Water For The Tribe

It seems the 5.20.1 FW for GDEMU is not fully stable, some people reported random game hangs. I’m not really sure why this happens, might be some obscure hardware issue – but I’ve developed a workaround that seems to work. So there’s a new FW available for download.

Unfortunately it took 2 tries and the first one was not fully successful yet some of the GDEMUs I’m currently shipping will have the earlier 5.20.2 FW. I will not be unpacking those, sorry, just upgrade when you get them.

And here’s a not very good photo of the almost-retail version of Wizard, installed on the back of CD-ROM assembly:

This works for generation 3 and 4, but not the first two ones. The very first tower is actually different inside but the good news is there seems to be space for the ODE, it just won’t be as easily accessible. The real issue is with gen 2, this one has this exact assembly but it’s occupied by a PCB. Not yet sure what can be done about that. Perhaps it can be moved a bit to make space for the ODE – we’ll see.

Fire Forge

I had several people report the new updater resolved their issues so I’ve brought back the download link. There is no need to redo the process if you have already used the older one and it worked for you.

GDEMU orders will be open this Saturday at 12:00 CEST (that’s noon for the 24h-impaired folks). Those will come already upgraded so don’t worry about this whole update thing.

And I’ve finally added the OLED connection diagram to the GDEMU installation page. Actual FW support will come a bit later.

UPDATE: GDEMU orders are now open closed. As usual please give me a few days to compile the list and send out confirmations.

Imbrium, contd.

UPDATE2: There’s a bug in early GDEMU bootloaders that was fixed in late 2016, it can randomly lock up the device while trying to execute the updater. Sorry about the download link confusion, I have a revised version ready but I need to test it some more. I will upload that one in 2-3 days.

UPDATE: The updater was tested on pretty much every GDEMU revision there was, including the early 2014 v5.0 models, and worked every time so I’m releasing it.

Okay – the updater for older GDEMUs is ready and has been tested. Still, after that angry comment in the last post I’m again questioning the wisdom of openly distributing a FW file that can potentially brick your device if you don’t follow my instructions to the letter. And apparently some people only read every second line or so, and then come to their own conclusions.

And, frankly, there could still be a bug in it, or perhaps my instructions are not that clear to begin with. Though – somewhat surprisingly – the people who have most problems are those that nearly don’t speak English and use various automated translation tools but also the native speakers.

My English might be somewhat rough around the edges but when I ask you to first rename a file and then copy it to the card, it’s not because I’m unable to form a complex sentence. You are supposed to do exactly that, in this particular order, step by step. I meant it when I said pretty much all issues people had updating the FW were self-inflicted.

So, this being a big update and a potential major disaster waiting to happen, I’m asking for some volunteers first. Leave a note in the comments, especially if you own an older (pre 2016) device. I will select a few people and offer full help should something go wrong. If that goes well, I will upload the updater for everyone to use. Also, people who can make a YT tutorial for those with, shall we say, shorter attention span are very welcome. A good video might be useful as well.

The gist of the update process is this:

  1. Flash the updater FW following the usual instructions on the blog page.
  2. Remove the card and power the Dreamcast once, without any card inserted, to let the updater do its work. Wait for BIOS menu to appear.
  3. Power off and then insert the 5.20+ FW to flash that, again follow the instructions.

And that’s it. Few notes:

  • Older GDEMUs (and I mean the realy early ones) have different flash patterns for FW update. In general it’s OK to go to step 2 anyway because if the file was corrupted or something went wrong, your device will simply blink and not start, but will not be bricked. So you can retry.
  • When booting the updater, wait for the Dreamcast to go the main menu. Then you can turn it off. If you get weird blinks on your device instead, contact me. The short LED blinking burst on power-on is normal.
  • Speaking of weird LED flashes, make sure your Dreamcast runs well and did not just get affected by the “bad PSU contact disease”. For example run it for few minutes first and make sure it doesn’t randomly reboot or go back to the menu from inside a game. You really don’t want the power loss to occur when updater is running.
  • If you turn off the console after updater has run and then turn it on again, GDEMU will blink like if it had no FW installed. That’s normal, it now wants the 5.20+ version and will no longer work with any previous one. Though if you follow the instructions you shouldn’t ever get here.
  • The updater actually does have some rudimentary OLED support but the 5.20 FW does not. I really need to make that connection diagram ASAP in case someone wants to use it.

Imbrium

I’ve prepared 5.20.0 FW for GDEMU, this one has fix for Skies of Arcadia and Resident Evil: Code Veronica. It’s been tested but there’s a lot of small changes to the code base so some new bugs might be present.

There’s a catch though. This FW is only compatible with GDEMUs that have the new improved bootloader installed. How can you tell if you have it? If your GDEMU was shipped in 2020 then it is compatible, anything earlier is not. For the earlier devices I will prepare an upgrade FW to be installed first, but this is not yet finished. It won’t be too long but it needs a lot of testing and that takes time.

DO NOT attempt to flash this FW on an older GDEMU.

The fix for SoA and RE:CV requires GDEMU to be slowed down – because these are actually game code bugs that are triggered by loading data too fast. I didn’t want this to affect other games as well (since there’s no need) so there’s auto-detection code added. But in case that doesn’t work, or if you want to slow things down manually, there’s a new INI option:

read_limit = N

Where N is a value between 600 and 1250 (kB/s), or 0 to disable the limiter. The default is -1 which means “automatic”.

Now, the exact speed I’ve picked for automatic setting might still need some tweaking, especially for RE:CV and/or 60Hz regions. So report back any issues.

I will move the FW download link to the correct page once the upgrader is ready – for now you can get the file here.

Foregone Destruction

I should be able to wrap most (if not all) Phoebe orders to UK and South Korea this week, or early next. Some COVID-19 related safety procedures are still in effect and that limits the scale of our operations, everything takes more time.

In the meantime I have prepared a batch of Rheas that you’ll be able to order this Saturday at 12:00 CEST. Now, this being smaller batch than usual and with more people sitting at home bored, I would assume it’s going to sell out pretty fast. Sorry in advance but that’s the situation right now.

Keep in mind there are still quite a few countries that I can’t ship to – most notably Australia, China, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand and Spain. See the updated full list in the last post. I will not accept orders from countries that I can’t ship to. And yes, I know it’s weird that I can ship to Portugal but not Spain, or to UK but not Ireland. But I don’t decide these things, this is related to various border crossing restrictions and international flights still being on hold.

One more thing, since it’s going so slow I figured maybe I should release the GDEMU FW in parts, first the fixes for SoA and RE:CV (since that’s pretty much done), and the OLED stuff later. A lot of people have been asking for those fixes lately and perhaps they don’t much care for the other changes. So I’m going to try and come up with something in the next two weeks.

UPDATE: Rhea orders are open now closed. Well, that wasn’t as bad as I’ve feared, there was plenty of time to grab one.

Stayin’ Alive, contd.

UPDATE: Here’s a full list of the countries I can ship to as of 2020-05-25. If your country is not on this list then shipping is not possible at this time. Note, delivery times might be longer than usual.

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Belarus
  • Bulgaria
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China
  • Croatia
  • Czechia
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong
  • Hungary
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Lithuania
  • Latvia
  • Mexico
  • Monaco
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Russia
  • San Marino
  • Serbia
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Thailand
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine
  • UK
  • Uruguay
  • USA
  • Vatican

 

UPDATE: I can now ship to Italy, and Canada via airmail. Please pay attention to your PayPal account. Oh, actually, Netherlands and Switzerland are also in the green now. It’s hard to  keep track but rest assured I’m going through the list and will catch up soon.

Status update: I can now ship to a handful of EU/Schengen countries, most notably Germany and France. Also Belgium, Finland, Hungary and Romania.

However Italy and Spain are still no-go, same goes for UK. I can’t ship anything to USA or Canada either, other than by sea and as a bulk mail, so that’s out of question. There are some other options for those two countries like courier services but the prices are higher (about 20 USD) and I’d have to declare full value for insurance purposes so you’d be paying import taxes or customs fees. Still looking into it.

Shipping to other countries is not possible at this time. Please don’t ask me when that’s going to change, I have no idea.

EDIT: Note, I have no control over delivery times and I expect those to be longer. Postal office workers were very particular about stamping a legible date so possibly some of my letters will undergo a quarantine in the destination country.

And a word of explanation because I’ve got a few emails about it – no, CDI is not a preferred format for all my ODEs. I’ve seen a lof of people “trying to help” by suggesting the images be converted to CDI first if something doesn’t work. Don’t do that.

CDI is pretty much required for Dreamcast homebrew and MIL-CDs, especially for Bleem! – but that’s because most rips were done that way as CDI had good multi-session support and stored pregap data for all tracks. Other systems however don’t use multisession CDs (and support for those is generally better today as well) so CloneCD or Alcohol 120% images are fine. So are single-track ISO or BIN images.

Other than GDI, CDI was the go-to format on Dreamcast so obviously it was the first thing I supported on other ODEs but support for CCD and MDS/MDF was added years ago. In fact if I had to pick a “preferred” format it would be CloneCD.

So, TL;DR: On Dreamcast stick to GDIs, or CDIs for non-game / MIL-CD rips. On other consoles/ODEs you can still use CDIs, sure, but actually CCD is a better idea.

A Kind of Magic

There haven’t been any photos on the blog lately so here’s one:

The big green thing is called Grey Tower Wizard – or Wizard in short. It’s a prototype obviously but the final product won’t be much different. What does it do?

Well, for one it’s a working FM Towns ODE – I mean it works on my gen 3 at least but hopefully it’ll also work on other tower models:

  • gen 1 – MODEL 1 and MODEL 2
  • gen 2 – 1F, 2F, 1H, 2H
  • gen 3 – 10F, 20F, 40H, 80H
  • gen 4 – TOWNS2 CX

If you have gen 1, 2 or 4 please contact me, I need some photos. You’ll need a screwdriver and general knowledge on how to disassemble your unit. I can help with that but you still need the skills. I’m also interested in photos of the UX and UG models since I have no idea if those use tower or desktop CD drives.

Anyway, the Wizard is meant to be mounted inside the case, there’s empty space for it right on the back side of the front panel assembly. This way you don’t need to remove your CD-ROM, no matter if it works or not. In fact if it does work you can still use it, connect it like you see on the photo and the jumper on the bottom selects which device will be used – ODE or CD-ROM.

Does it mean you can use both at the same time? No, and also switching between them requires a power-off, but all you have to do is move the jumper. I might change that to a small switch. Also, that doesn’t allow you to rip CDs directly to the card with that setup, not that you would want to use Towns CD-ROM drive for that purpose, trust me.

There’s a catch though, I was unable to find the very unique connectors that Fujitsu used on these drives so soldering is required. There are a few ways that can be done, depending on whether or not you actually want to keep using the CD-ROM (if it works). Wires can be soldered directly to each PCB or original CD-ROM connectors can be carefully removed and replaced with modern ones.

You can also spot 2 yellow holders for CR2430 and CR2450 coin cells – these are optional but can be used to replace the (usually dead) battery pack in the tower. That requires soldering another 4 wires to the PCB (once cut from the original pack). This way time and HDD settings will not be lost each time, very useful if you use HDD (or SCSI2SD emulator).

Stayin’ Alive

Last post was fun – so many people thinking that my temporary USA ban was some form of political statement, and/or having no clue on how international mail is actually being moved around. Even some of the “you suck” crowd came to chip in. Well, whatever. They see me rollin’, they hatin’.

Facts are: Borders are closed. Well, technically not closed completly but all air and rail traffic is cancelled, foreigners are not allowed in unless they work in Poland, everyone else gets mandatory 14-day quarantine. Again, except people crossing the border to work but I really don’t want to get into the specific details here. The important thing to note here is:

Postal services for all international mail are on hold. There will be no ODE shipping for the next 2 weeks, and frankly it’s pretty much given that time will be extended.

The official statement, use your preferred online translator: https://www.poczta-polska.pl/zmiany-w-zwiazku-z-wprowadzeniem-stanu-zagrozenia-epidemicznego/

I will send confirmation emails later today, but obviously all the orders are on hold until further notice. Sorry.

And for those who still don’t get it – not all goods are being shipped the same way. Sure, some countries might allow bulk cargo ships (after any quarantine period) but that doesn’t mean I can go to the nearest port, toss the bags over and that’s it. Contrary to some opinions of reddit armchair experts – I’ve been doing this for a few years now, I do have some idea of what I’m doing.

No Clover At All

URGENT: On Sunday Poland will suspend all international air and rail traffic. I should still be able to ship to EU/Schengen because that’s road traffic – but that’s unclear due to 14-day quarantine for anyone crossing the border.

URGENT: Italy is no-go as of today (2020-03-13). Czechia and Slovakia moved to conditional status.

Most of DocBrowns have been shipped, if a bit later than I’ve anticipated. That new virus has several names already and keeps spreading, affecting my operations as well. There are delays in part shipments, various timetables change at a moment’s notice and it’s difficult to keep everything organized and going. I’m afraid this will be the case for weeks, if not months, to come.

Speaking of operations, I will open orders for Phoebe this Saturday at around 12:00 CET – that’s noon for the AM/PM people. Most importantly there will be exclusions this time, due to the virus and air traffic being affected:

  • China and Hong Kong / Macau regions: orders will not be accepted
  • Italy: orders conditionally accepted for now not accepted, see above
  • USA: orders will not be accepted

Sorry USA but with that new ban on travelling there’s too much conflicting info around and I can’t have my packages bounce after being stamped – that’s a lot of time and shipping costs wasted. Hopefully this is just a one-time thing but there’s already less planes and a lot of packages go by sea, and I’m tired of dealing with “Dude, where’s my mail?” questions. If it turns out cargo planes are also not allowed to land then ordering restriction will probably stay for the duration of the air travel ban.

And no, I will not accept orders to ship “at a later date”. I did that once, if accidentally, and I’m not repeating that mistake again. I also don’t want to sit, for weeks, on a bunch of “reserved” devices that I can’t ship or sell to anybody else, sorry.

Italy is a bit of a weird case, some shipping methods are not available now but it seems my class of pacakges is still allowed to go through – so as long as that’s the case, I will accept orders. Delivery times might be longer than usual.

China is still mostly on lockdown and I have a queue of Rhea orders waiting to be shipped, so I’m not accepting any more orders until airlines resume flights and I have all that sorted out.

Well, that’s the situation we are in now. It might get worse before it gets better.

UPDATE: Yes, I know the USA ban is for travel, not for goods. I also know that much of the letter-class mail actually goes into passenger planes as extra cargo. No passengers = no planes = no extra cargo space. That means other shipping methods must be used, not everything will fit into cargo planes and my envelopes were not meant to spend weeks at sea, in salty air, crammed together with heavier packages. And I already mentioned the lack of patience on longer delivery times, the comments also speak a lot about that.

No Leaf Clover, contd.

Pretty much all Rheas have been shipped – except orders from China. These might take a while, latest news are not good and the lockdown might very well be in effect for weeks yet.

I will open orders for DocBrown this Saturday, at 18:00 CET. I will have these in about 2 weeks so it’s a good time to do it. After that, it’s either GDEMUs or Phoebes, haven’t decided yet – will let you know once I have better idea of the production progress.

Also, let me remind you the orders are for one device, per person, per order. The Ordering page was not very clear about that and will be updated soon.