Inside a Super FX SNES Cart (Another Opening Up)

Back when I was 12 years old I was completly blown away by the Graphics from a certain game by the name of Starwing (Starfox to the rest of the world).  3D Graphics from a 16-bit console? Witchcraft I say!  In Reality this was simply a co processor in a game Cart that enabled the SNES to do 3D (in a really boarded window at somewhere around 9-13 FPS with virtuallly no polygons on screen by my estimation).  Still, I wanted it and I never got it (it was £70 in 1993 for pittys sake).  UNTIL NOW! where I found this little beauty in my local CEX for £6…  So i thought I’d open it up and see what all the fuss was about 23 years ago…

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Starwing / Starfox / Whatever

Time to open this thing up.  As before it’s all held together with 2 gamebit screws (3.8mm) and comes apart pretty easily after unscrewing them.  When I opend up a Legend Of Zelda CART I was shocked at how little of the space in the CART housing was actually used by the PCB.  Not in this case.  Full utilisation 🙂

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Not THAT’S A PCB

From the back we can’t reall tell anyting other than ‘it’s big’.  So lets flip it over and see where all the magic happens.  Much more going on here then a regular cart (just in terms of traces on the PCB!).  Center top we have the game ROM, Bottom left looks like the security chip.  Above that is probabaly the lookup / addressing chip (I cant really work out what it is though so it’s a guess). Which leaves us with…img_6062

The ‘Super-FX’ chip itself.  Mappily labelled here as ‘Mario Chip-1-100’ this is where all the 3D processing gets drawn and spat out bacn to the SNES itself.  If you look to the right we also have the 256KB RAM chip.  No wonder this thing cost a lot back in the day. An on cART processor AND memory….

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It’s-a-me Mario(Chip)

So now I know….  I quite like the design of this really.  Not that complicated and, despite looking like garbage now, it really did push the boundries of what was possible back in the day.  Time t put it all back together and go play a game of StarWing (Which turned out to be really, really easy….).

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So, What’s Inside a SNES Cartridge (Opening and Poking About)

As part of my attempt to clean up and get working my SNES from the dawnm of time  I thought I’d take a look inside the game cart I have.  Not for any reason… I’m just curious and happened to have the screwdriver bit that would allow me to look inside (it would be rude NOT to take a look).  The Game inquestion?  Zelda: A Link To The Past

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Zelda: Limited Edition dirty version

Zelda is an awesome game and allowed saves (vs passwords) So I’m expecting to see some form of battery backup inside the game.  Opening one of these carts is simple. Undo the two security screws on the front of the case (3.8mm Gamebit) and the case will open up (careful fo the clips at the back / top).

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Not sure this could be dirtier

Once you’re inside the cart this is what you see.  Absolutly nothing special or interesting from the back.  A little surprised that the case has this much empty space in it thought.  Time to take out the PCB and see what the front looks like.

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Rear PCB, not taking much space

This is more like it!  Although I must admit it’s far less complicated than I was expecting.  I’m used to seeing the inside of Neo Geo carts or arcade ROM boards with banks of ROM chips in a neat row.  From a bit of deduction and PCB reading it looks like the save game area is the chip on the top right of the pic below with the battery feeding it power on the left.  This, amazingly, still works and is holding the previous owners save game from years ago!  Bottom left is a Nintendo branded chip.  Pretty sure this is the security / handshaking chip in the cart to avoid fakes / pirates etc.  Above that is a Motorolla chip that is probabaly the memroy mapping / address lookup processor chip.

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Front PCB with battery (RAM on the Right)

And, finally, we have the Mask ROM holding all that lovley Zelda game goodness.  marked onthe PCB as U1 ROM and a pretty standard Toshiba chip

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Zelda: All of it…..

So there we have it.  The inside of A SNES cart.  Apart from a orking battery, nothing super exciting.  Still, glad I looked and now I know!

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Retro Pickup: SNES + Zelda (Non Working)

Something I’ve had langushing at the bottom of a box for a while is this old SNES.  It was given to be (free) byt a friend a while back with a copy of Zelda – A Link To The Past (win).  However, I had no power, video cable or controller for it so I’d never been able to check it out.  Aditionally, my friend had no idea if it worked or not.  As you can see it’s not exactly in collectors condition.

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Yello, dirt and sticker residue… Yuck….

Recently though I’ve managed to buy a NES (which uses the same power brick) and a Gamecube which came with a SCART cable (which SHOULD work with this PAL SNES, although not in RGB mode).  I even found a controller in CEX for £10 (the first money I’ve spent on this).  This means I was able to connect it all up and  give it a test to see what I had.

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Will it work?

 

Naturally, it didnt work…  The power light came on but that was it.  No picture (running throught a composite video output on the SCART to be safe [some ‘universal’ Nintendo SCART cables arent actually compatible with the PAL SNES systems due to capacitors placed in line with the cable killing the signal].  So, was it the game, the cable or the console?  Well everything is chuffing filthy anyhow so I would not be at all surprised if problem number one is hust dirty contacts.  So, it’s time to take it apart and give every contact I can find a good clean, if only to remove that hideous sticker residue.

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The Opened SNES

I Love old consoles, they are so  easy to take apart!  Six screws and I’m in the the console  this reveals a lot of dust and dirt especially on the Cartridge contacts.  Everything else actually looks ok with no major rust or dampproblems that I could see.  It’s not perfect on the shielding but nothing on the main PCB seems to be in bad condition.  Time to clean.

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Very Dirty CART Slot

I split the cleaning in to two parts.  I used cotton buds (q-tips) and glasses cleaner to remove the dirt from the cart slot and any of the exposed contacts.  I did the video output jack (RCA) as well as the AV out port where the SCART plugs in.  Some times I had to use a thin Jay Cloth to get in to the tiny areas.  I’m pretty sure the only cleaning that would matter were the AV out and CART slot contacts but I got rid of the dust whilst I was there.

Secondly I wanted to clean up the exterior of the SNES to try and get it looking less aweful.  For this I simply used cotton cloths and lemon creme cleaner (the regular stuff you clean surfaces with).  This stuff is slightly acidic and usually cuts through grime.  I worked this stuff on to the surface of the console and left it for a minute or so before buffing it out with a damp cloth which takes off the grit etc.

Asthetically, as you can see below it scrubbed up pretty well for a first pass (the idea here was really to get it working, I was goingt o fully clean it later).  There’s still a lot of yellowing but it’s in MUCH better condition than before.  The question is… will it work now?  Time to turn it on and see…

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The answer?  Kind of…  I now have sound and picture (in glorious composite as the cable did, indeed, have the issue with RGB output I thought it would).  However, my controller either doesnt work or the controller port assembly is faulty as I can’t start a game or do anything input wise unless i take the controller out of the port (then it seems to send a START command but that’s it).

So, progress…. but not quite there yet.

UPDATE: After looking at the options I took a punt on some cheap replica controllers from eBay.  These worked and proved my offical controller was duff.  However, they felt horrible to use.  Luckily they really were copys of the official once inside so i took them apart and transplanted the innards of the new controllers in to the case of the official controllers.  Net result is a controller using new innards but with the look and, crucially, feel of the official ones.  Result!

So, the Free SNES is now fully working with Zelda and two controllers.  Total cost, £10 for a funky controller and £8 for 2 x working replicas.  Not bad at all!.

 

 

 

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The Konami Laser Scope: WHY!?

This is the Konami Laser Scope for the NES.  It’s also probably the single worst peripheral I’ve ever encountered.  It’s designed as an alternative to the rather good NES Zapper everyone is familiar with  when they’ve played Duck Hunt.  The idea is you plug this in, and you get a little laser sight via the HUD, sound piped in via earphones and you shout “fire!” to get it to emulate pulling the trigger and shoot the target.  The artwork and advertising makes this look super fun / mega awesome.  I even remeb=mber the adverts from back in the day and really wanting one!  But this is 2016 and I’ve tried it  I give you the glorious Konami Laser Scope…

Except, of course, it’s rubbish.  I’ll quickly pass over the things it gets right:

  1. The Laser sight:  It projects a little red crosshair on to the blue eyepiece.  This is accurate and does indeed help with aiming and picking a target on the screen.  Top marks.
  2. The Sound / earphones work:  It’s kind of immersive, you could wear earphones but, I guess, in the mid 80’s this was less of a thing.
  3. It works:  Technically, it does what it’s supposed to.  You aim, you shout, it fires.  BUT….

This brings us on to the things wrong with it…

  1. It’s NOT Standalone:  For this thing to work AT ALL you have to have a NES Zapper plugged in to port 1 and this thing plugged in to port 2.  Yes, you have to plug in a BETTER controller to use this, WORSE, controller.
  2. It’s Uncomfortable: hard plastic, minimal adjustment and seemingly designed for the smallest of all children, wearing this feels like a mild form of medieveil torture.
  3. It’s a Stupid Idea:  You have to move your head around to aim.  Sounds cool right?  Actually it’s slower than pointing a Zapper and it’s uncomfortable / painfull.
  4. The Chord is really short:  Play this on a bigger than 24″ TV?  then you’ll be moving you head a lot as the cable is so short you’re only a few feet from the TV!
  5. It’s Hyper sensitive:  You are supposed to shout “fire” to trigger a shot.  In reality breathing near the mic triggers the shot.  A seagul outside can trigger the shot.  it’s terrible.
  6. It’s simply not as good as the included Zapperyou already have to have to use this thing.  You aim slower (unless you neck is superhuman) and you go cross eyed from loking at the crosshair in the HUD vs the TV screen in the distance.

So,  a very interesting pickup (was part of a bundle when I found a NES to buy). but not something I want to use ever again.

 

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I’m Not Dead, I’m Just Moving

Actual restoration posts on this blog have been a bit thin on the ground for the last 6 months.  I know this but it’s because I’m FINALLY moving to a bigger place and the Blast City and all the games are kinda obscured by boxes and not near anything like a power socket at the moment.  However, this means that when it is moved I’ll have it in a much better location to be able to do some of the fine tuning I’ve wanted to do for AGES.  This includes:

  • A guide on tuning the Monitor for convergence issues.
    • My monitor is fine but the corners are getting more and more colour drift and  moving it will give me a chance to rectify this and document the process as I go.
  • Removal of the monitor and quick check up.
    • I’ve not had it out in about 3 years so I thought I’d be able to do a tour
  • Giving the internals a proper clean.
    • When I got the cab it was dirty.  I only ever semi cleaned it.  the inside isn’t super clean and, if I want to get it back to factory fresh I need to touch it up a little.
  • Make that damn Naomi 2 as quiet as I know it can be.
    • the fans cause case rattle when on so I need to work out a way of dampening the vibration more permanently (the blue-tac method fails quite quickly) without modding it from stuck in a permanent way.

Anyway, I have to actually move first….  See ya in a month or so!

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The Collecting Off-Season

It’s that time of the year again!  The time when, myself, I get to pay a load of games and relax for a little.  It’s also the time when the forums and ebay seem to go totally deadwith regards to collectable retrogames.  There’s been nothing of any note for about 2 months now.  A shame…  Hpefully it’ll start to pick up in the new year.  Until then… back to the games!

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The Frustration Of A Quiet eBay

I’ve generally been buying my arcade / JAMMA games through eBay for a number of years but, recently, there seems to have been a very dry period for anything interesting.  It’s all still out there being listed BUT it’s all coming on as Buy It Now and for a price that’s probably close to double what the item would fetch if placed up for auction or even it’s probable forum sale value (probably a 1/3rd more on average?).

I get why people do this.  They have an item and a perceived value and want to get that value for or they are running a business and are charging premium retail pricing (often without the premium product).  However it seems to have had a sideeffect in that no one is putting items up for genuine auction any more as the same items appear in BIN format all the time (i.e. perceived as nothing selling) discouraging sellers.  It can’t be that, compared to 18 months ago, every game ever on all systems has suddenly become super rare?

The only exception to this seems to be vanilla JAMMA boards. There are still loads of them flying around.  I just with the market for MVS / STV / F3 / Naomi etc was a little more interesting at the moment.

I guess I’ll keep looking…

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