Yesterday I received a relatively pricey yet fancy piece of kit in the mail, TerraOnion’s Super SD System 3 for the PC Engine. For those who aren’t aware, this went up for preorder on the NeoSD Store back in December. First units began shipping in January, and were promptly put on hold due to a design error (more on that later). Revised boards began shipping a few weeks ago, including my unit.
So what does it do? It attaches to the expansion port on the back of a PC Engine and gives you RGB video out with no extra mods needed. The multi-out is designed to the Genesis/Mega Drive 2 standard, and I can confirm it works with a CSYNC Genesis 2 cable (I’m using a Packapunch cable from Retro Gaming Cables).
More exciting, it has an SD card slot, which allows you to run both Hucard and CD Images directly from the SD. That’s right, this thing is a complete ODE, using an FPGA to emulate the CD Drive, and run images from any region. Also, since it’s running off SD, there’s little to no loading times: music tracks start instantly, and games load very quickly compared to original hardware. Booting games is FAST too, with no flashing/loading times like some Everdrives.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. The SSD3 also negates the need for any Systems Cards that normally go with the CD Rom attachment. As long as you have the correct BIOS on your SD card, you do not need a CD Card in your PC Engine to run CD games. And switching the BIOS is easy through the boot-up menu, for those few games that have compatibility errors. FINALLY, this thing includes Arcade card compatibility as well, so Arcade games work without the card too.
System compatibility is relatively high: TerraOnion claim that the system will work on every PC Engine variant that has the expansion port (Sorry Duo owners!). This includes the PC Engine, CoreGrafx (Which I use), CoreGrafx 2, TurboGrafx 16 NTSC & PAL, and the SuperGrafx. SuperGrafx enhanced games will apparently run from the SD card fine, though I have no way of testing this.
TerraOnion are the creators of the NeoSD Neo Geo flashcart, and this is only their second product. Being relatively new on the scene vs some other designers, plus the high price tag of the product, it was a bit of a gamble ordering one right away. And sure enough as I mentioned there were some growing pains: there was a design error where digital and analog signals were not grounded correctly, causing some video and audio noise. Some of the first board that were shipped had this error, and to TerraOnion’s credit, they halted shipping the units in order to redesign the board to fix the issue. They’re also offering a trade in program for anyone who got one of the original boards.
So, what about my impressions? I played with the system for only an hour and a half yesterday, and came away very impressed. Everything seems to be working as it should: Hucard games ran fine, as did CD Rom games, I tried a few North American and Japanese ones of each. The only game I played for more than 10 minutes was Akumajou Dracula X (Rondo of Blood), which was extremely impressive. I can confirm that despite no seeking time needed for audio tracks, no redbook audio played out of sync in the cutscenes I watched, such as the early one in Stage 2 where Richter rescues Maria.
I have very little history with PCE hardware, so there could be flaws I’m not noticing. A few things I did notice was that volume on CD Audio seemed to vary from game to game, not sure if this happens on real hardware. Things seemed balanced once I dialed the volume up or down, but CD games seemed to be consistently louder than Hucard games. Likewise, I noticed a bit of audio distortion on some CD games, will have to do more testing here as I’m not sure if its an issue with compression on my end, or the actual games had that distortion. Would love some help with someone using an actual CD ROM drive here: do you know of any games that either have or are 100% free of distortion? I’d love to compare vs the SSD3.
The menu system is interesting: it’s a bit more in depth than your typical Krikzz Everdrive menu. Eventually TerraOnion will be releasing a tool that will scan your SD card, and create screenshots for the menu when you select games/give you information on the game. As it stands right now, navigating the menu is a bit clunky: the Run button is used to open folders, and you have to hit the Select button to switch between Hucard and CD-Rom loading. It’s a bit of a nitpick though, and once a game is running, everything is fine. There are some quality of life toggles such as disabling the “Push Run” screen when loading CD-ROM games, being able to auto-boot the last game loaded, and even an in-game toggle to return to the menu. I’ve heard the In-Game toggle can cause compatibility errors, so I’ve left it off for now and haven’t messed with it at all.
As for video quality: I have the new board and am running through a Framemeister and have noticed no video noise. That being said, some other users have been reporting noise when using a complete LPF free setup, such as the OSSC with LPF off. I can’t speak to their impressions, and will be doing some more testing later tonight and will post my results. I also wasn’t able to notice any Jailbars on my system, which is a plus! The SSD3 will not eliminate jailbars if you have them on your hardware though, there’s no way to get rid of them without modding your system. If you have an RGB modded system already, you can still use the system’s regular video out with the SSD3, so those with OSSCs, or those who can notice video noise, that’s always an option. CD Audio will not route through the system internal sound out though, so you would still have to take audio from the back of the SSD3 in this situation.
Overall, the system is very, very impressive. As someone who’s very unfamiliar with the PC Engine library, I’m really excited to dig into some long lost (to me) Retro gems. Finishing Rondo of Blood will be first on my list, along with some Hucard games such as Splatterhouse, and the really fun Japanese exclusive Die Hard. Eventually I’ll get to the Ys series, Neutopia, and maybe I’ll finally start trying to “git gud” at shmups.
Hopefully this helps inform anyone who hadn’t heard of this device, or is on the fence. I’ll be messing with it a lot over the next week, so please ask questions! I’m happy to run specific games, take pictures, and try to help out in anyway possible. Suggestions on awesome games to play are also appreciated