Joined: Mon Jun 09, 2008 4:12 pm Posts: 7546 Location: Long Island, NY
I've written this out so many times in PMs, I figured I'll just post it on the forum so I can link it to people. I'm constantly telling people about flash carts for retro systems, and then explaining about different models. For right now, I'll just post a brief summary of a couple of SNES flash carts, but eventually I'll update this post to include info about flash carts for other consoles as well.
What is a flash cart?
In short, a flash cart is a video game cartridge that will allow you to play ROMs (games) on real hardware. So if you have a SNES flash cart, you will be able to store games on it and play them on your SNES as if it were the actual game cart. Flash carts can vary in features between models, each with their own pros and cons. Flash carts exist for almost all mainstream retro consoles.
Like I said, right now I'll just talk about SNES flash carts.
First, a small note about SNES cart:
Some SNES carts contain a special enhancement chip or co-processor. Examples would be the GSU (aka Super FX) found in Star Fox and Yoshi's Island, the SA-1 found in Super Mario RPG, the DSP1 found in Super Mario Kart, and the S-DD1 found in Star Ocean. Most flash carts do not contain these special enhancement chips, since they are proprietary, and thus, do not support games that require them. There are some exceptions, which will be noted.
As far as I know, aside from copiers, this was the only flash cart available for the SNES for a while. When I bought mine, it was more expensive (double the price it is now IIRC) I guess because it had no competition at the time. It is limited in features compared to the newer SNES flash carts available today, but it also has some features unique to itself.
It's most limited feature is that it only has 64Mbits of internal storage in which to store game ROMs (where as newer flash carts will use memory cards like SD or CF). This has obvious drawbacks, mainly, not being able to store that many games at once. It can only store up to 4 games at any one time, and the total number of games cannot be larger than 64Mbits. You can always reflash the cart with different games, but some people would rather not have to do that. If you put 2 or more games on this cart, when you power it on you'll be presented with a menu to select which game you want to boot. One of the pros of this cart though, if you only put one game on the cart, when you power it on it will boot that game directly. Also, it can only hold one game save at a time (more on this later).
Being that it has internal memory to store games, you need a programmer to flash games to the cart. The programmer has it's pros and cons, but I believe the pros vastly outweigh the cons. If the word "programmer" scares you, don't worry. It's just like using an SD card with a card reader (the flash cart being the SD card, the programmer being the card reader). You don't need any programming skills!
The programmer interfaces with the PC with a parallel cable. This is the only con. Newer computers will not usually come with a parallel port. So in order to use this flash card and programmer you either need an older computer that has a parallel port, or you need to install a parallel PCI(e) card in your computer (must support EPP mode). Sorry laptop users, I don't think you have an option (unless you have an older laptop with the parallel port).
So you plug the programmer into your computer, plug the flash cart into the programmer, then use the supplied software to flash the games to your cart. The fun doesn't stop there though, this programmer can do much more. It can flash games to the flash cart, but it can also read real SNES carts.
I said earlier that the flash cart can only hold one save game data at a time. This is how you work around that. The programmer can read AND write the save data to the flash cart. So if you have a save on the flash cart and want to save in another game, you have to backup your save first (otherwise it will be lost when you save in another game).
The programmer can also read AND write the save data in real SNES carts. This is very beneficial. You can backup the saves in your real SNES carts, and restore them if need be. You can move a save to the flash cart from a real cart. Or if you were playing a game on the flash cart and then decided to buy it, you can move the save onto the real cart.
This flash cart now comes with the clone CIC chip, so it will work on your unmodified SNES or SFC of any region. It also has limited support for DSP1 games with the T Connector. Basically, you plug the T Connector into your SNES, then you plug the flash cart into the T Connector, then you plug a real SNES cart, that contains the DSP chip but not SRAM, into the T Connector. This will allow you to play games from the flash cart that uses the DSP chip.
This is definitely a step up from the Tototek cart. It uses an SD card to store games, so you don't need a programmer. But obviously, you wont have any of the other benefits you get from the programmer.
You store games on an SD or MMC card, then plug the memory card into the Super Everdrive. Just like the Tototek cart, when you power on this flash cart you'll get some menus to select which game you want to boot. It supports up to 48Mb game size, so it can play the largest official (not including hacks) SNES game released. The max size for the SD card is 32GB which is more than enough room to store all the games you would want. This cart uses the same clone CIC chip the Tototek cart uses, so it's compatible with all region consoles. Game save data is saved to and read from the SD card, which is another huge benefit over the Tototek cart.
This cart can also optionally support DSP1 games, but you have to rob the DSP1 chip from a SNES cart to add the support. This is a no-no to me. Unless you only plan to "borrow" the DSP1 chip, you'll be putting a SNES cart out of commission. That's like throwing it in the garbage. No thanks.
To make the description a little easier, this is pretty much the same as the Super Everdrive (as far as features go) with a few added features.
It uses a CF card instead of an SD card, but that's pretty much the same thing. It uses the same clone CIC chip, so support for all regions. It comes with a DSP1 chip preinstalled, so it has support for DSP1 games. Of course, I'd rather not have to sacrifice a SNES cart to get the DSP1 chip, but this is how the SNES PowerPak is being sold. You don't have the option. It also stores game save data on the CF card, like the Everdrive does with an SD card.
So all in all it's the same as the Everdrive. It's added benefits is that it supports larger ROM sizes (128Mb I believe, compared to the 48Mb of the Everdrive or the 64Mb of the Tototek). This means you can play larger ROM sizes. You wont get very many opportunities for this as of now, but in the future there will be more ROM hacks over 48Mb. But the main benefit of this is being able to play the decompressed hack of Star Ocean. For those that don't know, Star Ocean contains the S-DD1 enhancement chip. And as said earlier, flash carts cannot support enhancement chips unless they're made to do so. But some one was nice enough to create a hacked version of Star Ocean that decompresses all the graphics thus removing the need for the S-DD1 chip. This hack is 96Mb large though, pretty big for a SNES ROM. The Everdrive only has 48Mb ROM support, not large enough to play the decompressed Star Ocean, so this is something to consider.
The SNES PowerPak also has Game Genie support, which is nice. The OS files are stored on the CF card, so it's very easy for the end user to update the OS. If the boot ROM ever needs updating, Retro Zone offers to update it for free (just pay shipping one way).
This cart looks amazing, hopefully it'll be as good as it looks when it comes out! It'll basically have all the core features we see in the Everdrive and PowerPak, but with at least one MAJOR plus... support for multiple enhancement chips! It already supports multiple chips (DSP1-4, Cx4, and more) and more support is likely. They're trying to get GSU support, which would be simply amazing. SA-1 support might be added, which would also be amazing. If this cart can support these enhancement chips well, this would by far be the best SNES flash cart on the market. I guess only time will tell. I for one am looking forward to its release. It will probably be the most expensive one on the market though, but the price might be worth it. Read the progress page, and the rest of that site, for more info.
So there ya go, just a brief summary of the features between those models. Again, when I have the time, I'll organize it all better (maybe with bullets) and make it more thorough. I'll also try to review the features of flash carts for other retro consoles as well.
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