streamed CD audio, the N64 was sorely lacking. Many flocked to the alternatives, ignoring the system's incredible (for its time) graphics in favour of the other bells and whistles provided by the competition.
The N64 was regarded by most as a costly flop, although to be honest it didn't do quite as badly as many remember. It had some excellent first- and second-party games, with platformers such as Mario 64, party games like Super Smash Bros. and even first-person shooters like the seminal Goldeneye all being released on the platform. A combination of expensive games, and a dire lack of third-party support meant that many chose the Playstation instead.
The Nintendo 64 featured no major redesigns like the consoles before it, although it did later be relaunched in some rather fetching day-glo colours. This was coincided by a major marketing push, helping boost sales, but the case itself remained the same despite the funky colouring. A special edition Pikachu N64 was released, which (if you happen to want to own every piece of Pokémon merchendise) may tempt you, but was only really a bit of a gimmick.
The Nintendo 64
The N64 featured four controller ports (an advantage over the popular two), an expansion socket underneath, plus a Saturn-style expansion port just in front of the cartridge slot. All in all it was a nicely designed machine, traditionally tough like its predecessors although not quite as impervious to damage as the almighty Super Famicom.
CPU: A customised 64-bit RISC R4000 processor, clocked at 93.75Mhz. Far faster and more powerful than either of the 32-bit CPUs of the competition of its time, the N64's heart was a number-crunching beast.
Co-Processor: The RCP, a combination of two seperate processors consisting of the SP (Sound and graphics) and DP (Pixel-based). It was clocked at a nippy 62.5Mhz.
Memory: 32Mbit RAMBUS DRAM provides the N64's RAM, more than enough to store all a game needs.
Maximum Resolution: 640x480
The N64 had three means of expansion. There was the traditional underside expansion port, which was used for the N64DD - which is better left for another writeup. Second was the expansion socket towards the front of the topside of the machine, into which the Expansion Pak could be inserted. This was necessary for some games to run in their entirety and boosted the console's RAM, allowing for more complex and larger games to be run.
The main method of expansion
was through the controller, however. A socket on the underside allowed numerous
accessories to be slotted in, from the mostly redundant memory card solution
(many games featured on-board saves, a la SNES), but the true beauty
of this was revealed when the Rumble Pak was released to coincide with Starfox
64 (Lylatwars to us Europeans). Now considered a must-have for consoles, this
was revolutionary for the time. And damn cool it was too.