Why ROM Cartridges Mattered

Given that we're hearing reports that the Nintendo NX is going to be using cartridges, it's a good time to remind ourselves how cartridges work and why companies bothered with them at all.

YouTuber 8-Bit Guy, with a cameo from TheObsoleteGeek, recently did a deep-dive on the history of ROM cartridge games, as well as the machines that ran them.

It's a good look at the hardware and theory behind why cartridges were better initially, as well as some of the technical techniques that companies — Nintendo included — had to deploy.

After 9m30s, there's even a nice guide on how to clean game cartridges if they get corroded.

The extra hardware advantage of cartridges is an interesting element. Wonder if it's something we'll see with the NX — if the NX uses cartridges at all, of course.


    If the NX uses cartridges, I doubt they'll contain anything more than ROM and perhaps a little flash for saved games, like all the recent cartridge based handhelds.

    While sticking a second CPU inside a cartridge is a neat way to add extra capabilities to a system, it is also kind of expensive. Also, most modern systems don't give games free reign over the system in order to enforce their DRM/trusted computing model. Giving extra hardware full access to the memory bus would make that kind of thing difficult.

      Yes and no.

      But even as recently as the DS/DSi, they have been able to use cartridges to expand on features. For example, the Pokemon Black/White cartridge had an IR communication LED/photodiode built in to enable that feature for old DS consoles [it was added to the DSi].

      You can still have DRM in the cartridge while allowing low-level hardware expansion as well, just have some extra pins put on an I2C or SPI bus at a minimum, while leaving the rest for the game data.

    During the last weekend alone, I found a lost game cartridge in amongst a bed spread (saving it from the washing machine), almost stepped on one that blended in with the carpet, I'm still trying to track down a cherished Nintendogs and Cats cartridge that may as well require a poster down the shops with my number on it anyway, plus I'm trying to figure out whether or not I want to nuke/save over current save files for about half a dozen games for replay purposes.

    So yeah. I'm 50/50 on having to go through all this again.

      Go through all what again? I'm not sure I understand your problem here.

      Also the Vita uses carts and it saves, your saves to a memory card not the cart.

        Yes the PS Vita does use a cartridge, I would more than likely call it a memory card that is read like a disk, I really don't think it places itself in addressable memory space.
        But what I find interesting is that everyone bagged the PS Vita for using a cartridge, yet we see people going ape shit over the fact that the Nintendo NX use a cartridge and how great that will be. Really?

          everyone bagged the PS Vita for using a cartridgeThey did? I must have missed that, I thought everyone was bagging the PSP for using a disc.

            Not nearly as much as they bagged the PSP Go for NOT having a disc.

            The section about the PSP Go in the Wikipedia article on the PSP seems to originate in a different reality, It almost completely ignores the abject failure of the platform.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now