Official Review: Everdrive N8 Pro (Hardware)

By Another World, Apr 17, 2020 (updated Apr 17, 2020) 12 11

Review Approach:

I avoided COVID-19, researched, tested, and then got to work writing... a follow-up to my Everdrive N8 review.
The Everdrive N8 Pro is the official “next, best-thing” over the ever popular N8 Flash Kit, a solution designed by Krikzz for retro gaming on the Nintendo Entertainment System and Family Computer! It supports both NES and FDS ROMs, offering a library of over 900 games, not including homebrew, translations, and hacks. While emulation has taken amazing strides, nothing beats the feeling of enjoying a classic game on original hardware.
Another World

GBAtemp Review of the...

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Everdrive N8 Pro
Developed by: Krikzz
Worldwide sales by: Everdrive.me, Amazon.com
Also Known As: N8 Pro
Review by Another World – Completed 4/16/20

Introduction

The Nintendo Entertainment System is a cultural phenomenon. Its pixels have entertained more than a single generation of gamers, while its popularity has arisen to actual museum status. For more than 20 years, the NES has also been an emulated game console, with emulators ported to a variety of handhelds, phones, video game systems, computers, and more. Thanks in part to emulation, the NES library of games has been able to reach across the generational gap, bonding gamers and their children with a bygone era of gaming history. Emulation has also fueled creativity in ways such as Internet play, cheats, save-states, slow-motion, and rewind. While emulation has been able to accomplish all this and more, it has never been able to truly recreate the experience of playing NES carts on actual hardware.

Flash Kits probably reached their golden age of popularity during the drag & drop era of the Nintendo DS. The simplicity of their design and usage was backed by an incredibly supportive period of innovation. During this time, the DS and its homebrew surged with a golden age of memorable content. While DS innovation has since died off, newly released kits for the Virtual Boy, Game Gear, and NES, are proving that a retro resurgence is still moving forward.

As for the NES/FDS, the Everdrive N8 Pro feels like a spiritual melding for the history of ROMs across emulation and innovation that progressed during each era of Flash Kit design and development. Simplified yet incredibly well orchestrated, the Everdrive N8 Pro functions like a merging of classic features with modern implementations. The end result is simply stunningly enjoyable!

Special thanks must go to Krikzz for providing the review sample!

Product Information

The product information included in this review was obtained after cross-referencing information found on the official Web site and within the official User Manual. An attempt has been made to include the most accurate information. However, this listing may include inaccurate or outdated information. Please use the product information below for reference only, and direct all future questions to the designer of this product.

Product Information:

  • Low power consumption helps to support many NES/FC clone systems
  • Instant ROM loading
  • Supports .NES and .FDS ROMs
  • Up to 1,024 files per folder, or unlimited if file sorting is disabled
  • Support for microSD/microSDHC and file systems FAT16, FAT32, and exFAT
  • In-game menu (save or return to system menu without power cycling)
  • 100 independent save-state slots, per-ROM
  • Ultra-low battery RAM consumption (estimated 25 years)
  • Voltage monitoring for battery replacement
  • Built-in NSF player with expansion support (VRC6, VRC7, Sunsoft-5b, Namco-163)
  • NES2.0 support
  • Wide range of supported mappers
  • Game Genie cheat code functionality

 Hardware Information:

  • Cyclone IV FPGA
  • High quality 6-layers PCB
  • 16MB of ROM memory. 8MB PRG and 8MB CHR
  • 256K of battery backed memory (CR 2032)
  • Real time clock for logging save file date and time
  • ARM based 32bit I/O co-processor for mSD and USB operations acceleration
  • USB port for development and system update without removing mSD card
  • Improved audio mixing circuit with op amp
  • Dedicated hardware button, used for FDS disk swap or as alternate method to call the save-state menu

Mapper Information:

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When researching Nintendo Entertainment System games, emulators, and hardware solutions, the discussion of mappers always ensues. Mappers are simply the term given to the additional hardware found on specific NES cartridges, which are officially known as Memory Management Controllers or MMC. Without going into details which would be beyond the scope of this review, mappers add functionality to games beyond what the hardware was designed for. They can take the form of logic chips, enhance split-screen scrolling, add an additional audio channel, and more. Mappers were first organized and numbered during the creation of Marat Fayzullin's NES emulator, iNES. When someone refers to mapper 1, they are referencing those games which require the MMC1 hardware to function. The Everdrive N8 was created for retail game support, which has resulted in mapper compatibility focused towards commercially released software. The Everdrive N8 Pro, however, has been updated to support larger ROMs and the more obscure pirate cart mappers (IE: ShenZhen Nanjing Technology mapper 163). Future updates may make the above graphic obsolete. Please refer the official Everdrive Web site and forums for up-to-date information.

Contents, Packaging, Design & Impressions

Contents:

  • 1x Everdrive N8 Pro Flash Kit
  • 1x Official User Manual

Packaging:

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The Everdrive N8 Pro sent for review is the NTSC NES style PCB and shell. The review sample was sent directly from the developer and includes all retail packaging. The cartridge and user manual shipped inside a matte black cardboard box. The box opens from the top, and locks shut from the front via two "wing flaps" that tuck back into either side. The top of the box displays the official Everdrive logo and Web site URL. The top-inside of the box is lined with a crush-resistant foam. The cartridge and user manual were additionally secured by a thick foam insert. The insert fits the box perfectly and eliminates any possibility of movement during shipping. It also feels dense enough to efficiently protect the contents of the box.

Design and Impressions:

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The Everdrive N8 Pro NTSC NES style PCB is secured inside of a custom plastic red-colored shell (standard NES grey is also available from the retail Web site Everdrive.me). The shell is the same thickness and relative size as an official NES cartridge. The front and back of the shell is a matte translucent finish, while the sides, 'grip' area, and sticker areas are smooth and relatively clear. An additional clear area on the back of the shell has been designated for an embossed Everdrive logo and Krikzz URL. The top edge of the shell has professional cut-outs for the micro-USB port, microSD slot, and dedicated hardware button. The official label displays both an Everdrive and an N8 Pro logo, along with the official Krikzz logo, URL, and a scannable QR code (URL). The label on the back of the shell displays the words "Everdrive N8 Game Pak", the Krikzz logo and URL, a few cautionary sentences, and the words "made in Ukraine".

The cautionary sentences:

  1. Do not store in extreme temperatures.
  2. Do not immerse in water.
  3. Do not clean with Benzene, Thinner or other such solvents.
  4. Do not blow on the edge connector or touch with your fingers.

 

Set-up and Usage

The Everdrive N8 Pro set-up has been greatly simplified thanks to the inclusion of an official user manual! The user manual has been clearly written in English and summarizes the important set-up steps, features, and usage of the Flash Kit. It is highly recommended to read the official user manual if this is your first time experiencing the Everdrive N8 Pro.

The Everdrive N8 Pro will accept microSD/SDHC cards in the spring-loaded mSD slot. Cards can be formatted in Fat16, Fat32, and exFAT. However, the user manual clearly recommends Fat32 or exFAT. To minimize errors, cards should be formatted using the official Panasonic SD Formatter and not with 3rd party software. All O/S files are currently hosted on the official Everdrive homepage. As of the writing of this review, the latest build is v2.06 (01-18-2020). Inside of the .ZIP archive is a folder title "EDN8", which contains folders titled "CHEATS", "MAPS", "SAVE", "SNAP", as well as 4 additional files (mappers.png, MAPROUT.bin, n8nsf.nes, nesos.nes). The "EDN8" folder must be placed into the ROOT directory of your mSD card. Currently supported NES mappers have been conveniently displayed in the mappers.png image file. This file is not required for Flash Kit functionality and may be deleted. ROMs can be placed anywhere on the mSD card as the O/S offers a full rage of directory navigation. However, each directory is limited to 1,024 files (or unlimited if file sorting has been disabled), and ROMs should be organized accordingly. Once the mSD card is setup correctly, it is placed into the shell with its contact teeth facing towards the logo sticker.

The Everdrive N8 Pro will boot instantly. However, powering up the NES may only result in the red light blinking. If this happens, the NES CIC chip may need to be configured before the Everdrive N8 Pro will function correctly. To configure the CIC chip, simply hit the reset button 7 times. Most common boot issues can be fixed by simply "reseating" the Flash Kit. If you continue to experience problems, consider cleaning your 72-pin connector. No matter what history has taught you, never blow in your NES or onto the cart contacts, as this will lead to corrosion or other potential problems.

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The Everdrive N8 Pro will boot into the ROOT directory of the mSD card, and display all folders in yellow font. Entering a folder will display a listing of 21 files formatted across multiple pages (depending on the amount of files contained within each folder). Pressing Up or Down on the directional pad will navigate through the files, while pressing Right or Left will switch pages. The gray bar at the bottom of the screen will always display the untruncated name of the currently selected folder or file. Pressing Select will bring up the Main Menu (Options, Recently Played, Cheats, Device Info, Diagnostics, About). Pressing A will make a selection and B will cancel.

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Inside the Options menu are adjustments for In-Game Menu (STD, QSS, OFF), Cheats (ON/OFF), Reset Delay (ON/OFF), File Sorting (ON/OFF), Swap A/B (ON/OFF), FDS Auto Swap (ON/OFF), In-Game Combo, Audio Balance, and RTC Setup. The In-Game Menu consists of 3 options. The option titled STD will bring up the in-game menu anytime the save-state controller short-cut is entered. The option titled QSS will allow the save and load features to function without accessing the in-game menu. If Reset Delay is turned on, a quick press of the NES reset button will reboot the current game. However, holding the NES reset button for 1.3 seconds will return to the menu. File sorting is limited only by the amount of files currently in a folder. Any folder containing more than 1,024 files can not be sorted. FDS Auto Swap will automatically flip a Famicom Disk System game to its other side. This can also be accomplished by pressing the dedicated hardware button, however, this button is inaccessible when the cart is actively in use on the original NES. Selecting In-Game Combo will bring up an additional menu with the options Set Save-State Key, Set Load-State Key, and Information. Both save-state and load-state button combinations must consists of two buttons (EG: Down + Start). In regards to save files, they can be selected individually with additional options to load in/out of RAM, File Info, Hex View, and Delete. Selecting Information will display an on-screen, at-a-glace snippet of the official user manual. This information contains the differences between the various save and load menu options and key combinations. Selecting Audio Balance will bring up an additional menu with options to fine tune audio volume between console audio synthesizer and cartridge expansion audio channels. The options here are FDS, VRC6, VRC7, Namco-163, MMC5, and Sunsoft-5B. Each individual volume control can be fine tuned by percentage (EG: 10%, 50%, etc). Selecting RTC Setup will bring up an additional menu where a real time clock can be set. The RTC is used only to date and time stamp created or modified files.

The Recently Played menu will display a listing of ROMs which have been accessed most recently. This menu can be used to quickly get back into a game without the need to navigate through larger directories.

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The Everdrive N8 Pro supports up to 8 Game Genie cheat codes at a time. In order for a ROM to be correctly associated with the entered cheats, it must first be selected. This can be done by navigating to any ROM file, pressing A to load it, and then choosing "Select Only" from the pre-load menu. Once the ROM has been selected, it will be quickly flashed into memory but will not execute. Return to the Cheats menu, select a blank line from the Cheat Editor window, and then select Edit to begin entering your Game Genie cheat codes. Press Up or Down to select cheat characters. Game Genie cheat characters appear in a non-alphabetical order (APZLGITYEOXUKSVN). Once a cheat has been entered, pressing B will go back to the Cheat Editor window. Cheats can also be removed from within this menu by selecting "Clear" at anytime. After proper Game Genie cheats have been entered, press the B button to exit the Cheats menu, then again to exit back into the Main Menu, and then press the Start button to load the already flashed ROM. Cheats can also be stored and loaded via text files. Selecting a .TXT file will display options for Hex View, Load Cheats, File Info, and Delete. Cheats loaded from a text file will be applied to the last selected game.

The Device Info option from within the Main Menu loads information about the Flash Kit (Cart Type, OS Version, Build Date, Boot Counter, Games Played, etc). This information will not mean much to the end-user until it becomes time to debug ROM or cart issues. The Boot Counter and Games Played details will display the total count for each option.

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The Diagnostics option will initiate a self-diagnostic program that will check various aspects of the cart. If everything is fully functional, all tests should pass. However, poorly made clone NES systems may cause various aspects to fail, especially the PPU Vram Bug test. This will result in menu differences, mostly color and speed, and also as potential problems with some games.

The About menu will display information about the cart. This information includes the cart name, the developers name, the official Web site URL, and also a quick-reference for basic menu navigation.

If you are not using cheats and instead directly loading ROMs, then navigate to your ROM file and press the A button to select it. A File Menu will pop-up with the options Select and Start, Select Only, Cheats, Rom Info, Hex View, and Delete. The Select and Start option will flash the ROM and then load it, whereas the Select Only option will flash the ROM and not load it. To load a Flashed ROM at any time press the Start button, this includes running a file after a power-cycle or to continue playing an already flashed game. The Cheats option is an alternate way to create and load cheats without having to flash the ROM first. The Rom Info option will display usable debugging information such as Mapper, PRG Size, CHR Size, SRM Size, Mirroring, Battery RAM, ROM CRC32, Date, Time, and if the ROM is "supported". Some ROMs may contain an incorrect header that binds them to an incorrect mapper. On occasion, manipulation of the header information may be required for proper ROM functionality. ROMs listed as "supported" mean that a compatible mapper has been implemented. Depending on the mapper’s level of functionality, the ROM itself may not be fully playable. Pressing B will return to directory listing.

Compatibility

An original NTSC, unmodified NES console and an original Zapper light-gun were used for all testing. A 2GB Samsung microSD card was also used for all testing. The card was formatted using the Panasonic SD Formatter. Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom Disk System ROMs were placed inside a ROMs directory located in the ROOT of the microSD card. A collection of games from each system, homebrew, and patched games were tested for this review. Each game was tested for a period of 5-30 minutes. Only some games were completed, and the potential for errors remains a possibility. The results are listed below, each followed by a color coded phrase. ROMs which failed to run simply did not work or were unplayable due to various issues. Those that loaded and were playable, yet had problems running, may include such problems as pallet color or minor compatibility issues. Files which passed testing ran without issue and were fully enjoyable.

Nintendo Entertainment System:

  • 1942 - FAIL (Loads to black screen, hangs the Everdrive N8 Pro)
  • 3D Battles of World Runner - PASS
  • Adventures in the Magic Kingdom - PASS
  • Alien Syndrome - PASS
  • Batman - PASS
  • Battletoads - PASS
  • Bionic Commando - PASS
  • Castlevania - PASS
  • Castlevania 2 – Simon’s Quest - PASS
  • Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers - PASS
  • Cobra Command - PASS
  • Donkey Kong - PASS
  • Double Dragon II – The Revenge - PASS
  • Double Dribble - PASS
  • Duck Hunt - PASS
  • Duck Tales - PASS
  • Final Fantasy - PASS
  • Flipull – An Exciting Cube Game - PASS
  • Ghost ‘n Goblins - PASS
  • Golf - PASS (In-game menu combination failed)
  • Golgo 13 – Top Secret Episode - PASS
  • Hogan’s Alley - PASS
  • Hudson’s Adventure Island - PASS
  • Journey to Silius - PASS
  • Kabuki – Quantum Fighter - PASS
  • Kid Niki – Radical Ninja - PASS
  • Kirby’s Adventure - PASS
  • Mario Bros. - PASS
  • Mega Man - PASS
  • Mega Man 2 - PASS
  • Metal Gear - PASS
  • Metroid - PASS
  • Mighty Final Fight - PASS
  • Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! - PASS
  • Ninja Gaiden - PASS
  • Paperboy - PASS
  • Peek-A-Boo Poker - PASS
  • Pinball Quest - PASS
  • RC Pro-Am 2 - PASS
  • River City Ransom - PASS
  • Rolling Thunder - PASS
  • Rygar - PASS
  • Shadowgate - PASS
  • Shatterhand - PASS
  • Skate or Die 2 – The Search for Double Trouble - PASS
  • Solitaire - PASS
  • Solomon's Key - PASS
  • Spy Hunter - PASS
  • Star Wars (Namco) - PASS
  • Strider - PASS
  • Super Mario Bros. - PASS
  • Super Mario Bros. 2 - PASS
  • Super Mario Bros. 3 - PASS
  • Tetris (Tengen) - PASS
  • The Goonies 2 - PASS
  • The Immortal - FAIL (Graphical issues, unplayable)
  • The Legend of Zelda - PASS
  • TwinBee - PASS
  • Ultima – Exodus - PASS
  • Xenophobe - PASS

Famicom Disk System:

  • Dracula II – Noroi No Fuuin - PASS
  • Ice Hockey - PASS
  • Metroid - PASS
  • Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic - PASS

Homebrew:

  • Angry Birds - PASS
  • Assimilate - PASS
  • Battle Kid – Fortress of Peril - PASS
  • Battle Kid 2 – Mountain of Torment - PASS
  • BladeBuster - PASS
  • Double Action Buster Guys - PASS
  • D-Pad Hero - PASS
  • Flappy Bird - PASS
  • ROM City Rampage - FAIL (graphics do not fully load, unplayable)
  • Streemerz - PASS

Patched ROMs:

The failure of 1942 was surprising as the same ROM functions on the original Everdrive N8 and is listed as "supported" by the Everdrive N8 Pro. This ROM was verified against the no-intro dat and also by its CRC value. Additionally, it was tested on various emulators and found to be fully functional. FDS swapping worked without issue, and this functionality was highly valued as the dedicated hardware button remained inaccessible due to the design of the original NES.

Conclusion

The Everdrive N8 Pro has been designed for the game enthusiast in mind. The amount of memory and larger file size support offer the ability to experience larger ROM hacks (Final Fantasy VII Advent Children), newly designed Homebrew files, and commercially released game back-ups. The amount of dumps and re-dumps of supported games is a hurdle for all Everdrive N8 Pro owners. ROMs from both the GoodNES v3.14 and No-Intro ROM sets will function. Regardless of the ROM set, iNES headers should always be checked for correct data (mappers, etc) before the Flash Kit and O/S are blamed.

It is the responsibility of the end-user to manipulate their ROM file collection for their needs. This includes manually fixing improper iNES headers and the patching of IPS files. It is the hope of this reviewer that a future O/S update offers these two things as default options. It can become cumbersome to manually adjust all improper iNES headers, and a simple header-fix before flashing would be an ideal solution. In regards to IPS patching, a ROM file may contain a collection of patches that will hack, enhance, alter, etc, gameplay in various ways. Instead of being asked to store more than 1 patched copy of the same ROM, perhaps a soft-patching option could be implemented. This automatic IPS patching would only alter the ROM when flashed and never the copy stored on the mSD card. 

A battery-backed SRAM has been included with the Everdrive N8 Pro to retain currently flashed game saves. This allows the user to reload a game and its corresponding save-file without the need for reflashing either file. When a new game is flashed, its corresponding save-file will be automatically loaded from the mSD card, while the currently stored save-file is automatically written to the mSD card.

The Everdrive N8 Pro has addressed all of the issues I found while reviewing the Everdrive N8. Such things as the dedicated FDS hardware button, more memory, support for larger ROMs, built-in NSF player, custom high quality shell, mapper 163 support, etc, offer many reasons to purchase this Flash Kit over the original design. Having the ability to play FDS games on an NTSC NES is an incredible treat as well! Add to this functionality the ability to play homebrew, hacks, and translations, and the possibilities grow exponentially. The Everdrive N8 Pro is as easy to use as it is to set-up, within minutes of dragging and dropping a few files to an properly formatted mSD card, the Everdrive N8 Pro is ready for enjoyment. Nothing quite comes close to playing retro games on an old CRT television and actual hardware. Thanks to affordable solutions like the Everdrive line of Flash Kits, many retro experiences can now be re-imagined.

Verdict
What We Liked . . . Easy to use No real set-up required (drag/drop) Supports both .NES and .FDS files Most games are supported Automatic FDS side-flipping Integrated FDS side-flipping hardware button Cheat text file support (.TXT) Homebrew support Automatic save back-up/restore, with date/time stamp 100 Save slots, per-ROM. Support for microSD and microSDHC cards (up to 32GB) 16 MB of ROM Memory (for larger ROMs and hacks) Larger file size support (hacks and homebrew) Easy to use menu system Retains last flashed game even after power-cycle Built-in NSF player Well constructed Well supported Well documented (official user manual) Priced affordably Developer can be reached for assistance What We Didn't Like . . . Integrated FDS side-flipping hardware button is inaccessible while in use on the original NTSC NES
9.5
out of 10
Overall
An easy to setup and use retro Flash Kit solution. Supports both NES and FDS games, in addition to homebrew, hacks, and translations. Minor compatibility issues, a desire for IPS soft-patching, and the inaccessible design of the dedicated FDS swapping button with original NES hardware, kept this score from reaching a perfect 10. Overall, this is a wonderfully supported Flash Kit that offers a great variety of enjoyable experiences at an affordable price.
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