Review: SD2SNES (Hardware)

SD2SNES: Official GBAtemp Review

Hardware 15,914 views 7 likes 11 comments
Reviewed by Mike Wheaty, posted Sep 26, 2014
Reviewing is always interesting, but even more so when something is rumoured to be the ultimate device for a certain purpose. With a PAL SNES in one hand and a spanking new SD2SNES in the other, it was time to see how a long term project with some of the finest hardware designs fared in the real life. Will the SD2SNES live up to expectations?
Sep 26, 2014
The SD2SNES is a SNES flashcart project started by known SNES developer ikari_01 and nowadays manufactured by Krikzz. The device's open source firmware is being developed and updated constantly with new features and new special chips being added to the compatibility list. The SD2SNES lets users play all types of games regardless of them being commercial, translated or hacked games.
Mike Wheaty

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GBAtemp Review of the...

 

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SD2SNES

Developed by: ikari_01
Manufactured by: Krikzz
Worldwide sales by: DragonBox.deemere.esStone Age GamerRetroGate
Additional sales by: Various
Also Known As: -
Review by Qtis – Completed 26/09/14

Introduction

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System, more commonly known as the SNES, was released around the world in the early 90's and ended up being the most successful console of its generation. It fought alongside the Sega Genesis/Megadrive, but managed to beat the other large console maker at the time. The SNES also brought forth new game series with games such as F-Zero, Pilotwings, Super Mario Kart and Super Mario RPG. The same games, which have been fan favorites and have seen new releases on even the latest generation of consoles. For the modern gamer, the problem of relatively small sales of niche games at the time have made quite a few games hard to find unless you're ready to pay an arm and a leg for a working copy. Emulation for the SNES is widely available, but has had its problems with supporting special chips and creating the genuine feeling of using original hardware.

When the 21st century started rolling along, electronics started going down in price in terms of powerful chips and hardware. Old consoles began seeing development projects, such as the sd2iec for the Commodore 64, making the old devices work with modern storage options, mainly CF/SD cards. Add to this the interest for the SNES by many developers and modders for enabling region free mods by digging into the SNES CIC among other things (SNES CIC reverse engineering, 50/60Hz switching) as well as making more memory available for the games (Media Streaming Unit-1 or MSU1 (alternative mirror as byuu changes hosts)). At the same time the idea of creating a complete all in one solution for the SNES with most if not all special chips supported in one cart began forming in the heads of a few people around the SNES developers forums. As always with these kinds of projects for old hardware, open source was the way to go. Finally the last ingredient needed for making something special for the SNES was ikari_01, who began work on the prototype of a new solution for the SNES in 2009.

Thus, the Project SD2SNES was born.

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Important GBAtemp Information:
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Special Thanks:
​A special thanks must go out to ikari_01 for the support during the review as well as to Krikzz and Retrogate for providing the review sample. Retrogate is the officially licensed store for all Krikzz Flash Kit products and also handles sales of the SD2SNES. Their customer service, e-mail support, and inclusion of a tracking number make it easy to recommend them.

Product Information

The product information is from the SD2SNES project page retrieved during the reviewing of the cart. The software features may change as new versions of the operating system are released, but the hardware specifications are final.

Features:

  • SD/SDHC/SDXC support (tested up to 64GB; no exFAT support so SDXC cards must be reformatted using FAT32)
  • High quality push-push memory card slot
  • Fast ROM loading (~9MB/s)
  • Fast menu navigation
  • Directories are sorted automatically, no need for FAT sorting tools
  • High resolution menu (512×224) for adequate display of long file names
  • Real Time Clock
  • Supports ROM size up to 128MBit (96Mbit actually implemented as there are no larger known memory maps)
  • Automatic near-time SRAM saving to SD Card (while the game runs). Some limitations apply:
    • Near-time saving is switched to periodic saving when a game is found to use the SRAM as work RAM.
    • Automatic saving is disabled when MSU1 is used. SRAM is saved on reset.
  • Enhancement chip support (see below for implementation status)
  • SuperCIC key (SNES CIC clone):
    • Enables operation on unmodified consoles of all regions
    • Supports software 50/60Hz switching on SuperCIC enhanced consoles only (to be performed by sd2snes firmware, not yet implemented there)
  • Auto region patching: eliminates “This Game Pak is not designed…” messages regardless of 50/60Hz setting
  • Supports up to 16000 files per directory / roughly 50000 files per card

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Implemented Enhancement Chips (usable with MSU1):

  • BS-X memory map / Satellaview base unit registers (clock)
  • DSP1 / 1b
  • DSP2
  • DSP3
  • DSP4
  • ST-010
  • Cx4
  • MSU1
  • S-RTC
  • OBC1

The SD2SNES differs from quite a large part of Flash Kits made for retro consoles in a few ways. The main difference is the usage of a large FPGA chip for adding special chip support on the cart. This removes the need for soldering special chips from original SNES donor carts into the device itself, which saves both the original carts as well as removes the possibility of the user frying the SD2SNES with soldering. The other major feature of the FPGA chip is the possibility  of adding support in future operating system/firmware releases for new special chips, which were not present in the original firmware. As such the hardware is very future proof with new features being released and all code available in the Github for the SD2SNES. The board itself also has all the bells and whistles pre-installed, so a potential buyer will not need to ponder wether to buy or not to buy a USB port or have some kind of special chip installed with the cart. As such, while the SD2SNES is a bit more expensive compared to other available options for the SNES, it makes up for it with the massive feature set as well as the magic made possible by the massive FPGA.

The SD2SNES is not produced by ikari_01 anymore, but do not worry. Krikzz, known for the Everdrive series of Flash Kits, has taken over the production and distribution of the cart. This means that the cart is available in almost all stores selling the Everdrives and the build quality will be similar to Everdrive series.

Contents, Packaging, Design & Impressions

Contents:

  • 1x SD2SNES Flash Kit inside a universal SNES shell

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Packaging & Design:

The SD2SNES supplied by RetroGate follows the same packaging system as used by other carts produced by Krikzz. The shipment was shipped inside a bubble wrap envelope and the cart itself was inside a white cardboard box with a label Everdrive - Krikzz.com on top. The SD2SNES itself was loose inside the box with extra supporting bubble wrap . The good packaging made sure that the review unit arrived in one piece without any damage to the case.

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The SD2SNES board itself was already inserted inside a brand new universal shell, which meant it was ready to be used straight out of the box. The universal shell is similar in design to the NTSC/J and PAL region carts, so it can look a bit out of place in a US SNES console. The shell's dimensions are identical to a PAL SNES cart, though the material of the shell is a bit different in terms of coloring. In other words, the shell is otherwise similar to the cart mentioned in the Super Everdrive v2 review, but with different positions for the SD card slot and the added USB slot. On the front of the cart is a label with the text SD2SNES in a large font as well as www.krikzz.com and www.sd2snes.de below it in a smaller font. The label is of good quality similar to the Everdrive series, but does pale in comparison to original Nintendo carts' label quality when observed at close range. In case you want a NTSC/U version of the SD2SNES shell, checking the various resellers can result in a SD2SNES in a NTSC/U shell.

Setup & Usage

The SD2SNES, as its name suggests, requires a SD card to function. The SD2SNES also supports microSD/miniSD cards via SD card adapters. At the time of writing, SD, SDHC and SDXC cards are supported up to 64GB, though larger cards need to be formatted with FAT32 as exFAT isn't supported (yet). The operating system is available for download from the developer's home page and the downloaded zip file includes an image for preparing the SD card for the cart: drag and drop the sd2snes folder to the root of the SD card and you're done. At the time of writing the latest OS version is v0.1.6, though v0.1.7 is right around the corner with additional features including cheat support.

The device loads the OS and games from a single SD card placed in the spring-loaded SD card slot on the top of the cart. Since the sd2snes folder is hidden by the SD2SNES firmware on boot, all homebrew and games will need to be placed somewhere else on the SD card. In case you want to remove the need to cycle through a load of folders, you can just dump all your games on the root of your SD card. The SD2SNES supports up to 16000 files per directory, but I'd personally recommend using some kind of folder system instead of placing the whole romset on the root of the SD card. Once you boot your SNES with the SD2SNES inserted, you will be presented with a list of your SD card's root without the sd2snes folder. 

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The GUI for the SD2SNES is very simplistic and requires little beforehand reading on what different buttons do. The SD2SNES' menu with the SNES controller is designed to be very intuitive and in case of problems the buttons and their functions are displayed on the bottom of the screen. The up and down buttons on the dpad are used to select a file on the current page, while the left and right buttons are used to change pages. The A button acts as an OK button and the B button is CANCEL. The X button is used for the menu, which is used to set the clock as well as checking the system information. In case you're wondering whether your SD card is top notch and usable with MSU1, the SD card's average and maximum access times are shown here (more of this in the compatibility area). A nice addition to the mix of functions is the menu of the last 10 games played accessible via START button.

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In case you're interested in some additional hardware modding of your SNES, the SD2SNES has some neat features available to you. Based on the SNES CIC reverse engineering project mentioned earlier, ikari_01 has made and implemented the SuperCIC and In Game Reset (IGR) for the SNES. This may seem like a moot thing for the average user, but it does remove a lot of the problems relating to region and 50/60 Hz differences between the NTSC and PAL regions. All you need in order to make these work is a few PIC16F630 microcontrollers (and a programmer), a few wires and soldering skills. In case you're not up to the programming part of the PIC chips, you can buy them pre-made from around the web from places like ASSEMblergames. Once the modifications have been done, you can reset your SNES with the controller and play any region games on the console without worrying about region locks (especially SA-1 games can cause problems on non-modded consoles).

Saving with the SD2SNES is as simple as it gets. In most games, the save is transferred to the SD card immediately as you save. As the SRAM is battery-based, you can be guaranteed that the save is kept on the cart even in the extreme case that a power outage interrupts your gaming. In case the game uses the SRAM as work RAM (as in needs the extra RAM to run), the saving will be changed to periodic saving. Here the save is routinely transferred to the SD, but may not be immediate as the SRAM is used for more than just saving. Unfortunately save states are impossible to make with the SNES in general, since the APU state cannot be snapshot after it has code running (mentioned by ikari_01 here).

MSU1 is a tricky thing in terms of real time saving, since the custom chip system doesn't support flow control. This has been explained by ikari_01 in the comment section of SD2SNES.de, but isn't a problem as long as you remember to reset the console. Since MSU1 is a relatively new thing, not many hacks or games use it to the fullest and/or are completely finished. As the SNES scene and especially the SD2SNES have shown, this will probably not be the situation in the future. MSU1's 4GB of space for a SNES game with CD quality audio can be considered a revolution for the SNES. Byuu has shown SNES games such as Chrono Trigger with the PlayStation version's FMVs included via MSU1 support. It's amazing to see such options made available on original hardware and without any modifications to the console itself. And who said old consoles couldn't innovate?

Compatibility

Compatibility of a cart like the SD2SNES is the number one thing on many a buyer's checklist. This is why I paid extra attention to special chip support and how games reacted to the cart if a special chip was used. The testing hardware was a PAL SNES with 50/60Hz and Region Free modifications, though both mods were set to standard 50 Hz and PAL region for testing purposes. All testing was done with clean ROMs from the GoodSNES set without any region patches or hacks unless otherwise specified (such as translations or the SDD-1 patch for Star Ocean). If a game uses a special chip, the chip is mentioned after the verdict.

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As mentioned previously, not all special chips are supported yet. The unsupported special chip games from the incompatibility list at SD2SNES.de are not included in the review, since all games using the unsupported chips would result in an automatic FAIL verdict. Using a T-connector with the SD2SNES will not help with the compatibility, since a pass-through adapter is only usable with DSP series chips (DSP1-4, ST-010), which are already supported by the SD2SNES natively. In any case I prefer to include the list here, since the special chips themselves may not be descriptive enough for some people reading only this review. Still, I recommend checking the official incompatibility list if a new OS release has added new chip support (and thus removed a game or more from the following list).

Testing the SD2SNES was done with a 16GB SanDisk Ultra Class 10 UHS-1 card. In order to remove any problems with the file system or corruption, the card was formatted to FAT32 with the Windows Formatter. All cards should work with the device and offer the same compatibility, but MSU1 compatibility requires an access time of around up to 1 ms. The access time requirement is needed due to the simultanious streaming of audio and data on MSU1 games. Fast transfer speeds do not automatically mean fast access times, so keep this in mind if you plan to take advantage of MSU1 support. 

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The results are color-coded. Green is for a game which works without issues, yellow is for a game with issues and red is for a game which won't run. For the games which failed, multiple versions were tested to ensure that it wasn't a case of a bad ROM or unsupported version.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System: 

  • Actraiser [PAL] - PASS
  • Aladdin [PAL] - PASS
  • Another World [PAL] - PASS
  • Bahamut Lagoon [NTSC/J] (w/ DeJap English Translation) - PASS
  • Breath of Fire [NTSC/U] - PASS
  • Castlevania - Vampire's Kiss [PAL] - PASS
  • Chrono Trigger [NTSC/U] - PASS
  • Clock Tower [NTSC/J] (w/ Aeon Genesis English Translation) - PASS
  • Dai Kaiju Monogatari 2 [NTSC/J] - PASS [S-RTC]
  • Donkey Kong Country - PASS
  • Dragon Ball Z Super Saiya Densetsu [NTSC/J] (w/ Klepto Software English Translation) - PASS
  • Dragon Quest V Tenkuu no Hanayome [NTSC/J] (w/ DeJap English Translation) - PASS
  • Dungeon Master [NTSC/U] - PASS [DSP-2]
  • Earthworm Jim [PAL] - PASS
  • Earthbound [NTSC/U] - PASS
  • F1 ROC II: Race of Champions [NTSC/U] - PASS [ST-010]
  • F-Zero [PAL] - PASS
  • Famicom Tantei Club Part II (w/ Neo Demiforce English Translation) - PASS
  • Final Fantasy III [NTSC/U] - PASS
  • Final Fantasy V [NTSC/J] (w/RPGe patch) - PASS
  • The Flintsones [PAL] - PASS
  • Gradius III [NTSC/U] - PASS
  • Harvest Moon [PAL] - PASS
  • Illusion of Time [PAL] - PASS
  • Joe and Mac 3 - Lost in the Tropics [PAL] - PASS
  • JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken [NTSC/J] (w/ Aeon Genesis English Translation) - PASS
  • Killer Instinct [PAL] - PASS
  • Kirby's Ghost Trap [PAL] - PASS
  • Legend of Zelda, The - A Link to the Past [PAL] - PASS
  • Live-a-Live [NTSC/J] - PASS
  • Megaman 7 [PAL] - PASS
  • Megaman X [PAL] - PASS
  • Megaman X2 [PAL] - PASS [Cx4]
  • Megaman X3 [PAL] - PASS [Cx4]
  • Metal Combat: Falcon's Revenge [PAL] - PASS [OBC-1]
  • Might & Magic 3: Isles of Terra [U] - PASS
  • Mortal Kombat 3 [PAL] - PASS
  • Ninja Gaiden Trilogy [NTSC/U] - PASS
  • Ninjawarriors - The New Generation [PAL] - PASS
  • Ogre Battle - The March of The Dark Queen [NTSC/U] - PASS
  • Phalanx [PAL] - PASS
  • Pilotwings [NTSC/U] - PASS [DSP-1]
  • Rockman & Forte [NTSC/J] - PASS
  • Romancing Sa-Ga 3 [NTSC/J] (w/ Mana Sword English Translation) - PASS
  • SD Gundam GX [NTSC/J] - PASS [DSP-3]
  • Secret of Evermore [PAL] - PASS
  • Secret of Mana [PAL] - PASS
  • Seiken Densutsu 3 [NTSC/J] - PASS
  • Shin Megami Tensei [NTSC/U] (w/ Aeon Genesis English Translation) - PASS
  • Star Ocean [NTSC/J] SDD-1 Hack - PASS [SDD-1]
  • Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts [PAL] - PASS
  • Super Mario All-Stars + Super Mario World [PAL] - PASS
  • Super Mario Kart [PAL] - PASS [DSP-1/1B]
  • Super Metroid [PAL] - PASS
  • Super Street Fighter II [PAL] - PASS
  • Tales of Phantasia [NTSC/J] (w/ DeJap English Translation) - PASS
  • Terranigma [PAL] - PASS
  • Top Gear 3000 [PAL] - PASS [DSP-4]
  • Treasure Hunter G [NTSC/J] (w/ Metalhawk English Translation) - PASS
  • Ultima - The False Prophet [NTSC/U] - PASS
  • Wonder Project J - Kikai no Shounen Pino [NTSC/J] (w/ WakdHacks English Translation) - PASS
  • Zombies (PAL) - PASS

Satellaview [NTSC/J only]:

Note: Satellaview games are unique games for the Satellaview modem add-on. 

  • As mentioned before, Bokujou Monogatari - Dai-2-wa - PASS
  • BS Fire Emblem - Akaneia Senki Hen - Dai-1-wa - Palace Kanraku - PASS
  • BS F-Zero Grand Prix - Dai-1-shuu - Knight League - ISSUES (Game freezes after entering game specific area)
  • BS Super Mario USA - Power Challenge - Dai-1-kai - PASS
  • Chrono Trigger - Jet Bike Special - PASS
  • Chrono Trigger - Music Library - PASS
  • Excitebike - Bunbun Mario Battle - Stadium 1 - PASS (Demo intro runs for a few minutes before you can play.)
  • Kirby no Omochabako - Hoshi Kuzushi - ISSUES (Problems with proceeding while loading game parts)
  • Mario Paint - BS Ban - PASS
  • Panel de Pon - Event '98 - PASS
  • Yoshi no Panepon - BS Ban - PASS

Homebrew and MSU1:

  • Astrohawk -  FAIL (Black screen on boot)
  • Airwolf - PASS (Garbled graphics also happen on emulator)
  • Bio Worm - PASS
  • BLT - ISSUES (Garbled graphics in the lower left area on the screen)
  • Classic Kong - PASS
  • Hong Kong 97 - PASS
  • N-Warp Daisakusen (v 1.1) - PASS
  • Skipp and Friends - PASS
  • Super Mario Odyssey - PASS [MSU1]
  • Uwol - Quest for Money - PASS

Conclusions

Many people have asked again and again why someone would spend money on a Flash Kit for a console released almost 25 years ago and which has highly compatible emulators such as bsnes available. The fight between original hardware and emulation will never end, but devices such as the SD2SNES make it hard to not recommend the original over the new wave. Just looking at the features and the nice row of green PASS verdicts should be enough for anyone sceptical of the execution of the SD2SNES. As new features and support for more special chips are developed by ikari_01 and the community, you can expect more use out of your device. 

The SD2SNES was not designed to be the cheapest option available and it shows. Paying a bit extra adds functions not available to cheaper options. Speical chip support for games like Mario Kart (DSP) and Megaman X2 (Cx4) are clear indicators that the SD2SNES can do much more than just play normal SNES games. The hardware can be seen as the ultimate solution for the SNES with little trade-offs. Still, there are a few caveats including the lack of GSU1/2 (SuperFX) and SA-1 support. These games are only a few percent of the total library of games for the SNES, but include some of the most iconic games ever released for the SNES. I would still not be let down by the current situation, since development has brought support for new chips even this year (2014)!

And as some people will prefer this:

TL;DR: The SD2SNES has been and still is at the time of writing the best Flash Kit available for the SNES. If you want the best out of the best and are willing to pay a little extra for the additional features and support, you won't be disappointed. 

Verdict
Pros
+ Easy to use (drag and drop to SD card)
+ Hardware build quality and universal shell design
+ Special chip support beats all other options available
+ Fantastic compatibility for ROMs, Homebrew, Satellaview and MSU1
+ Support from developer is very good
+ New features added with new OS releases
+ Open source and well documented operating system
+ SRAM backup of saves are instant
+ SuperCIC and In-game reset compatibility with a hardware mod
+ File limit per directory (16000 per folder)
Cons
- GSU1/2 (SuperFX), SA-1 and a few other special chips are yet to be supported.
- Cheat support (to be released in v0.1.7)
9.7
out of 10
Overall
Easily the best Flash Kit available for the SNES. If you're interested in the best overall compatibility as well as on-going support to add even more features, you can't go wrong. The device itself is easy to use and offers fantastic features to both untouched as well as modded consoles. A few unsupported special chips drop the score a few points, but as the software and hardware are as stellar as they are, I can't justify a lower score. Krikzz's hardware quality as well as ikari_01's and the community's software updates will guarantee you many hours of fun on your SNES with even more functions than ever seen before.
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