According to http://www.vgmpf.com/Wiki/index.php?title=S-SMP

The S-SMP (perhaps: Sony - Sound & Music Processor?) is the audio CPU used by the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It consists of two integrated units, the SPC700 and a digital signal processor (DSP), as well as 64 kB of SRAM...

Wait a minute. 64 kilobytes isn't much by today's standards, but it's half a million bits. Static RAM is generally said to require six transistors per bit, so that would be three million transistors. This is in 1989, the same year as the release of the 486, which contained just over one million transistors. Granted, static RAM would be highly regular and probably somewhat denser than random logic, but still, three times the transistor count of an extremely complex and expensive cutting-edge CPU that costs more than an entire SNES? How is that possible?

Edit: Looking up some ads in the back of Byte magazine, December 1989, I find the following:

SRAM: 32768x8 (1.5 million transistors): $18

DRAM: 1048576x1 (1 million transistors): $12

Of course it's not quite as simple as that; a DRAM cell probably doesn't take exactly the same area as an SRAM transistor; price is not purely a function of chip area; there are small variations in price by speed grade, etc. Still, the figures are suggestive. They do at least indicate that static RAM costs $36 for 64K at this time. A big company buying in bulk would expect to pay less. How much less? I did see one indication elsewhere earlier in the decade that Amstrad was paying $2.50 for memory chips advertised in Byte at $3. If that ratio holds true here, Nintendo would pay about $30 for 64K of static RAM.

A reasonable guideline for this era is that retail price needs to be at least three times manufacturing cost. That means the static RAM alone would account for $90 of the price of a $200 console.

It looks like Jerry Coffin is right: Nintendo was willing to initially sell the hardware at a loss, presumably figuring both on making it up on software sales, and on the component costs dropping rapidly over the following couple of years.

  • 2
    According to snesmusic.org/files/spc700.html the SPC700 includes two 32KB memory chips (by different manufacturers!).
    – ninjalj
    Jan 1, 2021 at 3:01
  • 4
    For a RAM/CPU comparison its important to keep in mind that it's rather easy to fill a chip with highly symmetric structures - something CPU's aren't. Their density is usually about a magnitude below what RAM can do with using the same technology. Also the reason for the 'race' about bigger and bigger RAM sizes in the 1980s. RAMs were not only the best way to test and improve a new process, being first also guaranteed a good ROI - not to mention great marketing oportunities.
    – Raffzahn
    Jan 1, 2021 at 4:49

1 Answer 1


Direct from the SNES development manual:

enter image description here

As for how it's possible: game consoles are almost always sold at a loss. Vendors make their money off the games (which is why they work so hard to assure that nobody but themselves can publish games for their console).



You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .