A clone console is a console that is compatible with another company's console, but is usually produced without the original manufacturer's permission. By far the most popular system to clone is the Famicom (NES) - such consoles are usually known as Famiclones. However, clones of other systems exist too. The Mega Drive and Atari 2600 are other popular targets, but the PC Engine, SNES, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Sega SG-1000, ColecoVision, Game Boy Advance and other systems have also been cloned. It should also be noted that the design of the clone does not necessarily mean that it's a clone of the look-alike system, and some clone consoles (particularly Famiclones) are designed to look like other (typically newer) consoles.
Some clones are illegal to sell because they infringe the patents of the original hardware manufacturer, or contain pirate copies of games; however not all clones are illegal - for example Nintendo's patents on the NES hardware have expired, making it legal to sell any NES/Famicom clone that does not have pirated software built in.
Hardware vs Emulation
Clones can play games in two ways: through hardware or emulation. Hardware clones, like all official consoles, will work better than emulation-based consoles, so if the official console can play the game, the clone should too. However, even hardware clones are often not completely compatible with all games; many recent clones, particularly Famiclones and Mega Drive clones, incorporate the entire system into a single chip. This is smaller, cheaper to produce and uses less power than a traditional clone, but is less compatible.
Emulation-based consoles are not as reliable; furthermore, like in computer emulators, the game might not properly work, if at all (e.g. Somari's ending). However, emulation-based clones are comparatively rare, especially of the Famicom, as NOAC technology is so widespread - they appear to be most common for the GBA and Mega Drive. Many emulation-based Mega Drive consoles are produced by AtGames under official license from Sega, but are still generally considered clones as they do not use Sega's original hardware designs and suffer from compatibility and emulation quality issues.
Various different models of clones are available, which generally fall into the following categories:
These are designed to look like a standard console. Some use original designs, but many are modelled after either the console they are cloning, or another popular console such as one of the Playstation line.
As some clone designs have reduced in size, largely thanks to system-on-a-chip technology, clones have been produced that are entirely contained within a controller and connect directly to a TV. Some have a cartridge port, while others do not and restrict the player to whatever is built-in. Controller types are the most common Famiclones in Western Europe and North America due to the popularity of plug-and-play consoles.
Controller clones can often be found in N64-style controllers, but have been produced in many different designs, including dance mats, guitars, steering wheels and karaoke microphones.
HandheldsThese contain LCD screens and operate as a self contained handheld console. Some accept cartridges, others have built-in games only and no cartridge port. Clones with a cartridge port tend to be much larger than most handhelds, as they must be able to accommodate large cartridges originally designed for home consoles. Some clones get around this limitation by using a smaller proprietary cartridge port; however this means you are limited to either using the clone maker's own cartridges or an often unwieldy adaptor. Most handheld clones have AV outputs, allowing you to use it with a TV as essentially a controller-type clone.
Some hybrid systems exist which have the appearance of a handheld but only allow you to play the cloned console's games on the TV, while the LCD screen plays only simple "brick game" type games.
Resemble a standard PC keyboard and often marketed as low-cost computers. These are almost always Famiclones and are usually sold with a cartridge or built-in software containing a copy of Nintendo's Family Basic along with a simple word processor and typing games. Some have a user interface mimicking Windows, and many newer models are also shipped with a mouse. They generally have no facility to save documents or BASIC programs, but some can be connected to a printer. Subor are known to have produced such Famiclones.
Clones often have built-in software, usually presented in the form of a standard multicart, containing numerous games and with the same traits as normal multicarts, such as advertising a far higher number of games than are actually included. This is particularly true of Famiclones, although many now include original games or those made by the company that licensed the console. (An example of the latter being AtGames' Mega Drive clones)
Below is the list of some known clones:
Famicom/Nintendo Entertainment System Clones
FC 3 Plus (NES/SNES/Genesis)
These consoles are not actually clones, but are based on generic 16/32 bit console architectures by companies such as Sunplus and Winbond. However, as inexpensive Chinese video game consoles, they are often placed in the same category as clones. Many are also heavily based off the Nintendo Wii.