Famulator (ファミレータ) Famicom clone (+mod to fix the audio)

I’ve always been fascinated by Famiclones.

The first Famiclones were straight pirated Famicom hardware clones, but by the 90s this had been consolidated down to single chip designs, usually referred to as NOAC – NES on a chip. While NOACs lose accuracy, they can be produced very cheaply and thus proliferated as the gaming machine of choice throughout copyright-infrinegment playgrounds like Eastern Europe, South America and greater Asia throughout the 90s. If you take pirate consoles into account, the Famicom is surely by far the highest selling system of all time. There’s a decent number of Famiclone models documented here.

Famiclones had a second life in Japan after Nintendo’s patent on the hardware expired in 2003. Due to the vast majority of Famicoms in Japan being RF-only, there was a market for a cheap AV Famicom as the retro boom began. One I’ve always wanted to get my hands is was the Famulator, released in early 2008, and I finally grabbed one recently.

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One reason is simply the name Famulator, which is too cute, but the tasteful design, of course evoking the original Famicom, sets it apart from your average junk looking Famiclone.

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And it’s tiny, barely bigger than a Famicom cart, and less than half the size of the original. Kawaii as hell. The controller, which connects via standard Famiclone DB9 connector, is also quote excellent, there’s very low travel on the buttons, giving it a Game Boy Advance SP feel.

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It’s great looking and plays well, and is a pretty decent NOAC Famicom. There is one catch. The earliest release of the Famulator overamplifies the the sound, leading to peaking levels and distortion. And the expansion audio is not connected, so Famicom Disk and other expansion audio games are missing the extra sound channels. Luckily I found quite an easy fix for both on this Japanese website.

The audio can be fixed simply by chopping off the transistor at the position marked Q2, and soldering the right two leftover legs together. It worked perfectly and the regular audio was fixed.

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To add support for expansion audio, you can simply insert connections for pins 45 and 46 to the circuit at positive leg of the capacitor at C9.

Of course with plenty of real Famicom hardware around it’s not like this will get a lot of play time, but it’s a cool little toy to have, and yet another part of the rich tapestry of Famicom history.

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Adding a Sega controller adapter to an original SG-1000 (home made JC-100)

So you want to play some SG-1000 games old-school style…

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…but the original SJ-200 joystick controller is a complete nightmare to use…

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Sure, there’s a plug on the right for player 2 which can use any DB9 connector Sega pad, but player 1 is stuck with the SJ-200 tethered to the console.

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Sega acknowledged their first controller sucked, and released a small modification/adapter called the JC-100, which allowed original console owners to to use the new pads released alongside the SG-1000 II.

It would be impossible to get hold of a JC-100 now, but you can easily make one yourself. All you need are the following:

  • Mega Drive/Master System extension cable
  • Header plug with crimp connectors with correct spacing and at least seven pins – I’m using a pretty standard eight pin
  • Crimp tool
  • Phillips head screwdriver

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First up open up the console (only four screws) and you can see the controller is removable, plugged in via a PC-like seven pin adapter.

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The way DB9 controllers work is to ground a line corresponding to a button when pressed, so there’s a whole line for each button/direction, plus ground. The pins are handily numbered, and align to the following:

  1. Button 1
  2. Button 2
  3. Right
  4. Left
  5. Down
  6. Up
  7. Ground

To make the adapter, start by slicing the extension cable at whatever length you like, then stripping the cover and the end of each wire. The internal insulation cotton can also be removed.SG1000adapter_5520SG1000adapter_5521

You’ll need to do some tests to see which wire is which, as in my case they wire colours did not line up to the colours of the original controller wires. In mine the colours lined up to:

  • Blue – Ground
  • Red – Up
  • Black – Down
  • Grey – Left
  • Pink – Right
  • Green – Button 1
  • Yellow – Button 2
  • White and Brown – Unused

Crimp the relevant wires to the pins using the crimp tool. You can get away with using pliers, but a crimp tool will make a much cleaner and stronger… well… crimp.

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The pins can then be plugged into the header plug in the correct order. Since I’m using an eight pin connector, it will stick out the back a bit, but there’s room and I’m not using position eight.

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Slice off the unused two wires and we’re done.

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Plug it into the console and close it up.

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Now you can use pretty much any pre-Saturn Sega pad on your console. You can go period-accurate and use an SJ-150:

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All the way up to what was possibly the last DB9 Sega controller released – the wireless six button Mega Drive pad:

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Or if you’re insane, the standalone DB9 connector SJ-200, completely defeating the purpose of the exercise!

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The best part about this ‘mod’ is it is completely reversible. However it would be relatively easy to install a DB9 socket on the side if you wanted something more permanent. Similarly, the rest of the extension cable could be soldered onto the original tethered controller, making it a standalone unit.

Famicom NES controller

Want that classic Famicom feel without the hassle of having to sit two feet from the console?

Here’s the solution.

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It’s an NES controller board and cord in an original Famicom pad shell.

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Glorious gold faceplate on rich burgundy plastic. Rounded corners for that premium experience.

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All the class, prestige and comfort of the original classic, without the hassle.

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Perfect for the discerning Famicom enthusiast’s AV Fami needs.

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I do the same with The Super Fami. None of the SNES’ ugly lavender concave button nonsense, but with a much longer controller cord than the Super Fami pad.

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Of course, Super Famicom Jr. controller cords are the full length already. But this sucker is staying mint in the box for now.

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My ready-to-go Nintendo controller drawer. Sometimes you want Famicom, sometimes you want dogbone, and sometimes you want to rock out gajin style on the squared off NES pad.

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Sega Mark III external RGB amplifier with FM audio break-in

The Mark III’s composite output is pretty bad.

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It does have RGB Out, using the same pinout as the Master System and Mega Drive.

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Unfortunately, unlike later Sega consoles, it’s an unamplified signal. So while Master System and Mega Drive RGB cables fit, the picture comes out far too dark.

I didn’t grab a picture of the native RGB output, but it looks something like this:

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Rather than tamper with the console internally like I usually do, I had a theory I could use the 5V and ground pins of the output to power an external RGB amplifier. I grabbed a cheap RGB cable and spliced in a THS7314 based amplifier circuit (commonly used to RGB mod Nintendo 64s), powered and grounded by the console.

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Success!

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The only issue was that like many older Sega consoles, it has a weak sync signal, and on my XRGB Mini some sync dropouts occurred. I needed to boost the sync as well. Rather than do this myself, I ordered a Mega Drive RGB cable with boosted sync built into the scart plug. It’s also powered by the 5V output of the console, but I’ll wire my amp in parallel and there should be plenty of current available.

An additional complication is that when using the FM unit, you only get composite video. You route video through the FM unit, which mixes in the FM audio when appropriate and outputs both video and audio from its own AV out. But it’s only a 5 pin din, so no RGB.

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I did some quick tests, and due to the way the circuit of the FM unit is designed, you can tap the FM audio from both the input and the output. So I’ll be able to use the existing cable of the FM unit as my FM sound source.

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Works perfectly! But doesn’t look too nice like that…

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So now I have to get the whole thing into a little project box. I drilled the holes and sliced up my new (nicely shielded) RGB cable. In this pic you can see I’ve added a 5-pin DIN socket to one side, with four of the output pins removed. This is where I’ll splice in the FM audio.

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 So many wires to fit in. Red, blue, green, sync, 5V, audio… luckily most of the rest are ground, so I can just solder them together and connect them with a single wire. I could just leave them disconnected, but I want good grounding to prevent possible interference, which is common for poorly grounded scart cables.

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With the video circuit working, I lined up the wires and hot glued them in place, so nothing can be pulled out by the inevitable cord-trip that will happen sometime in the future. I also glued the chip down.

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Disaster struck just before I finished – the picture was too bright! It turned out my new scart cable was wired differently, and was missing some 25 ohm resistors the old one had on the RGB lines. So I pulled them from the old one and spliced them in carefully, in series with the 75 ohm resistors already built into my amp circuit. Now what was once a halfway neat job became a mess again, oh well.

 I also completed the audio circuit, spliced in the FM audio pin of the din socket, and closed up the box.

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It connects like so. I have oriented it toward the right of the console, because the power cable connects on the left.

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Very neat.

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And the results, all through an XRGB Mini to my Panasonic Plasma:
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Creation of a Sega Mark III Everdrive flash cart

I theorised I could create a normal looking flash cart for my Mark III. Combining a Master Everdrive with a new-style Master System to Mark III converter. They arrived, and worked!

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I needed to downgrade the firmware to version 5. It seems from version 6 and up, developer Krikz changed the video mode slightly, and the game select menu no longer works on a Mark III or other non-Master System hardware (e.g. a Game Gear in Game Gear mode via a modified converter).

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However, the combined cart/converter was a long way from fitting into a regular Mark III cartridge shell. First of all, the SD card sticks out. A lot.

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I looked around for a micro sd card adapter that would work, but a couple I got didn’t fit, or were not low profile enough. Then I came across this.

You can simply cut many SD cards in half! Sure enough, the 2GB SD I was using was empty in the top 2/3, so I sliced off the excess plastic.

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And now it sat well clear of the edge. This became very important later on, as I needed that extra few millimetres of clearence.

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Next I had to open up the shell I was going to use. A $7 copy of Space Harrier from eBay was my sacrificial lamb. To open Mark III carts you have to access some screws under the label, so I used a hairdryer to warm up the label glue, then a pin to start peeling the label.Mark3Everdrive_0003

It’s fairly easy this way, with no damage to the label or cart.

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After getting inside, I sliced away all excess plastic, but the combined cart/converter was still sticking well out the bottom of the shell.

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I gained a couple of millimetres by shaving down the top plastic rim

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But the real gains would be had by filing/sanding back the contact pins on both the flash cart and the adapter. Contact pins are far longer than they need to be, they really only need 1-2mm – just enough to make a solid connection. Wear and tear is much less of an issue than back in the day, as I won’t be inserting and removing the flash cart from the adapter ever again, and the whole unit itself will stay in the console for most of the rest of its life. So I brought them down to about half their original height.

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And now it’s going to sit just 3-4mm higher than a regular cart would! I could have gone further, but wasn’t going to push it too far and risk damaging the flash cart or adapter beyond repair.

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Next up I had to brace the combined cart inside the shell. I superglued some plastic from a damaged SNES controller in, braced against the bottom of the cart shell, and backed it with hot glue for support from the sides.

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It slots in under the adapter’s slot section, and I have a snug but secure brace for the board!

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Close up the cart for the finished product! It sits slightly higher than a regular cart, but low enough to be quite stable within the cart slot, as it still sinks into the slot about 10mm. It sits lower than an unplugged cart resting on the cart slot, for example. At a glance you can’t even tell.

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The LED when the everdrive loads shies through the explosion behind the dragon on the label too, which is nice.
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