Review: Everdrive N8 (Hardware)
GBAtemp Review of the...
Developed by: Krikzz
Worldwide sales by: Dragonbox.de, Emere.es, Mmg-retro.de, Neotienda.es, Retrogate.com, Retrotowers.co.uk, Stoneagegamer.com
Additional sales by: Various
Also Known As: Everdrive NES, N8, EN8, EverDrive N8, Everdrive-N8, EverDrive-N8, EverDrive NES
Review by Another World – Completed 7/30/14
One of the most iconic video game systems for more than a single generation of gamers is the Nintendo Entertainment System. Its popularity has arisen to a legendary status, spawning themed merchandise even in 2014. For more than 20 years the NES has been a 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 with their love for a bygone era of gaming history. While emulation has provided many great features (Internet play, cheats, save-states, debuggers, slow-motion, rewind, etc), it has never been able to truly recreate the experience of playing NES carts on actual hardware.
The Everdrive N8 is a retro Flash Kit designed to allow passionate gamers to experience NES/Famicom and FDS ROMs on actual hardware. It is available in both NES and Famicom cart styles, each cross-compatible via a simple pin converter, and provides its own list of great features. Notable mentions are Game Genie cheat code support, save-states, and the ability to play a vast collection of hacks, translations, and homebrew. Featuring a simplistic setup and software based mapper support; the N8 breathes new life into the NES and Famicom systems.
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A special thanks must go out to Krikzz and Retrogate for providing the review sample. Retrogate is the officially licensed store for all Krikzz Flash Kit products. Their customer service, e-mail support, and inclusion of a tracking number make it easy to recommend them.
The product information included in this review was obtained after cross-referencing information posted on the official homepage of Krikzz Flash Kit products, inside O/S update readme files, and from various reseller Web sites. An attempt has been made to include the most accurate information for this review. However, this listing may include inaccurate or outdated information. Please use this product information for reference only, and direct all future questions to the designer of these products.
- NES, Famicom, and Twin Famicom systems are supported
- Many NES/FC clones are supported
- Supports .NES and .FDS ROMs
- FDS automatic disk side-flipping
- FDS expansion audio (NES requires mod)
- Save State functionality
- Game Genie cheat code functionality
- Saves automatically written (FDS requires soft-reset)
- Software based mapper updates (drag/drop)
- Support for FAT, FAT16, and FAT32 file system formats
- SD and SDHC support up to 32GB (microSD/SDHC via adapter)
- Quick game loading (approximately 4-8s)
- USB port for homebrew and mapper development (optional)
The Everdrive is manufactured in two styles, one that will fit the NTSC/PAL NES and another designed for the Japanese Famicom. Both carts are described as identical in regards to functionality and will work on either system, provided a proper pin converter is used. The Everdrive N8 will function on a variety of NES/Famicom clone systems, including the Yobo FC Twin, Hyperkin Retron 1, FC Mobile 2, and Retro Duo Portable v2.0, among others. Besides obvious compatibility issues from the emulation-based approach these clone systems may utilize, the biggest issue for most is a lack of functioning save-state support. Those who wish to enjoy the FDS expansion audio on their NES will need to make modifications, the easiest approach would be installing the ENIO EXP Board. Game Genie cheats are limited to 5 simultaneous cheats per game, and games must be "loaded" before cheats can be applied (see Setup and Usage for more information). As of O/S v10 the Everdrive N8 will automatically back-up and restore saves from/to the SD/microSD card. The battery backed SRAM will retain the save of the currently flashed game. However, FDS games require the user to press the Reset button before powering off their console or the associated savefile will be lost.
- Powerful Cyclone II FPGA
- 2x512Kbyte SRAM for PRG and CHR data
- 128Kbyte battery backed memory (CR 2032)
- Max II CPLD to handle FPGA reconfiguration, BIOS, SD and USB interfaces
- 1Mbyte flash BIOS
- Voltage shift buffers on PPU and CPU bus for matching levels between 5v NES bus and 3.3 Everdrive bus (reduces noise and power consumption)
The inclusion of 512Kb of SRAM for both PRG and CHR data focuses on commercial ROM support. Larger homebrew, hacks, and translations will simply not be playable. Those experiencing issues with their Everdrive N8 are kindly requested to verify their SD/microSD card against corruption before seeking assistance. These same individuals are also advised to use only official Nintendo power adapters, as the Everdrive N8 requires proper voltage to function efficiently.
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. While some additional mappers are being discussed and hopefully supported, more obscure pirate cart mappers (IE: ShenZhen Nanjing Technology mapper 163) have yet to be implemented. In addition, not all of the "supported" mappers have been perfected; some games continue to function with issues that could potentially be addressed through a future mapper file update. Save-state support is currently limited to 30 of the 105 included mappers. Those who are curious which games require what mapper should reference the unofficial Everdrive N8 compatibility list. The listing currently hosts information related to those games supported as of O/S v11. Future updates are sure to make the above graphic and the hosted compatibility list obsolete. Please refer the official Everdrive Web site and forums for up-to-date information.
Contents, Packaging, Design & Impressions
- 1x Everdrive N8 Flash Kit
The Everdrive N8 sent for review is the NTSC NES style PCB and shell. The review sample was sent from the official store, Retrogate. The cartridge shipped surrounded by 1 layer of thin bubble wrap and placed inside of a padded manila envelope. While this method for securing the cart may not seem ideal, the PCB was well protected inside of the NES donor cartridge shell. A box would have been preferred both for security and overall presentation, however, the Flash Kit did arrive in a fully functional and non-damaged condition.
Design & Impressions:
Officially, the Everdrive N8 PCB is secured inside of a donor shell. The size, shape, thickness, texture, and color are identical to other Nintendo carts. However, the Everdrive N8 cartridge has received some minor modifications. These modifications include a new cart label, replacement screws, and an SD slot cutout. The new label proudly displays the EverDrive-N8 logo, along with the creators name (Krikzz), the phrases "SD Entertainment System" and "8-BiT", an official Krikzz seal of quality, and is marked "made in Ukraine". The 6 sided security screws, of which there are 3, have been replaced with flathead screws. The screws are rather small and will require a precision screwdriver to remove. The SD slot cutout has been carefully done, it looks professional and clean.
Unofficially, the Everdrive N8 may be sold only as a PCB and not packaged in a custom shell. Custom shells vary by reseller and may include alternative colors or logo stickers, and may not include the SD slot cutout. It is important to pay attention to not only the design but also to the reseller. According to Krikzz, the Everdrive N8 (among others) has been cloned and is currently for sale on Chinese import sites and eBay, among others. The cloned carts suffer from hardware failure and poor support. Additionally, many games do not function on the cloned PCBs. However, there does exist an officially released Chinese Everdrive N8 build available only in China. This build is not designed for buyers outside of China and will not be repaired by Krikzz under his warranty policy. For more information on cloned Everdrive Flash Kits, please see the official Everdrive forums.
Most owners will not have a need to open their shell until it is time to replace the CR 2032 battery. After taking the time to carefully clean their 72 pin connector, they may be unaware that their Everdrive N8 has shipped with a disgustingly filthy shell. I was completely surprised to find that the review unit shipped with one such shell. The top half of the shell (logo side) was clean as a whistle, while the bottom half was filled with dried liquid, dust, and other nasty bits of gunk. It would seem that the shells are perhaps picked from two different piles, matched up, and then assembled for shipping. Cleaning the shell was rather simple, 50% Isopropyl Alcohol and an old tooth brush made quick work of the mess. Yet, this never should have been something the end-user was responsible for. Especially after considering the facts that the Flash Kit shipped from the officially recognized reseller and was being sent out as a "review unit".
Setup and Usage
The Everdrive N8 will accept SD/SDHC and microSD/SDHC (via adapter) cards into its spring-loaded SD card slot. Cards up to 32GB can be formatted in FAT, FAT16, or the FAT32 file system. To minimize errors, cards should be formatted without a label and files should be transferred without third party software. All O/S updates are currently hosted on the Everdrive homepage. As of the writing of this review the latest build is v11. Inside of the .ZIP archive is a folder titled "EDFC", which contains folders titled "MAPS' and "SAVE", as well as 3 additional files (mappers.png, MAPROUT.bin, OS.bin). The EDFC folder must be placed into the ROOT directory of your SD 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 SD card as the O/S offers a full rage of directory navigation. However, each directory is limited to 254 files, and ROMs must be organized accordingly. Once the SD card is setup correctly, it is placed into the shell with its contact teeth facing towards the logo sticker.
Powering up the NES will display Green, Blue, and then some garbled graphics while the Everdrive N8 initializes. A sure sign that your connector requires cleaning or pin adjustment is when the NES becomes stuck on any of these 3 screens. On occasion, simply reseating the Everdrive N8 will fix most issues. Those who wish to take alternative debugging routs can run the Everdrive N8 self-diagnostic test. To run the self-diagnostic test, turn on the system without an SD card inserted, insert the SD card, and then push A+B+Select+Start. No matter what history has taught you, never blow into your NES or onto the cart contacts, as this will lead to corrosion and potential problems.
The Everdrive N8 will load to the ROOT of the SD card and display all folders in yellow font. Entering a folder will display a 21 files list format across multiple pages. Pressing Up or Down on the directional pad will navigate through the files will 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 of file. Pressing Select will bring up the Main Menu (Options, Cheats, Device Info, Mapper Info, About). For this review, the decision was made to reverse the input buttons. This was accomplished through the following steps: Highlight the Options submenu and press the B button to select it. Press Down on the direction pad to highlight Swap A/B and then press B to change this option to OFF. This will swap the navigational selection buttons so that the A button selects and the B button cancels. The review will refer to all button inputs in this order, with cancel being the input button on the left. Press the A button to exit the Options menu and then the B button to exit the Main Menu. Pressing the Select button again will take us back into the Main Menu with newly mapped input buttons.
Inside the Options menu are adjustments for Audio mix vol (HI/LO), File sorting (ON/OFF), Reset to game (ON/OFF), Swap A/B (ON/OFF), Save State (ON/OFF) Save State KEY, and Load State KEY. The Audio mix vol option will boost the audio output slightly for hardware with low volume options. When File sorting is turned off, all newly added files will be chronically sorted as opposed to alphabetically sorted. The Reset to game option will turn on normal NES functionality, whereby pressing reset returns to the ROMs title screen and not the Everdrive N8 directory listing. Swap A/B simply swaps the A and B button inputs. Turning on the Save State option will allow supported games to save at any time. The save-state function may not perform as expected for all ROMs, and turning it off is an intelligent step towards debugging. The save and load keys can be set to any two-key combination. Highlight the desired option and press the A button, and a prompt informs the user to "Push Two Buttons". Press the B button to exit the Options menu and return back to the Main Menu.
The Everdrive N8 supports up to 5 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 load. Return to the Cheats menu and begin entering your Game Genie cheat codes. The instructions state to hold "B+Dpad" to enter cheats, however, this will be reversed if you chose to swap your A and B buttons. Continuing on with review continuity, press and hold the A button to enter Game Genie cheats. While the A button is initialized, press Left or Right on the directional pad to select letters and Up or Down to change rows. Let go of the A button and press Left or Right to change position from within the same row. Additionally, you can also navigate to a different row by simply pressing Up or Down on the directional pad. Game Genie cheat letters appear in a non-alphabetical order (APZLGITYEOXUKSVN). Cheats can be enabled or disabled from within this menu by pressing Select at anytime. After proper Game Genie cheats have been entered, press the B button to exit the Cheats menu, then again to exit the Main Menu, and then press the Start button to load the already flashed ROM.
The Device Info option from within the Main Menu loads information about the Flash Kit (OS ver, Bios ver, Cpld ver, Adate, Atime). This information will not mean much to the end-user until it becomes time to debug ROM or cart issues. The Mapper Info option will display an ASCII table similar to the mappers.png image file. This table should contain the most up-to-date mapper support information. However, please keep in mind that implemented mappers may not always be bug free and may not support all ROMs which require them. The About option displays information such as the developers name, support email and HTML links, and default file navigation controls.
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 Sel. and Start, Select Only, and ROM Info. The Sel. 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 ROM Info option will display usable debugging information such as Mapper, PRG Size, CHR Size, Memory, Mirror, 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. By default, pressing the Reset button will return to directory listing. Additionally, pressing the Reset button is required to properly dump FDS saves to the SD card. Failing to do so will result in the loss of FDS savefiles. Pressing the Reset button is not a requirement for .NES games or their associated savefiles.
A 2GB Samsung microSD card and Samsung SD adapter were used for all testing. The card was formatted using the Windows 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 5-20 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 serious issue and were fully enjoyable.
Nintendo Entertainment System:
- 1942 - PASS
- 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
- Final Lap - FAIL (Loads to black screen, hangs the Everdrive N8)
- Flipull – An Exciting Cube Game - PASS
- Ghost ‘n Goblins - PASS
- Golf - PASS
- 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) - FAIL (Loads to black screen, hangs the Everdrive N8)
- 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
- 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 load, unplayable)
- Streemerz - PASS
- Bionic Commando (U) '99 Patch (NES) - PASS
- BodyConQuest I - Girls Exposed (J) English Translation (FDS) - PASS
- Castlevania 2 – Simon’s Quest (U) Moody Patch (NES) - PASS
- Castlevania 2 – Simon’s Quest (U) Re-translation/Definitive Patch (NES) - PASS
- Cheetahmen II (U) Bugfixed Patch (NES) - FAIL (unsupported mapper)
- Contra (J) English Translation (FC) - PASS
- Final Fantasy VII (J) Remake Patch (FC) - FAIL (unsupported mapper, ROM size too large -- 2MB)
- Metroid (J) English Translation (FDS) - PASS
- Wolverine (U) Color Patch (NES) - PASS
The NES games which failed were purposely chosen due to being listed as supported by the Everdrive N8. Starwars (Namco) and The Immortal have been reported as fully functional on the original NES by way of the Everdrive N8 Famicom edition and a Gyromite pin adapter. In regards to ROM compatibility, this does point to a possible physical difference between the two versions of the Flash Kit. However, one report lists these two ROMs from the No-Intro ROM set as fully functional. The ROMs tested for this review were verified against the No-Intro .DAT file and found to be non-functional on the Everdrive N8. As a result, the functionally of these two games remains inconclusive and more testing may be required. The more recent build of the O/S supports automatic FDS side-flipping. The O/S will switch to the A or B side of the disk without user input between approximately 20-40 seconds. Many mappers have been both officially and unofficially listed as "supported", yet games which require them may not function as expected. This is due in part to the fact that some mappers have simply not yet been perfected or fully implemented. Due to hardware limitations, any ROM over 1MB (split between 512KB PRG and CHR) will not boot, this unfortunately includes a few key ROM hacks. Some tested ROMs failed to boot while other dumps (verified by CRC value) worked without issue. Everything that passed testing worked as expected and played without issue.
Support of the Everdrive N8 is ongoing and according to official responses, continually in development. Many software-based mappers have been included, yet not all are fully implemented. Until a hands-on testing of each ROM dump can be completed, unofficial compatibility lists should be referenced as research tools while attempting to gather information on actual ROM compatibility. The amount of dumps and re-dumps of the supported games is a hurdle for all Everdrive N8 owners. Officially, GoodNES v3.14 was used for developmental purposes and is the recommended ROM set. However, many users have reported positive results with No-Intro ROM sets as well. 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.
Save-state support has been implemented in an AS-IS capacity, officially stated as completed without any future updates planned. Mappers which support save-states functioned, for the most part, as expected. Games were able to quickly save and load at will, providing a fresh mechanic for challenging retro experiences. When ROMs utilizing save-state supported mappers fail to boot, an often recommended step in debugging is to turn off save-state functionality. This can only be accomplished globally, with no plans for per-game save-state functionality controls.
The Everdrive N8 hardware was designed with commercially released games in mind, and as such has been limited to 512KB of PRG and CHR data. As no known commercial game required more space, this Flash Kit will perfectly accommodate ROM dumps for each commercially released game. An issue arises when popular hacks such as Final Fantasy VII Advent Children, etc, are tested. Even after mapper 163 has been implemented and fully supported, games larger than 1MB will not function on the Everdrive N8. There have been no discussions of possible hardware revisions, for now these select ROMs are better left to emulation.
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, 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 SD card.
A battery-backed SRAM has been included with the Everdrive N8 to retain currently flashed game saves. This allows the user to reload a game and its corresponding savefile without the need of reflashing both the ROM and savefile. When a new game is flashed, its corresponding savefile will be automatically loaded from the SD card, while the currently stored savefile is automatically written to the SD card. However, FDS games do not feature this functionality and the Reset button must be pushed before powering down the NES. Failure to do so will result in the loss of a FDS savefile.
Having the ability to play FDS games on an NTSC NES is an incredible treat. Add to this functionality the ability to play homebrew, hacks, and translations, and the possibilities grow exponentially. The Everdrive N8 is as easy to use as it is to setup, within minutes of dragging and dropping a few files to a properly formatted SD card, the Everdrive N8 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.
+ Easy to use
+ No real set-up required (drag/drop)
+ Supports both .NES and .FDS files
+ Most games are supported
+ Automatic FDS side-flipping
+ Some homebrew support
+ Automatic save back-up and restore
+ Support for SD, microSD and SDHC cards (up to 32GB)
+ Easy to use menu system
+ Retains last flashed game even after power-cycle
+ Well constructed
+ Well supported
+ Priced affordably
+ Developer can be reached for assistance
- Not all supported mappers are fully integrated
- No automatic iNES header adjustments
- Lack of IPS soft-patching
- Save-state support is AS-IS, official comments mention no future updates
- PRG and CHR data sizes do not allow for larger hacks/homebrew
out of 10
An easy to setup and use retro Flash Kit solution. Supports both NES and FDS games, in addition to homebrew, hacks, and translations. Some limitations such as current mapper integration, PRG and CHR data sizes, save-state bugs, etc, kept this score from reaching above 9.0. Overall, this is a wonderfully supported Flash Kit that offers a great variety of enjoyable experiences at an affordable price.