Your old Motorola or Sony Ericson flip phone from the 2000s is probably comparable to the SNES in terms of processing power, if not faster. A console that was considered the peak of 16-bit gaming back in the early 1990s, when we had games such as Super Mario World and Contra III. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone familiar with the massive advancements in microprocessor technology back then, far outstripping the generational improvements of today.
Why was the SNES cpu so slow? It was not bad for its time because Nintendo released this 16-bit console in 1990. Despite its slow processor, the SNES could pull off some impressive graphical feats thanks to clever code design and coprocessors embedded within game cartridges.
Game developers compensated for the slow processor by including enhancement chips in cartridges. These boosted graphical fidelity and allowed the console to render more detailed images. Graphics Mode 7 allowed the SNES to rotate and scale background layers, creating an artificial sense of depth and projecting a much larger horizon than was there.
Why Was The SNES CPU So Slow?
Despite how it might look in comparison to modern processors, the SNES cpu wasn’t slow for its time. Nintendo went with a Ricoh 5A22 which is derived from the WDC 65C816, a design based on the MOS Technology 6502. Originally, Nintendo’s CEO Yamauchi wanted SNES to be backward compatible with NES games.
And this was difficult to implement, because of the huge differences between NES and SNES graphics processors. SNES also featured all-new sound hardware, along with special coprocessors that would make seamless support for old 8-bit NES games quite hard. Yamauchi wanted a market-leading 16-bit console by 1990, and the SNES project was having trouble meeting those deadlines.
So the team decided to ditch backward compatibility, even though the processor they would eventually choose was more than capable of running NES games due to its MOS 6502 legacy. Designing the revolutionary graphics and sound processors for SNES resulted in cost overruns and Nintendo needed to make a profit with its console. So it decided to choose a cheaper alternative to Motorola’s 10MHz 68000 microprocessor, which was the CPU chosen for SNES during the initial development phase.
Ricoh’s 5A22 was cheaper and slower than a 10MHz MC68000. But clock-for-clock, it was faster at accessing memory and register space than the Motorola 68000.
SNES was only slightly more powerful than NES in terms of CPU speed. But it more than made up for this shortcoming with its excellent graphics and sound processors.
Was The SNES Underpowered?
Not really, because it could run every game on the market at that point- barring certain PC exclusives. If there was a game Sega’s Genesis could run, SNES could run it too. On a CRT, the pixelated graphics of SNES look beautiful even today.
There is a certain charm to these old 16-bit games that is hard to replicate with modern technology. Final Fantasy VI, Super Castlevania IV, and Harvest Moon are considered to be some of the best-looking games of the 4th console generation.
The SNES could also afford to be weaker than computers or rival consoles because of how its games were coded. Great care was taken to save every single byte of memory space, and tricks such as parallax scrolling induced a sense of depth into an otherwise 2D image. As SNES had no OS (just a bootloader), the CPU had no secondary tasks to perform while running a game.
How Much RAM Did The SNES Have?
SNES has 128kB of general-purpose RAM, along with 64kB of video RAM that’s used by the Picture Processing Unit (PPU). In addition, the console’s video processor has 544 bytes of object attribute memory that’s used to store sprite-related data. It also has a color generator palette RAM with 256 x 15 bits of storage (can produce up to 32,768 colors).
Game cartridges for SNES were measured in megabits, with 8 of these constituting one megabyte. Some of the largest SNES games like Tales of Phantasia and Star Ocean measure just 6MB in size. The use of assembly language, clever coding, and data compression helped developers cram giant game worlds into tiny spaces.
Were SNES Games 60 FPS?
Yes, which was the standard for NTSC televisions back then. PAL regions got 50FPS, which in some cases felt like a slowed-down version of the NTSC game because developers couldn’t make a proper port. Of course, not all NTSC games ran at 60fps.
Some were designed for 30fps, due to their increased graphical requirements and complex sprites. There was also the occasional frame drop when a bunch of sprites would show up simultaneously on your screen. Games like Doom, Star Fox, and Stunt Race FX were some of the worst-performing SNES games due to their demanding nature and advanced graphics.
Why Is SNES 1 Chip Better?
Like all home consoles, Nintendo released revisions of the SNES with updated design elements while still retaining the same basic processor configuration. Originally, SNES was released with a two-chip PPU. This meant the video processor was comprised of two separate IC packages.
Images on a CRT from this console have slightly more blur if you compare images posted by SNES enthusiasts with access to both models. The one-chip model was released sometime later during the SNES’ life cycle and combines both video ICs into one package. This console generates slightly sharper images, especially if you use an RGB SCART cable to connect it to a quality CRT television.
Collectors and retro gamers are willing to pay good money for a 1-chip SNES model. There is no sure way to tell if a SNES is 1-chip without taking it apart and looking at the motherboard. But in the North American region, 1-chip SNES consoles are likely to have a serial number that starts with “UN3”.
Is SNES Stronger Than Genesis?
In terms of CPU speed, absolutely not- Genesis is powered by a 7.6MHz Motorola 68000. It even has a Zilog Z80 coprocessor for sound. However, SNES has more RAM- 128kB vs 64kB on Genesis.
SNES also has a more advanced graphics processor. In combination with the increased memory size, this allows SNES to display larger sprites and more colors. Generally speaking, Genesis got better action games while SNES got better JRPGs.
I hope this article helped you understand why the SNES CPU was slower compared to its rivals such as the Genesis. This was a calculated choice, trading in the additional speed of a Motorola 68000 with the lower manufacturing cost afforded by a Ricoh 5A22. Despite this tradeoff, SNES came out on top in the 4th gen console race.
Its superior RAM size and more advanced video processor meant that SNES had better graphics than Genesis. You got better sprites and more of them with improved color depth thanks to the much larger palette on SNES.