Portable Game Systems 101
Specifications, History, and Information



Nintendo Game Boy

Nintendo broke new ground in 1989 when they released the first handheld gaming system, the Nintendo Game Boy.  It was a huge success.  Sega wanted in on the action and would later create a color portable system to compete with the Game Boy called the Sega Game Gear.  Sega was not very successful in their bid to compete against the Game Boy despite the advantages of their unit, primarily a larger color LCD screen.  The Game Boy was more popular even though its screen was black and white, because it was smaller (more portable), used fewer batteries than Sega's (4 AA instead of 6 AA), and cost $40 less than Sega's.  A Game Boy could be purchased for $109 upon release.  The Game Boy was the most successful system by far, because Nintendo sold over 150 million systems world wide; the largest number of game systems ever sold.  The Game Boy was without doubt a successful system, and when sales tapered off, Nintendo released improved versions of the Gameboy.

Short and Sweet Information

Released in 1989, the Gameboy was the first portable gaming system that was small enough to comfortably carry around, and it created a sensation.  The monochrome graphics were quite good for a tiny, hand-held device.  The Gameboy is an 8 bit system with 8 KB of memory, powered by a Z80 processor running at 4Mhz.  Games were sold on small plug-in cartridges.  Some of the good games are Mario Land, Mario Land 2, and Mario Land 3.

Quick Specs

  • CPU:  8-bit Z80 running at 4Mhz
  • Ram:  8KB internal
  • Vram:  8KB internal
  • Palette:  Four shades of gray
  • Display:  Reflective LCD 160 x 144 pixels
Nintendo Game Boy Console
Nintendo Game Boy Color

Nintendo planned on improving their original Game Boy by adding a color LCD screen, so Nintendo could compete against the other color portable systems.  Sega and Atari both had a color portable system, but their problem was that they used many batteries, the battery life was short, and their selling prices were high.  Nintendo spent time researching emerging portable technology looking for a better solution.  Nintendo finally created their Game Boy Color in 1998, which only used two AAA batteries, instead of using 6 AA batteries like their competitors.  It was released in Japan on October 21, 1998.  It was released in the US on November 18, 1998.  The Game Boy Color could play the original Game Boy games, as well as the new games written specifically for the Game Boy Color.  The Game Boy Color was very successful, because Nintendo basically had little competition due to the unpopular color systems created by their competitors.

Short and Sweet Information

Nine years after the original Gameboy was released, the Gameboy Color hit the market on October 21, 1998, sporting a color LCD screen.  Like the original, the Gameboy Color is an 8 bit system powered by a Z80 processor, though it runs at twice the speed (8Mhz) and has 16 times the memory (128KB instead of 8KB).  The Gameboy Color has many popular games, including: Mario Land and Wario Land 1, 2, and 3.

Quick Specs

  • CPU:  8-bit Sharp Z80 running at 8Mhz
  • Ram:  32KB
  • Vram:  16KB internal
  • Palette:  32,768 colors
  • Display:  Reflective color LCD 160 x 144 pixels
Nintendo Game Boy Color Console
Nintendo Game Boy Advance / SP

At last, Nintendo released their first 32-bit portable game system.  The Game Boy Color was supposed to be a 32-bit system, but with hardware prices being too high, Nintendo just added a color LCD screen to the Game Boy Color.  The Game Boy Advance was released in Japan on March 21, 2001.  The Game Boy Advance was optimized by adding a bigger LCD screen, changing the shape, and adding two buttons (L1 R1 Buttons).  It is compatible with all the Game Boy Color games and regular Game Boy games.  Game Boy Advance games are stored on cartridges half the size of the Game Boy Color cartridges.  Nintendo later released a Game Boy Advance SP, which comes with a rechargeable battery pack and a mini-lamp.  The GBA (A.K.A.  Game Boy Advance) SP was released in Japan on February 14, 2003 and was released in the USA on March 23, 2003.  The GBA SP is only different in its shape and its battery pack and mini-light compared to the original GBA.

Short and Sweet Information

The Gameboy Advance, first released in Japan on March 21, 2001, is a powerful 32-bit color system.  This is incredible considering that most desktop computers are also 32 bit systems.  The graphics are great for the small, portable, yet powerful Gameboy Advance system.  At its heart is a 32-Bit ARM processor running at 32Mhz with embedded memory.

Quick Specs

  • CPU:  16 Mhz 32-bit RISC CPU and 8-bit CISC CPU
  • Memory:  32KB WRAM and 96KB VRAM
  • Palette:  32,000 colors
  • Display:  Reflective color LCD
  • LCD Screen Size:  40.8mm x 61.2mm
  • Resolution:  240 x 160 pixels
Nintendo Game Boy Advance Console Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP Console
Nintendo's Game Boy Advance Nintendo's Game Boy Advance SP

Nintendo DS

After years of mediocre graphics, Nintendo released a new dual-screened, technologically advanced system.  The Nintendo DS features a touch screen that can be used with a stylus and fingers.  The top LCD screen is used for displaying games.  As for the bottom screen, it displays additional information such as maps for a game.  The Nintendo DS can connect to the Internet using its built-in LAN connection.  Therefore, numerous players can compete against each other at a central game hub using an Internet connection.  The Nintendo DS also features a voice recognition capability that can be used when chatting over the internet using the DS's included chat program called Picto-Chat.  The Nintendo DS also features a wireless network for linking to other DS systems to play multiplayer games.  If only one person has a game pak inserted, and that person chooses to play multiplayer, other players without the game can still play multiplayer without having to buy the game!  The DS surpasses the Nintendo 64 in graphics capability, and games run at a speedy 60 frames per second! 

Nintendo released several variants of the Nintendo DS including the Nintendo DS Lite, Nintendo DSI, and the Nintendo DSI XL.  The DS Lite was released on June 11, 2006 in the United States.  The DS Lite was 20% lighter and less than two-thirds of the original size of its predecessor.  For a list of all of the changes in the Nintendo DS Lite design, click here.  The Nintendo DSI was released on April 5, 2009 in the United States.  Unlike the DS Lite and the original DS, the Nintendo DSI does not have a Gameboy Advance cartridge slot.  Thus, the DSI does not support Gameboy Advance games.  However, the DSI includes a camera on both the front and the back, can download software from Nintendo, and has larger screens than the original DSI.  For more information regarding the DSI, click here.  Nintendo's final version of the Nintendo DS was the Nintendo DSI XL.  The Nintendo DSI XL has the same features as the DSI; the only difference is its massive screen size of 4.2“ for both the top and bottom screens.

One thing to note about Nintendo's DS systems is that several third party producers have created modified cartridges that allow consumers to download and play games off of the internet.  Though the legality of the downloads is still in question, these cartridges may be a viable solution for you since Nintendo no longer supports the DS & DSI, games are no longer created for the DS, and all games will soon be phased out of retail stores.  Check out the Acekard.  It's pretty cool!  Use it at your own risk.

Short and Sweet Information

The Nintendo DS was released in November of 2004.  The DS must be a huge success already because almost all stores were sold out even in February 2005.  A Nintendo DS costs $150 new.  DS games usually cost anywhere from $30 to $40.  The DS is the most advanced system on the portable gaming market as of February 2005.

Original DS Quick Specs

  • CPU:  67MHz ARM946E-S Processor
  • Main Memory:  4MB
  • Display Colors:  262,144 colors
  • LCD Display Size:  256 x 192 RGB Screens x2

Nintendo DSI Quick Specs

  • CPU:  Two ARM architecture CPUs: ARM9 and ARM7.  ARM9 is clocked at 133 Mhz, twice as fast as previous models.
  • Main Memory:  16MB (4 times greater than the original DS)
  • Display Colors:  262,144 colors
  • LCD Display Size:  256 x 192 RGB Screens x2
  • 2 cameras at 640 480 pixels
  • Support for SDHC cards
Original Nintendo DS Nintendo DSI
The Original Nintendo DS The Nintendo DSI

Sony PSP

Sony finally entered the portable console market with their Playstation Portable (PSP).  The PSP was released in Japan in late December 2004 and was released in the USA late March 2005.  The PSP plays 3D games using its widescreen TFT LCD screen with 480 x 272 pixel resolutions and 16 million colors.  The PSP features a USB port and an 802.11 wireless LAN, allowing players to play multi-player without connecting consoles together.  The PSP is arguably the most advanced portable console and is loaded with numerous features, making the PSP a console must-have.  However, recently, consumers have been complaining about its high price of $200; many of these complaining consumers will settle with the Nintendo DS because it's only $129.

Short and Sweet Information

The PSP is Sony's first portable game system.  The PSP was released March 24th, 2005, and it's a very promising system.  The PSP allows multiplayer gaming using wireless technology.  Also, the PSP has a palette of 16.77 million colors, allowing it to play 3D games in great detail.  Obviously, a PSP is the next portable console must-have!

  • CPU:  PSP CPU
  • System Clock Frequency:  333MHz
  • DRAM:  4MB
  • Pallete:  16.77 million colors
  • Screen:  4.3inch, widescreen TFT LCD 480 x 272 pixels
  • Features:  USB 2.0, wireless LAN, UMD Drive
Sony's PSP Console
Nintendo 3DS

After creating four variants of the Nintendo DS, Nintendo immersed itself into the 3D market with its new 3DS system.  The name is quite appropriate as DS stands for dual screens and the 3D part is for three dimensional gaming.  How creative, right?  The Nintendo 3DS was released in the United States on March 27, 2011.  Unlike the minor changes in each of Nintendo's original DS designs, the Nintendo 3DS features an innovative design with features never before seen on a portable game system.  The Nintendo 3DS features two stereoscopic 3D displays.  The top screen features a widescreen display with a resolution of 800x240 while the bottom screen features a typical 4:3 aspect ratio featuring a native resolution of 320x240.  The Nintendo 3DS creates a three dimensional image by using stereoscopy, a process in which two 2D images are created, one of the left eye and one for the right eye.  The brain then combines both images resulting in the perception of depth (the 3rd dimension to gaming).  For more information as to how stereoscopy works, click here.

Besides featuring ground-breaking 3D graphics, the Nintendo 3DS is packed with motion sensing technology and a gyro sensor which reacts to the tilt and position of the 3DS.  The 3DS is backwards compatible with Nintendo DS games.  Packed with 3D cameras, the Nintendo 3DS can capture 3D videos and images.  In terms of hardware, the Nintendo 3DS is packed with a Nintendo ARM processor, a PICA200 by Digital Media Professionals graphics processing unit, and 128MB of FCRAM memory (8 times the memory capacity of the DSI).  Battery life is typically 3 to 5 hours depending on the screens' brightness.  A Micro SDHC card slot is available for transferring pictures and other media.  Unlike the original DS design, the 3DS features a D-Pad allowing more precise turning in games.  The Nintendo 3DS current retails for $249.99.

Short and Sweet Information

The 3DS is Nintendo's first 3D capable portable game system.  There's a 3D slider built into the 3DS that can be used to configure the intensity of the 3D effect, which is nice for people who may experience headaches at the highest setting. The 3DS was released March 27th, 2011, and it's a very promising system.  As is standard with all mobile devices today, the 3DS comes with a WIFI adapter.  Also, both screens feature a palette of 16.77 million colors, allowing it to play 3D games in great detail.  The 3DS' GPU features vastly improved three dimensional graphics and is the most powerful portable system released to date. 

For more information regarding the 3DS, check out the following links:

3DS Quick Specs

  • CPU:  Nintendo ARM CPU (2 x 266MHz ARM11)
  • System Clock Frequency:  266MHz
  • Memory:  128MB DDR2 Memory
  • Palette:  16.77 million colors
  • Top Screen:  Autostereoscopic 3.53“ 800 x 240 Widescreen LCD
  • Bottom Screen:  3.02“ (77 mm), 320 x 240 4:3 LCD
  • Features:  Motion Technology, 3D Graphics (Depth), Gyro Sensor, wireless LAN, Micro SDHC Slot, and more!
Nintendo 3DS Console
PlayStation Vita

In an effort to compete with Nintendo's 3DS, Sony released the PlayStation Vita portable game console on February 22, 2012.  The Vita features a 5-inch (130 mm) OLED multi-touch capacitive touchscreen, built-in WIFI, 3G network support, built-in Bluetooth support, and comes with directional buttons and analog sticks used as controls.  Newer versions of the Vita come with a LCD screen which replaced the OLED screen.  The Vita features a 444MHz (under-clocked) quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor, PowerVR SGX543MP quad-core GPU with 128MB VRAM, and comes with 512MB of system RAM.  The Vita uses a proprietary memory card for storage called the PlayStation Vita Memory Card.  The memory card is similar in size to a Micro SD Card.

The Vita has not sold as well as the 3DS.  As a result, Sony has introduced and discontinued different versions of the Vita.  The Vita can integrate in certain ways with the PS4.  Originally intended for large budget games, the Vita has attracted more Indie developers and games which has kept the system alive.  It can currently be purchased for $198.

Short and Sweet Information

Sony released the PlayStation Vita as a followup to the Sony PSP a few months after the release of the Nintendo 3DS.  Though it features many hardware improvements (quad-core ARM processor, quad-core graphics processing unit, and 512MB of RAM), the Vita does NOT offer a 3D mode like the 3DS.  The Vita has struggled to compete with the 3DS and sales have been relatively stagnant.  The console is more popular in Asia.

Vita Quick Specs

  • CPU:  Quad-Core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore Processor
  • System Clock Frequency:  444MHz
  • Memory:  512MB DDR Memory
  • Palette:  16.77 million colors
  • Screen: 5 inches 960 x 544 Widescreen LCD
  • Features:  WIFI, touchscreen, 1GB internal memory storage, and a Playstation Vita Memory Card slot.
PlayStation Vita Portable Console Picture

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