nes to usb controller

Normally we run these over at Engadget, but this week's HOW-TO is especially for Joystiq and is for all the PC/Mac/*nix gamers out there that want to use an old school Nintendo controller with their current games, or enjoy using NES emulators and want to take the game play to the next level with an old school NES controller. In this HOW-TO we show you how to build your own PC NES controller, which emulator software we used for PC game play, and where to buy the kit or a finished controller if you'd rather not solder one up.

A little background...

While the Xbox, PS2 and the latest PC with super-charged video cards get most of the attention in the gaming world, there's a huge community of retro gamers who seek to relive the UP DOWN LEFT RIGHT A B SELECT START moments of their Mike Tyson's Punch Out adolescence. There are many types of emulators out there that are basically software version of the gaming consoles of yesteryear like the Atari 2600, Commodore 64 and one our faves—the Nintendo Entertainment System.

nes box

The NES made its debut in the USA in 1986 sporting two flavors—Arcade ($199) and Deluxe ($249). Arcade included Super Mario Bros. and the deluxe included ROB the robot and a zapper gun. Over 70 million units were sold worldwide, so for this reason a lot of this hardware is still laying around just waiting to be hacked up.

Technical Specs on the NES:
CPU: 8-bit 6502 NMOS (1.79MHz)
RAM: 2KB (16Kb), 2KB Video RAM
Colors: 52 (24 on screen)
Resolution: 256x240 pixels
Sound: PSG audio

For our HOW-TO we only need a controller and a kit from a company called RetroZone.

NES Controller
RetroZone NES Kit
Soldering Iron and Solder


We picked up a NES controller for $5 at a junk shop.


And the kit, RetroZone NES Kit for $16.

If you don't want to solder anything and/or do not have access to NES controller, you can just buy the USB NES Controller for about $10 more for $24.99 + shipping also at RetroZone. If ordered the controller, you might want to skip ahead to the NES emulator section for which emulator we found that worked well with the USB NES controller.

Making the controller
After ordering our kit and scoring a NES controller we fired up our soldering iron and started off. We used a 35w soldering iron and we tried to keep the solders big so we could photograph them better, you're free to do whatever works best for you of course.


Unscrew the screws off the controller with a small Philips head screwdriver.

plate off

Remove the back plate and examine the leads from the cable. You'll see there are 5 colored cables.


Snip the cables at the base where they meet the black cable.


Strip the wires to expose the wire.


Here is the wiring diagram RetroZone sent along wit the kit. At the core of the kit is a microcontroller- PIC16C74, this little chip is well known in the USB engineering circles for creating USB based hardware.

Also included in the kit:
2 resistors
2 capacitors


Solder the items according to the wiring diagram and eventually you'll have a completed controller.

Before placing the back plate of the controller back and screwing it in, we suggest testing the unit to make sure it works.

game controllers

We plugged ours in and Windows XP detected it and saw it was a joystick and we instantly had access to it. You can view the controller in the the Control Panel on XP. Start > Control Panels > Game Controllers.

game test

Here you can also calibrate the joystick if required.

Once we confirmed it was functional, we placed the back plate on the controller and headed off to the NES emulator sites.

NES Emulation
There are many many NES Emulators, we tried a lot of them, but the one we settled on was NESten, it was one of the few that recognized the new controller for use with the games. There might be other ones (and please let us know if there's a better one).

After downloading and installing NESten start it up and look under the Input section > Player 1 Input and select the Retro Joystick.



Playing games

punch out

As we wrap up this HOW-TO, we need to mention this...the part of our HOW-TO where we need to say that you're on your own, sorta. You see the game ROMs (the code in the chip inside the cartridges) are illegal to download, at least according to Nintendo.

With that said, with one search you can find thousands of web sites with NES ROMs.

A lot sites seem to get around this by saying:

LEGAL NOTICE: The backup/archival copy exception law does not extend to copies that infringe on existing copyright laws - i.e., no matter what you do, downloading these games for any purpose other than taking up hard drive space before prompt deletion is illegal. Laws vary from country to country on the legality of owning or transmitting ROM images. For the most part, you are required to be in actual possession of the PC Board (PCB) in order to legally retain a copy of the ROM.

So there it is, as always we do not offer legal advice and everything is your responsibility and own risk. Good luck and happy reto gaming!

Phillip Torrone can be reached via

This article was originally published on Joystiq.