Dreamcast Homebrew Gets Boost From SD Card Cache

While it might have been a commercial failure compared to contemporary consoles, the Sega Dreamcast still enjoys an active homebrew scene more than twenty years after its release. Partly it’s due to the fact that you can burn playable Dreamcast discs on standard CD-Rs, but fans of the system will also point out that the machine was clearly ahead of its time in many respects, affording it a bit of extra goodwill in the community.

That same community happens to be buzzing right now with news that well-known Dreamcast hacker [Ian Micheal] has figured out how to cache data to an SD card via the console’s serial port. At roughly 600 KB/s the interface is too slow to use it as swap space for expanding the system’s paltry 16 MB of memory, but it’s more than fast enough to load game assets which otherwise would have had to be loaded into RAM.

A third-party Dreamcast SD adapter.

In the video below, [Ian] shows off his new technique with a port of DOOM running at 640×480. He’s already seeing an improvement to framerates, and thinks further optimizations should allow for a solid 30 FPS, but that’s not really the most exciting part. With the ability to load an essentially unlimited amount of data from the SD card while the game is running, this opens the possibility of running mods which wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. It should also allow for niceties like saving screenshots or game progress to the SD card for easy retrieval.

[Ian] says he’ll be bringing the same technique to his Dreamcast ports of Quake and Hexen in the near future, and plans on posting some code to GitHub that demonstrates reading and writing to FAT32 cards so other developers can get in on the fun. The downside is that you obviously need to have an SD card adapter plugged into your console to make use of this technique, which not everyone will have. Luckily they’re fairly cheap right now, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the prices start climbing. If you don’t have one already, now’s probably the time to get one.

To be clear, this technique is completely separate from replacing the Dreamcast’s optical drive with an SD card, which itself is a very popular modification that’s helped keep Sega’s last home console kicking far longer than anyone could have imagined.

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Physically Huge SD Card Technically Has Some Benefits

SD cards were developed and released just before the turn of the millenium. Since then, we’ve seen smaller formats, miniSD and microSD, become popular for portable devices. However, sometimes bigger is better. [Useless Mod] dared to dream that dream, and put together a (physically) gigantic SD card.

In card is a full 10x scale reproduction of a SanDisk Extreme Pro SD card,  complete with packaging, too. Built out of layers of laser cut MDF, it’s spray painted and given a high-quality label to complete the effect. The write protect slider instead serves in this case as a latch to open the assembly. Inside, there’s a simple regular SD card slot, wired up to the bigger card’s giant contacts made with copper tape. These interface with an huge 10x scale SD card slot, which acts as an adapter, allowing the giant SD to be used with regular hardware like cameras.

The giant SD might seem silly, but it has plenty of useful features. There’s flashing LEDs behind the label that make it easy to find if you drop it, along with an Apple Watch hidden inside that means it can be located using the Find My iPhone service. We’d have loved if it featured a RAID array full of 10 or more SD cards, as well, just to justify its enormous size. That said, [Useless Mod] points out that it’s big enough to keep a DSLR dry in a rainstorm when fitted to the hotshoe, so there’s that.

It’s a fun build, not a serious one, but one that we enjoyed on its merits. We suspect that, regardless of the card inside, you’ll have little luck recording at 4K with such long wire lengths in play. If you’ve ever had more normal compatability problems with the format, consider that it could be size causing your issues. Video after the break.

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New Part Day: SD NAND Are Surface Mount Chips That Work Like An SD Card

SD cards have long been a favorite with microcontroller hobbyists. Cheap, readily available, and easily interfaced, they remain a staple for small projects that need to store a lot of data. Now, they’re available in chip form! These are known as SD NAND parts that emulate the SD card interface itself.

[LadyAda] recently gave them a test-drive after spotting a tweet from [Greg Davill] (who we’re familiar with thanks to his excellent LED cubes). The devices are manufactured by XTX Technology and available from LCSC in a range of 1, 2, 4, and 8 GB sizes. [Ivan Grokhotkov] also illuminated a similar device from another maker in a reply to [Greg’s] original tweet, so there may be more sources out there.

These chips come in standard LGA8 surface mount package and can be easily soldered to a board, offering mechanical and manufacturing benefits versus using a normal SD or microSD card in a slot-type connector. Also, unlike other SMD flash memory parts, they handle all the file system details and wear levelling for you! With the inflation of SD card sizes, it’s also difficult to find these on the shelf in normal cards these days.

[Adafruit] plan to have a breakout for these parts out soon with a level shifter included for ease of use. We can imagine these chips finding their way into all manner of datalogger projects, since they can be ordered with other parts and permanently soldered into a design. If you’ve got a particularly good idea where these chips would prove useful, sound off in the comments. Video after the break.

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Modern Network Adapter For Retro Computers

Universal Serial Bus, or USB, is so ingrained in modern computing that it’s hard to imagine a time without it. That time did exist, though, and it was a wild west of connector types, standards, and interfacing methods. One of the more interesting interfaces of the time was the SIO system found in 8-bit Atari computers which ended up sharing a lot of the features of modern USB, and its adaptability is displayed in this modern project which brings WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, and SD card slots to any old Atari with an SIO port.

The project is called FujiNet and it uses the lightweight protocol of SIO to add a number of modern features to the 8-bit machine. It’s based on an ESP32, and the chip performs the functions of a network adapter by bridging WiFi and Bluetooth to the Atari. It does this by simulating drives that would have potentially been used on the Atari in its time, such as a floppy disk drive, an RS232 interface, or a modem, and translating them to the modern wireless communication protocols. It even has the ability to emulate a printer by taking the output of the print job from the Atari and converting it to PDF within the device itself.

Not only does this bring a lot of functionality to the Atari, which you may be able to use to view sites like retro.hackaday.com, but the FujiNet is housed in a period-appropriate 3D-printed case that matches the look and feel of the original Atari. If you need a more generic solution for your retrocomputing networking adventures that isn’t limited to SIO, we recommend grabbing a Raspberry Pi to handle that.

Thanks to [Gavin] for the tip!

An Up-To-Date Datasette For Commodore TED Series

Retro computer enthusiast [Steven Combs] documents his adventure building the TEDuino, a modern replacement for the Commodore Datasette which uses an SD card instead of audio tape. He based the design on [Peter Edwards]’s Tapuino project, which was featured by Hackaday back in 2014. [Steven] took the aesthetic design to a new level, and also modified it to work with his Plus/4 and other TED series Commodores.  We are amazed that he was able to design this enclosure in SketchUp, and impressed with the results from his Creality Ender 3. He went to great lengths to match the color and style of the Plus/4, and pulled it off quite well. [Steven] also applied some interesting design features in this enclosure. The PCB modules are snap-fit, the buttons are made as a single piece – not unlike a living hinge. The 3D-printed strain relief for the cable is a nice finishing touch, and we cannot disagree with [Steven]’s sage advice – “Gorilla anything is just cool”.

This is only part 1 of the project. Stay tuned for future improvements, tweaks and embellishments.

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Size Does Matter When It Comes To SD Cards

The SD card first burst onto the scene in 1999, with cards boasting storage capacities up to 64 MB hitting store shelves in the first quarter of 2000. Over the years, sizes slowly crept up as our thirst for more storage continued to grow. Fast forward to today, and the biggest microSD cards pack up to a whopping 1 TB into a package smaller than the average postage stamp.

However, getting to this point has required many subtle changes over the years. This can cause havoc for users trying to use the latest cards in older devices. To find out why, we need to take a look under the hood at how SD cards deal with storage capacity. Continue reading “Size Does Matter When It Comes To SD Cards”

Miniature Faux Floppy For 8-Bit Atari Looks The Part

There’s plenty of fun to be had with retrocomputers of yesteryear, but for modern users, it can be something of a culture shock. Going back to floppy disks after all these years is a reminder of just how far storage technology has come in terms of speed, reliability, and of course, capacity. Luckily, there are ways to combine the best of both worlds.

Floppy drive emulators for classic computers are of course nothing new, but we think this one [c0pperdragon] has put together is worthy of a closer look. Not only does the ATmega32U4 based emulator have an exceptionally low part count, but the code has been written in the Arduino IDE. Both features make it easy for new players to duplicate and revise the design should they feel so inclined. In a pinch you could even implement it on a breadboard with a garden variety Arduino.

The emulator is housed in a 3D printed enclosure designed to look like an era-appropriate Atari 1050 Disk Drive, except you’re using SD cards instead of floppies. The firmware can mimic two physical drives and supports up to 100 disk images on each SD card. The user interface is about as simple as it gets, with two push buttons and a pair of seven-segment LEDs to indicate which disk image is currently loaded up.

We’ve seen some very elaborate disk emulators over the years, but there’s something compelling about how straightforward this version is. If it helps a few more people experience the unique joys of retrocomputing, it’s a win in our book.