A Hot Mess

It seems I’ve introduced an annoying bug into some Phoebes that shipped recently (some group 1 orders). The symptoms are:

  • status LED on Phoebe is lit for 3 seconds, then blinks once, then the cycle repeats
  • games don’t work, console behaves oddly

This is triggered randomly, typically when the supply voltage is unstable (so during power-up or power-down) and will not go away on it’s own. Can’t be fixed by reflashing 3.6 FW.

Here’s the procedure you need to follow:

Do you already have the issue? If not, start RMENU and press C button to see what FW version your ODE has. If it’s less than 4.0 then it won’t happen to you.
If it is 4.0.0 there is a good chance you will eventually ecounter this problem – you don’t need to do anything right now but I’d recommend fixing it anyway, sooner rather than later.

If you already have it or want to fix it before it happens:
Download the FIX FW file and the 4.0.1 FW. Prepare a card for FW upgrade, read about the process on my Updating Phoebe page and be sure you understand the instructions. If not, ask first.

1) Flash the _fix FW, turn your console off after flashing. Remove the SD card and any Saturn slot carts you might have installed.
2) Turn the console on, without any card/cart inserted. It might not show the opening animation but it will go into the Saturn BIOS menu eventually. Turn console off once it does.

DO NOT turn it off until you get into the menu, doing so might brick your ODE.

3) Put the 4.0.1 FW on the card and flash that. Once it is done you can use the console again and the problem should not return.

Few things to note:
– The 4.0 series can’t be downgraded to anything lower than 4.0.0
– To prevent people from flashing just the 4.0.1, without the fix, it will not work unless it detects the fix being applied previously.
– You don’t need to upgrade from 3.6 to 4.0 – but if you want to, you have to apply the fix first.

The only difference between 3.6 and 4.0 is I’ve updated the bootloader so it’s much faster now. This is a backport of DocBrown code and allows flashing much bigger FW files in reasonable time.

Sorry for all that but my consoles didn’t trigger the bug (yet) so I never caught it in testing. And again, if anything is not clear ask first.

Advertisements

Catch Me if You Can

Seems like everybody is ditching their Intels, with new security issues found every day. I got into that mood as well and decided to retire another i386, a DX this time. Obviously it wouldn’t be any fun if it wasn’t soldered to the motherboard 🙂

And the replacement is a TX486DLC, another Cyrix in other words. I had to write my own cache configurator for the different memory map a full 32-bit Towns has, but I’m happy to report that both the CPU and the program work fine.

Benchmark results are pretty much identical to the 486 Marty, though this CPU doesn’t have a clock doubler so it’s still a 16MHz system. I know some people opt to change the clock generator to overclock it a bit but I decided not to. With cache enabled and possibly RAM timing tweaked it’s plenty fast for that machine already – twice faster than the 386 in fact.

I’m almost done shipping group 1 Phoebes so now I’ll have a week or two to fully dedicate to DocBrown. BTW, another Rhea batch will be ready soon as well, as usual watch the blog for ordering window announcements.

The Rhythm of Everyday Life, contd.

There had to be some page caching issue that, coupled with the massive inrush of orders since I gave the exact opening time, caused way more orders to be accepted than I have stock. WAY more.

So, emergency procedures are now in effect. I will need days to process the emails and weed out duplicates and send confimations. Note that some providers tend to block me since I send out bulk emails – if you don’t hear from me before next Saturday assume your order didn’t get through. But keep an eye on your PayPal account just in case.

The orders will be split into 2 groups. The first will ship in 1-3 weeks, the second will have to wait for more devices – which, considering the weather, may take up to 2 months. So here is your chance to prove that you can indeed sit patiently on a long waiting list. You’ll know what group you’re in once you get the confirmation. Which BTW you should read, it’s not  just a “You got in” email.

Speaking of patience, I did a long list once so I know what’s in store for me. I’m going to make this clear – you bother me for no good reason, and that includes “Is it ready yet?” questions, and I will eventually get annoyed enough to do something about it. Most likely I’ll just cancel your order and ignore you.

And, as I’ve explained last time, all the people that didn’t do their job and check their Saturn type properly before ordering will be penalized by being moved to the end of group 2 orders.

The Rhythm of Everyday Life

Phoebe orders will open this Saturday at about 11:00 Central European Summer Time. I expect the devices to be ready in 1-2 weeks but do note it’s the middle of Summer here and it’s hot. 30C during the day doesn’t exactly motivate me to work faster.

DocBrown FW seems to be finally working with the security changes I introduced so now I can plan the actual shipping. Due to the weather though it will probably wait untill Phoebe is done.

Owners of the pre-order DocBrowns, I will contact you in a week or two with a customised FW upgrade for your devices if you want to use the software menu. Again thank you for your patience.

UPDATE: I forgot to add this: Last time there were A LOT of people who figured they’d just fill in the order form first and check their actual Saturn type later, and email me to “correct” it. This is not how it works. Not only I get a lot of emails that I have to process and reply to, I end up with Phoebes that I need to reconfigure and retest. So from now on you will get your Saturn type right or I reserve the right to move to the very back of the list and even remove you if I run out of the specific type you need. You were warned.

UPDATE 2: Phoebe orders are now open closed. That was unusually fast. I went to splash my face now I have twice as many orders as I have stock… What to do.

Still Loving You

It turned out that we are short on capacitors for Rhea and Phoebe as well so these will be delayed a week or two. Therefore,  since it always takes a bit of time to switch production to another device, it makes more sense to open orders for GDEMU again as these will be ready faster: Saturday, same time as before.

DocBrown PCBs have arrived and I’m pretty much done with the FW changes. After some more testing I will attempt to process these already overdue orders alongside GDEMU or Phoebe. Again, sorry for the delay. BTW the early prototype for FM Towns tower is kinda done but I’m having a hard time coming up with acceptable installation solution. Not to mention the darn connectors that are, as always, so unique that nothing seems to fit properly. One of the ideas I had is to make a pass-through ODE that would actually let you keep the original drive and still use it. But there are two major cons: 1) The ODE would be inside the tower and only accessible once the side cover is taken off, and 2) There would be some wire soldering involved. Nothing too difficult but it’s won’t be plug’n’play. But that would both allow a pass-through and solve the connector issue. What do you think?

Phoebe will be the next device to be made, after GDEMU orders are shipped, but I expect the whole next week to be very busy – so no estimates. Keep your eyes on the blog as usual I guess.

UPDATE: GDEMU orders are open. And we are done for this batch.

Ruiner, contd.

This will be a rant. Though it’s a blog I normally don’t do rants – but seeing how I started this shitstorm it’s only fitting I try to clean up the mess. And I have better things to do than argue with Internet warriors in the comments, it’s a loosing battle so one last post and I’m done with it.

First, thank you people for all the kind words. I didn’t say I WILL raise the prices, just that I’m considering it. The example I gave was just that, an example. But then again if I do add more security to my new projects I might have no other choice but to revise the pricing somewhat. All of that is still something I’m thinking about.

Second, I expected the “it’s your fault” argument but it still surprises me how many people belive that. This is my last ditch attempt at explaining my position, I will ignore any further comments on that.

So you say it’s all because of poor availability that you buy clones. And you give me “an offer I can’t refuse” – either I make more devices or you will buy the clone. Moral, legal and free market arguments aside, that is simply put bullshit.

Let’s say I priced my devices 250 Euro a piece. Or, better yet, 500. How many people do you think would buy a GDEMU for 500? I’d be lucky to sell any at all. So I would have stock, since nobody is buying. Great availability. Except now you’d claim (and rightfully so) that my prices are insane, and you want to get my device but can’t pay so much so you’re going to buy the clone instead. Same story, different angle.

So, really, what you want is that I have both stock and low price. And while I fully understand that, it’s not how things work, I have my limits. And not just me, there has been and will be a lot of other products out there that people want, and cheaply too. And they are not going to get it. The latest being RAM and GPUs for example.

In fact I belive I can stretch this argument further – if I had the device more often in stock you’d demand other concessions. Lower the price. Have the orders always open. Lower the price again. Because it’s the same demand all over again – the cloners have it, and they have it cheaper.

Well, the whole point of cloning is that all you have to do is manufacturing. No R&D, no software, no testing, no work on other devices, nothing but manufacturing. And in a place where both the parts and labor are way cheaper the price is always going to be better than mine. So I can NEVER, ever, win on the price or availability – and so you’ll always have the argument that the cloner is just “better business” for you.

Now, granted, some might say that if the price is close enough they would rather buy the original. Well gee, thanks. But it’s again the same argument, either I meet your demands on what you think you should pay me, or you will just pay the thieves to steal from me instead. What’s not to like? “Here, have my 50$” for a device that costs me more in parts. “Don’t want it? I’m buying a clone instead and you should learn how to do business.”

As for the argument that you are staying up untill 5 in the morning to get into ordering queue, well, the Earth is round (belive it or not). From my point of view you live on the opposite side of it. But sure, feel free to blame me for that as well. After all I don’t need to sleep. And please spare me that old argument that you’d wait for months if necessary if you only you were sure to get the ODE. My current waiting times are weeks and already the attrition rate near the end of the list is so big that I take more orders than I have stock. So that’s bullshit too, I know from experience. I did a “long” list once, accidentaly, and that was an unmitigated disaster.

Morality and legality of buying clones aside, that is just a short-term gain and long-term loss for you, though I guess you don’t care. The message it sends is the device has to expensive and well secured. You’re going to bitch anyway, might as well profit on it. As for me – once burned, twice shy. There is perhaps a great community supporting projects like mine but it’s much smaller than it seems. Most people just want cheap toys to play with and don’t care how they get them. Seems obvious but I underestimated just how low some are willing to stoop to get what they want.

And that’s it folks. If this didn’t convince you, nothing will. Except maybe if it happens to you – and I really would like for you to learn that this stick you’re beating me with has two ends. One can only hope.

Ruiner

I think it’s high time to address the elephant in the room. Yes, GDEMU has been cloned. The clone is not perfect, it does work but not without issues and can’t have the FW upgraded.

And you know what, turns out it is – after all – my fault that it got cloned. The reason being I made my devices too affordable and picked common off-the-shelf parts with not enough security. I looked at the prices of other similar projects and figured I can make mine cheaper since it didn’t make sense to me that the ODE costs twice what the console does. Turns out that was a huge mistake, too many would rather stuff the cloner’s pockets and claim it’s competition. And best of all I’m the one being called money pinching piracy enabler – might as well play the part. Why should I care how many can afford my devices? If I price them at over 200 Euros I will get less orders but still the same profit. That’s less work for me too. Clearly I need to rethink what I’m doing here.

So, there will be changes. Let’s start with the rules – mentioning or discussing the clones is fair enough but posting links to ebay or sales pages is not. Don’t do it. Also, commenting only to say that you want a clone or got one and it works great? That’s trolling (not even very creative) and wasn’t allowed anyway but I mostly turned a blind eye so far. Too much, I suppose.

As for new projects – I will use more expensive parts now. I’m experimenting with clone-resistant code, and new ideas in general, and DocBrown is going to be the first device to test some of those. That’s why the menu software isn’t ready yet – or actually, it is, but I’m going to release it along with newer FW and not any sooner.

The PCE ODE will require a major redesign though, I’ve put too much time into it to just see it cloned right away. I was too obsessed with cost cutting and frankly I don’t care if I only sell 5 of these by the time I’m done. This was a hobby project I had hoped would be useful for other people as well and initially I only wanted to make just a bunch for some guys I know.

TL;DR: Enjoy your cheap SEGA CD ODE “competition”. Oh wait…