Any console mod you need done, I (Leah Rowe) can do very well. I’m quite handy with a soldering iron and I have all the equipment, plus years of experience. Much of my experience comes from working on laptops in addition to consoles. Unlike most console modders and repair people, I also know about laptops (ThinkPads) and have repaired laptops in the past.
In addition to Libreboot and Retroboot I, Leah Rowe, am a competent electronics person. I possess a great deal of knowledge about various retro games consoles. I’m able to perform diagnostic component level board repairs, and I can install any modification you want me to install, so long as I either already know how to do it or documentation is available for it. I possess a high level of skill when it comes to soldering and de-soldering, on all kinds of boards whether double sided, single sided or multi layer. I’m quite adept at reverse engineering too, and so I’m often able to repair boards even without access to schematics (I simply look at the board, and figure out what’s wrong based on generic knowledge and experience of working on boards in general; for multi-layer boards though, this is less practical and thus access to schematics/boardview is desirable, but for most retro games consoles the board is single or double sided, not multi-layered, and the circuitry is very simple. All computers and games consoles are fundamentally the same in how they work, just some are more complex than others but the laws of physics will always be the same).
You can see some of my work on my youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQH7N2oXp-_Za1zkdhaAPfg
This service is offered per console, so order this service multiple times if sending multiple consoles. The price charged here is a minimal price, for 4 hours of work. If you give me a longer job to do, I’ll charge 50 GBP per hour for each additional hour (I will determine this in advance, and charge a fixed price, so that you know exactly what the cost will be at the end). Most jobs, including testing and communicating back and forth, take about 3-4 hours, where the actual work takes 1-2 hours. So, when you order, say what you want in the text box on the checkout page. Before I begin work on it, I will determine whether the job is worth more and charge accordingly (and if you don’t like the price, I will cancel your order and refund you if you already paid the 100 GBP fee).
If part of the work you want me to do requires installing a kit, you must either supply the kit or pay me the extra money needed to cover the cost of the kit and I will buy it for you. For example, if you wanted xstation or ps1digital installed on a PS1, or RGB kit installed on an NES.
I’m not perfect but I am honest: if all you want is a repair with no other modifications, and I fail to repair it, I will refund you entirely and simply send the board back. However, I’m usually able to fix a dead board (in most cases, it’s corroded circuitry that needs re-building, or something causing a dead short to ground that blew a fuse (or burned out a section of circuit board), so it’s a case of replacing (or installing) fuses, fixing dead shorts and, if necessary, re-building areas of circuitry. In other situations, there might be leaked electrolytic capacitors on the board that need replacing, and the electrolyte chemistry corroded the board; this can mean replacing entire ICs, circuits and in general re-working the board. I will make your board work like it’s new again.
Other times, your board is faulty because someone else (who is less competent at mods/repairs) worked on it before and messed something up. A common thing that such people will do is install components with cold joints / bad solder or overheat sections of a board, causing discontinuities and lifted pads/vias or, perhaps, broken pins on ICs.
Examples of modifications that I know how to do, and have done before (if I’ve never done a particular mod before, I learn quickly):
- Replacement of electrolytic capacitors (“re-capping”), on any system including the ones below
- Diagnostic repairs; based on schematics and looking at the board, I can diagnose and fix many common issues. For example: cleanup of board corrosion, fixing broken circuit traces, fixing damage caused by poor repair/servicing done by others (e.g. if you tried to mod it yourself and ripped a few pads, I can fix that). I’m able to identify bad circuitry and replace it. I’m fully capable of doing component level board repair; I could replace every IC, resistor, inductor, transistor, capacitor and fuse if you paid me to! Most of the time the issue is to do with the power supply circuitry, bad caps or board corrosion. I’m able to identify and repair most problems.
- PS1 modchip (mayumi, mm3, onechip etc), attenuated csync, xstation, ps1digital install
- PS2 modchip (modbo4), attenuated csync and disable sync on green (enable 480p on RGB SCART when using OSSC)
- SNES SuperCIC, 50/60hz mod, THS7374 RGB bypass, de-jitter mod
- Sega Master System THS7374 RGB bypass, RGB mod on SMS2, jailbar fix, 50/60hz, SMSFM install. These machines often have corrosion on the boards, so I also check for this and fix it if I discover it; this is true even if the corrosion hasn’t disabled any circuitry yet. I do pre-emptive repairs
- Sega Mega Drive THS7374 RGB bypass, jailbar fix, region-free mod, switchless kit installation
- Sega Saturn phantom modchip install. I do *not* provide FRAM and region-free BIOS on the sega saturn. See below for an explanation of what I do instead
- Dual Frequency Oscillator mod on consoles. A PAL console modded for 60Hz usually has slightly off-spec timings and will run at about 59.3hz vsync instead of the more correct roughly 59.9hz on a real NTSC console. This is because PAL and NTSC consoles use slightly different master clocks, due to the subcarrier. For example, an NTSC megadrive uses a 59.69mhz master clock which divides by 15 to create 3.58mhz subcarrier needed on composite video in NTSC mode; PAL console has a 53.203mhz clock which divides by 12 to create the 4.43mhz PAL subcarrier. On most consoles, it’s possible to replace this master clock. Read the paragraph below for more info
RGB (Red, Green, Blue)
RGB is strongly recommended, as your preferred video output on any retro gaming console. Whether to an oldschool CRT or PVM, or modern upscaling solution such as OSSC/RetroTink-SCART/GBScontrol.
Several companies sell high quality RGB SCART cables (and other types of RGB cable) for use with your console:
Retro Gaming Cables, based in the UK.
Retro Access, based in the US
These two companies are highly recommended. They sell fully shielded cables, which give you the best picture quality. On consoles that don’t have RGB by default, I can modify them to output RGB in most cases. For example Sega Master System 2 or (if you supply a kit from Tim Worthington) NES RGB.
I can modify your consoles to output the best quality RGB signal. RGB is the best quality signal on analog video outputs (most people use composite video, which is inferior due to colour bleeding and all kinds of issues). On some consoles, RGB is available but no CSYNC signal is present except in composite video or svideo luma; for instance PS1 and PS2 don’t output pure CSYNC (I can modify them to output it, either TTL or attenuated); most equipment however will correctly pull csync out of the composite video or luma signal, but some equipment requires attenuated csync directly (or in some cases, TTL sync is required). More info about sync is here:
https://www.retrorgb.com/csync.html (some of the info on that site is incomplete; contact RetroFreedom if you have any questions)
THS7314/THS7374 RGB bypass
On many older consoles, the RGB output is not the best quality it can be; slightly off-spec colours, wrong voltage, jailbars (and other forms of noise/interference on the line). The best way to clean this up is to replace the default amp/buffer (usually a Sony CXA1145/CXA1645, or discrete components) with a THS7314 or THS7374, with voltages properly attenuated (using resistor divider).
This is called an RGB bypass. The way I do it is very different to most other modders. Most modders will use pre-made boards designed for each console, but those boards don’t precisely tune the RGB voltages; the designers will take 20-30 of the same console, and measure RGB at the source (e.g. VDP on a Sega Mega Drive) with no load on the line, and get an average. A resistor divider circuit is built based on that average, so on some consoles you’d get a slightly darker or brighter image.
What I, Leah Rowe, do is this: I remove all components from the source of the RGB signal, so that there’s no load. I boot the console blind, to an all white screen (and I figure out how to do that before going blind. I normally use the 240p test suite, or a test ROM, on a ROM cart). Without any load at the source, I precisely measure the voltages of each line. I then use my resistor divider app, which I wrote myself, to precisely tune the RGB voltages for every console I work on.
That app is here: https://retrofreedom.com/resistordivider/
The THS7314/7374 has a fixed 2v per 1v +6dB gain, so basically whatever voltage you want the output to be, the input will be half. These chips are proper 75ohm drivers for analog video, and they have a high quality low-pass filter circuit integrated inside them, to clean up any noise. I use a SOP to DIP adapter and I make sure to do proper decoupling on the VCC line going into the IC (100nF and 4.7uF; see main pic at the top of this page for an example).
In many cases, I will re-use the original RGB traces on the console mainboard, and change the resistors on the board, for the correct RGB voltage attenuation. Most of these consoles by default use a Sony CXA1145 or CXA1645 which expects 1Vpp at all white screen, for each line. I tweak voltages for the THS73*4 based on the SCART cable; most SCART cables will have a 75ohm series resistor on each RGB line, or no resistors and the 75ohm resistors will be on the console’s mainboard, and for this setup the correct voltage *before the 75ohm resistor* is 1.42Vpp; the TV/upscaler has a 75ohm resistor to ground, for each line, so the 75ohm series resistor creates a resistor divider halving that voltage, and the correct voltage for RGB signals at the TV end is about 710mV, with 640-780mV being the tolerated range.
I measure all of this on my oscilloscope, which is a Rigol DS1054Z. The reason consoles use amp+buffer circuits (cxa1145 in most cases) is because usually the source is not capable of driving a 75ohm load required for TVs; if you tried to do so, there would be a huge drop in voltage and the picture would be very dark. So wherever the RGB source is on the mainboard (e.g. VDP on a Sega console), it is fed into a circuit that buffers and amplifies the signal, and that circuit is capable of driving a 75ohm load. On *really* old computers, this is not an IC but discrete components (transistors, inductors, resistors, capacitors) doing it, but most retro consoles from the 80s and 90s will use either a Sony V7040, CXA1145 or CXA1645 which does the same thing (and also provides encoded signals like composite video, on the output, using the inputted RGB signal. on consoles that use discrete components instead, there is either only RGB or the source (processor that handles graphics) will output composite video on its own.
I’m quite adept at tuning/tweaking analog RGB and fixing lots of common video problems (for instance, measure ESR on AC coupling capacitors used to filter analog video, and identifying which ones need to be replaced, if any).
These RGB bypass mods clear up most interference/noise that otherwise exists on the analog video output. Other fixes include:
- Disabling the subcarrier signal on a board (not needed for RGB. only composite video needs this)
- Improving the decoupling on VCC lines going into ICs handling analog video; many retro consoles have insufficient decoupling, for instance only 100nF ceramic. I make sure that there is at least a 100nF and a 4.7uF cap.
- Occasionally, re-routing the RGB signals is beneficial if otherwise the signals are routed through a very noise section on a board. For instance on Mega Drive console
- Sometimes the console is just cursed. For example, Sega Master System takes a 10.73mhz clock into the VDP (master clock for that chip) and the VDP has a clock divider internally which generates the CPU clock based on that input. The circuitry for this is *right near the RGB DAC*. My jailbar fix on that console is to cut the 3.58mhz output on the VDP, and wire an external divider to the 10.73mhz input, to then feed into the Z80 CPU’s clock input pin)
- Often, a full re-cap can reduce noise on a board in general (especially when you re-cap the PSU). Newer caps are available these days with much lower ESR and much better ripple performance under heavy load. Reduction of noise/ripple is very important on analog systems (which is why, for instance, they almost universally use linear power rather than switching power supplies)
- Replacing the default linear voltage regulator(s), usually LM7805, with a brand new linear regulator (LM7805 still) but one that is rated for a higher current load; this improves the overall efficiency and can reduce ripple noise
All of this, combined with use of a quality fully shielded RGB cable (see suppliers recommended above), can result in excellent picture quality, to the point where on a fully tweaked OSSC (opensource scan converter. It’s a device that converts analog RGB to an HDMI output), the pixels will be so sharp that you’ll think you’re playing on an emulator.
See bullet point above about the master clock on PAL versus NTSC consoles. In general, if the console is intended to be used with RGB, I will replace the 53.203mhz master clock on a PAL console and replace it with 53.69mhz. On some consoles, other setup might be used; e.g. 10.64mhz going into VDP on a master system for PAL, 10.73mhz for NTSC, which then gets divided by 3 for the CPU clock.
In general, I will optimize your timings for NTSC, so that you get the same timings as on a real NTSC console. If your console is already NTSC, I won’t touch it at all. In my opinion, PAL is a waste of time. Most games, on most consoles, were written for NTSC mode first, and botched for PAL mode where the game simply runs slower.
On a PS1, most models have 2 clock inputs on the GPU: one for PAL (53.2mhz) and one for NTSC (53.69mhz). On *these* consoles, a PAL model will put 53.203mhz into both inputs (which is wrong) and NTSC console will put 53.69mhz into both inputs (also wrong). On PS1 what I do is this: if PAL console, cut NTSC input on GPU and replace with 53.69mhz from an oscillator, via 220ohm resistor and the oscillator on the 3.3v voltage plane. If NTSC console, I cut the PAL input and wire in a 53.203mhz signal to it, again from a crystal oscillator via 220ohm resistor and the oscillator powered on the 3.3v voltage plane.
On PS2 I don’t touch oscillator timings at all. These consoles already have correct timings on PAL and NTSC PS2 games, but the problem as above persists on PS1 games. I recommend only playing PS2 games on a PS2, and PS1 games on a PS1.
On Sega Mega Drive I replace the 53.203mhz oscillator with 53.69mhz; I *can* install a Dual Frequency Oscillator board (many vendors sell this). This comes with a reprogrammable oscillator that changes timings depending on whether the console is in PAL or NTSC mode. You must research this yourself, and supply me with this kit. On my PAL Mega Drives, I make them have compatible timings with NTSC consoles, which means that now PAL games (in 50Hz mode) are running about 1% faster than they should.
On Sega Master System consoles, what I do is very similar to Mega Drive.
Other consoles unknown, but it’s easy to figure out and I will do it when you send to me.
Sega Saturn FRAM and region-free BIOS alternative
A popular mod on Sega Saturn is the FRAM mod. This replaces SRAM with pin-compatible FRAM, which is non-volatile memory rated to last about 40 years.
SRAM is powered by a CR2032 battery at the back of the console, replaceable by the user. A common issue on Sega Saturn is that the SRAM dies after a few months due to heavy drain on the CR2032 battery. The SRAM is not the cause of this. Rather, the cause is the real time clock which is handled by a chip on the board called SMPC (system management and peripheral control). SMPC doesn’t just do RTC, it has many other functions and it drains a lot of power from the battery. It is powered via a network of transistors that feed it via the main 3.3v power rail, or from the CR2032 battery. I remove this transistor and hard-wire SMPC to the 3.3v rail from the PSU. The result is this:
- Real time clock no longer holds the time when the power is cut, so you have to enter the date and time whenever you turn the console
- However, game saves on SRAM will last about 20 years
My mod is much cheaper, because you don’t have to buy the FRAM or region-free BIOS kit. I actually will refuse to do the FRAM or region-free BIOS kit, because I believe that they are pointless mods. So if you want these mods done, please go to another modder.
Regarding region-free BIOS: it is pointless, and inferior. A better solution is to install the switchless kit, which is a PIC that changes the console’s region when you hold the reset button, wired up to an RG LED that changes colour to indicate what region the console is set to.
Why is this better? The answer is simple: region-free BIOS kit doesn’t change the region, it simply disables the region checks. *Some* games actually change depending on the region, for instance they will change language. Booting a game for another region, on a console not set to that region, is non-standard behaviour. The most technically correct thing is for the console to be set to the correct region that the game was released for. The switchless kit accomplishes this, but the only downside is that you have to set the region, and then turn the console off before turning it on again. For example if the region is set to Europe and you want to play a Japanese game you hold reset to switch region and then reboot the console.
There is one advantage however: switchless kit + cut bvcc to smpc is far less invasive of a mod that region-free BIOS and FRAM. FRAM and region-free BIOS require removing chips and replacing them, and ICs on the Saturn board are tacked down with hard epoxy. The amount of heat required is higher because of that epoxy, and the risk of board damage is high.
NOTE: we recommend that you send an NTSC saturn. PAL saturns have slightly off-spec timings in 60hz mode, and most games were written for NTSC consoles first and are inferior in PAL mode (low framerate, borders at the top and bottom of the screen). For the best experience, we recommend an NTSC console. American or Japanese is fine. It’s possible to modify the clock timings on a PAL console, but RetroFreedom has not properly researched this yet. More info about this problem is here: https://videogameperfection.com/2012/06/22/what-causes-games-to-stutter/
I know how to fix this on all other consoles listed above, except for Sega Saturn.