8Bitdo SN30 Teardown and Critique

I’ve waited many years for a console-quality PC gamepad, and finally 8Bitdo may have made it happen. The SN30 and SF30 look a whole lot like SNES controllers, but how much like SNES controllers are they? Are they precise? Are they well-built? Let’s have a look-see.

Short answer: Yes, they are very nice controllers, nice enough to make an emulated Super Metroid speed run enjoyable.

At a glance they really do look like SNES pad clones. They even use the same screws.

Their inner structure is awful similar, too, so similar in fact that you could replace parts of one with parts from the other. You can get replacement parts for SNES pads, so, effectively, you can get replacement parts for the SN30.

The one big difference I see is the way the shoulder buttons are attached. In the SNES pad they pivot on steel pins, whereas the SN30 has them permanently attached and relies on the elasticity of the plastic. That would be my one criticism of the construction of these things. The shoulder buttons do feel just as nice as the other buttons, but they can’t be completely removed e.g. for cleaning, and who knows how that plastic spring action will hold up after years of use.

The battery would be very easy to replace, if necessary. I haven’t tested the battery life, but 8Bitdo claims 18 hours. For a simple Bluetooth input device like this, that claim is believable. In any event, you aren’t out of luck if the battery dies on you, as these controllers can be connected via USB. Just connect a standard Micro-USB cable, and you can continue playing while the battery charges.

Now let’s have a look at the most important part: the buttons.

Like almost every game controller, the SNES and SN30 use silicone elastomer buttons. This kind of button can be done cheap, or it can be done well, and both of these controllers do it well. In both cases they have a carbon coating on the contact pads as opposed to just exposed metal circuit traces. They’ve also got uniform orientations of the patterns for the D-pads; the up/down contacts are rotated 90 degrees from the left/right contacts. I have no complaints about the SN30’s buttons. They’re as good as any I’ve seen.

The SN30’s circuit board looks damn nice in general. Its layout is clean and tight, and I don’t see any parts omitted to cut costs. All around, 8Bitdo have applied a design technique called “giving a shit”, and that’s rare in PC gamepads.

In conclusion: Buy these things.

Comparing the circuits is just nerdy trivia, but what a difference 25 years makes. I can’t identify the IC in the SNES controller, but it’s almost certainly a simple shift register. The SN30 is packing an ARM Cortex-M3 microcontroller, specifically a GigaDevice GD32F103CBT6. Excepting RAM size, this game controller’s CPU is vastly superior to the original SNES console’s. The Bluetooth radio is an RDA 5976 with its own ARM7 CPU. That RDA chip also includes a sound system, believe it or not. It’s got a digital stereo FM radio receiver, DSP and DACs and all, and it can even input and output PCM. Literally the only things missing are the antenna and speakers.

Update:
I got my hands on an SNES Classic and took one of its pads apart. Surprisingly it looks nothing like an original SNES controller.

The structural support beneath the D-pad and buttons is just dandy, I’m sure, but why change it so radically? At best this saves a very tiny amount of plastic. The contacts for the buttons look a lot like an original controller’s except for the select and start buttons; they each have two button mechanisms. That surely is not cost-cutting, so again, why bother changing that? I’ve never had a problem pushing those buttons.

The plug on the end of the cable fits a Wiimote port, and I hear tell you can use these controllers with a Wii system. I know for sure that the Wii Classic Controller works with the SNES Classic. It even has a special function: the “home” button takes you to the game-choosing/reset/home screen, so they do explicitly support the Wii controller with the SNES Classic.

I can’t identify the IC. Its markings are “WCP”, “405”, and “1724BM430”. I suspect it’s more or less the same as the one you’ll find in the Nunchuck and Wii Classic controllers. It does have the “405” marking in common with them. It could be a cheap pin-compatible part.

It looks like they really pushed for a single-sided circuit board. The routing is kinda goofy and there’s a bunch of links in there. Unlike the original controller the cable is permanently attached, and it looks like it was soldered by hand in a hurry. The SNES Classic’s controller is definitely the cheapest one of the three, here.

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