I feel better now but the same can’t be said about my coworkers so Saturn ODEs will be delayed further. I hope to have better news to share come 2nd week of March or so. But we did manage to get something done – I will have some GDEMUs for sale next week. I will open orders this Saturday.
Now, I need to explain a few things, let’s start with PCE: My device is meant to replace the CD-ROM drive, and only that. If you are looking for something more then there is another solution on the market that basically replaces the whole IF unit and AFAIK even lets you play cart-based games. It’s an interesting (if somewhat expensive) approach but personally I’ve always preferred to leave as much of the original console intact as possible. Because once you start improving and replacing things, where do you stop? But you have a choice now – and I wanted this to be clear as some people expect me to pretty much make the same thing, but cheaper.
With that out of the way let’s talk about FM Towns. Here’s a mockup of how the new ODE fits inside the Marty:
The final product will have black/gold PCB. I would’ve liked to keep the SD card socket at the edge of the PCB but it’s not really possible here – there are some pros and cons of this approach. You need to learn how to remove the card with your fingernail (it’s easy once you figure it out) but at the same time there is less risk of it falling into the console. Plus the PCB doesn’t move around as it’s being held by the original metal pegs. No soldering of any kind, obviously.
With the latest changes to the PCB I got it working pretty well, so well in fact I will offer that overclock option I mentioned to speed up loading times. And now it’s even better than 10% 🙂 I’ve tested a few dozen games with it on and everything loaded just fine. It’s completly optional though. Now I plan to order just a few PCBs to assemble by hand for the final check, and try to sell them. If there are no problems I will make a bigger batch. I still expect this batch to be small, while the PCB is bigger and considerably more expensive for me. Shipping will be somewhat more expensive too. Expect a bit higher price than usual, for now I think 150 Euro will cover everything.
Speaking of prices, I did take a look at non-Marty FM Towns machines. Well, I didn’t much like what I saw. For now I’m going to try getting a broken unit and attempting a repair – though I’m not very optimistic about that. But at the very least I will have some spare parts and something to study closer, since I have to figure out the connectors, where and how to put the ODE, etc. But a good, working FMT box is about 800 Euros (and full sets go for way more), and worse yet there are at least 3 distinct kinds: The original one with vertical CD drive, the U* versions that had the monitor built-in and a more typical tray drive, and the later 486 horizontal desktops. Which apparently also got an upgraded x2 speed drive at some point. I’m not even going to bother with the late Pentium and above models.
So chances are all these have different drives with different protocols, and I’m not buying one of each to verify that. Not at these prices plus I really have no space for any of it. So, those of you that want FMT ODE, any ideas on what to do about it? Please leave comments.
Let me start with some bad news first: I have a cold, or flu, or whatever that is that’s been bugging me for a week now. And not just me I’m afraid – so long story short the Saturn ODEs will have to wait until 2nd or 3rd week of February. Hopefully by then I will have enough of either Rheas or Phoebes to take orders.
Since I’m having some trouble with PCE I decided to do something else, for the fun of it. I got some help too so a lot of time consuming tasks (like checking what signals go to what chips) were done for me. Again long story short I’ve recently made this:
It’s FM Towns Marty ODE I’m calling DocBrown – and the good news is I just got it to boot games this past weekend. Now, obviously it’s a prototype but seems to work pretty well actually, even if right now it needs that FPGA next to it to fix timings on one of the signals that I can’t get right with the MCU alone. I should be able to overcome this with some external logic/PLD though, I already have an idea and if parts arrive soon I can test it next weekend.
So far I’ve tested: Flashback, Loom, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and Ultima Underworld – everything works. UU loading time is still terrible but that’s how the game was coded, it does a lot of short reads (tons of small files) and Marty requires drive seek times not to be zero. Still way faster than original drive, plus I found out I might be able to offer a small data transfer speedup via signal overclocking. It’s going to be optional and not enabled by default, and it’s just 10% or so – nothing fancy. Oh and the hardware was designed with CD+G support in mind but I haven’t tested or even coded that yet, first I need to get that core functionality right.
Anyway, if Marty ODE is something you’re interested in buying please leave a short comment – when/if I get it working without FPGA I could order revised PCBs for initial batch. Do note Marty drive is not the same as in regular FM Towns! If it’s the other one you want please leave a comment too, I might just buy that system next 🙂
I’m old enough to remember that a 386 not respecting R/W page bits in ring 0 was a big deal that had to be worked around in SW, incurring performance penalty. Fast forward a couple of decades and it seems paging is still a difficult subject. Make no mistake, this is no bug (Intel admits as much) but a design decision that produced perhaps faster but ultimately unsecure CPUs. Welp, not my problem, I have a buggy Ryzen 🙂
Anyway, I have some GDEMUs for sale so I will be taking orders this Saturday. Not all that many so it’ll probably be a short sale. More devices are in production and I should have some more Saturn ODEs soon as well. As in maybe this month but I’m not sure about that yet.
Very sorry about lack of PCE status updates, my December was more busy than I predicted, but there will be something worth showing in the coming weeks. Turns out working on so many projects at once can slow things down quite a lot. Who knew?
EDIT: GDEMU orders are
open closed. Before you complain about this being sneaky, trust me, it’s the better solution. A lot of you claim you’d be willing to get on the list even if it meant months of waiting, so long you were sure you are getting one. Let’s just say I tried that and know from experience it’s BS so I won’t be doing it this way anymore.
Consider it a late Xmas present: There is a new FW for Rhea/Phobe that should fix those few games that use CDDA for voiceovers. It’s probably not a complete list but the affected titles are:
- Taito Chase HQ
- Side Pocket 2
- Space Jam
- Nobunaga no Yabou Shouseiroku
- Monster Slider
I did test it but not very extensively and the code change is significant so new bugs might manifest too 🙂 Speaking of bugs, keep in mind that Bug! works but only when booted cleanly without RMENU. And obviously the fixed games I mentioned do require the images to contain all the subchannel data to work – so make sure your dump is correct. I will ignore any problem/bug reports from people who can’t tell, but I realize not everyone knows (or want’s to know) such technical details. So as a rule of thumb a CUE/BIN format doesn’t have subs (yet another reason why it’s shit) but CCD does. If it was properly dumped from original disc anyway. Same for CDI but this format defaults to no subs so again you need to know how to rip the CD properly or you will end up with an image that doesn’t quite work. MDS/MDF is like CDI, it can carry subs but it’s not the default setting.
This whole format issue comes back every now and then, and each time I hear the argument that CUE is not so bad – 90% of games work without issues. Well, I don’t aim for 90%, I aim for 100%.
Phoebe orders are
now open closed.
I expect to get more devices in a week so I will accept more orders than I have stock. If it doesn’t work out I might have to cancel some of the orders or move them to next year’s batch. I wish to avoid shipping in December.
Also keep in mind Phoebes are already preconfigured and I have only so many prepared for each type of console. Make sure you ask for the correct one or I might not have any spares for later change of mind – and your order will be cancelled instead.
All GDEMUs have been shipped but it took longer than I planned, and the side effect is more were made and I still have some left. Not quite enough to start a new list, but too many to just let them sit in the box until next batch. Considering I want to avoid shipping anything in December that might be some time.
So, here’s a quick sale for the always unhappy west coast people. GDEMU orders are
After I’m done with this I will start taking orders for Rheas, and Phoebes next. I want these to be short batches too – and I already have some ready so it should all be done before December.
EDIT: Rhea orders are now
open on hold for few hours open again closed.
EDIT 2: Phoebe orders will open next Saturday.
If you haven’t received your GDEMU payment request yet you need to add 2 weeks to the waiting time. Long story short is the vacation season is not over and some of my coworkers had plans I was not aware of. This kinda wrecked my schedule so I will need more time to finish everything.
It’s also another reason why I don’t make long waiting lists – these otherwise small things can basically derail everything at any moment. The main reason is still the same though, the endless “Is it ready yet?!” messages I get after only 3 weeks (when I said it would take that many) are quite annoying. Imagine what 3+ months would be like. Also the comments are nothing compared to the amount I get directly via email…
Unfortunately this delay also affects the PCE project, and there’s another family visit coming up this weekend so not much will be done 😦 When it rains it pours.