Episode 168:
Intimately Familiar With
A Bag Of Frozen Peas

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NeoSD AES (Complete Edition)

 
$509.99
Prize Ticket Price: 25500 tickets
Prize Tickets Earned: 2040 tickets
SAG015039
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THE NEOSD AES WILL ONLY WORK IN A NEO-GEO AES SYSTEM, IT WILL NOT WORK IN AN MVS ARCADE.

NEOBUILDER SOFTWARE NOTICE: Users can download the NeoBuilder software from the DOWNLOADS tab. The software is only available for the Windows OS. There is no planned support for Mac or Linux support. This software is used to convert ROMs into the proper format.

Ever dream of having your whole library of Neo-Geo AES/MVS in a single cartridge? The NeoSD AES allows you to load your game back-ups (commonly known as ROMs) on a microSD card, put the microSD card into the NeoSD AES, put the NeoSD AES into a Neo-Geo AES system and have your list of games at your finger tips.

What comes with the Complete Edition?

Currently the NeoSD AES is available in only one edition from Stone Age Gamer. It comes with the following:

  • NeoSD AES Cartridge
  • BitBox Game Case with Glossy Color Insert
  • Printed User Manual
  • and more...

NeoSD AES Features:
  • Compatible with all comercial games and homebrew
  • 768 Mbits of flash memory, enough to hold the largest officially released games, plus some extra space for system software.
  • ARM Cortex M4 at 168MHz, 1MB flash, 128KB RAM. For SD access, Flash programming, cartridge control and original cartridge protections emulation
  • 2x Lattice XP2 FPGA. Flash based, instant-on, low power, high density FPGAs. For bus decoding and multiplexing, flash access, bankswitching, programming help.
  • Supports micro SD & SDHC cards up to 32GB. FAT32 with long file names.
  • Quickly navigate through your game list with a fast, simple and intuitive UI
  • Instant boot to the last flashed game. It appears as an original cartridge to the console.
  • Runs original games unpatched, emulating the original cartridge protections in hardware.Ability to boot to the game flash menu from in-game (configurable trigger combination)
  • Can be used for game development. Allows the homebrew games to access expanded hardware features (S rom banking, increased bank area space).
  • Updatable system software and firmware for future additions and features.
  • Switch game region without needing special bios.
  • Compatible with Universe BIOS.
  • Ability to filter the game list by genre.
  • Ability to mark favorite games so they can be quickly accessed via game list filter.
  • Tools provided to convert your own games to the recognized format, for homebrew developing and testing.

LOADING TIME NOTICE: Keep in mind that they are for switching games. If you turn the AES on with the cart in, it will instant-boot the last flashed game, as the flash memory is non volatile, and it appears as standard roms for the AES. That means that you can turn on the test mode dip, boot the mvs and enter the soft dips and configure them from the bios as with an standard cartridge.

 

Have you done a review, overview or unboxing video of this product?
E-mail us the link: support@stoneagegamer.com

NeoBuilder (Windows) (NeoBuilder.zip, 537 Kb) [Download]

I completely love this cart. As someone who didn't follow the development of these flash carts I had a bit of a learning curve. I actually only learned that the NeoSD existed by following the a thread on arcade-projects.org about a (future) competing product by Darksoft. The Darksoft cart looks like it's going to be better than this one in several ways so I was trying to hold out for it instead, but when I saw that SAG was going to be selling the NeoSD, I couldn't wait any longer.

The product description really doesn't enough(for me anyway) to explain why these carts are so expensive and how they differ from flash carts for other systems, so I wanted to at least share a little of what I've learned before I explain my impressions. The NeoGeo is a massively over-engineered system. It's like if, prior to the invention of the automobile, someone decided to make horse-drawn carriages faster by strapping a hot air balloon to the top to minimize friction, attaching a foot petal mechanism for the passengers to assist driving the wheels, and harnessing a dog sled team in front of the horses for additional pulling power. Whereas most flash carts just have to mimic a single ROM chip and feed a single bus, these carts have to mimic multiple separate chips and feed 5 buses, which requires FPGAs (basically re-configurable circuits) which are not cheap. So these things are so expensive because they're damn tricky to make correctly, and they require expensive parts.

There were a handful of reasons I decided not to wait for Dark Soft's cart after all.
1. It's not available and he (understandably) can't commit to when it will be.
2. It's only going to be MVS at first. There won't be an AES version for some time.
3. Stone Age Gamer is domestic (for me at least) so I don't have to fiddle around with expensive shipping, exchange rates or long shipping times.
4. Stone Age Gamer selects their products carefully and stands by them - the fact that they were putting their name on the NeoSD and selling it said a lot about its quality.
5. While Darksoft's cart has some enhancements NeoSD doesn't, none of these were essential to enjoying the games.

I'll try to relate my experience and impressions in relatively the order I experienced them.

Getting Games
Getting games for this cart was annoying. Unlike most flash carts where ROM sets are usually available in a single archive using a common format, NeoGeo games were primarily arcade games and this cart was developed to use MAME ROMS. My attempts to just get a complete set of NeoGeo games were stymied by the fact that MAME is not packaged that way - all of the ROMs for everything are in the same giant directory and there is no way to "filter by NeoGeo" when downloading. Mildly annoying is the fact that the ROMS have to be reformatted specifically for the NeoSD. However, the NeoBuilder software which performs this function provides two additional conveniences that kind of make the whole thing a wash. Firstly the tool verifies that the ROM you have will actually work - without exception every other flash cart I've used has had at least one ROM not load because the dump was wrong, or some snowflake artist decided to write his name on the splash screen and borked the checksum. It was nice to be forewarned that a ROM was not going to work so I could replace it. But perhaps the best thing about the tool is that it compares what you have against a set of known ROMs and tells you what you're missing so you can be assured of having everything. In the end I had to go to 4 different places to get a complete set that the NeoBuilder was happy with. I would mention them here but I have a feeling that it would get censored or fall afoul of some site policy. Assuming you're like me and don't already have a complete MAME ROMS lying around, one way you could approach it is: search for "Neo Geo Set Part", get those, run them through the tool, then find a MAME torrent and download just the zip files that match the names in the "missing" column. There will still probably be one or two that don't check out properly and you can just search for those specific zip files and try what's available until you get one that NeoBuilder likes. Also - a complete set of ROMs clocks in at around 10GB so a 16GB MicroSD is more than adequate.

Packaging
This is the first time I've purchased a "Complete Edition" of a flash cart from Stone Age gamer. The overall presentation is very nice. The design is nicely conservative and the included manual turned out to be really helpful. Was a little surprised that this one did not come with a Micro SD card, but I'm guessing the margins were pretty thin. While the custom case is cool and matches the aesthetic of North American AES games, for some reason they made the case the better part of an inch taller than the standard Neo Geo cases so it won't fit on the shelf next to my other Neo Geo carts. Were these cases actually made for something else and just happened to work for AES carts? Otherwise this seems like a bizarre choice. Each cart has a serial number which is printed on a sticker. On my cart this sticker was placed on the right side (opposite the Micro SD slot) right where the cartridge inserts into the AES, so one of the letters had been marred from scraping the side of the cart slot and I couldn't tell which letter it was. I don't know if it's that way on all of the carts or just mine, but that was also kind of a bizarre choice. Otherwise the cart shell is a very nice injection-molded piece. It doesn't feel quite as substantial as the real thing but it's close.

Firmware Update
The cart I was sent was not on the latest firmware. I noticed this when the included manual mentioned options that I didn't see when the cart booted up. The manual didn't include any instructions for this, but with www.neosdstore.com plastered on the splash screen it wasn't difficult to work out. Just go to www.neosdstore.com and click the downloads link. I think the developers are very worried about clone/copycat products because they require you to create an account and register your serial number in order to get firmware updates. The firmware update file itself has the serial number in its name, and I wouldn't be surprised if the serial number is embedded in the payload as well. Anyway, the update comes with instructions and I didn't have any issues with it.

Playing Games
So, after hunting down ROMs from several sources, converting them to the required format, copying them to a Micro SD and performing a firmware update I was ready to get my NeoGeo on.

When you power on the system you're presented with a list of games and some basic options mapped to controller buttons. One thing that confused me at first was the fact that there are two separate options menus. There's a systems options menu that you get by hitting "B" (I think), and there's a game options menu that you get to by hitting "Start" with the game highlighted.

What I liked:

-The Menu
The system menu was more robust than most flash carts I've used. Each game has an image of its title screen when highlighted (I believe these are embedded in the ROM for use with MVS) as well as a nicely formatted title for the game itself (It doesn't just use the ROM file name like most flash carts). From what I've seen, Darksoft's upcoming cart is going to be more involved, but the NeoSD is already more than adequate.

-The Options
As an AES owner without a hacked console (i.e. no UNIBIOS) I've basically always been stuck with the default settings on each cartridge. Since some of these games were designed to require a ton of quarters to complete the difficulty coupled with the inability to add more credits made it impossible for me to fully enjoy them. By setting the BIOS mode to "MVS" on the system options menu, the game options menu now allows for "Soft DIP" settings and I can set unlimited credits, adjust the difficulty maximize lives etc... This is by far my favorite feature because it has made all of my games more accessible without requiring hardware modification to my console.

What I didn't like so much:
-Load Time
When switching between games, the system will go into an "erasing/writing" phase which can sometimes take minutes. There have been video comparisons of Darksoft's cart doing this much more quickly than the NeoSD for certain games, and, in fairness, the NeoSD loading certain other games more quickly than Darksoft's. My layman's understanding of this is that not only is some kind of flash NVRAM being re-written, but certain of the FPGA circuits need to be reprogrammed as well, so this all comes down to an unavoidable consequence of the NeoGeo's complexity. While it's completely understandable, it may come as a bit of a shock just how long you're required to wait to switch games - especially newer ones like Samurai Showdown V. Once the cart is programmed, loading is instant because the NeoSD basically becomes the game that you designated until you erase it and write another game to it. If you like you can even remove the SD card and set the NeoSD to boot the game directly so it behaves exactly like an original cart.

Conclusion
It has been a blast getting re-acquainted with my AES and trying out a ton of games I never had the opportunity to play before. While it's possible to play all of these games via emulation basically for free, nothing beats the responsiveness and presentation of the real thing. My wife and I have already spent about 12 hours this weekend playing old favorites, sampling random new stuff and just having an all-around great time with this. While Darksoft's upcoming cart will arguably be better in some respects, the NeoSD has everything I want or need from a NeoGeo flash cart and I'm very happy with my decision.
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