Double The RAM Of A Dreamcast Console For A Cool 32 MB

The Sega Dreamcast is the forgotten orphan of the console wars, an extremely capable machine never able to escape the shadow of its PlayStation rivals and because it marked the end of Sega’s console line, never redeemed in reputation by a more popular successor. It retains a significant following a couple of decades after its heyday though, and still sees hardware hacks such as [Tsowell]’s doubling of its available RAM to 32 MB.

The console shipped with 16 MB of memory in two banks, but while the SH4 processor can address twice that figure the designers at Sega never brought the required address line out from under the BGA. So it should be impossible to give it a memory expansion, but when hardware hackers are at work nothing should be ruled out. The hack involves manipulation of the bank switching addressing, and took several careful readings for us to fully understand. The new RAM chips have two address lines tied together and wired to another, a job for some fine but ultimately not impossible soldering. To take advantage of the extra RAM there are a set of patched BIOS images.

So, if you either have a spare Dreamcast you care little enough about to risk, or you consider your console hacking skills to be so advanced that it will be a piece of cake, you can now double the platform’s RAM. Extra points if you also make it portable.

Thanks [John Little] for the tip.

Header: Evan-Amos / CC BY-SA 3.0

An Open Hardware Sega Genesis Cartridge Dumper

You might be wondering why anyone would build device to dump Sega Genesis and Mega Drive cartridges. Perhaps they want to play their well-worn copy of The Lost Vikings on their phone, or they want to keep their QVC Limited Edition Maximum Carnage box set in near mint condition. Maybe. But we’re betting that [tonyp7] was just looking for a challenge, and as an added bonus, the world gets another cool open hardware gadget in the process. Sounds like a good deal to us.

Based on the ATmega324PB, the GenDumper can take those dusty old Sega cartridges and back them up to an image file on your computer. Right now the hardware depends on a Windows program, but according to the documentation, [tonyp7] is working on a platform-agnostic Python script so everyone can play along. What you do with the image file after you’ve dumped it is your business, but presumably loading it up in an emulator would be the next step.

Considering how easy it is to find ROMs for these old games online, do you actually need a GenDumper of your own? Probably not. But it’s still an interesting piece of hardware, and if you look close enough, you just might learn a thing or two from the design. For example, [tonyp7] shows how a relatively easy to work with 12 pin USB-C connector can be used on your USB 2.0 projects to embrace the new physical connector without diving into a full USB 3.0 implementation. The keen-eyed reader might also note there’s a lesson to be learned about finalizing the name of your project before sending off your PCBs for manufacturing.

A perusal of the archive uncovered a similar project from 2012 that, believe it or not, was also tested on a copy of Madden 96. Whether that means the game is so beloved that hackers want to make sure its preserved for future generations, or so despised that they are secretly hoping the magic smoke leaks out during testing, we can’t say.

Thea Flowers – Creating A Sega-Inspired Hardware Synthesizer From The Ground Up

For those who grew up with video games, the legendary sounds of consoles past are an instant nostalgia hit. [Thea Flowers] first got her hands on a gamepad playing Sonic the Hedgehog, so the sounds of the Sega Genesis hold a special place in her heart. Decades later, this inspired the creation of Genesynth, a hardware synth inspired by the classic console. The journey of developing this hardware formed the basis of [Thea]’s enlightening Supercon talk.

[Thea’s] first begins by exploring why the Genesis sound is so unique. The Sega console slotted neatly into a time period where the company sought to do something more than simple subtractive synthesis, but before it was possible to use full-waveform audio at an affordable price point. In collaboration with Yamaha, the YM2612 FM synthesis chip was built, a cost-reduced sound engine similar to that in the famous DX7 synthesizer of the 1980s. This gave the Genesis abilities far beyond the basic bleeps and bloops of other consoles at the time, and [Thea] decided it simply had to be built into a dedicated hardware synth.

Continue reading “Thea Flowers – Creating A Sega-Inspired Hardware Synthesizer From The Ground Up”

That Game Cartridge Isn’t As Straightforward As You’d Think

Classic games consoles played their games from cartridges, plastic bricks that held a PCB with the game code on it ready to be run by the console hardware. You might therefore expect them to be an easy prospect for emulation, given that the code can be extracted from whatever ROM they contain. But as anyone with an interest in the subject will tell you, some cartridges included extra hardware to boost the capabilities of their games, and this makes the job of an emulator significantly more complex.

[Byuu] has penned an article exploring this topic across a variety of consoles, with in-depth analyses of special-case cartridges. We see the obvious examples such as the DSP coprocessors famously used on some SNES games, as well as Nintendo’s Super Game Boy that contained an entire Game Boy on a chip.

But perhaps more interesting are the edge-case cartridges which didn’t contain special hardware. Capcom’s Rockman X had a copy protection feature that sabotaged the game if it detected RAM at a frequently used save game address emulated by copiers. Unfortunately this could also be triggered accidentally, so every one of the first generation Rockman X cartridges had a manually attached bodge wire that a faithful emulator must replicate. There is also the case of the Sega Genesis F22 Interceptor, which contained an 8-bit ROM where most cartridges for this 68000-powered platform had a 16-bit part. Simple attempts to copy this cartridge result in the upper 8 bits having random values due to the floating data lines, which yet again an emulator must handle correctly.

It’s a subject with a variety as huge as the number of console developers and their games, and a field in which new quirks are constantly being unearthed. While most of us don’t spend our time peering into dusty cartridges, we’re grateful for this insight into that world.

We’ve visited the world of emulators a few times before, such as when we looked at combatting in-game lag.

Hackaday Podcast 030: Seven Years Of RTL-SDR, 3D Printing Optimized For The Eye, Sega Audiophile, Swimming In Brighteners

Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams curate the awesome hacks from the past week. On this episode, we marvel about the legacy RTL-SDR has had on the software-defined radio scene, turn a critical ear to 16-bit console audio hardware, watch generative algorithms make 3D prints beautiful, and discover why printer paper is so very, very bright white.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (58 MB)

Places to follow Hackaday podcasts:

Continue reading “Hackaday Podcast 030: Seven Years Of RTL-SDR, 3D Printing Optimized For The Eye, Sega Audiophile, Swimming In Brighteners”

Run Your Own Phone To Bring The Dreamcast Back Online

Playing a video game online is almost second nature now. So much so that almost all multiplayer video games have ditched their split-screen multiplayer modes because they assume you’d rather just be alone at your house than hanging out with your friends. This wasn’t always the case though. In the early days of online multiplayer, systems had to rely on dial-up internet before broadband was readily available (and still had split screen if you didn’t even have that). Almost no one uses dial up anymore though, so if you still like playing your old Dreamcast you’re going to have to do some work to get it online again.

Luckily for all of us there’s a Raspberry Pi image to do almost anything now. This project from [Kazade] uses one to mimic a dial-up connection for a Dreamcast so you can connect with other people still playing Quake 20 years later. It’s essentially a network bridge, but you will need some extra hardware because phone lines use a high voltage line that you’ll have to make (or buy) a solution for. Once all the hardware is set up and working, you’ll need to make a few software configuration changes, but it’s a very straightforward project.

Granted, there have been ways of playing Dreamcast games online before, but this new method really streamlines the process and makes it as simple as possible. The Dreamcast was a great system, and there’s an argument to be made that the only reason it wasn’t more popular was that it was just slightly too far ahead of its time.

Thanks to [Rusty] for the tip!

This Chiptune Player’s Got What Nintendon’t

When it comes to chiptunes, the original Nintendo Entertainment System and the Game Boy get all the accolades. The OPL synths have all the fun. But there’s another chip out there in dusty old machines that is at least as interesting with a repertoire at least as influential as the Mega Man 2 OST. It’s the YM2612, the chip in the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis.

[natalie] created a portable device capable of playing back the files targeting the sound chips in this venerable machine. It’s the MegaGRRL, and it’s the iPod for the original Genesis sound tracks.

Inside the MegaGRRL is an ESP32 in the form of an ESP-WROOM-32 module. There is, of course a YM2612 chip in there, along with a headphone amplifier and a battery charger. The display is a fairly standard and cheap affair that’s 240 x 320 pixels in full color, and there are seven buttons on this device, because of course you need an A, B, and C button.

Combined with a 3D printed enclosure, the GameGRRL does exactly what it says it will: it plays all the music from old Sega games. Now, when you’re in the inevitable argument with someone over the fact that Michael Jackson wrote the Sonic 3 soundtrack, the proof is right in your pocket. Of if you want to jam out on the Toe Jam And Earl soundtrack, that’s right there too. You can check out the video demos below.

Continue reading “This Chiptune Player’s Got What Nintendon’t”