Saturday, January 3, 2015

Everdrive N8 - A Most Worthy NES Multicart



Early in 2013, Krikzz released his Everdrive N8, the latest in the famed Everdrive series.  Unlike most of his Flash Carts, the Everdrive already had serious competition from the NES PowerPak, released in 2007.

Advantages compared to the NES PowerPak :

The Everdrive N8 has several advantages over the PowerPak.  First, it uses SD (NES version) or microSD (Famicom version) cards.  SD cards are cheaper and easier to find then the Compact Flash carts that the PowerPak supports.  They do not connect to a pin connector, so it is much less likely you will damage the connector.  SD cards are supported up to 32GB and it supports FAT16 or FAT32.

Second, it comes in a Famicom variety, which is awesome for those of us with a Famicom AV.  Krikzz even sells translucent Famicom cartridge shells.  You can see the LED showing the cartridge's operation.  The Famicom version supports mixing external audio emulated in the cartridge with the Famicom's internal audio.  Krikzz sells a 60-72 pin adapter that will allow you to use the Famicom version inside a NES.  You will only need to slightly modify a standard NES cartridge shell to make the two boards fit.  You can get the best of both worlds here.  If you wire Famicom connector pin 46 to NES front loader pin 51 or NES top loader pin 54 and solder the appropriate resistor to your system, you should be able to obtain expansion audio from your NES.

You can use the PowerPak on a Famicom or Famicom AV, but all the 72-60 pin converters I have tried are very poor.  The best one is too thick for the cartridge connector, and the rest use the cheapest plastic covers, have no supporting cover, and do not connect all the necessary pins or their edge pins are too short.  Krikzz's 60-72 pin converter is excellent and fits inside a NES cartridge shell very well.

Third, the Everdrive N8 has an advantage in picture quality over the PowerPak.  With the PowerPak, there are faint jailbars present whereas on an Everdrive they are much less noticeable. I can see faint jailbars (sitting three feet away from a 19" CRT TV) in the blue background of Super Mario Bros. (real cart) on a front loader, but I can barely notice them on the Famicom AV with the Everdrive loading Super Mario Bros. With the PowerPak the jail bars are quite noticeable, although it is not as bad as a NES Top Loader.

Fourth, the Everdrive supports automatically backing up saves to its RAM.  It has a replaceable coin battery to allow this function to work.  The PowerPak requires a reset to the menu.  If you do not reset, you lose the save.  Also, the PowerPak used to (and may still) require that the user create a blank save file, the Everdrive creates a new file automatically.  One exception is FDS games, both flash carts require pressing reset to save data onto the .fds disk images.

Both the PowerPak and Everdrive N8 support the entry of five Game Genie codes, but the Game Genie functionality does not work with every PowerPak mapper set.  The Everdrive supports Save States officially, whereas the PowerPak's save state support only comes with 3rd party mappers.  In order to play the two MMC6 games, Startropics and Startropics 2: Zoda's Revenge, the save state feature must be turned off in the options menu.

The Everdrive N8 supports file sorting without using a program, the PowerPak requires a program like DriveSort to accomplish the same thing.

BIOS updates for the NES PowerPak require the cartridge to be shipped back to retroUSB.  BIOS updates for the Everdrive can be performed with an SDHC card.  Only Everdrives shipped in the first two weeks would need a BIOS update.

The NES PowerPak costs $135.00 from retroUSB, the Everdrive N8 costs $119.00 from retrogate (including a is with a shell), so it is a bit cheaper.

The NES PowerPak has been around longer, and it has had mapper contributions from several people, loppy and thefox in particular.  On his own, Bunnyboy's PowerPak mappers never implemented FDS functionality, MMC5 or any of the expansion audio chips.  Krikzz's Everdrive has not had any mapper contributors other than Krikzz, even so he has still has implemented an impressive number of mappers.  There is little of importance, mapper wise, that is implemented in the PowerPak that is not in the Everdrive.  His mappers support games like Salamander, which is superior to its NES counterpart, Life Force but is the only game using its mapper.  Krikzz's mappers also support proper saving for the official Final Fantasy I & II combination cart, even though that is outside the iNES specification.  In fact, judging by the mapper support grid, every official Japanese game, excluding MMC5 and VRC7 games and some really weird stuff, is supported (it won't play sampled sound from games like the Japanese Bases Loaded series, nor will the PowerPak but most emulators don't bother with that either.)

Because there is only one source, you don't have to play the game of find a mapper file that will make your game work with an Everdrive.  Things are much easier as a result, and rarely has there been a mapper regression, which cannot be said about the PowerPak mappers.  In the seventeen months between the earliest and the latest OS versions, the Everdrive has come a long, long way.  I could not get every important MMC3 games that used the scanline counter to generate an IRQ (split screen effects) to work properly in the PowerPak, regardless of mapper I tried except by using thefox's original save state mapper.  I have no such complaints for the Everdrive.

The Everdrive does not have the issue of corrupt background tiles in certain games like Noah's Ark, which may be an insolvable problem with the PowerPak.  I could never get FDS Metroid to work in the PowerPak, but it plays fine in an Everdrive.

Disadvantages compared to the NES PowerPak :

While the Everdrive N8 supports some expansion audio chips, the resulting audio is sometimes less than ideal. It supports the FDS, Namco 163 and Konami VRC6 expansion audio.  It does not support MMC5 expansion audio (MMC5 works pretty much only for Castlevania III).  Note that the working MMC5 mapper (loopy's) for the PowerPak does not support its expansion audio either.  :

Loopy's Sunsoft FME-7/5B's PowerPak mapper supports Gimmick!'s expansion audio, the save state mappers cannot due to lack of space on the FPGA.  Recently, a user on Krikzz's forums named Necronomfive made a Sunsoft FME-7/5B mapper which supports expansion sound, and it sounds really good.  Get it here : http://krikzz.com/forum/index.php?topic=3245.msg31931#msg31931

Neither flash cart supports the VRC7 mapper or its sound.  The PowerPak mappers have more accurate expansion audio.  The PowerPak FDS support will also let you delay the automatic disk swapping to allow the introductions of Zelda no Densetsu and Doki Doki Panic to work. However, the Everdrive can set its emulated audio output mixing to low or high, which may be useful for late Famicoms and all Famicom AVs, which supposedly have quieter internal audio output.

The PowerPak is compatible with a CopyNES add-on, in fact it can use CopyNES to update its bootrom.  retroUSB sells both.  The Everdrive N8 refuses to work in a CopyNES-modded system.  On the other hand, the Everdrive is more friendly to clone systems than the PowerPak.

The PowerPak can play NSF audio files, the EverDrive requires them to be compiled into a ROM, and that is not easy to do.

Games Currently Not Working as of OS v13 (USA/Europe, Japanese Games not included) :

Too Large:
Action 52 (1.5MB of PRG-ROM + 512KB of CHR-ROM, Everdrive and PowerPak only support 512KB of each, will never work unless broken up)

Unsupported Mappers :
Racermate Challenge II (Mapper 168)
Death Race (Mapper 144)
Nintendo World Championships (Mapper 105)
Super Mario Bros + Tetris + Nintendo World Cup (Mapper 37, PAL Only, play separate releases)

The PowerPak supports Death Race and will play the Nintendo World Championships cart, but the timer can only be changed by using an alternate MAP069.MAP file.

Unsupported Mapper Feature :
Bandit Kings of Ancient China (MMC5 EX-RAM not supported, too glitchy to play)
Gemfire (ditto)
L'Empereur (ditto)
Nobunaga's Ambition II (ditto)
Romance of the Three Kingdoms II (ditto)
Uncharted Waters (ditto)
Laser Invasion (MMC5 game, glitchy graphics during takeoff sequence, works properly on PowerPak with loopy's mapper)
Mickey's Safari in Letterland (MMC3 Acclaim clone, status bar shakes)

All the above work on the PowerPak without glitches except for Mickey's Safari in Letterland, Uncharted Waters and Bandit Kings.

Using Game Genie codes requires a bit of explanation.  First, you must select the ROM you want to play.  Do not use the Select + Load option.  Then go into the cheats menu by pressing select.  In the cheats menu, you hold down B and use the D-pad to select a letter.  If you have swapped A/B in the options menu, you must use A instead.  The on-screen instructions do not change to reflect this change.  When you have entered all the codes, you exit out of the cheat screen using select and then A or B.  When you get back to using a cursor to select a ROM, press start to load the game and the cheat code will be applied to it.

Most people today use the No-Intro set for the basic set of properly dumped ROMs.  However, even with this set there are games that will not work.  Some do not work properly in emulators or flash carts because they lack headers.  If the game's size is an even number like 24KB, 32KB, 40KB, 48KB, 64KB, 80KB, 96KB, 128KB, 160KB, 192KB, 256KB, 320KB, 384KB, 512KB, 640KB, 768KB or 1,024KB, then it will appear as a bad ROM.  Every NES ROM file should be 16 bytes larger than the pure dump, thus appearing as 25KB, 33KB, etc.  Adding a NES header is easy enough.

Other games do not work properly, or at all, because they have the wrong information in their headers.  The header format flash carts support is the iNES 1.0 format, established back in the late 1990s when so much was yet to be learned about NES and Famicom cartridge hardware.  A header tells the emulator or flash cart how much PRG-ROM, CHR-ROM (if any), and PRG-RAM (if any) the cartridge has.  It will also tell the emulator whether the PRG-RAM is battery backed and the mirroring scheme the cartridge uses if hardwired or special (horizontal, vertical or four-screen).  It also has some useless and unsupported bits to inform an emulator whether the game is an NTSC or PAL game, if it is a Vs. System or Playchoice-10 game and whether it contains a pirate trainer.

Often, if a game does not work on an accurate emulator like Nintendulator, it will not work on the flash carts.  Sometimes this is because the header has the wrong mapper number assigned to it or has the wrong mirroring information.  The NES Cart Database has the appropriate information fort almost every NES and most Famicom games.  You should always use it, (Panesian games all use Mapper 3, with Bubble Bath Babes using Vertical mirroring and Hot Slots and Peek-A-Boo Poker using horizontal mirroring) except for the following :

Mapper 71 Camerica/Codemasters Games

Many of these games will experience severe glitches.  Examples include :

Big Nose the Caveman (major graphical glitches on left side of screen, should not see any)
Micro Machines (substantial graphical glitches for standalone cart version, Aladdin Deck Enhancer version just shows a gray screen)
Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy (standalone cart version crashes in seconds of starting gameplay)
The Ultimate Stuntman (severe graphical glitches, similar to Micro Machines)

Today, all Camerica/Codemasters games, with four exceptions, use Mapper 71.  They used to use Mapper 2 and the extra bits of Mapper 71 are really not important for emulation or a flash cart (with one exception). These problems will go away if you change the mapper to Mapper 2.  Fire Hawk is the sole exception, it must be Mapper 71 and appears to play fine.  The Quattro games (Action, Adventure, Sports) use Mapper 232.

Game Patch Required

Cheetamen II - Use Mapper 228 to Mapper 1 patch here : http://thegaminguniverse.org/ninjagaiden4/mottzilla/mapper.html to get this game to work
Cybernoid - Use or permanently patch the ROM with Game Genie code SXZNZV to get the game to work properly after you change the sound mode from sound effects to music.

These games work OK on the PowerPak without patches.

Four-Screen Mirroring Games

With the current OS, the two US four-screen mirroring games must use Mapper 04.  This is always the case for Rad Racer 2, but Gauntlet ideally uses the less advanced Mapper 206.  Change it to 04, which will harm nothing as far as Gauntlet goes.

Third Party Mappers

A few individuals other than Krikzz have released mapper files for the Everdrive to improve expansion audio and allow games to work, see here : http://krikzz.com/forum/index.php?topic=3405.0

VRC6 Expansion Audio Improvement
Akumajou Densetsu
Esper Dream 2
Madara

Sunsoft 5B Expansion Audio Support
Gimmick!

VRC7 Functionality :
Lagrange Point

Mapper 31 Support
NSF Carts

Mapper files use the RBF extension and always use three digits, hence 033.RBF, 249.RBF.  Each file may contain the configuration information for more than one mapper, unlike the PowerPak.  A file called MAPROUT.BIN assigns each iNES mapper to a RBF file.  This file is a 512 byte file and each value in the first 256 bytes corresponds the relative position on the iNES mapper grid here : http://wiki.nesdev.com/w/index.php/Mapper#iNES_1.0_mapper_grid

Mapper files usually contain mappers with similar functionality, so many of the Konami mappers will use 022.RBF.  Here is a list I made of the RBF files and the mappers they support :

RBF  - iNES Mapper #

000 - 0, 3, 7, 11, 13, 15, 34, 36, 38, 66, 70, 71, 72, 75, 77, 78, 79, 87, 89, 92, 93, 96, 97, 101, 113, 144, 146, 148, 150, 151, 152, 164, 184, 185, 202, 212, 219, 227, 232, 234, 241, 242, 243
001 - 1
002 - 2, 40, 41, 42, 57, 58, 61, 86, 91, 94, 99, 107, 133, 178, 180, 188, 193, 200, 201, 203, 231, 240, 246
004 - 4, 220
005 - 5
009 - 9, 10
019 - 19
022 - 21, 22, 23, 25, 85
024 - 24, 26
028 - 28
031 - 31
032 - 32
033 - 33, 48
064 - 64
065 - 16, 18, 65, 67, 68, 73, 76, 80, 82, 88, 95, 112, 154, 206, 207
069 - 69
085 - 85
090 - 90, 211
118 - 12, 41, 47, 74, 115, 118, 119, 158, 182, 189, 191, 196, 205, 245

If the value for the mapper is FF, then it is unsupported.  If you want to add a mapper, you must convert the decimal number into hex, then enter the hex value in the appropriate byte in the MAPROUT.BIN.

Japanese Game Support :

As of OS v13, the following games have issues :

Incomplete Mapper :
Lagrange Point (game is playable but VRC7 expansion audio not yet implemented)

No PowerPak mapper supports the VRC7 games at all.  If you have a HiDef NES mod, you can use it to emulate the VRC7 audio for Lagrange Point.  You will have to revert to OS v3 for the EverDrive to work with a HiDef NES mod.

Glitches :
Fire Emblem (MMC4 game, glitches on right side of window borders)
Fire Emblem Gaiden (MMC4 game, glitches on right side of window borders)

Nonworking :
No Famicom MMC5 game can be expected to work correctly.
Any game using the Bandai mappers 153, 157 and 159 will probably not work.
Study Box will never work properly on any Flash Cart because it embeds a cassette deck.

Fix Required :
Galaxian - Must be an overdumped 24KB ROM, real cartridge is only a 16KB ROM, which is outside the iNES specification.  GoodNES's [!] rom will work.  Also has a Rev. A.  Same fix required for PowerPak.

Conclusion

The Everdrive N8 is an excellent product that has been well-implemented and boasts a very impressive array of mapper support.  With the proper ROMs, it will make your NES or your Famicom work with well over 1,000 games.  It has given the NES PowerPak serious competition and may yet completely eclipse it.

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