There have been dozens of open-source projects geared towards gaming in recent years. MiSTer is one of the few that managed to gain and keep a strong following in the emulation world.

MiSTer hardware emulation is handled a bit differently, however, which leaves many wondering: What hardware does the MiSTer actually emulate?

What Makes the MiSTer FPGA Unique?

Developers have released many projects designed to replicate video games and older PCs. From classic emulation programs including NESticle to more complex solutions, like Yuzu for the Nintendo Switch—there’s a solution for almost everyone.

That includes gamers that want to accurately replicate the original gameplay experience of certain systems without lag or latency. Even some of the best software emulators struggle with lag, but that’s not something you’ll experience with a MiSTer FPGA console.

MiSTer hardware emulation takes advantage of unique integrated circuits, known as a field-programmable gate array (FPGA).  These circuits are programmable, which helps the user configure them to their needs. In the case of gaming, it’s used to replicate the original system’s hardware and performance. 

Hardware including the DE-10 Nano from Terasic is a vital part of the process, along with the software from the MiSTer Project. While this is a perfect combination for gamers, the system still relies on ‘hardware’ cores to emulate specific consoles.

4 Facts about MiSTer Hardware Emulation

  • MiSTer Consoles can emulate more than 90 different systems
  • You can make and use your own cheat codes with MiSTer
  • Original gamine peripherals can work with MiSTer consoles
  • MiSTer hardware is expandable through add-ons

What Are MiSTer Cores?

MiSTer FPGA can emulate consoles and arcade games by using cores.

MiSTer hardware emulation cores are designed by dedicated developers as a recreation of the original hardware. Programs like RetroArch take a similar approach by allowing users to plug in a core to load different emulators.

The individual cores on a MiSTer console let you play console and arcade cabinet games just as they were intended to be played. The cores also replicate specific PC environments, and there are ‘alternative’ versions of certain cores that have been tweaked. Regional bootlegs for arcade machines are available along with more than 100 other cores.

What Does the MiSTer Emulate?

For gamers wondering what hardware the MiSTer FPGA emulates, the quick answer is almost everything retro console.

It’s almost easier to tell you what it doesn’t do, considering it has support for more than a dozen types of computers and consoles. That includes handheld devices like the original Game & Watch from Nintendo and even rarities like the CHIP-8 computer.

ANSI vs ISO keyboards
The MiSTer FPGA works to emulate several different consoles, so you have endless game choices.

MiSTer Console Emulation

Gamers that prefer consoles to PCs have no shortage of options to choose from with the MiSTer console.

Emulation for this system stops at around 1994 in the PlayStation era, although all the classic systems are covered, including three separate systems from Atari—the 2600, 5200, and 7200.

One rare console many gamers never got ahold of was the Adventure Vision from Entex Industries. It was a tabletop arcade cabinet that flopped at the time, and now that it’s rare and expensive, you can play it through MiSTer hardware emulation.

The Emerson Arcadia 2001, Fairchild Channel F, and Odyssey2 are other rarities found in MiSTer’s core database. You can play Final Fantasy through the PSX era or load up a Neo Geo core and play Metal Slug and Blazing Star until your hands go numb.

Below are some of the console cores for MiSTer emulation systems:

MiSTer Handheld Emulation

Home video game consoles may have gained popularity in the 80s, but the first handheld systems weren’t far behind. While people may think of the Game Boy as the original, the Merlin from Parker Brothers was the first handheld electronic game that truly grabbed the world’s attention in 1978. 

Small handheld electronic games were popular before and after the Merlin launched, but things really took off in 1989. That’s when the Game Boy was introduced by Nintendo before facing competition from Atari, Sega, and others. MiSTer doesn’t handle as many handheld systems as software emulators, but here’s what you can play with the console:

  • Game Boy
  • GameBoy Color
  • Game Boy Advance
  • Game Boy Advance 2P
  • Super Game Boy
  • Sega Game Gear
  • Game & Watch
  • Atari Lynx

MiSTER Arcade Core Emulation

The console hardware MiSTer emulates is impressive, but so are the arcade cabinet games.

The cores for these games were painstakingly recreated to live up to the arcade experience gamers remember, and it shows.

You can play the Tayto version of Arkanoid which is considerably harder, or Baby Pacman. Donkey Kong Reverse is an option along with around a half-dozen versions of Robotron.

Alternative versions and homebrew games are a unique way to liven things up, although an identical replica of original games is what the MiSTEr emulator is known for.

There are FPGA arcade cores for more than 60 traditional games and 400 alternative arcade games that are ‘based’ on classics. While we won’t list them all, below are a few of the popular arcade cores from the project:

  • Asteroids
  • Atari Tetris
  • Bally Midway
  • Berzerk
  • Black Widow
  • Bomb Jack
  • Crazy Climber
  • Dig Dug
  • Donkey Kong
  • Galaga
  • Gauntlet
  • Mario Bros
  • Moon Patrol
  • Pooyan
  • Scooter Shooter
  • Scramble
  • Time Pilot
  • VBall
  • Zig Zag

MiSTer PC Emulation

MiSTer FPGA is well-known amongst gamers, but actually emulates more PCs than consoles. There are 57 FPGA cores for classic computers. We aren’t going to cover them all, although we think you’ll be surprised by the sheer variety.

Fans of early PCs from Britain will appreciate cores for three Acorn machines—the Atom, Electron, and Archimedes. A variety of computers from the 70s and 80s are also represented. The Atari 800XL, Jupiter Ace, Amiga 500, and the classic Commodore lines are available along with the Apple Macintosh Plus.

You won’t find any newer systems due to hardware limitations on the FGPA console, but here’s a good idea of what you can expect from the MiSTer core catalog:

  • Alice MC10
  • Amstrad PCW
  • Ao486
  • Apogee
  • BBC Micro B Master
  • BK0011M
  • Camputers Lynx48, 96
  • Coleco Adam
  • Commodore VIC-20
  • MultiComp
  • NEC PC8801
  • Sharp MZ Series
  • SV-328
  • Tomy Tutor
  • TRS-80 Model 1
  • TSConf
  • Vector 06C
  • X68000
  • ZX Spectrum

MiSTer vs. the Competition

When you understand what MiSTer can do and what it’s able to emulate, it’s time to consider the competition. The good news is they don’t have any–-that is, if you want an FPGA-based console that emulates a variety of games with precision.

Are you more concerned about the number of games you’re able to play, and not the lag or latency? If so, then there could be other options that are a better fit. The main competitor with software emulators is RetroArch, which also uses a core-based system.

This software acts like a frontend for libretro cores of system emulators. It allows you to load up TurboGrafx-16 games alongside games from the SNES, Genesis, Dreamcast, and Atari systems. It covers the same retro consoles as a MiSTer multisystem emulator, and an array of arcade games through MAME as well.

As RetroArch is a software, unlike MiSTer hardware emulation, which uses software and hardware. RetroArch runs on multiple platforms giving it an advantage with emulation power. It can run newer consoles like the N64, GameCube, and the PSP. It doesn’t provide emulation for nearly as many PCs, however, and it’s not as accurate as a MiSTer console.

Laggy gameplay, latency, and glitches can be a common occurrence with programs like RetroArch. It depends on the system you’ll run it on, but you can see a noticeable difference in gameplay between these two types of emulators.

You may get more features with RetoArch, but it can never measure up to the lag-free perfection of MiSTer.

What Hardware Does the MiSTer Emulate? FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Can the MiSTer console emulate N64 games?

No. Because of limitations with the DE-10 Nano, N64 emulation isn’t possible at this time.

Are you able to use features like NetPlay or Rewind with MiSTer?

You can map a rewind button in MiSTer, and Wi-Fi is supported through some USB modules.

Do accessories like the GameGenie work with MiSTer hardware?

With a little work, you can decode game genie codes for use on these consoles.

Can you add a real time clock to a MiSTer build?

It’s possible through an RTC board without connecting your system to the internet.

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More from History-Computer

  • Github Available here: https://github.com/MiSTer-devel/Main_MiSTer/wiki/Arcade-Cores-List
  • Retro RGB Available here: https://www.retrorgb.com/mister.html
  • RetroArch Available here: https://www.retroarch.com/
  • Linus Tech Tips Available here: https://linustechtips.com/topic/1391807-mister-vs-retropie-comparisons/
  • MiSTER FPGA Available here: https://misterfpga.org/