Guest Article: The Great Serial Connector Hunt

Luke Benstead is a man on a mission - and that mission is to get the world's Dreamcasts back online without the need for a broadband adapter through his DreamPi project. We've covered DreamPi here at the 'Yard a few times and even had Luke on the DreamPod to talk with him about his masterplan. Luke isn't just interested in the online aspects of the Dreamcast though,  as he's now embarked on a side quest to create new system link and coders' cables. It's a grand vision and will hopefully end the drought and inflated prices that these items command. There's just one tiny stumbling block...

The Dreamcast is a highly extensible system shipping with more ports and connectors than most consoles. This extendability shows itself in the sheer number of unusual peripherals that are available or were announced. Everything from Zip drives to console link cables, from maracas to karaoke units were released or under development at some point; and since the demise of the console these extra connector ports have allowed modders to create peripherals such as Dreamcast-compatible hard drives and SD card readers.

There is one particular port that is special. Hidden at the back of the console just alongside the video output there is a port labelled 'Serial.' You’ll probably find that it’s the one port that you don’t have any use for; the single one that remains unconnected during your daily gaming sessions. This port however can connect to at least four devices or cables:

  • SD Card Reader - allowing loading games and files using DreamShell
  • Coder’s Cable - allowing homebrew developers to debug and test their inventions
  • Console Link Cable - allowing head-to-head gaming with a (very) limited number of games
  • The Neo Geo link cable

We as a community have a bit of a problem though, as although SD Card readers can be found readily online, coders' cables and system link cables are near impossible to come across. If you have the know-how you can build your own, but there is one missing piece to the puzzle: the serial connector itself.

The Dreamcast (like most consoles of the era) didn’t use any kind of standard socket - the serial socket is entirely custom, so although you can buy all the electrical components to build a coders' cable (for example) you can’t actually find the connector itself. Not unless you find a Neo Geo link cable and cut the plug from it, which is something I'm sure nobody would want to do.

This is where I need your help. Although proper serial connectors don’t exist to purchase online, there definitely exist some compatible connectors somewhere. I know they exist, because the people building SD card adapters have found them and use them to adapt off the shelf SD card readers into Dreamcast compatible ones. Here’s a picture of what I'm looking for:
I’ve searched everywhere, from Farnell to RS, from AliExpress to eBay and I can’t find anything that looks like it would be compatible with this socket. 

So I’m pleading with you, the DCJY community to help me search. Help me find the missing serial connector, so I can create coders' cables and system link cables and open the door for more indie developers...and people who just want to play Ferrari F355 with two TVs!

Luke Benstead

You can contact Luke through his blog Kazade's Internet Address, or you can find him lurking menacingly on Twitter.

Update
It seems the mystery has been solved! Friend of the Junkyard and YouTuber Pcwzrd13 pointed us to this thread on Russian Dreamcast forum DC-Swat, where it appears users have been hacking up AGP sockets from old motherboards to harvest the parts required for the serial connectors. Thanks to Pcwzrd13, we may all be able to acquire these coveted cables in the near future!

5 comments:

The 1 Ross said...

I wish you luck in your search. Only a couple weeks ago, I bid over $300 for a Taisen link cable and lost out to a higher bidded.
I don't care about having an official one or whatever, I just want to try the five compatible games with some friends. If you are successful in your search then I'll be first inline to buy one from you.

The 1 Ross said...

The amount of mistakes in that comment is absolutely disgusting. That's what I get for using my phone in bed while half asleep I suppose.

Matt Rutherford said...

Now searching

james said...

Another method of making the connector is trimming down the sides of a FFC ZIF connector from a floppy drive. http://assemblergames.com/l/threads/dreamcast-sd-card-adapter-from-a-floppy-drive.33032/

Anthony817 said...

Others have also used broken down HDMI connectors as with a little modification the inside parts after you remove them from the metal housing have holes that line up with them too.