GD-ROM Drive Emulated To Use SD Cards Instead

This board is the prototype which [Deunan] has been working on in order to use an SD card in place of a GD-ROM drive. The idea is to fully implement the hardware protocol used by a GD-ROM drive so that it can be completely replaced. The end goal is to do away with the optical drive on a Dreamcast game console.

As these game systems age, the optical drive is the most likely part to fail first as it involves moving parts and a lens that may degrade over time (we’re basing that assumption on our experience with DVD-ROM and RW). This may sound like a way to play pirated games, but [Deunan] makes it clear in his question and answer post that the firmware for his prototype is written to only play proper disc images and will probably not play the rips which are found in the darker recesses of the interwebs.

He’s been at this for quite a while. Here’s an earlier project he did that uses an FPGA board for the hardware.

[Thanks Walt]

58 thoughts on “GD-ROM Drive Emulated To Use SD Cards Instead

  1. I still need to get my Dreamcast back, was an awesome console, the laser was out of alignment on mine so in TRUE hackaday style I used to bathe the disks in soapy water before pitting them in, in hindsight a bad idea bit seemed to work, alternative was to put the disk in, power on and flip the console upside down

  2. Oh man!

    My GD-ROM drive on my dreamcast has been flaky for the past year or so (I’ve had to crank up the intensity a few times to get games to read) so this is great news!

    I always worry about that guy someday failing. Amazing work…stick to it!

  3. Over time, it’s the laser the gets weak and fails, not the lens. You can temporarily fix it by increasing the power to the laser diode (there’s usually a pot or two on the laser assembly.

    As for this project, I think it’s cool, but I’m not sure why he’s so worried about piracy. That’s a major turn off. As time passes, it become more and more difficult to get real dreamcast games. Limiting this to those is not a good idea in the long run. The dreamcast is old enough that it isn’t a huge issue. On top of all that, there is not really any built in copy protection on dreamcast; I can just burn games with a regular CD burner and play the on an unmodified dreamcast. I don’t think a project more than a decade after a console’s death needs to worry about having better protection than the stock console has.

    1. Reading his Q&A, he did nothing to block piracy, which is good. All he did is simply refuse to fix bugs with improper rips (bugs that those rips have when played in a normal manner). There’s nothing wrong with this, it would be unfair to expect him to fix those bugs. This is a solid project. The HaD writeup is wrong.

      1. there is nothing to “block” and why are you so happy for it? Are you going to loose money or IP rights or something? Why do you care? Worried that Sega may go under (that already happened). Worried that sega may stop making dreamcast games (That already happened)?

  4. I’ve had a lot of CD & DVD drives fail and recently took a bunch apart to strip the optics and sleds out.

    One thing I noticed afterwards looking at the remains was that they were all made w/ zinc electroplated steel. This has me wondering if the high failure rate is caused by zinc whiskers..

    As a result, the next one that fails is going to get blown out w/ compressed air to see if that “fixes” it.

  5. Still have my Dreamcast – and from day one, after about 20 mins of gametime, the disc drive had a hell of a time reading any games (original discs even)! I’d love to be able to switch to SD cards, loved that system!

  6. I always wanted a firmware hack and hardware hack to use an ide drive through the add on bus port…to turn the dreamcast into a low power workstation like an old retro home computer…if I remember right, I got some C programs to compile under Dreamlinux using the broadband interface with it using NAS…I thought that was really cool…

    well now there is the RaspberryPi…

    1. The SH4 in the Dreamcast isn’t very good for workstation tasks to be honest. I have another SH4 machine that has the same processor but twice the memory of the dreamcast and it takes hours to update Debian on it,.. for a little machine controlling something it’d be fine, but for machine with users even just SSH’ing into it takes too long to bother with it.

  7. This will be great for portable-makers. Less space, less power, less weight, fewer things to carry. And a very cool hack, regardless of the Dreamcast. Implementing a hardware protocol for a different data medium is freaking cool.

  8. For the record, GDIs (GD-ROM images) are just as easily available on the web’s dark recesses as discjuggler images. They tend to have more of them, in fact, since sometimes a GDI can’t be made into a CDI (discjuggler image) but someone has ripped it anyway.

    Regardless, I wholeheartedly support this project. It has many legitimate uses, and piracy is already easy enough that it won’t make a big difference.

    1. i wonder, is it still piracy if they don’t produce or sell the console and games anymore ?

      basically it comes down to playing a copy or not playing at all.

      i know, in this case, the old wii can still play gamecube games or you can buy them online but the new models can’t do that and not all games are available for download.

      and like you said, if it only plays proper disk images, people just start to make them instead of rips

      1. >i wonder, is it still piracy if
        >they don’t produce or sell the
        >console and games anymore ?

        Piracy isn’t the right term to start with, neither is “copyright theft” etc. It’s copyright infringement and yes it remains copyright infringement until that copyright expires not when people can make up a good reason to ignore copyright (unless you live in fluffy bunny land that is).
        Whether it’s morally acceptable or not is a different issue to whether it’s legally acceptable or not.

  9. its worth noting if you read all his faq he has not confirmed he will ever sell these, he does not want to give his work (code) away and does not have the cash or the wish to risk purchasing large number of PCB’s and components. I am sure there is demand but I think unless somehow a joint venture can be setup which he is happy for it may never see the public light or if it does will be in tiny quantities.

    sad but its such a cool project it would be a shame for the dreamcast and its memory if it where to die away due to laser failures.

    on the piracy stance I think he won’t fix ripped game glitches nor will he implement a way to rip games, I find the latter strange as that means any user must download any games to play even if they own them (which I assume he has to have done also).

    it probably also means the region lock will stand, luckily I stuck a mod chip in mine to remove that pesky issue but might be a pain for others unless you can easily patch gdi images and his tool will still boot them.

    1. >a joint venture can be setup which he is happy for

      Not really. From what I read his stance was “I designed everything, I coded everything, you show up and want to _collaborate_, what exactly is your input”

      Basically He is a grumpy old man that designs things to put in his drawer because others might copy, or even worse, profit from them. You can tell by the stickers over AT90 on the pictures and his attacks on someone asking what soc and fpga he used :/

      Sad really.

      1. He’s made one of the most accurate Dreamcast emulators around, using nothing more than his own research. Is he not entitled to do whatever he wants with something he made entirely himself? And if he isn’t, then what is it that entitles you to access to his work?

        Having been in the emulation community for years, it just sounds like you’re butthurt that you won’t get the chance to play your “l33t fr33 DC g4mez!!!111!”, just like all of the other ROM kiddies who lack the smarts to actually make their own emulator. Not smart enough to make your own Dreamcast optical drive emulator? Tough.

      2. Grumpy old man? Why? Because you feel entitled to make money on his work? It is bad enough that companies make you sign your rights away as an inventor. Now the “entitlement generation” wants things for free too. >:(

      1. So what? His work, he can do whatever he wants with it. Why don’t you make him a nice money offer for his design and some royalties on the sale of HIS product? I’m sure he’ll take anything that pays well.

        Don’t like it? Learn to program, learn FPGAs and develop your own. Then you can give it away as you want.

        Not everyone likes to give away hard work.

      2. JB, I think you need to re-read the comments you’re replying too, because you seem to be making a lot of assumptions about the intent of the poster without any evidence to base the assumptions on.

        We are all aware that the designer has every right to do whatever they want with their own work. What people here are complaining about is the fact that the designer has made it clear that while they don’t intend to do anything with their design, they are being very hostile to others trying to replicate it. I agree with rasz, it’s a tragedy that the designer has done something really cool but instead of sharing (or even profiting from) the work, they would rather prevent any one else from using it, apparently out of spite. It’s not like letting other people benefit from the design would hurt him in the least.

        JB, why are you so obsessed with the idea that rasz (or anyone else for that matter) wants to profit from this? To begin with the claim (at least against rasz, unless I missed something) is completely unfounded. But even if it wasn’t, why would you care? At least then the design would become available, and the people who would appreciate it would have the opportunity to. As opposed to now where the only one who can use this is the designer.

      3. Exactly. Besides there is no real market to profit from. How many people would be willing to pay for it($100 is a reasonable lowest estimate)? 30? 50? maybe 100 if you reach Japanese collectors.

        HxC Floppy emulator is tons more mainstream. A lot more people have old equipment accepting floppies than there is old console aficionados. HxC sells below 100 units a year (2008 number) and falling.

        100 units per year gets you laughs from chinese manufacturers. 100 units per year also translates into maybe $10-15 profit per day. Even MCDonalds pays better than that :).
        The only people that would build this are enthusiasts themselves.

      4. I’m just replying directly to your post. I agree it is sad that it will end in a drawer, but as I said, his work so he can do whatever he wants with it. Everyone is welcome to do their own version (including one that supports “non-standard” isos). Now, if the builder is being hostile to others for trying to do the same, that’s his problem. He is an idiot for not expecting people to do their own board when he does nothing with his. He demonstrated it can be done therefore it can be replicated by someone else.
        If I have something that I can sell, then I’ll do it myself. No need to involve chinese factories if the volume will be small. People who make modchips make a profit in small quantities.

  10. Ow, I think some get sold. Else someone else will pick it up. (Im not so FPGA expert, but when I do… never mind)

    Just we wait a bit longer to finish, plse check his site once in a while and some blogs/forums he visit

  11. if he doesn’t sell or publish, i bet someone else will try to build something similar.

    just last year i bought a floppy disk emulator for a friend. it works with sd cards too and was installed in a commodore 64.
    by switching a few jumpers it was also compatible with any other floppy drive. (like IBM compatible)
    thing even had a lcd screen and buttons for selecting the roms. the emulator was almost to cool to be wasted on a rarely used c64

  12. Can’t wait for this! I still have my dreamcast and I still fire up PowerStone once in a while (or shenmue) when i’m feeling nostalgic. Disk still are in good shape, drive is flaky as you can imagine. My real problem? Finding working controllers!

  13. Why be so concerned about “pirated games”? They’re no longer for sale. No publisher makes them. Publishers do not profit from second hand sales. No one loses anything when you download a game for your Dreamcast.

  14. What made DC intriguing:
    1.Awesome lineup: shenmu, crazy taxi, all the uncensored asian imports, netbsd, networking
    2.Hardware was properly utilized both by maker and studio devs, pretty cutting edge for such lack of tools..

    Hope this doesn’t end up crapware like all the DC emus and ports over the years

  15. .

    Hi Deunan,

    Congratulations on the progress you’ve made ! Many people around the world are excited. I’m writing from Australia.

    There is no doubt this’ll sell like hot-cakes, and will easily generate the sales volume required for mass-production. Think about it … those Dreamcast SD card readers (via the serial port) are in high enough demand themselves, that they’re being mass-produced. How much MORE SO then, shall the demand be for your superior interface, which plays games authentically at “full speed” via the GD-ROM interface, as opposed to the competing products available today (which use the slow serial port, causing game slowdown).

    Heck, I’ve never owned a Dreamcast before in my life, but have just purchased one off E-bay after learning of your invention. I wasn’t going to purchase a console with a flaky and unreliable 13 year old optical drive, unless I knew there was a robust HDD or SD card replacement on the horizon that’ll play games authentically at full speed. And soon we’ll be able to purchase it !

    I’m middle aged with kids, and am into old retro gaming consoles as a hobby (with the original console hardware … I don’t like PC emulators, as they don’t have the nostalgia or the gameplay accuracy of the original console).

    It’ll be great if you can support SDHC up to 32 GB, as these cards are now commonly available and affordable. The Wii supports SDHC up to 32 GB, as with most of today’s electronic devices (cameras, etc).

    Cheers, and keep up the good work !



  16. I’m a Dreamcast fanatic. Three consoles, about 60 games, way too many accessories.

    A WODE-style chip sitting between the GD drive and the motherboard, offering USB or SD mass storage access would have me throwing wads of cash at it.

    One word: kickstarter

  17. Nice !
    I have done myself the reverse engineering of the Sega DC Atapi bus some years ago (2009) :

    Some pictures :

    The goal was the same : replace the GD-ROM and keeping the maximum compatibility level.

    This is nice to see that someone else make more progress on with this board !


    Jeff / HxC2001

  18. Hello to you all

    What’s the price for this board? Where can I buy it? Is there any possibility of making a purchase order soon?

    Thank you very much in advance.

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