I finally got around to buying some aftermarket Dreamcast shells from eBay seller hdzoneau. I bought a Gray Skeleton shell reminiscent of the Skeleton Sega Saturn and a Crystal Blue shell. I was surprised at the speed in which they arrived (AUS to USA in a week) and the build quality – I wouldn’t have guessed these were aftermarket shells.
I transplanted my previously modded Sega Dreamcast in the Crystal Blue shell. This particular VA1 Dreamcast is actually my first Dreamcast I bought back in 2001 just around the time of its decline. I still remember borrowing a friend’s burned games and going through a 100 CD-R spindle copying everything over a weekend with my 4x TEAC CD-RW. To go with this new shell, I picked up some new mods; I bought a ReDream PSU from eBay seller rexurepair0 and new GDEMU/Noctua mounts from Laser Bear Industries. This new GDEMU mount is an improvement over the one I bought last year since it doesn’t require any gluing to the top half of the Dreamcast shell. I also swapped the original LED with a blue one to match the new shell. Lastly, I also replaced the thermal pads on the Dreamcast with Fujipoly Extreme 1.5mm.
I also ended up fixing up another VA1 Dreamcast that was from a Goodwill auction I won for $21.50 about 2 years ago – it was a lot of 2 “as is” Dreamcasts, both of which were in poor cosmetic condition but otherwise functional. I fixed up this one with the same mods as my other Dreamcast but with a 5.15B GDEMU clone rather than original. This Dreamcast received a white LED instead to go with the Gray Skeleton shell.
The only mods I’m missing is the famed DCDIGITAL (aka DCHDMI) mod; fortunately I was lucky enough to snag 2 of these with spare flex ribbon cables last week. I’m still waiting for them to arrive but I will try my hand at installing them once I get better soldering equipment.
Last summer I modded my Dreamcast with a GDEMU and Noctua fan; I decided it was a good time to throw in a few more mods: a new power supply, battery holder, controller fuse and a 3D printed insert for the GDEMU.
Replacing the original power supply is generally recommended when you remove the optical drive to install the GDEMU or USB-GDROM; supposedly the power supply runs hotter because the 12 V rail is no longer loaded by the optical drive. There are a few ways to go about replacing the Dreamcast power supply:
I found an eBay seller offering pre-modded picoPSUs for the Dreamcast; they even include a 3D printed bracket to secure the unit in the same place as the original power supply. I went with this option since it was the most complete solution and required the least amount of work.
A 12 V DC power adapter is also needed to drive the picoPSU. Most recommendations are for one that can output 2 A to 5 A; you can find tons of generic wall warts and power bricks that meet this criteria on Amazon and eBay. I wanted the best one so it was hard deciding which of these generic power adapters to buy. Luckily I found a Seasonic power adapter that works perfectly for the Dreamcast picoPSU mod: the Seasonic SSA-0601HE-12. It’s rated for 12 V 5 A and has the correct barrel connector for the picoPSU (2.5mm, center positive). Seasonic is known as one of the best PC power supply manufacturers; based on Seasonic’s reputation alone, I’m going to say that this is the best power adapter for the Dreamcast picoPSU mod.
Installing a GDEMU leaves a lot of empty space in the drive tray and SD cards can drop out of reach during swaps. I bought a 3D printed insert that fills the void and came with an SD card extender; the insert gives the Dreamcast a nicer look and makes it easier to swap SD cards. The insert can be purchased from this eBay seller.
Years ago I modded my Dreamcast to use eneloop batteries instead of the built-in rechargeable battery. It works but doesn’t seem to last as long as you would think despite the capacity being several times greater. I removed the eneloops and installed a button cell battery holder and ML2032 battery for a cleaner look. I ordered the holder from Amazon and the battery from eBay but you can also find them bundled together on eBay like this.
The Dreamcast suffers from a common issue where controllers stop working because of a blown fuse although mine has never had this problem. I replaced it anyway with a PolySwitch 72V 400mA fuse from Amazon. This fuse can be reset by turning the Dreamcast off and on again. It’s a simple mod to perform; just swap the old fuse (labeled as F1) on the controller board with the PolySwitch. You can find a detailed guide on this mod here.
This is now the coolest Dreamcast I own; the only thing it’s missing is a DCHDMI. Fortunately I’ve already got a VGA box and OSSC.
The Redump set for PlayStation 1 USA is 385GB (just the games, no demo/samplers etc) in 7zip format; 7zip is not supported by the Beetle PSX core so when I originally added the PSX library to my Launchbox/RetroArch setup I just extracted every game. This took up a significant portion of the 1TB drive I was using to store all ROMs; additionally Redump uses separate BIN files for every track on the CD so a single game would have multiple BIN files plus the CUE. I found by accident an old Reddit post where I learned that you can compress BIN/CUE into Mame’s CHD format which is supported by the Beetle PSX core; the result is you will have a single compressed file for each PSX game that is comparable to the original 7zip in size and directly playable.
To do this conversion you need chdman.exe which can be found inside the MAME Official Windows Binary packages located here – mame0201b_64bit.exe was the latest release when I did the conversion.
Extract chdman.exe from mame0201b_64bit.exe into the same folder as your PSX BIN/CUE files. Then you can just run one command to convert everything to CHD:
Expect this to run for a long time; on the Redump set, this conversion took about 1.5 days on an i7-4770K and a 2.5″ 1TB Seagate FireCuda hybrid drive. You should also have free space equal to at least 1.5x the size of the Redump set before running the command.
For the last couple of years I’ve been doing my retrogaming with a combination EmulationStation and RetroArch. At first I was using a Zotac mini PC for the hardware and Lubuntu for the OS; at the time I also used this PC to play movies using Kodi. Looking back I’m not sure how that PC was able to emulate anything at full speed but I remember games running pretty well. EmulationStation on the other hand took forever to scrape metadata especially with the complete ROM sets for most systems. Eventually the Zotac was replaced by an Intel Skull Canyon NUC running Ubuntu. The NUC worked a million times better than the Zotac but with Retroarch on Ubuntu it seemed like configs were broken every time I ran apt-get update. I decided it was time to do a new setup for emulation; with a combination of new and old parts I was able to build another PC with the following specs:
Intel Core i7-4770K
Noctua NH-L9I CPU Fan
16GB Crucial Ballistix Sport VLP DDR3-1600
500GB Samsung 840 EVO
1TB Seagate Firecuda
Gigabyte Radeon R9 Nano
Fractal Design Node 202
600 Watt Corsair SF600 SFX Power Supply
2x Noctua 120mm NF-S12A Case Fans
The Node 202 is a compact ITX case which made cable management fairly challenging but I think I managed to pull off a decent job:
For this new build I used Windows 10 for the OS and replaced EmulationStation front-end with LaunchBox. It has an alternate mode similar to Steam’s Big Picture Mode that’s perfect for gaming on a big screen TV:
As you can see from the video, you get a short intro for each platform and gameplay footage per game if you have an EmuMovies account enabled for scraping. If EmuMovies doesn’t have gameplay footage then LaunchBox will usually at least display a screenshot of the game’s title screen. LaunchBox is a big step up from EmulationStation aesthetically; it’s also a big step up for storage requirements. I have the No-Intro ROM sets for the following systems: NES, SNES, N64, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Master System, Genesis, 32X, Game Gear and TurboGrafx 16. On top of this I have the complete ROM set for FBA 0.2.97.43 and the USA Redump PSX collection. With these platforms scraped in LaunchBox, the folder size weighs in at 152.4GB:
It should be no surprise Video is the largest subfolder at 81GB followed by Images at 48.4GB; I scraped my ROM collection with the default settings in LaunchBox so it’s possible to get a slimmer install by leaving out game manuals and other types of images like front/back box art, cartridge art, screenshots, etc.
The 4770K and R9 Nano are a few years old at this point but are more than enough to handle RetroArch at 4K. The best part of this new build is I can use shader presets that brought my NUC to a crawl. My favorite shader so far is CRT-Royale – an advanced shader preset designed to recreate the look of a CRT monitor. You can see from the screenshots below it even recreates soft glow around sprites against a black background:
For controllers, I have the 8BitDo SN30 Pro and SF30 Pro, Xbox Wireless Controllers, and Qanba Q4 RAF arcade sticks. Both the 8BitDo and Xbox controllers are paired via Plugable’s USB Bluetooth 4.0 Adapter. The adapter is supported out of the box with Windows 10 and pairing the controllers was easy. I set my input driver in RetroArch to dinput which makes every controller show up as generic “Bluetooth XINPUT compatible input device”; the advantage here is I can pick up any of the Xbox or 8BitDo controllers and start playing. My default config in RetroArch uses Bluetooth controllers while I have a separate config for the FB Alpha core so the sticks are used for Arcade games. If you use mixed controllers, I recommend using devreorder – it’s a program that allows you to define the order in which controllers are enumerated in Windows. I have it set so the Qanba sticks are first, followed by the Bluetooth controllers. This way RetroArch will always see the sticks and controllers in the same order; without it my sticks would stop working if one of the Bluetooth controllers shut off from idle (when the controller shuts off, RetroArch would enumerate input devices again and my stick would no longer be assigned to Player 1).
If you want to set up LaunchBox and RetroArch for yourself, I recommend getting RetroArch working first as LaunchBox is just a front-end that will launch RetroArch with the game you choose. There’s a decent guide for setting up RetroArch from Lifehacker here and the Youtube channel for LaunchBox has a good video on setting up both RetroArch and LaunchBox. The Lifehacker guide doesn’t mention which RetroArch cores to use so I recommend you try out the following:
Nestopia UE (NES)
bsnes mercury Accuracy (SNES)
Gambatte (Game Boy/Game Boy Color)
mGBA (Game Boy Advance)
Genesis Plus GX (Master System, Genesis, and Game Gear)
Beetle SGX (TurboGrafx 16/PC Engine SuperGrafx)
Beetle PSX (Playstation 1)
FB Alpha (Arcade)
Most of these cores are the defaults shown in the setup video from LaunchBox. FB Alpha doesn’t emulate every Arcade game like MAME does but covers most of the ones I care about like Capcom CPS and Neo Geo games. I prefer using FB Alpha over MAME because the MAME cores require additional setup for controller inputs; the whole point of using RetroArch is to have a unified interface and set up your configuration once.
Recently I managed to get my hands on the GDEMU – an SD card reader that takes the place of the Sega Dreamcast’s optical drive. With it you can place multiple Dreamcast game images on an SD card and load whatever game you want from a simple menu system named GDmenu. I set mine up with a SanDisk Extreme Pro 128GB SDXC and was able to fit all the games I cared about. The best part is you can play 1:1 dumps of Dreamcast games instead of burning rips to CD-Rs or scouring eBay for original discs. There is a noticeable decrease in loading times as well since there are no moving parts.
In addition to the GDEMU upgrade, I also replaced the original 30mm Dreamcast fan with a 40mm Noctua NF-A4x10 5V using a 3D printed mounting kit I bought off eBay (listing is gone but you can find the files for the kit here). Supposedly the Dreamcast runs hotter with the GDEMU because the GDEMU doesn’t use the 12v rail on the PSU which causes it to spike in voltage thus creating extra heat. There are some guides on the internet for either adding a resistor to load the 12v rail or removing the regulator for 12v entirely. I decided it was simpler to add a 12v fan for load and provide additional cooling to the PSU; I put a 40mm Noctua NF-A4x20 FLX in the back blowing into the PSU. Even with 2 fans, this entire setup is nearly silent compared to a stock Dreamcast.
I’ve been working on a new emulator build using Windows, Launchbox, and Retroarch. For my controllers I’ve always used Qanba Q4RAF sticks for arcade games and Xbox 360 controllers for consoles. I decided it was time to upgrade the controllers to something newer so I decided to pick up the 8Bitdo SF30 Pro and SN30 Pro Controllers. They’re basically replicas of the old SNES controller in both the Super Nintendo (SN30 Pro) and Super Famicom (SF30 Pro) colors. You can find plenty of in-depth reviews of these controllers on YouTube or Google; overall I’m quite pleased with these controllers for emulation usage.
Some things I noticed:
Everyone says to update the firmware out of the box; my SF30 Pro was already v1.25 (newest at the time of this post) but my SN30 Pro was v1.22.
The D-Pad on my SN30 Pro feels more worn and isn’t as stiff as my SF30 Pro’s D-Pad.
They pair quite easily with Windows 10 over Bluetooth; you can also use them wired (flat style USB-C cable is included)
You can pair both the SF30 Pro and SN30 Pro to your Windows PC for multiplayer games; they show up in Windows as “8Bitdo SF30 Pro” and “8Bitdo SN30 Pro” respectively. Not sure what happens if you have 2x SF30 Pros or 2x SN30 Pros since they share the same device name.
Works great with RetroArch; shows up as “Bluetooth XINPUT compatible input device”. If you have the SF30 Pro and SN30 Pro paired, then they will appear as “Bluetooth XINPUT compatible input device (#1)” and “Bluetooth XINPUT compatible input device (#2)”.
After modding my Sega Saturn to use AA Panasonic Eneloops, I found a guide where someone modded their Dreamcast with rechargeable AAA batteries. The Dreamcast uses a rechargeable 3V lithium battery; I’ve seen conflicting sources on the exact type of battery. I’ve read it can either an ML2430, ML2032, or LIR2032. Since my Dreamcast battery seemed to be dead, I decided to do the same mod but with AAA Panasonic Eneloops. They have a minimum capacity of 750mAh which is 7.5x the capacity of the ML2430 mentioned above. It will be interesting to see if the Eneloops stay topped off in the Dreamcast; assuming the Dreamcast uses the ML2430 and charges at a rate of 1C, it would take about 7.5 hours for the Dreamcast to fully charge the Eneloops.
You can see below I used a 2 AAA battery holder instead of taping and soldering them together like in the guide.
I’ve been cleaning out old boxes of junk and stumbled on my forgotten Sega Saturn console. Sometime during high school I had taken the wires for the CD-ROM door switch and simply twisted them together to enable using the Swap Trick to play backup games. I decided to implement a better fix by soldering an actual on/off switch and also do a mod of the built-in battery. Unlike the Sega Dreamcast that came after, the Sega Saturn does not use a built-in rechargeable battery for memory saves; it uses a CR2032 lithium battery. According to this Sega Saturn Battery FAQ, the CR2032 has a capacity of 230mAh and will last 1-2 years in normal use or 19 days if the console is unplugged. This FAQ also discusses using other lithium batteries with higher capacities than the CR2032; I decided to try using Panasonic Eneloops instead. They are considered one of the best, if not the best, rechargeable AA batteries on the market; Eneloops have a minimum capacity of 1900mAh and can keep their charge while sitting unused for several years.
I went to my local Fry’s Electronics store to pick up a 2 AA battery holder, mini on/off switch, and some 3M mounting tape. The battery mod is straight forward; solder the positive sides of the battery holder and the Saturn’s battery contact together and do the same for the negative sides. If you get a 2 AA battery holder, make sure it’s wired in series so you’re getting 3V from the two AA batteries.
Since the Eneloops have a capacity of at least 1900mAh, it should theoretically last much longer than using a CR2032. I’ve had it running since yesterday July 29th; I will make an update in the future on how well it performs. You could also use AA Lithium batteries instead like these.
I lost the cover to the battery compartment so I just mounted the battery holder where you would normally see the model number of the Sega Saturn. You can also see the mini on/off switch mounted above the battery compartment area. Not the cleanest looking mods but it works.