Many retro video game consoles can be reliably emulated on modern computers, and so most custom portable consoles are simply built around single-board computers like a Raspberry Pi. But the glorious Nintendo N64 is something of an anomaly, because it is really difficult to emulate. Many games run poorly on N64 emulators or can’t even run at all without frustrating workarounds. For that reason, it is common for modders to build handheld N64 portables using real, original motherboards. GmanModz has been doing that for a long time, and his newest build may just be the new world’s smallest N64 portable console.
If your memory is fuzzy, you should know that an original Nintendo N64 console was far too big to be handheld. While it wasn’t as large as most modern game consoles like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, it definitely wouldn’t fit in a pocket. The motherboard inside the console is fairly thin, but it has a footprint almost as big as the plastic enclosure. To make that motherboard fit inside of a device that can be considered a handheld, modders do a lot of very creative and aggressive trimming to shave the size down. Some portions of the board are removed completely, while others are stacked or replaced with smaller modern modules. GmanModz has even developed a custom PCB that can be assembled with original Nintendo chips. But for this project, he wanted to go the “old school” route and build a record-breaking handheld using the same kinds of techniques that would have been available to previous record holders.
As GmanModz explains in his project video, this build required some pretty ingenious motherboard modifications. Many of those are well-known in the modding community, but GmanModz has taken some extra steps to push down the board size smaller than we’ve seen before. Because there was so little room for controller inputs, he had to get creative in that regard too. Two Joy-Con joysticks are used in place of the original joystick, d-pad, and c-buttons. A microcontroller is used to switch between functions, since the three N64 controller “handles” can’t be used simultaneously anyway. The screen is a 3.5” 320x240 LCD. Standard cartridges slot right into the back of the case. Power comes from a single 18650 lithium-ion battery cell, though it only has enough capacity for short gaming sessions. The case was 3D-printed in a nice yellow color that is reminiscent of the Nintendo Game Boy Color and the yellow N64 controllers. We can’t say definitively that this is the smallest N64 portable ever made, but it certainly seems to be.