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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2018 8:00 pm 
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Many of you have probably heard of NESMaker. It's a WYSIWYG tool for creating hardware playable NES ROMs set to come out in the coming months after a very successful kickstarter campaign. One of the packages comes with an InfiniteNESLives kazzo usb flasher and reflashable cart for development; but, aside from that, not much information was provided about the specific hardware which would be required to support the ROMs generated by NESMaker.

I asked the creator of NESMaker for more information about what type of boards/mappers will be required, and if it will be compatible with donor boards.

They recommend Mapper 30 boards produced by INL and others - but those are essentially just Mapper 2 boards with some extra stuff like flash saves and chr ram bankswitching for animated tiles. The software allows you to also output Mapper 2 games which don't use those features, enabling you to use Mapper 2 boards which are very common. Also, all roms outputted by NESMaker will natively be 512kb.

I did a little research, but I admittedly know very little about different board types, mappers and other hardware. I assumed UNROM Mapper 2 games from the official NES library would be compatible as donor boards for ROMs created using NESMaker; but, they weren't able to give me any difinitive answer because they weren't sure about different mirroring shcemes, etc, doubted if any of them were 512kb. To keep things streamlined for end users they don't recommend using donor boards but instead using brand new boards, whether they be Mapper 30 or Mapper 2.

I am coming to you NESDev experts for a second opinion.
Am I correct in assuming UNROM Mapper 2 boards, such as Skate or Die, Faxanadu, or Jack Nicklaus Golf would be suitable as donor boards? Also, can you recommend any suitable donor boards to use as an alternative to the beefed up Mapper 30? I'm very interested in hearing what you guys think.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2018 8:27 pm 
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Official UNROM boards are wired to support a maximum of 128KB of PRG-ROM, but can be rewired to support 256KB, like the official and much rarer UOROM boards. Modifying either board to support 512KB will require new components, and more rewiring.

I believe that the push for mapper 30 and new boards is because the whole "donor cart" thing really is getting old. Sure, there are still a bunch of cheap carts of common games out there, but if the trend of using donor carts doesn't slow down, the damage we're doing to a part of gaming history might become significant. Cartridges that are considered cheap today may suddenly become collector's items if we keep destroying copies left and right, and eventually there will be no donor carts left, as every game will become rare.

Using donor carts was way more acceptable 15 or 20 years ago, when this was still new territory and there was no other choice for people who weren't particularly experienced with electronics. But things changed, and there's so much new hardware out there these days that it makes little sense to keep destroying original stuff, which is finite.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 08, 2018 8:17 am 
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I see, so new hardware is probably the best route after all.

Could you recommend any suppliers of Mapper 30 and Mapper 2 512kb boards? I know INL makes some, but they're listed as out of stock or coming soon. I was told there were a few companies making Mapper 30 boards and many who make Mapper 2.

My main concern was investing into this software and then not being able to find compatible hardware at an affordable price due to soaring demand.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 08, 2018 8:26 am 
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I wouldn't be surprised that most of the stock goes to those who backed the project. If you plan on getting a cartridge and writer then I suggest just backing the higher amount so you get your setup send to you as soon as it is released.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:02 am 
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Quote:
My main concern was investing into this software and then not being able to find compatible hardware at an affordable price due to soaring demand.


I don't think you need to worry. The "rule" of supply and demand actually has a good chance of working in your favour in this case.

When demand increases and/or gets more time-consistent/reliable, it makes ordering larger batches viable from the pcb plant. Large batches decrease the price of manufacture (less labour and logistics split per unit). the supplier can use this margin to either expand or rationalize operations, and/or maybe be able to offer good bulk deals in turn. Either way, it's good.

In the hypothetical case that demand increases so much that the current sole(?) supplier of said board can't or won't keep up, new suppliers of NESmaker-compatible PCB:s are somewhat likely to show up eventually.

Unlike foodstuff (which has a slow cycle of manufacture) and precious minerals and gems (which are rare and can't be conjured out of other elements), there are very few material clamping factors to ROM based storage, especially in our time with smd/smt and highly automated component population. And unlike some end consumer products which some companies and entrepreneurs clamp artificially to manipulate the attractiveness of the goods (fear of missing out), UNROM is a relatively easily reproduced mainstaple in NES hardware.

Lastly and perhaps more importantly, infiniteneslives who supplies a lot of the hardware currently available for homebrew purposes is somewhat of a pillar of the community and really helpful and friendly. I think there are plenty of people here who'd say the same.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:08 am 
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FrankenGraphics wrote:
When demand increases and/or gets more time-consistent/reliable, it makes ordering larger batches viable from the pcb plant.

True, but that isn't helpful if the memory plant is already operating at capacity. Besides, even the "larger batches" caused by NESmaker demand might not be enough to get factories to put out more 5 V NOR flash and 5 V CPLDs.

FrankenGraphics wrote:
Unlike foodstuff (which has a slow cycle of manufacture) and precious minerals and gems (which are rare and can't be conjured out of other elements), there are very few material clamping factors to ROM based storage, especially in our time with smd/smt and highly automated component population.

That and the price of flash itself.
In a six-month-old Tweet, @InfiniteNesLive wrote:
NOR flash prices have officially doubled... OUCH

Games might end up having to display a copyright notice for a few seconds while loading the rest of the game from eMMC into PSRAM, like on FDS, N64, and optical disc consoles. I hope it'd be as fast as Tetris for NES (4.3 seconds), not the ColecoVision BIOS (12 seconds).


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:30 am 
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Suppliers like mouser do seem to have pretty low capacity at the time being.

anyway, i took the first 512kB fROM unit listed just to demonstrate how drastically price per unit changes for a single component when ordering one versus ordering a thousand. Mouser doesn't even have parallel 5v NOR flash in that size listed from what i can tell (gulp), so this is just to demonstrate changes in price in differently sized bulk orders. https://www.mouser.se/ProductDetail/Ade ... 49yXfNc%3d

A parallel one with the lowest possible price i could find was this, which is still 3.3v, 1MB, requires sockets (might be expensive), and it has less than 1000 in stock. They do not list any parallel fROM:s under 1MB currently... https://www.mouser.se/ProductDetail/Mic ... %2f8EsY%3d

But just for showing the differences in price per unit, these two examples work. That's for one component. Add that principle to all components on-board + to the manufacture and population of the bcb itself, and it'd still be significant... even if there's a NOR flash crisis.

Quote:
Games might end up having to display a copyright notice for a few seconds while loading the rest of the game from eMMC into PSRAM, like on FDS, N64, and optical disc consoles. I hope it'd be as fast as Tetris for NES (4.3 seconds), not the ColecoVision BIOS (12 seconds).
Before that happens, i think a more reasonable way to adapt is having a proper 5v to 3.3v shifter onboard. But the cost for that needs to be weighed against the cost of 5v tech - or serial loading. Other memory/storage technologies than flash might also be viable - and increasingly so.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 08, 2018 12:19 pm 
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tepples wrote:
Games might end up having to display a copyright notice for a few seconds while loading the rest of the game from eMMC into PSRAM, like on FDS, N64, and optical disc consoles.

N64 is a cart console without loading times, and the cart bus runs at 264mb/s. Perhaps you mean a flashcart/copier?


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 08, 2018 12:23 pm 
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There appear to be two inexpensive 5V parallel NOR flash suppliers right now. One is Microchip; you can buy direct from them: http://www.microchipdirect.com/product/ ... sst39sf040

The other is Greenliant , but they don't seem to make 512KiB 5V parallel NOR flash.

The 3rd player left in the field appears to be Macronix, and they do make a 5V 1MiB flash, but their parts are more expensive.


calima wrote:
N64 [...]cart bus runs at 264mb/s.
Could run, theoretically. Actually runs at ≈6MB/sec. Still plenty fast for anything short of pretending it's RAM, as BMBx64 discovered.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 08, 2018 1:19 pm 
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The lack of *noticeable* load times is as good as *no* loading times, IMO.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 08, 2018 1:50 pm 
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We've got plenty of mapper 30 boards ready for assembly at any time. There's a number of reasons I never got around to posting them for sale on the site. Predominant one is problems with people buying homebrew only boards and trying to use them for non-homebrew. I'm planning to put a NESmaker specific page on the site, but I'm not ready to put products on it. Primary reason for that is the temporary non-stock of our kazzo/inlretro programmers while we migrate to the new design. Secondly and most importantly there are planned improvements for the boards being used for NESmaker to put the mirroring selection via software instead of a toggle switch that you have to re-open with screws to change.

We've shipped 100's of mapper 30 boards in the past year for homebrew releases and if you're ready to buy them right now I'll gladly sell them. But for everyone looking to buy stuff for NESmaker I'm suggesting you wait.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 08, 2018 3:06 pm 
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calima wrote:
tepples wrote:
Games might end up having to display a copyright notice for a few seconds while loading the rest of the game from eMMC into PSRAM, like on FDS, N64, and optical disc consoles.

N64 is a cart console without loading times

Nintendo 64 and Nintendo DS lack execute-in-place capability. The cartridge behaves as an SSD, and the bootloader loads the first megabyte or so of the cartridge into RAM before jumping to it.

But that's beside the point of the cost crossover points among NES cart donors with NOR flash memory, new NES cart boards with 5 V NOR flash memory, new NES cart boards with 3.3 V NOR flash memory, and new NES cart boards with PSRAM, eMMC or other NAND flash memory, and an MCU to handle the boot process.


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