The Nintendo 64 Disk Drive will be the first writable bulk data storage device for a modern video game console. Using a 64 megabyte writable magnetic disk media, it will allow game developers freedom to store unprecedented amounts of gaming data on a console machine. For example, it could be used to track every stat you can imagine in a baseball game, or every detail about the world and your character in an RPG or simulation game.
The Nintendo 64 Disk Drive can be used for future upgrades of games by providing new levels or characters.
Nintendo 64 Disks will be bootable, meaning that they can be used without a cartridge in the system (although they can also be used in conjunction with a cartridge).
The Nintendo 64 Disk Drive is planned to include a 4 megabyte RDRAM upgrade for the Nintendo 64, which will bring the total RDRAM for the N64 system up to 8 megabytes total, more than any console game system.
The Nintendo 64 Disk Drive hardware will also contain a built-in ROM with some helpful data files that can be accessed by Nintendo 64 Disk Drive developers. In addition, the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive hardware has a real-time clock.
The Nintendo 64 Disk Drive will read data at about one megabyte per second, which is roughly comparable to a 6X PC CD-ROM drive. Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation sport 2X CD-ROM drives, which only transfer about 300 kB/sec.
The Nintendo 64 Disk Drive unit sits underneath the Nintendo 64 console and plugs into the EXT. expansion connector on the bottom of the system.
The Nintendo 64 Disk Drive uses a disk that is physically about the size of a 3.5 floppy disk, but is twice as thick.
Because of the potential for exposure to very young children, the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive drive itself has many ruggedizing features. For example, it has a locking bay drive door that will not open unless two small rails on the Nintendo 64 Disk are inserted into it. This will keep little fingers and cookies out of the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive. The Nintendo 64 Disk itself also has a durable case and locks up tight when not in the drive.
A variable amount of the space on the Nintendo 64 Disk can be designated as readable (ROM) or writable (RAM). There are several different ways the data can be divided between readable and writable, ranging from a split of 38 megabytes writable and 26 megabytes readable, to having the entire disk's 64 megabytes of memory read only.
Although a cost for the Nintendo 64 Disks has not been announced, it will be less expensive from a manufacturing standpoint than the cost of cartridges.
The Nintendo 64 Disk Drive is a "burst access" device. This means that it does not stream data to the N64, but rather sends it in high speed bursts. Because of this, the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive will not be ideal for full motion video, or for streaming audio data (although clever developers will of course find ways to create FMV effects with the system). However, with the powerful 3D polygon capabilities of the N64, it is just as effective to create 3D real-time movies with polygonal characters.
The Nintendo 64 Disk gives the developer up to 64 megabytes for code and data (compared to the 8-12 megabytes of currently available N64 cartridge configurations).
The 8 megabytes of RDRAM will allow for large frame buffers and custom sound wave tables in RAM.
With the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive's writable capability, the game can save extensive amounts of customization data or tons of stats. SimCity has been mentioned as a possible game that could make use of this extended writable memory.
The Nintendo 64 Disk Drive's capabilities create three ideal game development scenarios. The first scenario makes use of the expanded RDRAM of the system and is ideal for a racing game with multiple tracks or an RPG. In these kinds of games, where the basic program code is not too large, but the tracks and world maps are, a developer could put the code in the RDRAM, and then load the different tracks or world maps off of the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive as they are encountered.
Another scenario would be to use the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive for a game with many different levels that have different game play. In this case, the program code and the level data would be loaded into RDRAM from the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive at the beginning of each level.
Another scenario, that may be used for Zelda 64, is to use the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive to create future expansions for a cartridge based game. This allows the developer or publisher to release their game immediately, and then give it extra long life with expansion disks. This can easily be done if the "hooks" for the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive are put into the cartridge program in advance.
No release date or price information has been set.
Although the technical specifications of the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive are nearly finalized, it is possible that some of the information may change between now and the release of the system.