Creation of a Sega Mark III Everdrive flash cart

My preferred manner of playing Sega 8-bit games is on the original Sega Mark III. It’s just a great looking system, and with RGB and FM Audio I have a pretty nice set up. I wanted to reduce stress on the cartridge port to prolong its life, so a flash cart would be a good solution. Unfortunately there is no dedicated Mark III or SG1000 flash cartridge.

So 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!

Mark3Everdrive_0001

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.

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

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Now it sat well clear of the edge. This extra gap became very important later on, as I needed that extra few millimetres of clearance on the case.

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Next I had to open up the shell I was going to use – a cheap copy of Space Harrier 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 out the bottom of the shell quite a lot.

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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 often 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 cart itself will stay in the console most of the time. 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 that I cut to a shape that would hold the board well, braced them 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 holds flawlessly, so now I have a snug but secure brace for the board! The braces push slightly outward at the front, and combined with the label over the top, also keep the cart securely closed, so it needs no additional screws or glue with regular handling (it would probably open if dropped however).

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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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The Sega Mark III FM Sound Unit (FMサウンドユニット)

The Mark III was released two years later than the Famicom, and has slightly more powerful graphics hardware. But it still has worse sound capabilities. So Sega developed the FM unit for those customers who would be happy to pay more for superior audio. It adds in a Yamaha FM sound chip for Mega Drive-like sound effects and music.

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The FM unit sits snugly on the recessed top part of the console, and plugs into the front expansion port.

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A cable extends out the back of the FM unit to capture the console’s video and regular audio.

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It plugs into the AV out, using five of the eight pins (so no RGB available)

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You then attach your AV cable to the FM unit’s AV out, which passes through video, regular audio and adds in the FM audio for supported software.

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Yes, supported software. Games had to be specifically coded to support the FM unit. This was displayed on the front of the box on the bottom left, see my copies of Kenseiden and After Burner below.

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Is it worth it? You bet! It makes your Segamaku sound like a Mega Drive! Definitely a worthwhile upgrade, even though working FM units regularly sell for up to 10,000 yen these days.

About the Sega Mark III (セガマークIII)

While Nintendo’s first console, the Color TV Game 6, was released in 1977, Sega only turned to consumer hardware development in the early 80s. The original Sega console, the SG 1000, was released, as fate may have it, on the same day as the original Famicom.

It was basically a Japanese edition of the current crop of American consoles, equivalent in power to the Colecovision. Unfortunately for Sega, the Famicom was a massive generational leap in power over these machines.

The SG-1000 got a quick redesign as the SG-1000 II, and when Sega got around to releasing an actual Famicom competitor, they decided on a new naming convention – and called it the ‘Sega Mark III’. I assume it’s a play on ‘Mach 3’.

The SG1000 II

The Mark III, like the SG1000-II before it. takes a lot of design cues from the Famicom. It has controller docks on the side of the console (though the controllers are not permanently attached), a similar cartridge bay flap, and shiny metallic highlights. It unfortunately maintains the SG-1000 II’s controller limitation of only two buttons.

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I love the ’80s futurism’ aesthetic of these things. It looks like it belongs on an 80s spaceship. The controller docks are great too.

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They’re pretty good controllers too. So much better than Master System controllers, which have the same internals but a much less comfortable shape.

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They also come with this mini-joystick that can be screwed into the centre.Mark3controller2
Mark III consoles and accessories were made in Japan, but by the time of the Master System, Sega had began the practice of outsourcing console and accessory production to cheaper countries like Taiwan, Malaysia and China, and quality took a big dip.

There’s also the FM unit, which makes it look even more 80s.

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It’s a great console that is very hard to come by. While games are available, I didn’t see a single console for sale in any retro games store (or Hard Off) on a recent Japan trip.

Restoring a yellowed Sega Mark III console

In my opinion, the best looking version of the Sega Master System was the original, so I decided to get a Sega Mark III. On a recent trip to Japan I looked everywhere I could for one, but I only came back with a controller.

 I saw a beat up Japanese Master System in an outer-Tokyo Hard-off, and an FM unit in Osaka Super Potato, but decided not to risk the latter since I wouldn’t be able to test it.

Mark III consoles cost a fortune on eBay, so I got one on Yahoo Auctions. As google translates the katakana: here is the Segamaku3 (!).

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It oozes 80s Japanese industrial design kitsch.

I got two, one in box and one without. The in-box one was listed as ‘untested’ so I grabbed another that was console only but listed as working. Turns out both worked fine. But both were very yellowed. It seems it is a common practice for Japanese sellers to modify their photos to make things look less yellowed.

Here’s one next to my non-yellowed Famicom:

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Time for some hydrogen peroxide treatment, as outlined in this Neogaf thread.

I did them one at a time to demonstrate the result:

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I love this little message on top, so polite!

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And the result:

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Beautiful, looks like a prop from an 80s Scifi.

So small compared to the Master System.

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This was the first of many Segamaku projects I’ve completed recently. Coming soon: FM unit info, external RGB amplifier, and the world’s first Mark III flash cart!