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Pseudo Saturn Kai - Black Saturday !

Written by cafealpha 4 comments
I was away from keyboard (and fortunately away from shopping malls too) during this Black Friday, so I am a bit late to celebrate this marvelous commercial event.

But any date isn't late to celebrate something, so let's tweak a little the event name and officially open the ...

!!! Pseudo Saturn Kai - Black Saturday !!!
 80% OFF on First Download
 Second Download Offered

The event is open all year, so everyone including latecomers should get their 80% off on first download

Read more Pseudo Saturn Kai - Black Saturday !

Various Pseudo Saturn cartridges

Written by cafealpha no comments
Long time no see ! It's a super long while I wanted to write about several kinds of Pseudo Saturn cartridges (other than the usual Action Replay/Gameshark couple) but as a lot of things in this blog, always postponed it.

But recently I discovered a cartridge that breaks all records in term of extra cheap design and appropriation of other people's work that now I really want to terminate this article

(Note : it's already 10 13 14 29 days after the creation of this article, and it is still not published yet ... but I do my best to finish it )


Disclaimer : I am not affiliated with the designers or developers or sellers of the cartridges below. The reviews below are just my personal opinion and may not reflect the exact contents or behavior of the cartridges. And in case of questions regarding theses cartridges, please contact their sellers instead of me.
Also, please try theses cartridges at your own risks : whatever it may be, I'm not responsible about any damage caused to your Saturn, your cartridges, your dog, your house or anything else !

And let it be clear : the first purpose of this article is to inform users that such kind of not so usual cartridges exist, so that potential users can consider about theses cartridges for their own usage.
But if a cartridge deserves to be flamed, then I don't refrain about that, especially when it concerns the appropriation of other's people work.



Saturn NinjaDrive


From what I could see, that's an Action Replay cartridge with custom label and Pseudo Saturn Kai pre-installed. The "deluxe" edition features a stylish box for the cartridge.
It probably would had been appreciated to indicate that Pseudo Saturn Kai is installed rather to rebrand everything under a different name ...

Pros :
 - The price without stylish box is not that bad
 - Pseudo Saturn Kai is pre-installed
Con :
 - It would had been fair to indicate that cartridge is made from Action Replay cart
 - There's no indication about which firmware is installed



Saturn Unlocker



That's in the same range of contents (and price) as NinjaDrive : Action Replay with Pseudo Saturn Kai pre-installed. At least there's no attempt to hide about what is installed.
A description video at the lower half of the cartridge's page shows that Pseudo Saturn 0.832 is installed, which doesn't works at all on some Japanese model 1 Saturn The video itself is quite old, so let's hope that latest version of Pseudo Saturn Kai is installed on the cartridges now

Pros :
 - Classy box and label, a must have on your collection shelf
 - Pseudo Saturn Kai is pre-installed
Con :
 - It would had been fair to indicate that cartridge is made from Action Replay cart
 - Maybe a bit expensive ?



All in One RAM Backup Cartridge


All in one cartridge, front side.
Picture credits : SaturnGuru.

I couldn't find an official homepage for this "all in one" cartridge, but this is paradoxically the most valuable cartridge in this article
This cartridge model features both Action Replay support (boot ROM and 1MB/4MB expansion RAM) and 512KB backup memory storage. In simple words, it is the result of Action Replay and official memory cartridges blended together.

The backup memory is implemented with its own flash ROM chip, in the fashion as official backup memory cartridges, thus shall provide a 99% compatible (I keep the last 1% just in case of any eventual picky game that would cause problem, but this would be surprising such one exist) and in-game support for cartridge backup memory.

Using dedicated flash ROM for backup memory unfortunately means that it will be corrupted and finally no longer accessible after many write cycles, but ... this is how official cartridges worked too
However, since boot ROM and backup memory are stored in physically different flash ROM chips, the cartridge will still boot Pseudo Saturn Kai even if backup memory chip is damaged, which is one point over Action Replay where damage of backup memory ROM means the loss of nearly all other features.

Regarding firmware installed, the ebay pages selling this cartridge model I could see so far clearly mention that latest Pseudo Saturn Kai version (v6.074 at current time) is installed, and even explain the basis regarding cartridge usage such as loading a game, or accessing Save Data Manager, etc, which is quite a fair and remarkable way of doing

A review with only praises may look a bit biased (and no, I didn't received any money nor even any email from seller of this cartridge), so I would like to critic about the electronics parts used in this cartridges : theses are the same as used in Action Replay or official backup memory cartridges.
As a consequence, the technology used is no longer produced, thus probably coming from shady old stock, or counterfeit chips factory, or recycled from vintage devices. In each case, this means that in the long term, quality may not be at the meet.


An interesting related question is "Why releasing such cartridge around 20 years late ? This could exist at the time Action Replay cartridge development was still active !".
My guess about this question is that Action Replay development and/or sales team wanted to put everything (boot ROM and cartridge memory) in a single flash ROM chip, giving birth to the "if a ROM feature breaks, the whole cartridge is bricked" cartridge architecture used in Action Replay carts.

I personally like to write to flash ROM only when upgrading cartridge firmware, so that I dropped backup memory support on Pseudo Saturn Kai lite.
So my second guess is that it motivated someone to finally merge Action Replay and backup memory cartridge in a single one ? If this guess is right, then I'm glad to have indirectly contributed to the development of this cartridge

And yes, I am the only one responsible of this backup memory feature no longer available after installing Pseudo Saturn Kai. That's a deliberate choice to avoid cartridge bricking and I will never add a feature for that, so don't hesitate to share your hate towards me in the comments of this article 


As an extra note, I could notice that several hardware variation for this cartridge model may exist, so anyone interested in purchasing such "all in one" cartridge should carefully verify it's item description page as well as features list indicated at the back side of the cartridge.
All in one cartridge : list of features available.
Picture credits : SaturnGuru.

And finally, please enjoy a picture of each sides of the cartridge PCB Theses pictures clearly indicate how the cartridge works, and were a great help when preparing this article.

All in one cartridge font side.
Left half : expansion RAM and glue logic for each chips.
Right half : flash ROM chips for cartridge firmware.
Picture credits : SaturnGuru.

All in one cartridge rear side.
Flash ROM for cartridge backup memory.
Picture credits : SaturnGuru.

Pros :
 - Supports basically nearly all the Saturn games library
   (Except the couple of games requiring their own ROM cartridge, and those others eventually not compatible with Pseudo Saturn Kai)
 - Pseudo Saturn Kai is pre-installed
 - There's no attempt to hide that Pseudo Saturn Kai is installed
Con :
 - Cartridge backup memory may deteriorate after heavy usage.



Saturn PASS

You're full of all theses cartridges to digest in a single article ? That's bad for you, because I kept the most greasy dish for the last time

Saturn PASS cartridge

This is a very simple cartridge with only boot ROM, and nothing else : no cartridge shell, and not even decoupling capacitors near the ROM chip ...
The decoupling capacitors protect neighboring components against voltage spikes : as theses apparently don't have any functional purpose, they are sometimes removed by cheap device cloners ...

Additionally, ROM chip used seems to be a UV EPROM, easily identifiable with the small round window at the center of the chip.

UV EPROM chip detail
Yes, I did hit the snapshot key around 10 times to get
the right moment when UV window is visible
(Screenshot from this video)

As a consequence, firmware update requires dedicated device to illuminate the chip with UV light prior writing of the ROM and basically can't be easily done on user side.

Additionally from being technically difficult to upgrade, Saturn PASS users will also have to enjoy the custom firmware pre-installed : apparently it's a stripped version of Pseudo Saturn (or it will be an huge coincidence that log message under "Loading CD" is the same in both firmwares) with only the bare minimum remaining :
 - No boot menu
 - "Pseudo Saturn" name changed to "Saturn PASS"
 - Addition of URL to Saturn PASS homepage
 - Removal of Pseudo Saturn credits

Saturn PASS boot screen
For unknown reason they left as-is the
log display in is_audio_cd function.
(Screenshot from this video)

Pseudo Saturn is open source, so anyone with enough skills is free to change things in the firmware to their preferences. But rebranding the whole thing and trashing credits to original development team is not how open source works.
So if someone wants to thank somebody for Saturn PASS to exist, they should refer to credits displayed in Pseudo Saturn :
Copyright 2011-2015 Pseudo Saturn Team
http://github.com/cyberwarriorx/pseudosaturn
At a glance, removal of boot menu and only keeping the Pseudo Saturn exploit sounds a good idea, because that's one step less to do on user side before playing a game.
But except that point, it's complete crap : extra features (to verify if cartridge is working correctly or not, or to verify version of Saturn internals, etc) are no longer available, as well as credits page too.

Personally, I derived Kai from Pseudo Saturn specifically for adding features other than Pseudo Saturn exploit : memory cartridge support in previous releases, cheat codes in next release(s), and probably something more in future release(s). So removing all the menus and extra features just to spare the push of one button to play a game is "no, I won't do that"

Pseudo Saturn Kai credits page is probably just a feature to boost my own ego, but I am not the only one listed there, and everybody credited contributed for free : done on their free time and without financial compensation. So muting them is definitely not an option. Also, I made several graphic improvements when displaying credits, so I hope you will enjoy them in next release

To finish on a positive note about Saturn PASS, it should be mentioned that its price is relatively reasonable : 350 Thai Bath = around 10 US Dollars, which makes this cartridge affordable for Thailand users

Pro :
 - Affordable for Thailand users.
Cons :
 - Poor hardware design.
 - Can't upgrade firmware.
 - No credits to original firmware developers.

PS : I heard about this cartridge from furrtek. Special thanks to him for the information

Read more Various Pseudo Saturn cartridges

X-Terminator Cartridge Revival

Written by cafealpha 3 comments
This article is not about my own development experience, but from my friend XRider. Thanks a lot to him for the good work and the permission to share his pictures

First, what is a X-Terminator cartridge ? It is a Saturn flash cartridge which provides the following features :
 - 1MB expansion RAM
 - Backup memory
 - Ability to play import games
 - Cheat codes
 - Ability to search cheat codes by using standalone "X-Assist" unit


X-Terminator cartridge and X-Assist
Image taken from SegaRetro

X-Assist is particularly convenient because unlike Action Replay cartridges, it doesn't requires connection to a PC : it is true that connection to a PC provides more features (such as memory access, program upload, etc), but as "connection to PC" basically means "software support will be dropped someday", a standalone unit is a real treasure
For example, do you remember that Action Replay cartridges initially had DB25 connector ? This was for connecting the cartridge to PC via the -sold separately- Comms Link board, whose used now obsolete ISA port, and consequently not supported on nowadays PCs and/or OS.
There are some alternate solutions for connecting Action Replay to PC, whose major one is USB Data Link, but unfortunately it doesn't provides any software support for advanced features such as cheat codes search and testing.
So if you want to search cheat codes for your favorite game, X-Terminator is a good choice ! ... Okay, the user interface is in Japanese, but that's just a detail : after 200 or 300 hours learning about it, it shouldn't cause any problems

On the other hands, the major limitations are probably the lack of 4MB expansion RAM support, and using flash ROM for storing backup save data (which on the long term may brick the cartridge), but for a cartridge developed more than 20 years ago, theses limitations are quite honorable


So, once upon a time, XRider found a X-Terminator cartridge. It was a cheap auction, but on the other hand the cartridge didn't boot anymore, and the X-Assist unit wasn't included

Normal people would add this cartridge to their collection or put it on display as a decorating vintage objet Other people with engineering and electronics education background would put it on their "to repair someday" cardboard, and don't touch it for the next 20 years because they are busy with other projects or work, or real life, or all of theses at once

But XRider is none of them. XRider owns soldering tools. And knows how to use them. And really wants to fix this marvelous cartridge

So, let's try to fix the cartridge ! The first step would be to start with the most common problem, which is broken flash ROM.
In my opinion, this is the most difficult step, because it requires to desolder two chips for a total of 64 pins !
I personally can't do this because of lack of appropriate tools, so the alternate desoldering way I would had used would be to ... use a nipper and cut each pins

Fortunately, XRider likes work well done, so theses chips were removed in a clean way


X-Terminator cartridge, with flash ROM chips removed.
Additionally, all capacitors are removed too : that's
the occasion or never to replace them

Next step is a bit optional, and is about to dump removed flash ROM chips with flash ROM dumper device. This is the best way to verify if failure is due to corrupted flash ROM chips, and if still in working condition, this at least would be an occasion to dump the cartridge's firmware


Flash ROM chip on dumper device.

Dump is full of 0xFF bytes ... unless a miracle happens, theses flash ROM chips are no longer functioning  But, this comforts us regarding initial supposition of broken flash ROM chips causing cartridge not booting
 
Just in case of, let's verify PCB traces around flash ROM chips while theses are removed : this takes only 5 minutes to check, and it would be frustrating to find that cartridge was not working because of broken trace after soldering new flash ROM chips


PCB traces : just requires a light source
strong enough to be seen


What to do next ? Maybe use PLCC sockets so that future replacement of flash ROM chips would be easier ! That's a couple of weeks to wait for the postman, but worth the wait
PCB with PLCC32 sockets soldered

And then, simply replace the flash ROM chips

Next generation is here !


PCB with new flash ROM chips.
Additionally, new capacitors are populated


One last step remaining ! Flash ROM is mounted, but ROM itself needs to be set up with X-Terminator firmware. The simplest way to do this is to use Pseudo Saturn Kai flasher utility : it obviously allows to install Pseudo Saturn Kai, but also several other legacy firmwares in the case someone would want to revert to initial firmware after trying Pseudo Saturn Kai.


Just select the ROM version you want to install,
and follow on-screen instructions

 
Flashing in progress ! Will it work after that ?!


Yeehaw !!! It boot fine, mission done
Let's try with Metal Slug ...

Metal Slug works too !
So it seems there's no need to replace RAM chips


Everything finished ? No, there is a side quest remaining Among the couple of X-Terminator cartridges XRider owns, one X-Assist (pad and LCD unit used to search cheat codes) is missing.
One X-Assist available ? And another one missing ? No problem : let's reverse engineer the first one and DIY the second one

The X-Assist features two PCBs : one for connection interfacing and pad, and another one for LCD, as pictured below.

X-Assist pad/interfacing board

X-Assist LCD board

The LCD board is incredibly complex, but since it was manufactured as a whole and can still be purchased on auctions or second-hand market nowadays, there's no real interest to build it from scratch ! And I personally wouldn't try : that seems too much complex

So remaining is pad and interfacing board : fortunately it uses standard components and not any Gate Array Logic-ish components that would need to be reverse-engineered too. Simply speaking, it's like assembling LEGOs
Multi-meter, a LCD board, electronic breadboard, a bunch of wires, few electronic components ... is there something missing ? Yes ! A LOT of motivation !!


X-Assist DIY prototype, in all its glory


It's so beautiful it deserves another picture !

Let's try for real ! Of course, after verifying any eventual short-circuit with a multi-meter 
No short-circuit ? It's then ready for the "first-lighting ceremony" (火入れ式), as it is nicknamed in my neighboring ... I don't know if that's a common expression in Japan or anywhere else, but I like its naming anyway


No sparks ? No smoke ? That looks good

At first glance, that seems working ! Let's try cheat codes search feature in order to be 100% sure ...

Search unit not found ?!

Arg, it was too early to sing victory X-Assist seems not being correctly detected by X-Terminator cartridge ...
Since text could be sent to the LCD, let's assume nearly everything is working correctly, and that a small detail is causing this trouble ... after some head-scratching, XRider found what's wrong : a Zener diode that initially looked useless was used to return some ACK to X-Terminator cartridge when looking for its connection !


The X-Assist screen after adding the Zener diode :
code search memory could be captured !


65535 candidate codes ?! I'm not sure if correct cheat code could be found this time, but at least the DIY X-Assist unit works correctly now

 

Additional informations are available in French  on Darius forums :


Credits :
 - XRider, for the good work in game cartridges preservation
 - Darius, for gathering French community around Saturn

Read more X-Terminator Cartridge Revival

Back from Holidays

Written by cafealpha 2 comments
Just a small post to indicate I'm back from holidays
In fact, I went back home one week ago, but didn't had time to write this article so far ... but in comparison with other articles on this blog, this one is quite timely anyway


Hand Spinner ! 540 Yens ! 売れています!
It seems I took vacations to the last place in the world where
hard spinner are still popular


Pseudo Saturn Kai development is continuing at its own rhythm. Development finally escaped from off days without a lot of progress, and is now in the period when I want to hurry to finish "this and that features" before release. Let's hope that motivation will continue flowing, and also that work won't be too greedy with my free time too

I honestly have no idea when Pseudo Saturn Kai will be ready for release except than "when it's done" So, please be more patient until having fun with cheat codes !

Among other small things, I'm currently making some updates to the credits page. Because a careless mistake until version 6.074, credits page was available only in Pseudo Saturn Kai full version, hence this will be the debut for it on next release for Action Replay users

Read more Back from Holidays

One more new PCB color !

Written by cafealpha no comments
As indicated in the title, I tried a new PCB color ! This time, this is yellow


Rare picture where all PCB colors I tried so far are gathered

The manufacturing of theses yellow PCBs took a bit longer than usual : maybe was it because this color is not ordered frequently ? Or just a bad luck with timings ? I don't know, but anyway I'm definitely more at ease with good old green color

Blue PCB in the picture above also needs some attention because it's quite a long time I didn't soldered PCBs with such color. In fact, it was probably the first time for this Gamer's Cartridge PCB revision

So, what's the reason why this article is posted so early ? I mean, pictures of theses PCBs were taken around one month ago, while preparation for one article here is usually in the half a year range, with majority of articles are canceled in the midway of their preparation  Well, the reason comes from accidentally watching TV recently, and realizing that colors match a given pattern !


Gamer's Cartridge, Olympic Games Edition

That would had be the the occasion to do some fancy "Gamer's Cartridge Olympic Games (C) (R) TM Edition" advertisements on all major social networks, modifying prices during this period, make sponsorship with some whatever sportswear brands, but I don't like such kind of show business, and ... the fact PCB colors match those on the Olympic flag is a coincidence

So, I'm glad to introduce you Gamer's Cartridge at the Olympic Games colors ! There's no sponsorship, no changes in the prices, no super event (except this poor blog article), but Saturn projects are still my favorite hobby, which is the most important


PS : I unfortunately no longer have all PCB colors gathered in first picture of this article, so it's not possible the re-take a picture in same layout as Olympic flag.

PPS : there wasn't snowball fight Olympic discipline this time too Let's hope next edition will finally feature competition of a sport which I understand the rules

Read more One more new PCB color !

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