Famicom Disk System

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Famicom Disk System loaded with a Famicom.

The Family Computer Disk System (ファミリーコンピュータ ディスクシステム [Famiri Konpyuta Disuku Shisutemu], known commonly as the Famicom Disk System is a disk drive attachment to the Famicom created by Nintendo and released only in Japan on 1986-02-21. To use the Famicom Disk System (FDS), the disk drive is placed below the Famicom, and a communication unit is placed into the cartridge slot of the Famicom. Disks are placed into the drive and both the Famicom and FDS are turned on. Upon booting, the game is loaded from the disk, and, when it finishes, you can start playing the game. Famicom disks are double sided, but the reader is not, so larger games require the user to flip the disk over as needed, and a few games even spanned multiple disks. Because the disks are re-writable, FDS games may save the player's progress directly to the disk to be loaded later. Also, the FDS included a new audio channel to the APU which added a programmable waveform. Though this channel is primitive by today's standards, it was very impressive at the time.

To help sell FDS games, Nintendo sold Famicom Disk System vending kiosks called "Disk Writers" to various game shops around Japan. A user could insert a blank disk, pay a fee, and have new games written to their disk. However, because there wasn't anything too complex about the disk design, third-party manufacturers began selling off-brand disks and copiers which made piracy pretty easy. The FDS also was expensive and had a tendency to break down, so the unit didn't sell very well, so Nintendo didn't try to market it outside of Japan. Those games that did sell well on the FDS were remade to run on the NES with passwords, or, for later games, battery backups to save progress.

Since the FDS was only released in Japan, I never played it when it was popular, and still have never played an actual console. However, with the advent of emulation, I have since played many of the games released on the platform.

Status

I do not own a Famicom Disk System and have never played a real one.

Games

See all Famicom Disk System Games.

These are the FDS games that are important to me:

Review

Good

  • The disks were able to store 112 KB of data (56 KB per side) which was over twice the size and less than a quarter of the cost of ROM cartridges at the time. This allowed developers to make games with more complexity and still save money.
  • Having a way to save and load to the disk was vastly superior than password systems.
  • Being able to sell games through an automatic vending kiosk was way ahead of its time.
  • The additional audio channel was a nice addition, unfortunately, few developers took advantage of it.

Bad

  • Disk reading and writing was pretty slow and most games required turning the disk over to load from both sides. Both are annoying if you're used to the instant speed of a cartridge.
  • Like all magnetic disks, the Famicom disks eventually had bad sectors causing the loss of a game.
  • In less than a year, two of the key features of the FDS (112 KB memory and the ability to save games) were replicated on the Famicom. ROM prices dropped and comparable sizes became available, and battery backups allowed for saved games. Cartridges more expensive, but it was still a lot cheaper than an whole new system.
  • Although Nintendo did sell over 4 million units, it was a far cry from the 62 million of the Famicom/NES. Rampant piracy and hardware failures no doubt contributed to the platform not doing nearly as well.
  • Most of the games made for the platform didn't take advantage of the new hardware, and many of the releases were already available for the Famicom, or would be released for the Famicom within a few years of their FDS release.
  • The FDS required its own power supply which was clunky just like the Famicom. This often required a multi-tap outlet. Although, it could optionally be run off six C-cell batteries.

Ugly

  • The rubber band that allowed the motor to spin the disk was made out of poor material and usually broke far earlier than it should.

Media

Hardware

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