Monday, February 11, 2019

In a Solid State of Mind

So about that Dreamcast. You may recall that it wasn't playing discs properly, but I took care of that problem. Now, it doesn't play discs at all! Heh, nailed it.

image from Netflix
See, there's this potentiometer you're supposed to adjust to make the laser more intense, but Sega stuck some glue on it to keep it that from happening. I couldn't cut through the glue, and I couldn't make the pot turn with a screwdriver, so I went with the nuclear option and tried to force it to turn with a pair of needle nose pliers. Now you can turn it as much as you like, because it's been pulled off the GD-ROM drive entirely! Ugh.

However! That doesn't mean the Dream is over. In fact, this could be a blessing in disguise, as that broken optical drive can be swapped with a peripheral called the GDEMU. Instead of discs, the GDEMU takes SD cards, which are smaller, can be freely erased and rewritten, and hold a lot more data. You could put a massive chunk of the entire Dreamcast library on a 128GB card, and never need to open the drive lid again.

Admittedly, the GDEMU is expensive... Chinese clones of the device cost eighty dollars or more, with the genuine article costing several hundred. However, it may not just be a wise future investment, but a necessary one. I'm told that optical drives in general aren't built for long-term use, with Sega's proprietary drive being especially damage-prone. Beyond that, the GD-ROM has been out of production for nearly two decades... purchasing a replacement just isn't an option, unless you're willing to pay through the nose for a drive fished out of another Dreamcast. 

My Dreamcast, patiently awaiting a drive transplant.
With GDEMU prices starting at eighty dollars,
it may have to be extremely patient.
Sooner or later, you will have to throw out the drive entirely and switch to solid state storage. That doesn't just apply to the Dreamcast, but all game systems with a disc drive... the Playstation, the Saturn, the GameCube, you name it. Some of these machines are already equipped with alternate forms of storage... the classic Xbox has a small hard drive by default, which can be swapped with a much more spacious one after it's been hacked. The PSP has a slot for a Memory Stick... this was originally intended for game saves, but plummeting storage prices and a handy Micro SD card adapter means you can stick dozens of games into the system without ever opening the UMD drive.

Unfortunately, just as many systems from the age of spinning discs and moving parts have no other official storage options. Hackers have cribbed together their own solutions... the Dreamcast has GDEMU, the Saturn has Phoebe and Rhea, and even the decades-old Turbografx-16 has an alternative to the Turbo CD in the Super SD System 3. All of these devices are expensive, with the Super SD System 3 costing nearly as much as a Turbo Duo when it was launched in 1992. However, with the lenses of optical drives dimming and discs slowly losing their data to bit rot, players unwilling to settle for emulation may have no choice but to empty their wallets.


  1. The SD Super System 3 is 100% worth it. Total access to the full span of TG16/PCE/CD/Duo/SuperGrafx games with RGB output... it's incredible. I need to get me a GDEMU someday...

    1. Thanks for posting, Jeremy. I gotta be honest... I'm not enough of a fan of the TG16 to consider the Super System 3, but it sounds like a real treat for the folks who are.

      That GDEMU, though... that speaks to me. It says, "Jess, empty your wallet and GET ME." And my wallet says, "Don't listen to that guy! I hate being empty!" I'm not sure which one is speaking louder at this point.

  2. Replies
    1. I can't afford the best. My Dreamcast will probably have to settle for a Chinese clone.