Showing posts with label GDEMU. Show all posts
Showing posts with label GDEMU. Show all posts

New Dreamcast-Compatible ODE "Phøde" Announced!

In case the term "ODE" is something new to you, it's an initialism for "optical drive/disc emulator", which serves to replace something like a CD-ROM or, in the case of the Dreamcast, a GD-ROM drive with a board that allows one to use flash storage to hold disc images, such as an SD card. Existing ODE solutions for the Dreamcast include GDEMUUSB-GDROM, and MODE. The latest offering to be announced is Phøde by Fixel.

For those unaware, Fixel is a hardware engineer who successfully launched a brand-new 3DO ODE in 2022, giving fans of the console an alternative to MNEMO's 3DO USB devices, and packed with even more features.

While Fixel is still working on polishing up the next firmware release for his 3DO ODE, he's also been hard at work giving love to a slew of other consoles, some of which had previously never had an ODE solution at all.

For example, his DMC88 for the FM Towns Marty went up for pre-order recently, as well as one for NEC's ill-fated PC Engine successor, the PC-FX. Heck, he's even about to ship an IDE Emulator, not to mention a "digital mod" kit (similar to PixelFX's DCDigital, PS1Digital, etc.) for the 3DO and Neo Geo!

In addition to the exciting new hardware listed above, perhaps his most interesting announcement thus far is something of a universal ODE, named Phøde, the initial version of which will target the following consoles:

  • Sega Dreamcast VA0, VA1, and VA2
  • Philips CD-i consoles with solder on board
  • Sega Saturn (20 and 21 pin variants)
  • Playstation PU7, PU8 (2 variants), and PU18 (with more variants later)
  • Sega CD 1, CD2, XEye, CDX console variants
  • Mystery mechanism (will be revealed in June)
  • Mystery feline (will be revealed in June)
  • Mystery friend (will be revealed in June)
No, your eyes are not deceiving you, the madman known as Fixel (or sometimes "Felix") is currently R&D'ing what may turn out to be more than just a MODE-killer. And those "mystery" consoles? Well, the principles of detection tell me "feline" refers to the Jaguar CD, while "friend" hints at the Amiga CD32. Meanwhile, "mechanism" just might be alluding to a certain Engine and its CD counterpart.

The Phøde project (pronounced FOE-deh) seems to have begun with a desire to finally give CD-i fans the ODE they've so long craved. However, after some time and research, Fixel seems to have continued studying numerous other consoles, eventually realizing he could broaden the scope and support of this new ODE well beyond Philips' quirky home multimedia system.
If I may, I'd like to help level-set expectations and feature/functionality timelines for readers out there. While Fixel is an extremely talented (and dedicated) hardware and software engineer, his Phøde project will rely in part on beta testers to help identify bugs, as well as to give feedback on features and overall user-experience. In fact, you can even sign up to be a beta tester yourself by following the link on the Phøde order page.

What does this mean for the end consumer? When the device ships (currently estimated for late September 2023), it may not have been put through its full paces on each respective console that it supports. Likewise, it may not have each and every feature users are looking for, although Fixel's volunteer beta-tester program aims to close all those gaps.

Is it possible that the Phøde will ship in a highly polished state? Absolutely! In fact, I more-or-less expect that to be the case. However, with any new ODE, there's always growing pains as edge-cases and niche issues are sorted out. It's worth noting for the record (and for some context) that Fixel's 3DO ODEs shipped to users in a nearly perfect state of software/firmware operation.

At present, the following features and functions are likely to be there day-one on the Dreamcast.

  • Full boot/fast boot of disc images (i.e., with or without full cycle of BIOS/license sequence).
  • Disc image queueing (i.e., ability to virtually swap discs at any time).
  • VMU read/write for purposes of backing up and restoring save files.
  • Adjustment of data-read speeds and seek-time emulation, thus letting users mimic original GD-ROM behavior/performance to ensure compatibility, or pushing ODE to its limits for better performance with things like Atomiswave conversions.
  • Disc image support for CDI, TOSEC-style GDI, and Redump-style CUE/BIN.

Dreamcast owners out there looking for a drop-in, ready-to-go solution that's as mature as its competitors may want to monitor feedback from the initial Phøde batch. Those like myself who view this as something of a hobbyist device for a short period (while it's perfected) will find in the Phøde a stellar product with excellent post-sales support provided by Fixel, as well as a thriving Discord community where all of his projects can be discussed, troubleshooted, and even improved upon.

Although I myself am nothing of a hardware engineer, I've personally spoken with Fixel on a number of occasions to discuss some of the common problems, shortcomings, and "gotchas" with existing ODEs for both the Saturn and Dreamcast. In most cases, said hurdles have long since been overcome, especially when you consider that devices like GDEMU and USB-GDROM have been on the market for years. However, there's still room for improvement across the board.

In my opinion, GDEMU, USB-GDROM, and MODE all offer something out-of-the-box that their competitors don't. That said, wouldn't it be great to see a new challenger enter the ring and serve as the end-all be-all?

Only time will tell how the Phøde fares, though personally, I'm quite optimistic. Is Phøde something that interests you? Leave a comment below or let us know on social media!

If you'd like to follow Fixel and his work, you can do so in the following places.

Hardware Review: GD-ROM & Compact Flash Modded Dreamcast

Technology fails. It's as simple as that. With the passage of time, and daily wear and tear, eventually even the most robust equipment will suffer a breakdown. We can do plenty to prevent this atrophy, but inevitably, anything that employs moving parts will break. As Dreamcast owners, we're probably all too aware of the various failures that can besiege our favourite console, and the list of potential faults is long. Power boards, main boards, controller boards...pretty much everything in a Dreamcast is prone to the ravages of time, and public enemy number one is undoubtedly the GD-ROM drive. More than any other component as the Dreamcast rapidly approaches its twentieth anniversary, the main, bespoke optical drive that is a key component to enjoying those brightly hued games of yore is becoming a weak link. Raise your hand if you've ever put a game in a Dreamcast only to be met with the dreaded 'please insert game disc' message.
The catalyst for many a clenched fist and jaw
To remedy this, there are several devices on the market that allow users to negate the need for a GD-ROM drive; and in many cases they allow for the complete surgical removal of the optical drive in favour of solid state storage for games and other applications. The two most popular variants currently available are the GDEMU and the USB-GDROM.
These two devices require complete removal of a Dreamcast's optical drive and offer the option of using either an SD card or USB flash drive respectively from which to boot Dreamcast ISO files. There are also further alternatives that employ the use of a traditional hard drive, but these are not as popular or widespread as either of the two options mentioned above.
Internal HDD mod (courtesy of Pcwzrd)
Both GDEMU and USB-GDROM are great alternatives to the ailing GD-ROM drive - with both offering minimal loading times and enhanced curation of game files. Both also employ proprietary software for operation and boast almost 100% compatibility with games in the Dreamcast library. With the Compact Flash and other alternatives, DreamShell (the open source OS created by DC-SWAT) is employed, and while this benefits from being customisable, it doesn't offer the near full compatibiltiy enjoyed by GDEMU and USB-GDROM. That said, DreamShell is in a constant state of flux, with new updates always being worked on, so in the future full library compatibility is more than possible. In the meantime, here's a handy list of Dreamcast games that will work with DreamShell, courtesy of Pcwzrd of Dreamcast Live fame. The crux of the matter is this though: all of the other options for eschewing optical media listed here require the removal of the GD-ROM drive.
So, what to do? How can you have the best of both worlds? The solution is combining the convenience and enhancements that come with solid state storage, with the ability to still use a standard game GD (or CD) if the need arises. Enter the latest modification on the market that hits both these targets with quite some accuracy: the Compact Flash Dreamcast. Coming from Austrian modder Jan, this Dreamcast keeps the standard GD-ROM drive intact and perfectly functional, but also adds a fairly discreet CF card slot on the right hand side and a BIOS switch on the rear. This switch allows for the console to be booted in either 'standard' mode where the console is just a normal retail unit able to read disc-based games; or to be booted in DreamShell mode, where the CF card is interrogated and any game files on the card are presented in a rather nice menu using aesthetically appealing icons. There's plenty of other functionality too, but first, let's take a look at the hardware and just why Jan chose to use Compact Flash in this modification...