Wii Startup Disc (lost software disc; 2006)
The Wii Startup Disc is a disc containing a firmware upgrade for the Nintendo Wii console, seemingly intended to be shipped with the very first retail Wii units. While the disc ultimately ended up primarily being shipped to stores for use in demo kiosks, some Wiis sold at retail required the disc and did not have it, while an even smaller subset of Wiis sold at retail came with the disc. Despite this, the physical disc has not been found, nor has a rip of it been found. However, a NAND dump of a console needing the Startup Disc to operate has been found, allowing us to study how the Wii console responded to the disc and thus learn more about the disc's possible content.
While the Wii Startup Disc was rumored to be required for the console's initial startup in pre-release rumors, and the disc was shown on the initial versions of the Wii box, it was never shipped to the vast majority of customers.
According to an old blog post on a now-abandoned Wii hacking blog called HackMii, a developer discovered that a very few early Nintendo Wii units shipped to customers required the disc, even though no such disc was provided. Apparently, said units that required the disc were accidentally shipped to customers, and had to be sent back to Nintendo to be fixed. As most of the very few purchased by customers were sent back, there exist very few Wii units that require it.
Also according to the HackMii post, the final version of the Wii firmware (Wii Menu) has a check built in that checks any disc inserted to ensure its internal disc ID does not match the one of the Startup Disc. If it does, the firmware will refuse to boot the disc. This was most likely implemented to prevent people from using the disc twice to downgrade. The disc ID in question is "RAAE". It is known that this is the ID of the startup disc as a Wii with the error message will boot discs modified to have their ID as RAAE.
While very few Wii units that required the disc were shipped to customers, a substantially higher amount was shipped to retailers to be used for kiosk demos, along with the disc. There are reports of sightings of the screen on store kiosks in late 2006, and employees at stores such as GameStop from around that time also have reported seeing and using the disc.
While the Wii Startup Disc error message is not lost and has been thoroughly documented, the disc itself is lost. While it is known that the disc was just a software system update, the specific content of the disc is unknown as the disc did not ship with any systems that were purchased by consumers (as far as is known), and it is unknown if any retailers are still in possession of the disc. No concrete info, physical copy, or digital rip of the disc has surfaced, although it is likely that Nintendo is still in possession of copies of the disc.
The NAND dump of the console needing the Startup Disc was dumped by user Bushing in 2010, and was since uploaded by another user Larsenv.
The NAND binary was also dumped online by Blushing, before his passing. The NAND binary can be run on Dolphin, however, as of writing, it will not work on revisions released after (and including) 5.0-2127.
The .wad file of the menu was extracted from the NAND dump, as well as the .brsar file for the menu, and the .arc file for the menu.
- Go to Config > Paths > Wii NAND Root and set the directory to the one containing this NAND.
- Go to Config > Audio and change that to DSP LLE interpreter.
- Click on "Tools", then "Load Wii System Menu."
- The Startup Disc screen will show up.
Upon posting the article on Reddit again for the Wii's 10th anniversary, a Reddit user by the name of Djarum has confirmed that he worked at retail during that time and saw/used the disc. He reports that those in the media who got pre-release units had to use the discs as well, and that it was a big topic within the industry at the time. The discs were properly pressed with silkscreened labels, and came with usage instructions. However, there are some discrepancies in his report, namely that there were reportedly options to install the retail or demo firmware, which does not match up with what is known about the disc's behavior. As such, it is theoretically possible that there are different variants to the disc, one of them booting into software code and offering a selection. This would explain how the Startup Disc menu can both install content directly from the menu and boot into discs to run the content on the disc. However, there are other possible explanations for the disc (such as the ability to boot discs being used internally by Nintendo for testing) and as such it is not enough proof to confirm that it was the case.
Another user, "Excalibur0123" on Reddit, claims to remember owning the disc. However, neither he nor his family worked in retail and he does not remember seeing the error screen. The claim has not been backed up either, so it is assumed that he never owned the disc. If he did own the disc, it would be a case of the disc being shipped to customers, possibly in a mixup of some sort.
A user "ProfFurryPaws" on Reddit has commented claiming that he worked on the Nintendo assembly line just before the Wii launch, with some intriguing comments related to the disc. His comment reads as follows:
That startup disc may very well have been seen in the earliest of the demo kiosks, but not in retail boxes. The disc would not have been seen or required in the wild, at least not in North America. I was one of the folks that worked on a Nintendo assembly line in the fall of 2006 for the Wii Launch. My main job for the first few weeks before launch was programming the launch systems with the final firmware. We'd get pallets of systems in their boxes fresh off the trucks from the docks in Seattle, and we'd have to depalletize them, pull out the system, and run it down the belt. There were dozens of folks that would pull a fresh Wii from the line, unwrap it, plug it into power at their station, load a flash disc and SD card, then load a firmware disc, and then re-wrap it in the foam-paper sleeve and put it pack on the line (sideways to differentiate). The systems at the end of the line would then be put back into their boxes which were carried on a different line. Along with flashing the firmware on the Wii hardware we had to open all the boxes fresh from manufacturing to insert the paper manual bundle (and a copy of Wii Sports) into the box, as those were printed separately from the hardware manufacturing. And also slap a sticker on the corner of the box, due to some legal change for a text callout on the launch system boxes. Then the repacked Wii boxes would be repalletized and put on a different truck to go the various retailer distribution centers or to air-freight to the east coast. The whole depalletize-unpack-flash-repack-repalletize process got down to about 8-9 minutes once we got going. We were timed and were given efficiency goals. We were also at the mercy of the trucks coming from the docks too. A truck stuck in traffic on the 5 meant that we had a sudden 10-15 minute break. (and then on to the next truckful) Man, I haven't thought about that in years... IIRC, there were 3 such lines in West coast facilities. Two in Washington and one in California. Why did this happen this way? Because the hardware manufacturing and overseas shipping takes time, so it was started months in advance of product launch. The final launch firmware, however, was probably finished only days before we started flashing systems and sending it to retailers for the launch of the console. Which was only about three weeks before launch.
This would indicate that the disc was NEVER shipped to customers, meaning that any previous accounts of customers seeing the disc are most likely fake. User ProfFurryPaws then replied to the comment, this time with internal info related to the Wii launch manufacturing process that has, as far as can be seen, never been mentioned publicly before. His message reads as follows:
I'm saying the startup disc was likely only used in the retail demo kiosks, as those would have been assembled and distributed before the final system software was ready. So I'd guess that disc was probably prepped to launch the console and provide the basic system needed to play the demo discs that ware made.
The discs that we used were not the startup disc that is pictured in the article, but as I said it was 10 years ago, and I'm pretty sure they were red. And the onscreen prompts were very basic text menus. As I recall, the first step was using a red disc and SD card, and then when prompted onscreen, swapping the disc out with a burned disc which probably contained the final OS and firmware updates. This first red disc was likely the boot loader that enabled the system to pull the updates for the system from the second disc, with the SD card acting as a key or swap file. We started the process of flashing of systems in late October before the mid-November console launch, and that continued until about early December. That was when the manufacturing process had caught up to us with the final software already installed on the systems. After that, the workforce was cut back and we were down to just stuffing the print manual and Wii Sports disc materials into the boxes and repalletizing them for retail distribution. I worked in that warehouse for just over three months. It was definitely an interesting experience seeing that side of the video game industry. The crew that worked on the line that first month got t-shirts to celebrate the hard work that we did getting the system out for the launch of the console.I bought my Wii console during that first week of launch, right from the company store across the street. So there's about a 1-in-30 chance that the Wii I have today is one that I personally handled and updated on that assembly line.
There were 2 discs (a red initial disc, and a burned firmware disc). The red disc would be inserted into initial unflashed Wii units along with an SD card (as a "digital key" of sorts), from where the red disc would be swapped with a firmware disc which would then load on the Wii firmware.
Despite what Bushing said in his HackMii post, the Startup Disc was NOT used during console assembly-instead, unique internal discs were used. While these have not resurfaced, they cannot be considered "lost" as, unlike the Wii Startup Disc, they were never released or planned to be released.
The Startup Disc was used exclusively for store kiosks and was not used on the assembly line. It is most likely a firmware disc that installs the initial system menu, with the Startup Disc error screen being somewhat akin to the "red disc" he mentioned in terms of its purpose.
Another account of the disc has surfaced, from a forum in 2006. However, to many users, the post seems fake and has not been verified, although it is possible that the post is legitimate. The account reads:
Alright guys I think I got it, I have a source who works at a retail warehouse for a major distributor (let's call this individual Wii-man).
And what Wii-man and his compondrays managed to do was "borrow" a few Wii's They took them back to headquarters, set them up and offered this tidbit of info.
I have a Nintendo Wii and the Wii startup disc is true. All it does is setup your Wii account. It also prevents theft because the CD has a unique code that only works on your console. Even though I have the Wii console, I have no idea what the final secret is but I am guessing it is about portability because why would they give theft protection… Also, I just wanted to add that, it does update your console with this disk. I checked the manual and it says that… "There you go I'm working on getting scans of the manual.
The original version of the Wii Manual, although possibly a version not shipped to customers, mentioned the Startup Disc (one of the Startup Disc screens mentions consulting the manual). There was some sort of "theft protection" in the disc that made it console-exclusive for an unknown reason.
The disc also "sets up your Wii account", although it is unclear what this actually means, possibly related to online features or initial settings (both of which are handled without any disc in final Wiis) While this account is not likely to be legitimate, it is noteworthy as it may contain valuable info on the disc if the account is.
- Engadget discussing the Wii Startup Disc. Retrieved 23 Oct '16
- Hackmii's post on the Wii Startup Disc. Retrieved 23 Oct '16
- The MEGA file where the extracted NAND can be downloaded from. Retrieved 23 Oct '16
- The Pokeacer file where the NAND binary was dumped. Retrieved 23 Oct '16
- The Google drive link to the .wad, .brsar, and .arc files for the menu. Retrieved 23 Oct '16
- Reddit user Excalibur0123's comment claiming to have owned the startup disc. Retrieved 23 Oct '16
- ProfFurryPaws's Reddit comment on the Nintendo page. Retrieved 23 Oct '16
- Wiichat user dds talking about a source who might have the startup disc.